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OGR 2012: Alex Beecroft weaves together Catholicism, activism

Alex Beecroft's spiritual and social beliefs motivate him to be an activist and passionate Occupier.

/Courtesy of Alex Beecroft

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I must admit, I know little about activism and less about Catholicism. I had a laid-back Protestant upbringing, but did attend mass a few times for cousin’s Confirmations and weddings. Most recently, I visited the Catholic Church in my sleep; after brainstorming this article, I woke up giggling from a dream in which I took Holy Communion with Mario Batali. My experiences with activism begin and end in college, culminating with an evening where my best friend and I joined the “Take Back the Night” march, weaving through the eclectic downtown of Ithaca, NY, and ending with a boozy celebration adjacent to campus. I also attended The Vagina Monologues, if that counts. 

Alex Beecroft challenges the common perception of Catholicism and activism. He divides his time between a fulltime job as a room service attendant at The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and a commitment to Occupy Grand Rapids (OGR). He recently spoke to my GRCC Writing for Publication class, taking comfortable command of the front of the classroom in his hoody and jeans. Beecroft doesn’t seem to mind tough questions or criticism. What he does mind is what he calls “life crushing debt,” and occasionally having to reach a difficult consensus in OGR meetings.  

Occupy reached Grand Rapids on October 8, 2011. Beecroft was there on Calder Plaza, beginning his efforts to let government and society know, “Hey! We’ve woken up. This isn’t okay anymore.” Beecroft occasionally mediates Occupy general assembly meetings and speaks his mind, but with a pensive appreciation of all people and a gentle optimism. It appears that Beecroft cannot help but smile. Maybe the smile is inspired by an inner peace because he believes in his power to create change and values his ideas enough to commit to sharing them without evident self-doubt or hesitation. Beecroft is considering a Buddhist college in Colorado. He is also fascinated by quantum physics. Spirituality is a fundamental piece of Beecroft's life, with the seven social responsibilities of Catholicism and the Buddha “living side by side.”

Beecroft’s mother is a Catholic youth minister. She gently passed her faith to Beecroft and allowed him to interpret the spirit of the Word. Beecroft repeatedly emphasizes his belief in justice. Justice is a cardinal virtue of Catholicism, teaching that each person should receive what he/she is rightfully due. Beecroft wants justice for what he calls "the other 99%," the majority of the population that suffers from unequal distribution of wealth held by the top 1%. In our interview, Beecroft began loosely listing off the seven themes of the Catholic social teachings: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.

He is a social activist inspired by his will to live the social teachings, and OGR provides a forum for being true to his personal and spiritual beliefs.  This is certainly a contrast to the “jobless, unmotivated, whining” Occupier persona he says the media tends to perpetuate. Beecroft's motivation and spark is contagious. He gets giddy talking about Naomi Wolf (visiting Grand Rapids on March 14), and he is patient with questions meant to critique, even when they become repetitive or challenging. “Yes, I know what you believe, but what have you done? What change have you actually created?”

Beecroft interweaves spirituality, Catholic faith, belief in community and value of the individual with a controversial nationwide ongoing protest. He prioritizes his ideals, making time to be involved with OGR and to speak out. He hopes to eventually be a sole-proprietor, operating a retail business that embodies his views of a positive society: treat workers well, relate and empathize with the consumer and give back to the environment. In the meantime, he is seeking tolerance and valuing collaboration. 

Beecroft implores my classmates to take action. He wants people to take a serious look at government and the trajectory we’re on and then resist the stifling of our personal liberties and demand justice, whatever that means to them. To me, it means an economy built upon the business of producing something – widgets, publications, services – not the business of moving, analyzing, and trading money. Beecroft says with the current system, the richer get richer, the poor get poorer, and it’s hard enough to be a middle guy trying to hold onto your hat. He asks us all to “find the things that stir your heart.” Be active and engaged. Stand for something.

When I pass the Fountain Street Church, home of OGR, I tend to keep my eyes on the road, not wanting to glance over and get sucked into a social movement full of controversy and opinions. I’m also not considering converting and taking up the Catholic faith. But I fundamentally agree with Beecroft in my desire to believe in something and allow my ideals to guide my life. I shall continue my search to stir my heart and change my world and myself. 

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