Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Theater of the Possible

Ah, turkey bacon.  It's a lovely way to start your day.  Especially when it's accompanied by eggs, pancakes, grits, fresh fruit, and orange juice. 

Lest you believe we out here in Pittsburgh are shivering in the cold, hungry and calling with shrill voices to uncaring ears, let me tell you a bit about my day.

We overslept our 8 AM breakfast call, and those of us sleeping at the house on Monroe ended up tumbling out of our tents sometime after that and into the cars, arriving at the other house (we Cluster folks are divided into two houses here in Pitts, which has not been easy.  So much better when you're all clumped together in one place, but alas, that is not to be).  Once we got there, late as we were, it was a beautiful sight.  A whole spread, put together by four early-rising pagan folks, was laid out before us.  An embarrassment of riches, a wealth of food.  It was nice to stuff my little belly and have a slow, chatty morning. 

Our first order of business was in-house work: to process our group communication agreements and power dynamics.  Oy, vey.  We must.  We simply must, but its hard -- hard to look at those shadow parts of ourselves, and hard to look at those of the people that we love.  About half way through the meeting, the person who was facilitating asked to step back and allow someone else to step up, and after an awkward pause, two fellas in the cluster slowly came forth to volunteer.  Each of them had already taken a turn facilitating a meting this week, and some of those present asked that we have a woman facilitate instead.  I knew I should step forward, but my own shadow was beginning to act up, telling me that there were many experienced facilitators in the room who were better equipped to tackle it. 

A couple more awkward moments passed, with some Cluster folks begging off, saying they were too emotionally close to the subject at hand.  Finally, the woman who had been turned to me and, under her breath, said, "Riyana... Please."  It was enough to get me past my shadow's sulky whispers and step up.  And, actually, facilitating had a really positive effect for me -- it allowed me to be present and contribute in a way that was much more satisfying then simply listening and witnessing.  So I was happy to have been pushed that way.  In fact, later, when we were going around each taking a turn saying what our needs from the group was, I realized that one of my biggest needs from a group is to be pushed past my comfort zone into my growing edge, which being with the Pagan Cluster in the streets does in ways that being in those places that I usually contribute energy (at home, or in the bay area ritual planning cell, or at witchcamp) simply does not.  It's powerful, every day, even simply being in meetings.

But luckily, it wasn't all just meetings, anyway -- although I did have a conference call about a completely unrelated topic with completely unrelated people later in the afternoon, in the pouring rain at the CMU campus, which was probably the most difficult thing I did all day, including those times we were surrounded by riot cops.  It wasn't a difficult call, but one of the amazing things that has at these actions is that (like witchcamp) the world outside seems to recede, or, more accurately, my senses, physical and intuitive, sharpen so much that the diffuse world of little tasks and conference calls and e-mail is harder to find or maintain interest in for very long. 

That afternoon we headed back out into the streets again.  Apparently someone had publicized a rally at Steel Park -- a place steeped in the rich labor movement history of Pittsburgh -- but hadn't planned anything to do there.  Fabulous!  We of the Pagan Cluster were happy to bring it on, then.  As yesterday there had been a strong police presence at Steel Park, we made our plans flexible... After all, most of us are invested in not getting arrested, and furthermore, it was raining and we didn't know if we'd get the Pagan Cluster + 4 or 100 people. 

It turned out to be somewhere in between: perhaps 40 or 50 people, a couple carrying banners of their own and many more picking up the extras we'd brought, with images of earth wind sea and fire and words like "change," "power," and "sustainability" on them.  We gathered at the park and Deborah, a wonderful woman from North Carolina, began hawking at the motley crowd gathered, preparing them for the greatest show on earth -- not, as you might expect, the G20 (wink) but the Pagan Cluster's awesome climate change skit.  For my part, I was excited about the hat I'd created from an idea that Esse gave me before we left California -- a birdcage with a dead canary inside.  It was awesome (pics when we get home, I promise), and was attracting a lot of media attention.  Last year, in St. Paul, Jason's bright pink shirt stole the show, so it was nice to be able to catch up this year (and without the pain and trauma, too... Which if you don't know about, I'm not going into now... You'll just have to reread Starhawk's posts from last year on her webpage). 

