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Occupy Clergy' Lead Invasion of Church-Owned Land To Kick Off Re-Occupation

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Bishop first to illegally scale perimeter fence.

New York City police have arrested about 50 Occupy Wall Street protesters who scaled a chain-link fence leading to a church-owned lot next to Duarte Square that the Occupiers want to use as their replacement camp for Zuccotti Park.

Clergy not only gave speeches emboldening the Occupiers' illegal activity-- some of them participated in the illegal takeover of private property in broad daylight and with the NYPD close at hand.

Protesters used a wooden ladder to help scale the lot fence, and one man wearing a Santa suit stood among the protesters on the ladder as others cheered. While officers made arrests, protesters chanted obscenities and screamed: "Make them catch you!"

About 500 people people gathered across the street at a city-owned Duarte park and watched as the melee ensued in fenced-off D-17. Other protestors lifted up the chain link fence surrounding Duarte park and stormed the empty lot. Once inside, Occupiers shouted slogans and awaited for the inevitable police response, which came moments later when officers clad in riot gear began making arrests.

Since Zuccotti Park was shut down by Mayor Bloomberg last month,  protesters have been looking for another site from which to base their Occupy Wall Street movement. Trinity Church, a well-known episcopal congregation that owns the D-17 lot space has refuse the Occupiers entry to the space on the grounds it would be unsafe for them to camp there. For this stance, Trinity Church officials have received criticism not just from the Occupiers, but other clergy for this stance.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that fellow religious leaders are adding to the pressure on clergy to give Occupiers access to the private lot, including the Rev. Milind Sojwal, the rector of All Angels Church, an Episcopal parish on the Upper West Side, who said “Trinity Church had a fantastic opportunity to be a Christlike presence by openings its doors to the protesters. And I believe Trinity blew it."

In addition, world-renowned Archbishop Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the side of the Occupy protestors in this dispute, and in an open letter has requested that Trinity church give them the Duarte Square space:

"Sisters and Brothers, I greet you in the Name of Our Lord and in the bonds of common friendship and struggle from my homeland of South Africa. I know of your own challenges and of this appeal to Trinity Church for the shelter of a new home and I am with you! May God bless this appeal of yours and may the good people of that noble parish heed your plea, if not for ease of access, then at least for a stay on any violence or arrests."

That Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James H. Cooper, is not only sympathetic to the protestors, but has also provided them with meeting spaces, resting areas, pastoral services, electricity, bathrooms, blankets and hot chocolate in the past apparently makes no difference to the Occupiers.

This should be taken as a signal of what is to come in 2012. Give the Occupiers an inch, and they'll take a city block.

Earlier in the day, before the fence-scaling and coordinated trespassing, I spent several hours at the Occupation. Even then, it was clear that the Occupiers intended to establish a beachhead, or get arrested in the process-- it was just a question of when they would make their move.

In a pamphlet the Occupiers handed me when I arrived, under the headline "Sanctuary for Occupy," the protestors wrote this of the first day of Occupy 2.0, or the "Re-Occupy" effort:

"Marking the thee months of Occupy Wall Street and the one year anniversary of the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, which sparked the Arab Spring, an all day performance events with support from more than 1400 faith leaders, elders of the civil rights movement, prominent artists, and community members...Re-Occupy is part of a call...in the wake of coordinated attacks and subsequent evictions."

I stood in the middle of the crowd and saw the usual flotsam and jetsam of leftist causes that have come to typify any Occupy gathering. The first order of business, right as the protest kicked off in Duarte Square, was for one of the legal advisors to announce to the crowd the phone number they should call in the event of arrest.

As Occupiers were standing in a public park and the police had no inclination to bother them-- ever after widespread and illegal usage of amplified sound devices-- it was obvious that someone was going to scale the fence. But first, they had to rally the troops, so to speak, and get everyone in the frame of mind to break the law and perhaps brave some pepper spray.

The Occupation Puppets, a street performance group, did an Occupy Wall Street version of a Christmas Carol, complete with Mayor Bloom-scrooge as the villain.

The stench and wafting fumes of marijuana from the crowd caused some unpleasant coughing, but otherwise it was a predictable and uneventful amateur street performance. Bloomberg is rich, he evicted the Occupiers, and now they plan on ridiculing and harassing him until they get their way.

To drive home this point, the Occupiers taught the crowd a song with Mayor Bloomberg's home address in the lyrics, in case they decide to march on his private home and make a scene outside it.

Once the puppet show was over,  some of the more familiar organizer took the stage (actually a bench). Some of them were familiar faces from a number of other Occupy events, including the speaker, Amin, who was part of a New York magazine profile of the Occupy movement.

Amin set out the general premise of the D-17 Duarte Square protest, which can be roughly translated as "we want Trinity church's space, and we won't leave until we get it.":

Right after that was a speech given by Episcopal Bishop George Packard, who according to Occupy's main twitter account was the first person to illegally scale the fence at Duarte Square:

Then I heard this priest discuss Occupy as the second-coming of the Christian reformation sparked by Martin Luther:

There was also a priest who compared Occupy Wall Street to the struggles of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people for equality This clergyman said, in part:

"We had to fight the church too, how ironic, we are the church…We want this space, we need this space, gay and lesbian people have spent 50 years trying to get a little space, now we queer people…are gonna hold onto your tails, and be pulled into our own space,

because your oppressions are our oppressions, people or color, people of handicaps, people of different sexual orientations... we are america, and without diversity we are not america, so look around, its the queerest crowd, you've ever seen, here's to us, hip hip, hooray"

Here is a clip of that speech:

But in a taste of what was to come a few hours later, another priest declared that once the protestors Occupy Duarte Square, it would become "Sacred Space."

I thought the storming of the fences would come at night when it would be harder for police to contain, so I left Duarte with the idea of returning when the twitter feeds lit up with ominous "gather now" messages or perhaps S.O.S. calls from the first wave of arrested Occupiers.

They didn't wait for sundown, and they certainly didn't wait for a phone call with an agreement from Trinity United church. They jumped right over the fences, knowing they'd be arrested. Anyone who had any questions about this movement's intentions in 2012 should pay close attention to today's events.

The Occupiers will not rest until they find another hub from which to launch protests and civil disobedience around the city, and their efforts will likely be mirrored across the country. They remain organized and motivated.

As 2011 comes to a close, get ready for Occupy 2.0 to raise the stakes in 2012.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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