PSS Winter '13


The Rt. Bishop George Packard ’66, P’93 participating in a 2011 Occupy rally
in New York City.

Democracy and Action

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

Rt. Bishop George Packard ’66, P’93

FIRST JOB: Infantry Platoon Leader in the U.S. Army

CURRENT JOB: Retired Bishop for the Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries; Occupy Wall Street activist

As a young man, Rt. Bishop George Packard ’66, P’93, “imagined that when I looked back on my life from my 60s, I’d want it to be filled with something that mattered.”

After he graduated from Hobart, Packard enlisted in the Army and later received the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his service as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. When he returned to the U.S., “haunted by the trauma of the war,” Packard entered Virginia Theological Seminary, which forced him to confront the lingering horrors of his experiences in Southeast Asia. It was here he exchanged the infantry for the chaplaincy.

“In seminary, you are trained for clinical pastoral intervention, which introduces you to the discipline – and it is a discipline – of crisis counseling,” he says. “You can’t do that without a supply of self-knowledge in any social interaction. You’ve got to pull all this stuff out of the drawers. I was blessed to do that early on, and it was painful.”

During Packard’s civilian ministry he served in Virginia and New York as well as in parts of Asia as an Army Reserve chaplain. After Desert Storm, he rose to the rank of colonel and the Pentagon retained him as an adviser for soldier care policy development. Later, during his time as a Bishop of Federal Ministries, he travelled to four war zones and throughout the world. In 2000, he was consecrated as the fifth suffragan bishop for the Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries.

During the recent Iraq War, he helped reinstitute St. George’s Church in Baghdad. “I am especially proud of that,” he says. “It became a place of refuge and sanctuary for all faiths.”

Now at 68 years old, Packard’s energies are consumed by the social issues raised by the Occupy movement.

“Occupy has put its finger on something that has developed in our country and that discovery won’t be dismissed,” says Packard. “Effectively, we have no power in a system from which we demand fairness because lobbying and special interests have replaced us.

“Representative government has deteriorated, is frozen, and worse, marginalizes the citizenry rendering it voiceless. We elect an official who – removed from us – thinks great thoughts on our behalf, but responds to forces and collectives apart from our interests. We’ve lost any personal agency. It’s a far cry from how it was intended to be. That is where Occupy theory comes in: the only thing one has left is a physical body in physical space making a resistant protest. Impromptu gatherings can reclaim lost power.”

Reflecting on his early post-grad years, Packard says, “There’s an irony in the fact that I had no encumbrances whatsoever of unemployment and student debt after Hobart College, and now I work with young women and men so under fire from these two directions.”

For Packard, these recent graduates are representative of the movement’s central concerns: debt-loan systems that indenture entire classes, unemployment, and a political system which he claims perpetually favors one percent of the population at the expense of the other 99 percent.

“These loan programs were based on an enthusiasm in the 1960s, when we believed that earning always lay ahead,” Packard says. “But in an economy turned sour, young people –the most expendable class – are the hardest hit; that formula won’t work.”

Last December, Packard was arrested when, in his magenta vestments, he vaulted a fence to occupy a vacant lot in Manhattan. In May, Packard was arrested a second time, along with 15 other veterans, during the Occupy demonstrations at New York City’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza.

He had only just finished the community service sentence he received as a result of the arrests when he was arrested again on Sept. 17, 2012 – the first anniversary of the movement. With the social and economic injustices at the heart of the Occupy movement still unresolved, he shows no signs of backing down.

“The participatory democracy Occupy is introducing holds promise,” he says. “If we put energy into transparency, honesty and shared power, this Movement’s model can revitalize our culture. These good intentions will outlast us all. And that’s hopeful.”


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