Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupation Oakland Raided at 4:30 AM this Morning

“I couldn’t even see in, I could just hear people screaming over the walkie-talkie,” the young woman is wearing a hand-knit green cap. 

It makes me feel oddly synchronized with her, because it reminds me of a pattern I was just looking at yesterday and thinking about making myself.  It’s hard to imagine having either the time or serenity to knit now, though.  The very notion of it strikes me as ridiculously ironic.

The green-capped woman looks around at the devastation again.  Just yesterday, she said, this plaza was a beautiful bustling town of tents and signs and free food and medical care for anyone who needed it.  Now, it looks like a hurricane hit it.  Tents are everywhere, ripped open by razors, their guts of toys and sleeping bags and sweatshirts pouring out from their cuts onto the chalked sidewalks.  There are broken wooden chairs and bookshelves where the Freeschool once stood. 

The young woman tells us, again and again, how she was patrolling security last night when the police came.  “There may have been an order to disperse,” she says, “But I never heard one.”  She had been walking the perimeter of the camp when the police started coming from everywhere – up from the Bart Station, out of the California Building, straight off the freeway.  Over 500 officers from over one dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies surrounded the encampment at 4:30AM this morning and by 5:30 had used tear-gas, pepper spray, and “less-lethal” beanbag rounds fired from shotguns to take the plaza.   

“People were being dragged across the ground.  I saw one guy with an officer sitting on his head,” she says.  “I have never seen anything like this in my life.   We expected a raid – maybe something like what they did to Occupy SF.  But this was so violent.”

Officer J. Watson – the Oakland PD public info officer – rounds up those of us who were crafty or lucky enough to persuade the police that we are members of the press and tells us that in spite of what Chief Jordan told to us earlier, we won’t be able to photograph or examine the actual occupation grounds themselves, only film from the outside perimeter.  An angry murmur goes up among the crowd, many of whom actually are members of the press. They want to be able to do their job, and most especially, look into claims by the City of Oakland that the reason the camp was raided was to enforce fire codes and concerns about sanitation.  Again, the excuse about sanitation is used.  “We can’t let you in because of the hazardous waste – there may be human feces,” the officer says. 

My green-capped friend points to the 9 porta-potties paid for by the local teacher’s union.  “We never had any problems with sanitation!” But the officers ignore her. 

There are many grounds that the police used as reasons for raiding the camp last night –
everything from the poop claim to contending that Emergency Medical Services have been denied entry into the camp when called and that the kitchen was using open flames to cook.  All of these claims are staunchly denied by Occupy Oakland.  They were using barbeques for cooking and their medical teams worked closely with EMS, they say. 

There are lots of unanswered questions, or questions with answers that don’t muster.  A member of the Labor Union media asks how the City of Oakland can justify the expense of the kind of police force used last night against the protesters, such as the three $8,000 helicopters currently hovering overhead and the tank-like police vehicles that line 14th Street, especially when services and pensions are being cut.  A member of the Occupy Citizens Newswire asks why Snow Park, the smaller Occupy Oakland encampment, was raided after 6AM when that is technically when the park would be open to the public.  A journalist from a local news station asks why the Mayor is unavailable to answer questions. 

Perhaps the most difficult answer to swallow, however, is when a reporter asks the chief of police if he’s happy with how things went last night.  He says that he is.  “There were no injuries to our officers, or to citizens in the plaza.”

I know, as do many of the reporters and “reporters” at the press conference, that’s absolutely not possible.  But Oakand’s new police chief says it with such genuineness that you could almost believe it.  He also tells us, with apparent friendliness, that we will be allowed to come back and exercise our first amendment rights once the plaza is cleared– but only during the park’s operating hours, from 6am-10pm everyday. 

This afternoon, Occupy Oakland – except the 90-some arrested during this morning’s raid – will gather at 4pm to regroup and decide their next step.    The crowd gathered around the scattered remains of the old occupation are singing, chanting, and yelling at riot cops who maintain the barricades.  There is resistance in the air.  I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe that we’ll settle for assembling and airing our grievances during normal business hours only.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.

3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.

4. People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices.

5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

7. Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.

8. Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else—a stranger in the street, for example.

9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.

10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.

12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.

13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.

Homecoming & the Shortlist of How to Be Part of the Occupation Without Occupying

I always get a little transition ennui when I first return home from anything intense, as much as I do love to go home.  One of my favorite books is by Robert Housden, 7 Sins for a Life Worth Living, and the sin fin is “The Pleasure of Coming Home.”  

