Friday, August 6, 2010

A Day of Ritual, A Day of Action: TOTB Day 4

As the sun begins to rise, we gather by the ritual fire.  Mateo and his wife, Michelle, who are not originally from this land but were adopted by the native people here and now call it home, have invited us here to this sacred ceremony.  Michelle holds an infant in her arms as Mateo steps around to each of us and smudges us with sage.  In the custom of their teacher, who has passed away, they open the circle with a traditional song and then ask us to bring in spirit in whatever way feels right to us, to pray to whatever gods we pray to, because we are all here doing the work together and we are all in service to the land.  Slowly at first, then with more confidence, we take turns stepping into the center of the circle, drop tobacco that’s dried but still green into the flames, and say a prayer --- although for some of us that’s spoken words, and others its song, and still others its silent.  Lisa offers “Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do,” which reminds me of my dear friend Jeff Mooney and brings a little pang to my heart, wishing he was here in his body rather than only with his song.  Some people step forward and speak in Spanish, others in native tongues that belong to nations that I don’t know the names of.

The morning was filled with last minute preparations and too soon it we were loading into cars and the bus and driving down to Las Alamos.  On the way we passed Black Mesa, which is a place that I’ve heard much of but never see before.  It’s a sight to behold: layers of orange and red rock rising straight out of the earth, looking for all the world like the hand of some titanness has placed it there.  All around the mesa are plateaus of similarly straight, sunset-colored rocks surrounded by scrubby brush and the occasional wild sunflower.  It’s a place of incredible beauty, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could decide to build a nuclear lab here because “nothing’s here, anyway.”  Above us, the sky is pure sapphire blue.

We pull up to Ashley Pond, a park that I’ve heard was made by the indentation of a nuclear bomb, although that seems to be at best an unconfirmed rumor.  Again Seeds of Peace arrives with a basket full of food to feed the whole group, and while the puppeteers get their props together the rest of us circle up beneath a huge tree and begin the ceremony.  Juniper grounds us and then an indigenous elder honors the spirits of the land and calls for their blessing upon us, honoring the ancestors of all of our bloodlines at the same time.  Then another elder steps forward and prays for us, followed by a young organizer who calls for us to put our blessings and intentions into the waters that we will bring with us down to the lab and, hopefully, to the CMR building which is an object of quite a bit of tension and dispute. 

CMR stands for Chemical Metalurgy Research, which is the place where they build the plutonium pits that ignite the rest of the bomb (it’s a pit like a peach pit, not a pit like a hole in the ground).  Building plutonium pits goes against the Nuclear Proliferation Act, which the US apparently has signed but not ratified, meaning, it’s a treaty in name only – something that’s pretty obvious considering how much we ignore it.  LANL is currently in the process of expanding the CMR to become the CMRR, which would be the brand new CMR, expanded and pretty and filled with new equipment.  This is all fairly ironic, given Obama’s expressed desire to be on the road to becoming a nuclear-weapon free country, and also given that there’s a lot of money dedicated to this new facility and very little dedication to the dismantlement of our older nuclear weapons which at the very least could be retrofitted into new weapons or, even better, turned into something that will never create another mushroom cloud on this planet.

After our intentions of healing, rejuvenation, and transformation are put into the water, we call in the ancestors – first those that have died of radiation poisoning and nuclear exposure on this continent (like my own father, grandmother, and grandfather), then the veterans of wars who have given their lives either in service or from the effects of depleted uranium weapons, and finally, a woman from Japan steps forward and honors the deaths of those killed 65 years ago today in Hiroshima and all of those who died afterwards from the lingering effects of the bombs (both Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  Juniper tells me that with all of these powerful ancestors with us, we cannot be stopped.  I hope that she’s right.

The puppeteers and dancers come forward to perform for us.  They are quite a colorful array.  Obama is there, twenty-feet tall and four-armed, using his many hands to cover his eyes so he can’t see the bomb-makers, who are poisoning the elements and the land.  A bevy of pregnant mothers – of all genders – give birth to radioactive babies, and fall upon the ground.  Then the elementals return, dancing and singing, and the bomb shifts to become a beautiful healed earth. 

