Occupiers Start to Uncover the Unhidden Truth About Trinity Church and Duarte Square

trinity wall street1 Occupiers Start to Uncover the Unhidden Truth About Trinity Church and Duarte Square

Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church

Two weeks ago, three Occupy Wall Street members began a hunger strike in front of Duarte Square. They were protesting Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church for not allowing them to use the empty lot owned by the church’s real estate arm, Hudson Square Properties. The demonstrators were arrested…twice…for trespassing on the church’s land.

It seemed like an odd battle to pick for Occupy Wall Street; especially since Trinity Church had provided the OWS with space to hold meetings, use WiFi and public facilities, and even join in discussions with religious leaders. But since Nov. 17th’s Day of Action saw members get arrested for trying to make a temporary camp in the empty lot, the Occupiers have focused their energy on guilting the church into just giving them the land.

Except, as we noted at the time, this was never going to happen. Trinity Church owns a substantial chunk of New York real estate, bequeathed to them by the Queen Ann of England in 1705.  The money goes back a long way, and now so do the vestry. So when the OWS posted a blog “Trinity Wall Street Vestry’s 1% Connections,” noting all the big-name real estate developers and very rich people associated with the church, the feeling is sort of like…well, yes, of course this is the case. Obviously.

An analysis of Trinity’s vestry (the governing board that manages the parish’s affairs) lends some significant weight to these concerns. Marked as up-to-date as of May 6, 2011, the vestry list reads as a who’s-who of the rich and powerful in New York, including Wall Street bankers, media and real estate executives, and in the most telling case, a former executive vice president of Brookfield Properties, the company that owns Zuccotti Park and pressured the city to evict the occupiers in the first place. (See the full list below).

This isn’t exactly new information. And again, turning Trinity into the bad enemy is not in the Occupiers’ best interests. The church–1% alliances and all–were letting OWS use its Charlotte’s Place area as a place to regroup and use the Internet and bathroom. No matter who “owns” Duarte Square (and it is most certainly Trinity), OWS has no right to demand the space and condemn the people who own just because they aren’t getting what they want. It makes those members of the movement look spoiled, ungrateful, and worse: naive. We find ourselves agreeing with what Trinity’s Rector Dr. James H. Cooper, who recently wrote about the situation:

Calling this an issue of “political sanctuary” is manipulative and blind to reality. Equating the desire to seize this property with uprisings against tyranny is misguided, at best. Hyperbolic distortion drives up petition signatures, but doesn’t make it right. Those arrested were not seeking sanctuary; they were seeking to be arrested. Trinity will continue our responsible outreach and pastoral services for all. We appreciate the many expressions of support we have received from so many in the community.

Way to make a very rich, very powerful church look like the nice guys here, OWS.


  1. Shame on them for protesting against the third-largest landholder in the city!

  2. J. says:

    Of course the protesters were on a hunger strike so they could get arrested.

  3. Jason says:

    ENOUGH of NYO’s bashing of OWS #pointblankperiod

  4. Jay Walsh says:

    Truth, is perspective, preception or point of view, sometimes the same, sometimes very different! Hey ” A Box of Hard Rain” is going to fall!!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    If they put that much effort into getting a job or starting a company, they would be just fine and wouldn’t have time to camp out like bums.

    1. N Neologism says:

      Good thinking–then they could become just like the people who are trashing the world’s economy and driving millions into poverty. 

      1. Daveevad says:

        “Poverty” defined in your world as enough to eat, warm and dry in the winter, air conditioned in the summer, Internet and cable television, and free health care, all provided by Big Brother.

        Work, not whining, creates wealth.

      2. Marvel Atthemoment says:

        Are you making a distinction between whining and petitioning for redress of grievances?

      3. Tooncesgail says:

        The rich politicians who manipulate the system and foment class envy are the ones driving millions into poverty

  6. N Neologism says:

    That’s a very self-serving statement by Rev. Dr. Cooper of the very, very rich Trinity Church. OWS is an uprising against the tyranny of the corporate takeover of US government and vicious corporate manipulation of most Americans. OWS is seeking a sanctuary from official harassment and repression, obviously. It seems that Trinity Church’s view of “responsible outreach and pastoral services” doesn’t include really helping people who are fighting for economic justice–not a surprise for a church  controlled by the 1%–sure, the rabble can use the bathroom and the wifi, but if our mayor wants them gone….
    Also, I’m curious: Is OWS demanding the land, as the article states, or is it simply demanding use of the land with the legal protections that Jesus might have provided?
    And Trinity let OWS “even join in discussions with religious leaders”? Wow! Except real religious leaders would be joining the protests against Wall St.

    1. Daveevad says:

      Let’s shut down Wall Street completely.