"Surely we owe it to ourselves to make a home, whether on our own or with another, that is a reflection of the best of who we are.  This is home as sanctuary: a reflection less of our budget than of our intimacy with ourselves," he says.  ..."At home in your own skin, it is more likely you will feel at home, not only with your intimate others, but also in the world.  This intimacy is the real heart of a physical home.  Whatever it is that is precious to us -- in my case, the cat, the faded rose armchair, and the cherished Persian rug -- combines to evoke a presence uniquely our own."  

I agree in so many ways: I love my soft blue organic sheets on my inherited, scratched dark wood bed, especially if my kitty cat is curled up on my lap; I love knowing the best place to get a mocha within walking distance; I love passing people that I know on the streets who’s names I also know even before I get within eyesight of the signs. 

But still, coming home from DC was a rough landing for me.  Going on an activist interlude somewhere far away is a lot going on a spiritual retreat on the mountain: it’s so easy to be totally focused there and totally committed to the work at hand, without the distractions of paltry things like doing the laundry and paying the electric bill and the sudden realization that the work you do for a living does not give you nearly as much satisfaction as that which you do from your heart, from a sense of the world changing beneath your feet in all of the ways that you have so much longed for without daring to believe it would ever happen. 

The last couple of days I have spent on a pendulum between being at home, avoiding work and folding the laundry, and at Occupation Oakland, which is a vibrant encampment at what was once called Frank Ogawa plaza (now renamed Oscar Grant Plaza, after the young man killed by Bart Police last year).  When I go to the occupation, I feel alive and on purpose, even though I’m still navigating the organizational structure and trying to figure out what is the best way to invest my time (setting up an herbal apothecary for the wellness area?  Working on facilitation?  Doing workshops through the free school?  There are so many -- too many -- wonderful choices!). 

I’ve slowly shifted away from trying to tackle the practical matters of my home life, which essentially entails staring off into space and then feeling angry at myself later for not getting anything done, and now am using my life at home to ground into my spiritual practice and care for my body, which was hard-hit by too much caffeine, gluten, and not enough exercise in DC.  In fact, I had even stopped taking my herbs and vitamins, which is ridiculous, because it only takes about fifteen seconds a day to do.  Like a woman madly and freshly in love, I threw everything to the wind in order to take up being a revolutionary, and now that the Occupation is starting to feel like more of an established relationship I’m coming to realize that in order for it to be sustainable, I need to come down to earth a little.

Coming down to earth, like with any new relationship, brings with it a little sense of let-down and frustration.  Why can’t I forget rent, forget bills, forget student loan debt, and just live out on the plaza with my comrades and my sexy revolutionary lover?  Well, for one thing, he’s plopped right back into his work routine without so much of a hiccup, and isn’t available for full-time occupation. 

Even so, I could do it, but it would mean major setbacks in many of the goals that I’ve been developing for the last year or longer: my herbal studies, my magical teaching and studies, my poor untended wilting garden, planning our handfasting this summer, my collective household that finally has reached a stable and pleasurable era.  And many of these things are radical and world-changing in their own right.  So, no, it seems like its just not in the cards for me to hang it all up on a coatrack and run off to a life of brightly-colored banners and bullhorns.  Which I’m sure many of you understand, perhaps even more deeply than I, because I’ve read your wistful notes and know how deeply many people want to be involved but simply can’t see how its possible without giving up on the other things that we love in our lives.

So, what is a girl (or boy or they-person) to do?  Well, there’s always facebook and twitter, of course.  There’s petitions and calls – which obviously work, as evidenced by the fact that on Friday when the mayor of New York swore he would shut down Occupy Wall Street -- well, he didn’t, and I highly doubt its because he simply had a change of heart. There’s short shifts of volunteering down at your local occupation and donations from their wishlists.  There’s many things we can do without having to give up our daily schedules and the dreams that we’re trying to personally manifest for ourselves.

But that’s not all, is it?  I can’t help feeling that what many of us who aren’t full-time or even part-time occupying are doing is waiting.  There’s this feeling that if or when this thing gets big enough, we really will throw it all to the four winds and say fuck all and get down there into the streets and not look back because we’re fully invested with heart and soul and choosing to align our lives around hope for a better world and faith in it’s manifestation.  Or perhaps, like many of the current occupiers, our daily lives and all that make them up will finally be so degraded that it actually feels safer and stronger to be there in the streets with our compatriots than the alternatives.

