Wednesday, August 4, 2010

TOTB Day Two: Banner Drops and Promises of the Land

I was pretty convinced that I’d missed by chance to do the banner drop by oversleeping my alarm, because I felt too good and the inside of my tent seemed too sunny for 5:30 in the morning.  Luckily, however, when I prodded my starving phone into service, it revealed to me with its last moments of juice that it was 6:20 – late, yes, but not so late that I’d missed my chance completely.  I quickly threw on my sneakers and tore out of the tent, catching up with Lisa and a couple of activists from Boise who were loading themselves into a decrepit but supposedly trustworthy Volvo.  A man with silver hair thrust a bundle of painted sheets, newspaper, duck-tape and rope into my arms, and then we were off.

Our first stop was an overpass on the highway that leads to Los Alamos, an essential target to hit up before the morning commute began.  As we drove down the road, Lisa pointed out various other spots that we might consider for future banner drops and other art actions, which was inspiring but hard for me to focus on, because the only thing that was getting through my foggy brain was threads of excitement about what we were about to do.  Liz, navigating from the passenger seat, had a map with the various sites our scouts had decided were the most important --  she was clearly as excited as the part of me that was awake was feeling, and kept saying cute things like, “Here we go!”  I wanted to be similarly cute and overtly enthusiastic, but had to content myself with quiet, mostly monosyllabic responses.

When we came to our first target spot, Lisa pulled out onto the shoulder and Liz and Derek charged up the side of the embankment to the bridge, leaving Eric and I with the banner down below.  I wasn’t actually been sure that I wanted to do this particular banner drop, because it involved going up a steep embankment covered with brush and rocks and other trippy things, and sometimes I’m not the swiftest or most agile activist in the bunch.  But then there I was, feeling quite happy I’d opted for the close-toed sneakers rather than my usual chacos and not nearly as clumsy or slow as I’d feared, running up the embankement after them carrying the banner.  We unfurled it as trucks and commuters hurled by and then dropped it down, its newspaper and duct tape weights holding it down to drape legibly off of the side of the bridge.   We used tape to secure the rope and make it harder to cut (it’s not a question of if they’ll cut it down, simply when) and, whooping and shouting, careened back down the embankment and to where Lisa was waiting with the ca.  As we drove back to camp (after hitting up a second target, which was a bridge with a suicide fence on it – ooh la la) we spotted a banner that had been hung by a different team, and that felt almost as wonderful as seeing our own whipping in the cool morning breeze.  It was nice to imagine these banners up all over Santa Fe and Los Alamos, brought by little packs of excited young activists crammed clown-like into their getaway cars.

After lunch there was a skill-share about one of my current passions – herbs and herbal medicine.  Originally a local midwife was supposed to come by and do a training with us about the plants of this area, but she wasn’t able to make it, and so instead the 8 or 9 of us that were interested simply gathered in the main tent and took turns sharing what we know about the gifts of the plants.  As is often the case in groups, together, it turned out that we actually knew quite a bit.   This was immediately followed by a street medic training in the same vein, and then it was time for affinity groups to meet.

I felt unsure about my affinity group when I first met them, mostly because our “affinity” seemed to be based only upon the fact that we were folks without an affinity group already, and being used to running with the Pagan Cluster for most of my activist career, I was worried that it would feel disconnected and disparate to work with a group of relative strangers.  I also worried that my “woo-woo” would be off-putting to activist who might not be used to or even want to have a spiritual focus to their work, while at the same time feeling committed to contributing quite a bit of woo-woo in the form of prayer and ritual at this gathering. 

And yet, as these things do often go, the people in my group quickly proved to be exactly the right people for me right now: Emily, who shares the same name as my beloved cat and has the same dark hair; Elias and Elizabeth, both young and quiet and eager to sink their teeth into the work; Seth, whose spare words carry weight when he chooses to offer them; and Jason (not to be confused with my dear one), who feels a strong affinity for water and has a deep desire to work with it energetically in this action.  As the group gelled and it became clear that this was an idea that appealed to quite a few of us, we named ourselves Sweetwater (after the song: “We are sweet water, and we are the seed; we are the storm winds that blow away greed…”) 

That was yesterday.  Today, our desire to work with water ceremonially during the action crystallized, and we came up with a plan to create a ritual that would involve inviting native people to ground and open the space for us, to honor those effected by the nuclear-industrial complex with a time line that invoked them historically and personally, to do a spiral dance to charge waters brought from all over the world, and then to do an act of civil disobedience and cross the line with the waters and bring them to the weapons lab as a prayer for healing and rejuvenation.  Unfortunately, it became clear after the spokescouncil that our elaborate ritual plan didn’t mesh with the plan that the organizers had for a procession and a skit at the gates of the lab.  So, as these things often go, we realized that we were going to need to switch it up and be flexible.  Luckily, we have a whole day to work it out – although tomorrow is our first day of actions out in the streets and also the last day we have to plan Friday’s big action, so whatever planning we do will have to be snappy. 

Three last thoughts: one, that today at dinner Jim Haber, a friend of mine from the Bay, showed up, and it felt really wonderful to have someone that I know from the rest of my life appear here magically, as if he’d heard the prayers at the end of my last post (although I happen to know he’s been planning on coming here for weeks, and I simply didn’t know).  The other thing that happened today is that a man that I’ve never met before in my life, who also happens to be from Boise, gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had. "I've always wondered what it looks like when you see one of these wise women elders -- what they look like when they're young,” he said.  “Seeing you, I feel like now I know."  

I’m not totally sure that I can live up to such an amazing compliment, but I’m trying it on anyway, trying to connect in with that wise woman self within even as I allow myself to open more and more to the power and intelligence of the youth here, as well as the elders, of course, and the land itself.  Which brings me to my last thought.  Seven years ago, I came through Albequerque on my way to New Orleans on a train.  I had fallen asleep in the barren sands of Arizona and woke up among the dark red clay earth and elegant pale sages and feathery osha plants of New Mexico, and was completely blown away by the beauty before me.  I only had a couple hours to be here, but it marked me.  A part of me whispered, knew in the depths of my self, that I would be back someday -- that I had to come back to this place, because something in me recognized this place from some time beyond my understanding, as if some part of me that was waiting to be awoken. 

Tonight, I made good on that promise.  As evening began to fall, I went down to the river that cuts across the edge of the property in a quicksilver flow and watched the sun go down over the chapparal and the orange layered rock and the trees that rise like miracles out of the dry desert floor, watered by the acequias, which is an ancient irrigation system created by the people that lived here 400 years ago.  I took my drum and my whistle and sang and played to the river, as I imagine people have done here for at least 400 years, but more likely, 4,000 or maybe even 40,000 years.  This land, in spite of the immense poisoning and the incalculateable damage, is magical.  I open deeply to her.  I listen to these winds, the river, the plants, so that I might learn wisdom and relationship.  I open to the understanding that if we can all do this, we will win.  

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