Saturday, December 12, 2009

Drums...


I’m being blown wide open.  Alphonsus warned me that this would happen if I came to Europe to protest: “It will blow your mind,” he said.  He didn’t mention that it might blow my heart and soul and sense of purpose apart, leaving veins of brightness shining among the shards.

I was at a gathering a couple of weeks ago and had a little tiny glimpse of what I’m feeling now.   Someone I knew was performing “It’s a Wonderful World,” and something about that song, so unpretentious and heartfelt, and the fact that I was just beginning my moon blood, sunk into me in a way that it cracked the shell of my cynicism.  How often, these days, do I let myself think or see that it’s a wonderful world?  The skies of blue are clouded with gray smog, the red robins are dying.  It’s hard.  And yet, it’s still a wonderful world.  In spite of all that is so very wrong with this world, and in spite of all that will continue to fester and deteriorate in the coming years even if we do sign a Climate Change treaty at Copenhagen and move powerfully and unhesitantly towards the solutions.  This world is a miracle, and humans, too.   I began to cry when I felt my heart cracking open, cry with both the beauty of the truth that I was hearing and the realization of how deeply I’d been feeling hopeless.

Tonight, sitting in a huge tent at Christiana listening to a circle of women create a song of birds and ancestors, humans and fey, the land and something otherworldly too, I felt my heart crack open just as it did that day that I allowed myself to see that the world was still wonderful.  Using only Tibetan singing bowls and their voices, without words in any language known at this time, they filled the room with ancient beyond- time music who’s truth was all the more palpable because it could not be understood by my verbal-talking-self mind.  I had just finished eating a bowl of (free!) couscous and lentil curry with Lisa, Tom, and Jason, who were already trying to figure out what action tomorrow’s action.  Part of me knew it would be a good idea to start getting ready for all of that, but another part of me knew that I needed this immersion in song, needed it as much as anything that might happen in the streets.

It wasn’t only the bird-ancestor-land music that broke me open to possibility and hope, though – that was really simply the last unraveled stitch of my mask, you know, that one you wear sometimes that almost hides you from yourself.  The whole day was Initiation, going bright instead of deep in too the depths of depression and despair. 

The magic started with a crowd of hot pink drummers from Germany.  We stumbled upon them early in the day, gathering on the side of the road like a ragtag magenta army armed with snares and toms and bass drums.  Shyly, Jason and I approached and asked if we could drum with them.  Our shyness turned out to be completely unnecessary: the band of twelve or so was part of a larger group called Rhythms of Resistance, a non-hierarchical drum troupe that spans many different countries in Europe and Africa.  Their main premise is pretty simple: everyone can do anything in the troupe: play any drum, lead or follow patterns and marching periods, and everyone switches off.    As we’d march down the street, someone in front would lead the troupe with a series of hand signals seemingly more complex than ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.   Just when I thought that I had it, someone would step up and start leading with a whole new series of signals, often incorporating the ones that I thought I had, and I’d realize that I still had no idea what was going on.

It was in one of these moments of self-doubt and frustration that a young blonde woman with dreds wandered over to talk to Jason and me, her demeanor notably friendly in spite of the destruction I was currently wrecking on the poor song we were playing.  I felt like an ass, and asked if it was really okay that we continue drumming with them.  “Of course!” she said, not even thinking about it.  “You’re with the band now.”


Your with the band now.  That’s amazing.  Simply because you show up with a drum you just bought a couple of days ago and a desire to play. 

I looked at Jason, and she caught the look between us. “This is nothing.  Just you wait until the rest of the band shows up… they’re so professional.”

“The rest of the band?” I looked around at the band of drummers, which by this point had swelled to about fifteen or so.  “Where are they?”

“They’re at another action, but they’re on their way.  There’s… I dunno… maybe fifty more?  Oh, here they come.  See?”

I looked up.  Sure enough, a group of hot pink and silver was loudly headed our way.  Very loudly.  In a couple of moments, our group doubled, then tripled.   The rest of the march, all around us, was doing the same.  We pulled off into a plaza next to the road that the march was going down and circled up so that we could all see one another as we played, and as we did so, thousands and thousands of people continued to pass us by:  young women dressed as cows and pigs with signs that read, alternately, “fart,” “burp,” and “vegetarians against climate change;” a group of five or six people in khaki colored “bubble for one” costumes sponsored by Exxon and Chevron and the like; a group of clowns complaining that it was too cold anyhow; an amazing slate grey dragon carried by six people that danced dancing in the streets. 




That’s when I first started to feel it: the cracking.  Vandana Shiva was standing on the stage, though I couldn’t see her – I could only hear her voice echoing through the massive intersection the march had filled.  “Welcome to Copenhagen!” her stately voice rang out, echoing across the cobblestone streets.  “How does it feel to be marching with 100,000 people?  Look around.  These people care about the earth just as you do.”

I couldn’t see 100,000 people: I’m just one little human, and all I could see, everywhere I looked, were people.  Crowds of communists with black and red flags, Friends of the Earth with blue flags, people carrying life jackets and cardboard cut outs of rescue tubes for when the waters rise – everywhere, people.  The Rhythms of Resistance group began to weave through the crowd, using their signals and the power of their loud drums to get from one end of the plaza to the other, and still there were more and more people, with so many with creative expressions of their passion and anger and desire for earth healing that even listing all of the ones that I can think of doesn’t do it justice.  I still don’t know if I can answer Vandana Shiva’s question.  How does it feel to march with 100,000 people who love the earth, who care passionately about protecting her? 