So, here’s the bottom line, good-people: I don’t know what to tell you.  If we don’t all get out there into the streets, it’s not going to get big enough that it makes it safe for us all to be out there in the streets.  And the other things that we’re doing with our lives are important.   There you have it.  It’s a conundrum. 

All I can really say for myself is that I’m going back down to Occupation Oakland today.  While my brain continues to whirl around and around in this tizzy, my body releases its low-grade constant anxiety when I’m there and my heart feels full and warm. 

How to be part of the Occupation without Occupying – The Shortlist
  1. Tell Your Story: Much of this beautiful movement is based on personal involvement and personal accounts of the way that the collusion between big-money corporations and the ultra-wealthy and our government has affected us.  Make a sign, head over to your local occupation and hold it up for a couple of hours on the street corner.  Oh, and make sure you talk to the folks around you about their stories, too.  You may be astonished at how many common threads weave throughout our different tales from different walks of life and different parts of the US.
  2. Volunteer Your Skills: There are all kinds of skills that are extremely useful to our movements, from medical support, to cooking, art for banners, facilitation of meetings (that’s a biggie!).  Recently I saw a mending workshop at Occupy Oakland where people learned to repair their clothes and tents! So, even if you can’t occupy, take a little time to volunteer the beautiful skills you have cultivated over the years.  Whatever they are, I bet they are a valuable contribution. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH3kiaJ1-c8&feature=colike
  3. Spread the Word: If you see or hear something that touches you, send it along your social networks.  But perhaps beyond that, talk (in person) to people you know about what’s happening.  Start conversations about what it is we’re doing, where it may be going, and how you see it growing and what the challenges are.  So keep doing your facebook posts, tweeting, and talking. 
  4. Take Your Money Elsewhere:  Novemeber 5th is Move Your Money day, where folks around the world will be closing their accounts at major banking institutions that have refused to pay their taxes and have continued to foreclose on people’s homes after being bailed out by the taxpayers, especially Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, and Citibank.  For more information, check out this article. For proof that this is truly a revolutionary act, check out this video and this one -- very powerful stuff.
  5. Pressure the Politicians: Letting the politicians and police know that you are watching what’s going on, you care, you vote, and you don’t agree with violent tactics on non-violent protestors is invaluable.  Perhaps especially if you’re not the rabble-rousing type, aka, the choir that activists usually preach to.  The safety of those who are camping and organizing may very well be in your hands.
  6. Donate: money, food, medical supplies, etc.  Your local occupation probably has a wishlist, maybe even online.  Check it out and bring what you can.
  7. March: many Occupations are organizing marches that folks can attend with little or no risk of arrest (depending on the circumstances, such as whether or not they have a permit).  Marches are often very safe, very visible ways of showing your support – especially if you can get your teacher’s group, workplace, or knitting group to march with you. Again, making it obvious that the 99% really includes many folks who aren’t the usual suspects out there in the streets is so helpful.  Veternarians for VA Benefits!  Yogini’s for peace and prosperity!  This Local PTA supports schools – so get those banks to pay their taxes already! 
  8. Send Your Love: either with a smile, with a batch of cupcakes, by lending your massage skills, going down and playing music for an hour, writing a supportive email, prayer, etc… as these occupations continue, I’m witnessing a lot of folks getting burned out – especially folks who can’t sleep at night because of the police coming through and waking them up!  Sending love, in whatever form, is really helpful for keeping our spirits up and dedication strong.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupying Together (Once You Really Get Down to it) & Shadow

It’s getting late and we really should leave McPherson Park, but it’s hard to tear away from, even though every thirty minutes or so the cops pull up with lots of lights and sound and cars, park for a couple of moments, and then streak off in an equally abrasive and confusing rush.  There are at least 200 people in the park, many clustered in a circle near the main space playing music, singing, and clapping.  Banjo is on banjo, of course, giving the jam Americana-bluegrass sound, and I find myself torn between feeling like it’s completely incongruous or utterly apropos.  He’s wearing black jeans patched with screen-dyed patches and held up by suspenders over a plaid flannel shirt, giving him the look of a steampunk depression-era anarchist railroad worker. 

Around him, a couple of folks tap on drums and buckets or strum guitars, and after a final look I decide the street-music with a tinge of Appalachia is the perfect soundtrack for this scene, no question about it.  We are truly witnessing the birth of a new America, and a new generation of young people are guiding us towards our future by simultaneously recalling the ancient land-based culture we have forsaken and tapping the technology of the day: learning to grow and can food, raise chickens, and save seeds while using the democracy of the internet, the sacred witnessing of livestreaming, and maifestos written on blogs and published through facebook to spread the word of a new movement. 