We’re ready to go.  We step off into the street and start our two-mile procession down to the lab, chanting and singing and drumming and dancing.  Juniper, Jim and I drum alongside a young dreddy fellow going absolutely mad on a teeny metal doumbek.  The police quickly arrive, but we have a permit and so there’s really nothing for them to do other than trail alongside us as our escort, which is kinda nice because alone we are only blocking one lane of traffic but with them there we’ve effectively shut down all of the lanes headed towards the lab.  It’s a long walk, and of course about halfway through I realize that I really need to use the loo.  I briefly entertain the notion of stepping behind a barricade to go, but then push it aside and hope that the thing will happen that does happen sometimes where you have to go for so long that your body just gives up on it. 

During our strategy meetings, we weren’t sure if we were going to end up doing the rest of our action in the street in front of the lab or in the parking lot (where we’re allowed to be), as there were many people worried about risking arrest by being in the street.  Once we got there, however, it was obvious that the street was our place to be.  The cops rerouted the honking cars while we did the puppet show in the middle of the intersection and then circled up and began the spiral dance, singing: 

We are sweet water and we are the seed
We are the storm winds that blow away greed
We are the new world we bring to birth
A river rising to reclaim the earth.

Then the living river surged forward – a long cloth dyed blue with woad that has been in Quebec, Miami, and may other Pagan Cluster actions, held up by activists who were willing to risk arrest in order to continue the ceremony directly in front of the CMR.  During our planning, we weren’t sure if it would only be a handful of us -- and yet with the drums and the singing and the puppets swirling forward with us, soon nearly everyone was crossing the line onto the lab property and marching down the road.  The police watched, apprehensive, but doing nothing to stop us.   We continued singing, first the pagan standbys “The River is Flowing” and “Born of Water,” and then moving to “When we go down to the river to pray,” which stayed powerful for quite some time. 

As we walked, it began to rain.  At first it drizzled, but then the clouds opened up and the water began blessing us for real.  Lightning crackled across the sky and thunder boomed, and still our voices and our drums stayed strong.  Before long, we were there – all the way there, at the CMR, and Jason was spreading the holy water in the four directions while we toned.  “We pray for the people who once called this land sacred land, and still do.  We pray for the people who live in this place and drink the waters; we pray for the people who work here.  We pray for all people that there may be peace across all the lands and these weapons will be dismantled, because we don’t need them anymore.”

Lisa, Jason, and others quietly and with dignity sat down in front of the doors to the CMR to pray, and finally – but reluctantly – the police moved into action.  The commander first addressed the crowd, promising to be peaceful and not to harm anyone so that we “might achieve our objectives” as long as we did the same.  It wasn’t a hard promise to make, being the dedicated  nonviolent peace activists that we are.  They filed into a line between us and those who were being arrested, and soon a line of activists was standing in front of them holding the living river banner waving in the rain, surrounded by still more of us singing.  I felt really in my power now, drumming and holding space for this magical work, and my voice was loud and clear in spite of how tired and utterly drenched that I was.  It was time for something different for this work – for something a bit more fierce. 

We are the rising of the moon, we are the shifting of the ground
We are the seed that takes root when we bring the fortress down.
We are the tongue that speaks the truth, we are the dragon on the wind
We are the courage to step forth – we are the change that now begins.

I looked across the line of police and activists as I drummed and saw Lisa crying as we sang to them, being arrested.  I’ve never seen her cry before, and I’m not even sure what had brought tears to her eyes, but there they were.  It was so touching to me, that moment of connection.  Part of me wished that I was on the other side of the police line with her, but there are commitments that require me to be sure that I get on my plane tomorrow afternoon.

It turns out not to really matter, because our friends who were arrested – 8 of them in total – are already being released on their own recognizance.  And although I’m tempted to have some regret about my choice, I feel proud of the work we’ve done today.  We all do.  The whole day was one of magic and power, a manifestation of our passion for peace and healing through ceremony, art, and action. We’re still waiting for a couple of folks to be released, but they’re on their way – and while waiting, we hear that another 30 folks have been arrested at Livermore Labs, and probably still others across the US.  It feels good, it feels totally right, to be part of a movement of people that honors today like this.  I feel proud of all of us.  And I’m betting that if I’m not here in New Mexico this time next year, I’ll be somewhere else, honoring and remembering the beloved dead with my heart, soul, and my feet – in the streets!

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