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Christian anarchism meets occupy Wall Street

1 November 2011

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, would have rejoiced to see the Occupy Wall Street protesters, according to this interesting article In The East Village, Christian Anarchy Meets Occupy Wall Street – The Local East Village Blog –

Soon after legendary folk singer Loudon Wainwright III finished performing for cheering protesters in Zuccotti Park yesterday afternoon, telling them that the Occupy Wall Street encampment reminded him of the 1968 “Summer of Love,” a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System showed up.

Bud Courtney, who plays banjo in the group, said its decidedly unholy name came from the late Dorothy Day, who started the Christian-anarchist Catholic Worker Movement 78 years ago with Peter Maurin during the Great Depression. She is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.

The full article is certainly worth reading, and it ends up with In The East Village, Christian Anarchy Meets Occupy Wall Street – The Local East Village Blog –

Last Friday night, Ms. Sammon greeted a much larger gathering of people who had come to Maryhouse to hear a talk by peace activist Jim Forest, who in 1968 was imprisoned for more than a year after burning draft files along with thirteen others (mostly Catholic clergy members). He once served as managing editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper and has published a new biography of Dorothy Day, whom he knew personally. When Mr. Forest, 70, concluded his reminiscences, a woman in the auditorium asked how he felt Ms. Day might respond to the goings-on in Zuccotti Park if she were alive today.

Mr. Forest didn’t hesitate in his reply: “Dorothy would be thrilled,” he said. “But she wouldn’t here,” he added, referring to Maryhouse. “She’d be down there [in Zuccotti Park].”

Last year I wrote a review of Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy DayLove Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest. I’m looking forward to reading his revised and updated version, as soon as it becomes available locally in South Africa. Jim Forest, who recently retired as the editor of In Communion, the journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship writes about his journalistic experience: A Letter from the (Retiring) Editor | In Communion: “The first publication of real consequence that I worked with was The Catholic Worker. Its monthly print run was about 90,000 copies and its circulation was international. Encouraged by Dorothy Day, I acquired enough experience eventually to be appointed managing editor. Later on I was assistant editor of a monthly magazine called Liberation, whose focus at the time was on civil rights and whose authors included James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King.”

All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy DayAll Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest should be an even more interesting read than the original one, whether one is in occupation of Wall Street or not, or just thinking about it.

View all my reviews

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 November 2011 12:03 pm

    Last week I saw that the Catholic Bookshop in Cape Town have copies of the new book. It looks impressive, but, much as I admire Dorothy Day and fond as I am of Jim Forest, I have too many other priorities at present. I can’t remember now what the price was.

    • 1 November 2011 1:38 pm

      Perhaps I’m just being sentimental, but Dorothy Day influenced me a great deal when I was younger, through the Catholic Worker (from which I stole several articles for the Anglican Witness at UNP), so I’d like to have something for reference. Also, I’ve heard that some people are trying to hi-jack “communitarian” to denote something quite evil, so I think it’s good to try to keep the real meaning alive, since it is also compatible with Orthodox anthropology.

  2. Irulan permalink
    2 November 2011 11:28 am

    Were there any communitarian expressions of Christian anarchy in South Africa that you are aware of, Steve?

  3. 2 November 2011 2:57 pm

    I was just lent All is Grace by a Maryknoll priest here in Tanzania, and posted the following comments on my facebook page:

    I was lent this book this week quite unexpectedly, and devoured it happily. It’s easily written and easily read- a good storyteller talking about his friend. Don’t expect a critical biography: All is Grace isn’t quite hagiography, but the author is transparently fond of Dorothy- as he calls her.

    I’m fond of her too. I’ve known and loved the Catholic Worker movement for years, and have admired Dorothy Day as its ideological figurehead. But this biography draws me to her as a writer. Her body of work is so immense- and so publicly available- that I’m not sure where to start.

    Every photo but one shows a square-jawed, unsmiling woman. You get the sense that either she was sour all the time, or she really didn’t like to be photographed. I guess the latter, though for all of Forest’s love for Dorothy, her acidic side is obvious.

    What I admire especially about Dorothy Day, and what this biography makes clear, is her witness that radical service, love for the impoverished and the outcast, and uninhibited hospitality are intrinsic- not alien- to very orthodox, traditional Christianity. Dorothy Day’s Roman Catholic Christian faith was unswervingly traditional and orthodox, even as her witness of utter identification with “the least of these” seemed madly left-wing or even anarchist.

    One center of Dorothy Day’s life, taught her by Peter Maurin, was to learn your history by reading the lives of the saints… and then to follow their example. “We are all called to be saints,” she would repeat in her columns and articles. The radical love and humility of the hagiographies is not something special for a select few- it is our role model.

    At the heart of the biography is a challenge, unspoken but obvious. Our God loved his enemies radically, to the point of death. He gave of all he had without inhibition or second-guessing- to the responsible and irresponsible alike. Some people treasured his gifts and others squandered them, but he gave freely to all. He exhorted us to do the same: to give without asking in return, to sacrifice our last for the sake of another, to rejoice in humiliation and pain. And when we empty ourselves in order to love the unlovable, whatever we do for the least of these Christ’s brethren, we are assured, we do it for our God himself.

    And that’s the challenge. We know what to do. Why aren’t we doing it?

  4. 16 July 2016 9:25 pm

    Dear brother Steve,
    As of the 4th century A.D., the desert lands of Egypt saw the beginning of the longest-living anarchic society of all time: that of the Christian anachorites. These were people who had chosen to live there, in order to find the tranquility that was necessary for their praying. Comparatively speaking: when we want to listen very attentively to some very subtle music, we usually shut doors and windows and isolate ourselves in our quietest corner (according to fr. Sophrony of Essex).The same applies when you want to hear the voice of God – you isolate yourself in the quietest place you can find. You don’t do it out of spite or aversion to the world, or to your body or to the joys of life etc.. This has been made clear innumerable times in the history of Christianity; quite simply, the quietest place on earth that enables one to hear is the desert. (…)
    More in:
    The holy anarchists… in the Egyptian Desert:
    Thank you.
    With love in Christ from Orthodox Greece.


  1. Christian communitarian anarchists « Khanya
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