A small circle of young men, clearly drunk, is in the center of the park, and occasionally the Occupy DC folks glance at them over their shoulders, grumble, and go back to what they are doing.  These four guys have just showed up tonight and already caused one physical altercation, but no one quite knows what to do about it.  Some folks suspect them of being provocateurs, but whether or not that’s true doesn’t get us any closer to finding a way to deal with them effectively. 

(Sometimes people believe activists are paranoid to be so worried about provocateurs or unwilling to see those who do commit acts of violence and destruction in their own midsts, and, well, maybe we are.  But just this week an associate editor of the right-wing rag American Spectator, Patrick Howley, posted in his blog an account of how he “infiltrated” Stop the Machine with the express intent of discrediting them and causing chaos and mayhem at a protest, which indeed did end when the guards he charged at sprayed the crowds with pepper spray.  His article is full of slander and lies, but one thing that makes it worth reading is that yours truly has a bit part in it, in which he flatteringly but mistakenly calls me a red-haired twenty something just out of grad school). 

The drunk ruffians pose an interesting dilemma in the midst of the sweet music-making scene because sure, many of us would be happy to toss them out of the park, but aren’t they also part of the “ninety-nine percent” we’ve been chanting about all week?  As far as that goes, aren’t folks who are mentally unstable, folks who exhibit tendencies towards sexism and racism, folks who speak with spite and anger about the police and politicians, and, perhaps the worst of all crimes, folks who refuse to learn and properly use consensus process – that sacred process that has been passed down from activist to activist for generations – aren’t all of these folks still part of the ninety-nine percent? 

Well, they certainly are, but on the other hand, they can make the lives of organizers and facilitators much more difficult and can turn quick thirty minute meetings into sagas that last for hours. Or, as in this case, they can pose various kinds of danger – physical danger, the danger of added police presence, a danger to our reputation and popularity with the media and with folks who generally aren’t amused by activists, which is where a lot of our power lies.  In the media, the Occupy movement is being billed as the first populist movement since the 1930s, but as with all popular movements and especially those that endeavor to work through non-hierarchical structures, it’s clear to me that the Occupy Together groups are starting to have to face the reality that it is downright difficult to reach our ideal of bringing together from all walks of life, with disparate belief systems, communication styles, education and cultural backgrounds, etc. into one force that can challenge those in power and lead to laws and policies that serve a united majority and our sweet garden planet home rather than the rich minority.  What’s even more frustrating is that in order to dissipate our movement, proponents for individualism and competition don’t need to do anything – the onus is on us to change the societal story, to override our cultural conditioning and personal vulnerabilities and make something transformational happen.

(If somehow you’re out of the loop and don’t get the whole 99% thing, the short version is that it’s a reference to the vast inequality of wealth distribution in this country, where 1% of the population holds 34% of the total net worth of the United States, and the top 10% of the population has 39% of America’s wealth, leaving 90% of us to divvy up a mere 27% of all of the money in the richest country in the world.  

Today, I read a blog post by pagan author T. Thorn Coyle, who talks about her own experience working on Wall St. years ago and challenges us to look at both the dark and the bright in ourselves and our groups when dealing with issues of togetherness and cohesion with diversity. 

“Change is in our hearts and hands. Change is in my heart and hands. Change is in us all.  Can we come together?” she asks.  “There is a light and corresponding shadow everywhere. Nothing is clear, and clean, and in a little compartment. Life is messy and intertwined. Light and shadow are not discrete beings, but bound to one another.”

As the days pass here in DC, I see the light and shadow of unity and alienation overlaid in every interaction: those between Jason and me, within the beautiful witches in the Pagan Cluster, in the general assembly meetings at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, in the hesitation of friends who email me and ask, “Should I really bother to put myself out for this?  Is this going to be any different then all of those other things we thought we really change things but never did?” 

This week, people that I love and have worked with for years have suddenly without warning criticized me for taking too much leadership, for being in my power and stepping out as a trainer and leader.  I’ve facilitated meetings where people openly disparaged my skill and walked out rather than gently proposing process suggestions or taking a breath and waiting to see where it would go.  In conversations on the margins of the crowds, people admit sheepishly about feeling left out for being the vegan, the queer, the heterosexual, the anarchist punk, the suburban mom, the elder with decades of experience, the young kid stepping out into the world of activism for the first time.  These moments are the shadows of unity – moments that show us the growing edges of where we need to go and teach us the tools that we need to develop in order to get there. 