      No venture capital to support business startups.  No business loans of any kind.
      No stocks or bonds to finance larger businesses.  No consumer lending.  No mortgages.  No car loans.  No credit cards.

      Result – no jobs, no homes, no cars, no business – meaning no transportation, no food (it’s rotting where it was grown), no upkeep of housing, no fuel, no heat…

      We can ALL live in tents, eat only what we grow in our back yards (if we’re fortunate enough to have one), freeze in the winter and roast in the summer, and go only where we can walk.

      OWS needs to go back to school.  They obviously failed pre-kindergarten and haven’t learned anything from life’s lessons since. 

      1. Dicey Troop says:

        Oh, please. Venture capital, business startups, loans/debt, stocks, bonds, businesses, credit cards — those are what you think lead to jobs, homes, transportation, food, fuel, and heat?

        You couldn’t be more wrong. Wow.

  7. Sean Sweeneynyc says:

    Trinity is a real estate empire posing as a parish! 

    Jesus would be scandalized that these guys use the Mystery of the Trinity to cover their avariciousness.

    Let’s examine how Trinity became the 3rd largest landowner in the city.

    It got the land from the British who in 1664 threatened to kill every Dutchman in Nieuw Amsterdam if they didn’t surrender the city to the English armada in NY Bay. 
    Forty years later, Queen Anne gave Trinity most of lower Manhattan for free.  In fact, Trinity continues to pay rent to Queen Elizabeth in the form of a token two peppercorns a year.

    While Temple Emmanuel and St. Patrick’s and every other church in America got its land from the nickels and dimes of poor immigrants, Trinity got it from the Dutch under threat of death!
    What would Jesus have to say about that, Rector Cooper?

    It doesn’t stop there. 
    In the late 19th century, it evicted thousands of poor working immigrants on the lower West Side to build the manufacturing buildings that the “church” still owns there.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land”, is a Beatitude that Trinity ignores.

    Not content with that dispossession of God’s poorest, Trinity, beginning around 1985, in order to turn their properties into even greater money machines, began evicting the same manufacturing base it courted a hundred years earlier, to replace them with glitzy commercial offices and luxury condos. 

    Hundreds of semi-skilled, working-class folk went unemployed to fill Tinity’s coffers.  In fact, my auto mechanics were put out of business when Trinity wouldn’t renew the lease of their thriving business.  Two Korean War vets out of a livelihood because of Trinity’s greed!
    The money changers in the temple would be put to shame by Trinity.

    What does Trinity do with its millions, or is it, billions?  Where are its homeless shelters, its soup kitchens, its schools for the poor, its hospitals, its hospices?  Where?

    Rector Cooper, remember what Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”.

  8. Daniel Wolff says:

    Let’s see, Trinity has a piece of unused, undeveloped land bequeathed to it by Mother England (the Queen mum said they could have it and everything!), and these owners, ostensibly in the name of Jesus Christ, tell the homeless and underclass they can’t use it (cause if there’s one thing Christ stood for, it’s a healthy respect for capital). You’re right, this makes the protesters look spoiled and ungrateful.

    I mean I don’t want to go all Proudhon on you, but it’s pretty amusing to read you argue how uncouth it is of a protest against the excesses of capitalism and wealth disparity to challenge the legitimacy of private property. Just how many monocles did you shatter in the course of writing this piece?

    1. Russell says:

      whats your address? Can we come camp in your yard?

      1. Daniel Wolff says:

        Shit yeah, only I don’t own land and my apartment complex doesn’t have a yard. But give my landlord hell if you find some space not being put to any god damned use whatsoever. Just use this land to feed, clothe, treat, and shelter all comers regardless of socio-economic background.

        Don’t worry, I think it’s adorable you thought you were being clever.

      2. Tgatsby says:

        Daniel, if you owned your own home, would it still be ok for us to come camp out in your yard with no intention of ever leaving, play our music as loudly as we want, throw trash all over the place and do whatever we want? If your neighbors complained, would you just tell them that they are the problem and to shut up and leave us alone? That is if the whole idea of owning one’s own home isn’t considered a crime by you.

      3. Marvel Atthemoment says:

        If the land I had was donated to me by the Queen of England and I wasn’t doing anything with it. Then yes you would be welcome.

      4. Daniel Wolff says:

        What Marvel said. Also, you’re pejorative and ill-informed depiction of our behavior at Zuccotti aside, the community at Duarte was very supportive of us taking the space. And when we held Zuccotti, we worked with the Community Board to limit drumming hours. They too remained supportive of our right to be there.