Deborah, in a spiffy purple hat of her own, began a beautiful monologue about opening up the discussion about climate change beyond the false solutions of green jobs and cap-and-trade carbon credits.  "We can't just change the lightbulbs; we need to change our lives."  From there, a song bubbled up and out, "We are rising up, like a phoenix from the fire, brothers and sisters, spread your wings and fly higher."  Indeed, it was true.  After all of the stalled, frazzled energy of the last couple of days, it felt good to be doing our thing unencumbered and free.  We marched down the Boulevard of the Allies and down to the headquarters of PNC Bank, a major investor in "Clean Coal" here in Pennsylvania, and then to Point State Park where Al Gore's big concert was. 

It was so amazing.  The media that we had attracted at Steel Park followed us down (okay, some cops did too, but they were relatively chill) and much more gathered as we began our full skit.  Deborah shone, as did my hat, talking about learning to be in right relation with coal and the other resources of the earth (that is, Deborah did.  My hat is mostly non-verbal).  After a while, some other pagan cluster folks came "on-stage" dressed up all corporate and suit-y, espousing the benefits of clean coal and safe nuclear power and corporate solutions to climate change, and were quickly "sequestered" by other members of the cluster and "composted" by throwing a tarp over them.  They were reborn as all of the good solutions we dream of for the world: alternative energies, community gardens, bike lanes, etc.  We finished up by creating a coal altar, complete with canary hat, and the crowd called out the visions they have for the world and we sang the coal song all together: "Take me down to the coal, take me down, where the earth is whole.  Take me down in your embrace, where I can see your ancient face."

It felt good to priestess the altar, to talk about having a different relationship with coal, who could be a great teacher to us all -- almost all of the coal on this planet was created during another period of mass extinction in our history, and it was in fact the sequestering of all of that carbon underground that made it possible for life on earth to continue.  It has seen the entire evolution of the human species.  It is literally the bones of our ancestors.  When we are in wrong relation to it, terrible atrocities occur that end up causing long term damage to our own bodies and the earth mother.  But in right relationship we could learn so much -- perhaps, if we listened, we would hear the answers we so desperately need right now.  So, the altar was about that listening, and about changing our relationship to time and the earth and abundance.  Preceded by a funny skit and followed by a snazzy skit, and with no cop interference at all.  Fabulous!

As I write this back at Anne's house, happy that the last two members (Aaron and Mary) of the Pagan Cluster have finally arrived, Delylah has just come home from the Spokescouncil meeting.  She is apparently not too impressed with the G20 Resistance organizers, who many of us have had some ambivalence about organizing with for quite some time.  They're the ones planning the big direct action events Thursday and Friday, and have for some reason decided that the "diversity of tactics" model of the RNC Welcoming Committee is a good way to go.  The messaging for these actions, likewise, has leans more towards images of war and destroying than the life-affirming visions that we are drawn to. 

A "Diversity of Tactics," in its essence, is a way of saying that you can break things as long as you don't do it close enough to those of us who aren't breaking things to endanger our non-violent, non-property-destruction, actions.  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to really work that way.  The police don't actually watch a bunch of people break windows and rush off after those folks with tear gas and pepper spray, leaving the rest of us quietly sitting with our candles and prayers in peace in the street.  They simply attack, not distinguishing between those who chose to avail themselves of stones and bricks and those who sit in silent vigil, and who may not only be uninterested in any sort of violence (giving or receiving) may also be unprepared physically to run from or be in confrontation with the police. 