I’m not trying to air the dirty laundry of the Occupy Movement or even to offer gentle, loving criticism -- I lead a lot of transformational work in my life, at spiritual retreats and beyond, and one thing I’ve noticed is that we all want the deep work of great change but we are never actually prepared for how hard its going to be, or how our personal shadows can snake through even the most conscious intentions to ambush us from behind.  And that’s how its supposed to be. We can imagine what it would feel like to be our biggest, brightest selves, and we can envision what this world would be like if we could truly come together to heal, protect, and nourish our communities and ecosystems, but it’s the dirty, difficult work of wading through the shadows that gives us the skills, capacities, and tools to manifest them and get to the next level.  We may have a sense of the what, but the how comes with the journey, developed through the growing pains of evolution.  Part of that growth process is shining a bright light into the shadows, not to dis-spell their darkness, but to see what is there and what we can learn from diving deep into them. 

So, it makes perfect sense that in creating a movement based on unity-with-diversity, I’ve found myself experiencing and moving through my own stories about being the smart kid in class that always gets put down for being too much of an overachiever and, paradoxically, also those stories that I have about not being good enough.  And sometimes drunk young men show up at our encampments and we need to find ways to include them while also creating boundaries that keep us safe and safeguard the beautiful work we’re doing.  It means that sometimes we have to dump the sacred concensus process because people just don’t get it, and may even openly disparage us at meetings for trying to impose it upon them.  Sometimes we’ll have two different occupying groups in the same town with General Assembly meetings at the exact same time, and neither one will want to change it (hypothetically speaking, of course).  Sometimes we’ll have to ask ourselves if we can collaborate with a group that doesn’t share all our values.  This is just as much a part of creating the world that we want as showing up at Congress or blockading the banks – perhaps even more so.  It’s both the true potential and the vulnerability of a movement who, at it’s heart, is about uniting the ninety-nine percent.

“Changing culture is up to us,” Thorn says.  “Every action takes a willingness to risk… Nor does it all feel fated…It takes us all, each of us, to look inside and say, ‘Where can I begin?’”

Oh, and just so you know, we didn’t end up throwing the drunk kids out of the park.  We did what any good activist lefty group does – we held a meeting about it the next day.

In love and solidarity,

Communique` from Occupied DC: Day Five

Yesterday, Jason, Martin and I were standing in front of the White House with our drums, wondering where the heck the march was.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen the White House and it’s overly vibrant green lawns, surrounded by granite and marble buildings that seem imposing and venerable, just as they are supposed to.  On one side is the Eisenhower building, which feels oddly gothic and gray, as if one part of Washington DC at one time was taken over by an ambitious Emily Bronte fan; on the other side is the white-columned Treasury Building, which, I kid you not, sits directly cross from a matching building that hosts Bank of America and PNC Bank.  With truths like these, you really don’t need to play anything up for the cameras – or, in this case, the blog.

Skipping meals has become the new diet craze for many pagan cluster folks here at Occupy DC, and as light-headedness is starting to set in, Jason and Martin suggest heading off to go get some food.  We begin to head off, but my spider senses are tickling, telling me that the action is somewhere nearby.  One of the things I like the most about doing this kind of thing is the way that my intuition seems to hone and flourish exponentially, and I dawdle behind them, trying to pinpoint exactly where the energy is coming from.  It feels like a sound that I can almost hear at the furthest range of my aural senses, but also a simultaneous fraying of the edges of my perception and a sense of being drawn one way, so that any movement in another direction feels off-kilter and wrong.  Yes, no.  Yes.  Over there, somewhere – no, too far.  That way.  A building.  Not dangerous.  A swelling.  Here it comes.  It’s coming this way.

“Wait!” I tell them.  They stop and look at me, and for a moment I feel foolish, wondering what I’m supposed to say. 

And then the march turns onto Pennsylvania Ave., way off down the street, a blur of people and signs and police cars and a pulsing sense of power and friction and hope all rolled into one.  As we get closer to them and they get closer to us, I see Banjo, a fellow who was in the non-violent direction action training that I helped lead at McPherson Park the day before.  He smiles widely as we join them, and then as we begin the first few beats of our drums the crowd erupts into cheers of welcome.