It feels like cracking open, I guess.  Cracking open to hope – not light, fluffy, sweet hope but the serious kind, the kind that whispers, we might actually be able to do this.  That’s the scary kind of hope – the kind that’s sort of like disillusion, except that instead of losing my idealism (a word so often confused with naiveté), I’m losing the cynicism that makes it okay to drive instead of ride my bike, and okay to sit home and zone out on the internet, and okay to put myself forward somewhat but not all the way, which I prefer, because if I don’t put myself out totally than I can’t fail totally and I also don’t have to fear being totally rejected by you or anyone else.

I’m tearing up as I write this.  I’m not kidding.  So much in our lives tells us that we’re doomed, or that we may as well not bother, or that we’re crazy for thinking we need to do anything at all, or that the only real heroes are the ones in storybooks or made-for-TV-movies.  But let me tell you, I saw 100,000 heroes in the streets today, wearing super-hero capes that read “Climate Justice” and drums held together by duct tape and puffy bubble-for-one suits and black masks.  I saw them march peacefully, but fiercely, from downtown to the Bella Center to have their voices heard.  And I know, because Jason and I being here represents such a tiny percentage of the people in my community that care deeply about this issue, that the 100,000 people that I saw represent just a fraction of the people on the planet that believe that climate change is an issue that threatens the survival and wellness of all beings on this planet and who want to create sweeping changes to protect life on earth.

Eventually, it came down to us through the rumor mill that some of the march had been separated by the police and corralled onto a side street, and were being held there and possibly arrested.  The fellow leading the troupe made an “O” over his head with both hands, and we circled up to talk about what to do next.  As quickly as possible, he relayed the information and we broke up into affinity groups to discuss what we wanted to do.  The results were surprisingly unanimous: we wanted to go there to support those being arrested. 

We continued marching with the main march a little ways longer, and then as subtly as possible (considering the seventy-odd drummers and drums, some the size of a Great Dane) broke off down a side street and ran a block or two over, then cut back again and found ourselves – as we had hoped – on the other side of the police line.  There were already some people there, watching and calling out for their friends to be let go.  We circled up again, the sounds of our drums and our voices filling the air with a new vibrancy and authority. 

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, “LET THEM GO!” 

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, “LET THEM GO!”

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, “LET THEM GO!”

More people started to come, drawn by the drumming and the thick energy of the space.  Their voices joined ours.  “Let them go!  Let them go!”

But as we continued to drum and play, the police presence also started to get thicker.  At some point, I can’t say exactly when, I felt the energy shift – its something that happens at these mass demonstrations, I’ve noticed, ever since the RNC in St. Paul: I can feel the energy shift in a way that feels unambiguous, as clear to me as reading a street sign or sensing a car speeding up beside me on the road.  Something is different now.  Something is about to happen.

Jason came over to me just at that moment.  “I think its time for us to leave,” he said.

I nodded.  We grabbed Tom and headed off down towards the end of the street just as a police car drove up, then away.  It seemed very likely they were about to “kettle” in the crowd that had gathered to support those in their first corral.  Which almost made it harder, for me, to leave.  I didn’t want to leave those I’d been drumming and making magic in the street with all day; but at the same time, I didn’t want to be arrested.  Not here, now, for such a minor reason.

(We found out later that they arrested nearly 1,000 people today, including many of our drum troupe.  Some have been released, but others are still detained, chained to benches and being denied food, etc.). 

We joined back up with the rest of the march, where we stumbled upon a drum circle of a much different sort: a group of Native Americans, holding a sweat lodge in the open area next to the Bella Center, drumming and chanting.  There’s more about today, but I’m about to be thrown out of the café, so this is what I’m going to leave you with: tonight, in Copenhagen at the end of a long night of protesting, I found myself immersed in the indigenous wisdom of the land I live on being used for the good of the earth, for the healing of this beautiful garden-planet.  I don’t think you’ll see it reported anywhere else, these tribes that have come thousands of miles to speak for Her.  But they are here.   They came and spoke at Christania, too: but that’s another story, perhaps one I’ll be able to tell you about tomorrow.  Until then, thank you so much for reading this, and please know how very grateful I am for all the love that you send and the work you’re doing at home.

8 comments:

  1. good to hear your voice and see with your eyes. It lightens my heart to hear the size and the joyfulness of this action. looking forward to hearing more. spirals of blessing.

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  2. Wow... I definitely feel some of the passion with which you wrote this. Thank you for sharing it, I don't exactly feel the same emotion when watching the coverage on the news channels on television.

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  3. riyana, thank you. i am sending love. and thank you deeply for sharing this with us. i am so glad that you are there. xo dara

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  4. Absolutely beautiful writing...you truly communicate what you're experiencing and feeling. I wish I could be there with you. Love, Mom

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  5. Thank you. Thank you. I already cry at every protest I go to - I can barely imagine the intensity there.

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  6. Thanks so much, everyone! Your blessings really help when it feels so cooold and dark here.

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  7. Thank you for sharing this. Stay safe and warm.

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