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By Tom Holmes
Rev. C.J. Hawking is an Oak Park resident and the Harry F. Ward Social Justice Pastor at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church. So maybe it is not a surprise that she was among 22 Occupy Chicago protestors arrested Oct. 10 for blocking the Monroe Street entrance to the Art Institute in downtown Chicago.
"It was a symbolic action of nonviolent civil disobedience," said Hawking. "We were escorted by Chicago police officers away from the door with our hands behind our backs, given a citation and released almost immediately." The Art Institute was chosen as the site for the civil disobedience, because a mortgage bankers' associate was having the gala opening of its convention there.
Hawking's husband, Steven Ashby, who is a UIC professor, paid a heavier price for his participation in the protests. On Oct. 22 he was one of 130 people arrested for remaining in Grant Park after the closing time of 11 p.m. According to Hawking, he and his fellow protestors were jailed for between 18 and 26 hours.
"One never wants to be arrested," she added, "but when there is an injustice to the proportion that Americans are experiencing economic injustice, one puts one's body on the line and risks arrest. The only way that social change has come about in our society is by people breaking the rules and upsetting the status quo to alert people to the injustice that is occurring."
In one sense Hawking anticipated the Occupy movement three months before it was born. In addition to being the part time social justice pastor at the Oak Park church, she is the executive director of Arise Chicago, an organization which, according to its website, "organizes the religious community to bring about just resolutions to workplace injustice."
In that capacity she and representatives from 20 other community groups formed a coalition last June to "talk about getting a fair economy going." The members of the new group, which was named Take Back Chicago, immediately realized that their agenda had a great deal of overlap with the Occupy movement. "There is a lot of synergy between the two groups," she said. "We go to each other's actions. To the outsider it seems like we are a seamless garment."
Hawking's vocation to work for social justice is rooted in her religious faith. "I've been in one form of ministry or another for 27 years," said the pastor, who is 53. "What motivates me in all of this work is to be faithful to my ordination vows, 'to resist evil in all its forms.'"
In that regard, part of her weekly participation in the protests involves working with the movement's Spiritual Affairs Committee which provides Eucharist and Shabbat services on the weekends and pastoral care for the protestors. "The people who are there," she said, "are really suffering in this economy, and they need somebody to talk to, somebody who cares about them. They need to know that God cares about them."
She said that 80 percent of the 2,000 people with whom she was marching in the big demonstration on Nov. 17 were under 40. In response to the criticism that the Occupy movement doesn't have a plan for fixing what they are against, Hawking said, "Most of the protestors are people in their 20s who have had their futures stolen from them. Part of what they see is that the political establishment, both Republican and Democrat, has been bought out by the corporations and the whole is corrupt. Policy change is not in their thinking, because they don't buy into the system."
Hawking and her husband are planning on being in Washington D.C. next Monday (Dec. 5) to join with 3,000 to 5,000 like minded people in an action they are calling Occupy the Capital.
She spoke with pride about the village in which she lives. "I'm so proud of Oak Park's level of participation," she said, noting that she has seen many of her fellow residents in the Occupy actions. "I'm proud of their vision for a better world and their care for young people. I find Oak Park to be a blessing to the entire Chicago community."
For more information on the Occupy Chicago protests, Hawking said the best place to go is standupchicago.org.