        But since you ask, I do question the ethical underpinning of land ownership. I know it’s not in the capitalist’s nature  to stop and ask these questions, but by what basis does one rightfully claim it in the first place? “Cause I bought it” don’t fly. As “buying” is just a transfer of capital in exchange for title of ownership, you have to justify that the person or institution you buy it from has rightful claim. So let’s go back far enough and ask what’s the logical and ethical justification in the first place? Finders keepers? Seems a flimsy system of ownership to me, but even if that were the case, you’d have to concede that natives of this country have a greater right to that land than we did and the original “ownership” was illegitimate.

        The truth is that the Western world has a much more flexible view of “property rights” than you let on (or are probably aware), particularly in Europe. Even in financial behemoths like New York City, there exists some legal defense of adverse possession, where by simply holding and putting to use a space for a long enough period of time, one can get ownership without any monetary exchange.

        So I suppose what I’d like to see is a society that recognizes no one has any “natural right” to land, but that we, as a community occupying (sorry to use this word) this plot of land right now, have to figure out an equitable way to make the best possible use of finite space. In the meantime, OWS feading, clothing, sheltering, or medically treating thousands sounds like a fucking excellent use of space to me.

  9. Xcaret34 says:

    Waaah waaah waaah, the mean nasty church won’t let us squat on their property and poop and pee all over their lot! Waaah waaah waaah. Arrest them all!

  10. Siobhan Ogilvie says:

    1 – It has been reported the movement did not want to ‘take’ the property.  They wanted to rent it and abide by regulations to insure it would be only for those actively participating in the movement, to disallow personal tents to avoid and suspicion of misbehavior and work with Trinity to insure a positive growing experience for all.2 – it was unused property sitting there for 3 years as an ugly empty lot3- Now we have learned Trinity’s label as a church may be a front. I wonder now similar to off shore tax havens, is just a way to avoid taxes on it’s vast holdings.  To learn it owns the property that the NY Stock Exchange itself stands on even opens more questions.  This is now becoming a black mark on the Episcopal church much like the pedophilia scandals were on the Roman Catholic church.  It doesn’t look good and I urge the church hierarchy under the Archbishop of Canterbury to see what else they are doing.  Do they receive rental incomes from NYSE, is the Vestry paid, Is this a true church with Christ’s works at heart or is it a corporate tax haven.  There is something rotten smelling up downtown and it’s not the protestors.  The bazaar violent overreactions of the police department and the Mayor, the suppression of the press, the silence of our president, the free speech ‘frozen zones’ are all enough for me to question why? If there is nothing to cover up, if there is nothing to look at or question why do we have these governmental and NYPD counter-punches.  It seems they really want the movement to just go away and their actions are only strengthening the protestors resolve.  Where there is smoke they is usually fire and I think we are on the cusp of a 5 alarm blaze.

  11. stan chaz says:

    Re Occupy & Trinity Church: You don’t need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that “Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But many of the 1%, in blind greed and endless schemes, have forgotten this. They have closed their eyes to what the word “society” should really mean, what it can mean. But due to Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured, for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires….we are now talking about fairness and justice – about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s  going on in this country, and why. The attempt by OWS to occupy Duarte Square (the empty lot owned by Trinity Church) is much more than a plea for sanctuary. For like Zuccotti Park, it’s an attempt to carve out a protected space, a living conscience for the city, amid the repression. A refuge…in a city where control-freaks would sweep us under the rug, and out of the way. In a city where they would pen us in, and permit us to death. In a city that tells us  to “move on, move on”….. you don’t belong, you don’t count, you don’t have a right to be here…don’t assemble, don’t block the street, don’t trespass, don’t EXIST! They would deny us, deny our lives, deny our very futures. IF WE LET THEM. But OWS responds, both in word and in DEED: it says we’ve had ENOUGH – we BELONG, we STAND our ground, and we DO matter! This IS our land, and we want it BACK! The word OCCUPY…says it all! That’s why OWS has captured our imagination. That’s why a living breathing OCCUPIED public space is important for OWS. Like Lady Liberty’s never extinguished torch that burns in our harbor, OWS needs to have a concrete, persistent, in-your-face presence.. ..to continually remind us of what we’ve lost, of what we are, and what we can be; a protected place to affirm, to illuminate, to defy…and to inspire. Trinity Church, with its oft-proclaimed ideals (and its huge land holdings), should look deep into its collective soul, do the right thing, and help OWS secure a sanctuary. Not merely a space of refuge, but one of hope, non-violent change, and compassion. And dare I say: a space of love –  love of country, love of your fellow man and woman, love for the poor and oppressed. Can thoughtful Christians argue with these simple Christian / human values? For if Christ were physically with us today, as He was 2000 years ago, He would be among the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain. Let us pray that Trinity Church -and others -hear the call, and respond. For the old ways are not working…