Earlier today the Pittsburgh police clearly outlined their methods of dealing with protestors: an "escalation of methods," they have stated through the media, beginning with pushing with batons, then whacking with batons, then pepper spray, then tazers.  So, good news, no tear gas.  Bad news, tazers.  I hate tazers, hate their very existence and especially their use on unarmed, peaceful people.  And I don't trust that the cops are going to methodically go through various "gentler" methods of controlling crowds before getting jiggy with the electricity and chemical warfare.  Our group is committed to staying "green," meaning, getting out of any area that seems to be getting hot long before any of these kinds of tactics are used.  But, then again, Jason and I were simply standing in a cross-walk last year when all the madness went down, so you simply never know.  As Rain said, "What about going for an escalation of intelligence, instead?"

As for myself, I'm not interested in putting on a helmet and football pads and throwing myself at a bunch of cops.  In fact, one of the thing that bugs me about all these protests is how much focus there is on cops.  I don't care about cops.  I don't need to educate them, to help them see the errors of their ways, to push against them as agents of the machine, or anything like that.  I'm interested in the people -- in the parking garage attendant I spoke with today, the nice manager at McDonalds that let us use her "customers only" bathroom even though we refused to buy anything there, the driver of the French ambassadors who told me about taking his clients to the local strip clubs and being paid per customer by the club itself for doing so, and the local labor union organizer who told me a story about doing an anti-war action in the sixties that started like this: "So, there were four or five of us all dressed up like the Viet Cong, with masks over our faces, and we went into a local government office and were running all over the place with these toy assault rifles... Well, obviously the cops eventually caught us, so they threw us in the back of this van and took us down to jail..."

Toy assault rifles.  In a government building.  Running all over the place.  Can you imagine what would happen if we tried something like that today?  We can't even find a place to park a bus. 

Anyway, it was a good day that ended with chocolate torte out on the balcony, people chatting idly about gender and power dynamics yet again and recounting tales of protests long past and what they'd heard on the news about the security zones tomorrow and the Greenpeace Banner Drop that ended in 14 arrests.  Now Aaron (from Teen Earth Magic fame) is here, talking about how different progressive groups are treated by the public and government -- the street protesters, the student co-eds flash-mobs, the Al Gore concert-goers, the Labor Unions.  All of us a motley crew, but in a hierarchy of respectability and marginalization... Seems like an interesting topic to pursue before cuddling up on the thermarest with Scarecrow, who's already turned away from all of the blah-blah-blah and turned in.  On second thought, maybe I'll skip the marginalization of protestors chat.  After all, there's always tomorrow, and getting my cuddle on seems a little more appealing at the moment.

Until then!

PS - I reread yesterday's post and was horrified at the amount of typos in it.  Please forgive my sleepy, stressed out little brain and its inability to conform to proper English standards at times like these.  I'm usually quite put together and capable in that regard.


  1. Rivka: I just read your new post quickly in the e-mail version. I posted the link to your "Tuesday in Pittsburgh" post from yesterday on two discussion boards where I'm a regular, along with a short quote from the beginning. You'll be happy to know I fixed the typo in the part I quoted. You know me...ever the compulsive proofreader! :)

    It's good to hear that today was so much better for you than yesterday...hope it continues that way until Friday. I guess you know I'll be VERY relieved when you're safely back home!

    Love, Mom

  2. Rivka, I just heard a little while ago they are using tear gas and pepper spray on the "anarchists." Hope it doesn't escalate to tasers like last time. I'm very worried and I know I'm not alone, so please keep us updated as you can. Love, Mom

  3. Hi Raksha, glad I saw your mention of things being OK before seeing your note here. The powers that be can certainly scare you and worse, I can't imagine having my kids away from me doing that, I'll probably be too protective of them (they are only 8 and 11 now).

  4. Sorry that they're being violent again - the security forces. I saw this creepy super-megaphone sonic tweeter video today on some socialist site - omg! Anyway, best to you and your love.

  5. Bluelamp: Thanks for being here...I need all the help I can get right now. At least you know what she's up against, and that's comforting in itself.