One thing I can say about the Occupy DC folks is that they are masters of cheers of welcome and unity.  Any time a car passes and honks, they cheer. Occasionally even some of the folks in the sleek black, probably bullet-proof vehicles will stick their heads out of the window and smile in encouragement, and they cheer.  If it’s a fire engine or taxi or work truck, the cheers are even more rowdy and exuberant.  As we march pass the cafes and restaurants and shops, people wave and give us the peace sign in greeting, and Occupy DC cheers.  They are cheery folks.  Literally.

“Occupy Wall Street!  Occupy K Street!  Occupy everything and never give it back!” the chanting starts up, and we drum.  Magically, Elaine materializes beside me with her bell.  A fella with a bass drum finds us, as well, and the next thing you know we have ourselves a band.  

We leave the White House and begin marching back towards McPhearson Park, where Occupy DC is based, and as we move down 15th St., the chant shifts.  “We are the ninety-nine percent!  You are the ninety-nine percent!”

It’s a message of empowered unity and a shared desire for change more powerful than any of the other experiences I’ve had as an activist.  It goes beyond political parties, age, occupation (if you are lucky enough to have one at the moment) and how you feel about abortion or who you think should be eligible to marry one another.  It’s the rallying cry of a world that has finally noticed that those who would hoard power and resources have stepped beyond what is tolerable.  It has all the makings of world-revolution – even if it’s just in its fledgling stages.  Occupy Wall Street has swelled to marches with thousands of people.  Occupy San Francisco has actions planned everyday this coming week.  Occupy Raleigh starts next week.  Occupy Sydney – as in, Sydney Australia – recently sent #OWS (that’s the twitter hashtag – or search moniker – for Occupy Wall Street) a message of support and inspiration that quickly spread throughout the twitterverse. 

The march, which was hosted by the folks in McPherson park (Occupy DC) versus Freedom Plaza (Stop the Machine) came at just the right time for everyone who’s here protesting: earlier in the day, we experienced our first incidence of violence when the security guards at the Air & Space Museum pepper sprayed some 50-100 people who attempted to enter the building to raise awareness about romanticizing weapons and warfare (the action was much bigger than that, but only those at the front of the crowd were attacked).  Jason was there – he’s fine – but I was still back at Freedom Plaza, doing a consensus and facilitation training, because my entire life here has become about trainings and consensus.  Somehow, that rascally Starhawk has roped me into her nefarious plans of world domination through non-violent direct action trainings and educating people in effective consensus process. 

When spirit calls me to this work, she isn’t always clear about what that means.  Since I’ve come to Washington DC, I’ve found myself in a dizzying schedule of meetings and trainings.  On Friday evening Jason and I volunteered to facilitate the General Assembly for Stop the Machine, which may be one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done in my life, or at least in the last couple of years.  At 7:55pm, Jason was asked by one of the organizers to facilitate; at 8:05pm, we were standing in front of 300 some folks, many of whom had never worked with consensus before, and others whom seemed to be openly hostile about the process.  Beneath the harsh glaring lights of the stage and the omnipresent eye of the livestream feed, we proceeded to dissolve into chaos and confusion yet somehow came out again on the other side with a plan for the next day and a new sense of ownership of the process and our actions. 

Now it’s Sunday night and I’m sitting in a completely peaceful General Assembly being facilitated by Linda, another person who’s been running with the Pagan Cluster lately (it’s been almost an entirely PC lineup – last night Starhawk facilitated).  I’m struck, as I sit here, about how the demographic of the two groups Occupying Washington is becoming galvanized – the crowd here at Stop the Machine seems to be mostly older labor folks, Code Pink folks, and such, whereas the General Assembly that I just left in McPherson Square where Occupy DC is are younger and grittier.  I’m also struck how remarkably calm these folks are, given the fact that most likely the cops will come tonight to try to toss us out. 

Tonight, our permit runs out at midnight. So far the police have looked the other way about the fact that people are regularly breaking the law for camping in the federally-owned space along Pennsylvania Ave., but our guess is that when the permit for our day-time event here expires tonight, things will change. So the conversation shifts from announcements and committees to strategy and justice and revolution, and I find myself questioning my previous decision not to get arrested.   As usual.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occu-Pee / Occu-pie

Tonight, as Starhawk, Eddy and I are finishing up planning the last details of the Non-Violence Direct Action Training we're teaching with a local DC organizer, Jason is talking on the phone with local farmers.

For some reason, he's having a hard time getting them to accept the offer of our very nitrogen-rich, urine soaked straw bales.

At this point, they are actually just theoretically urine-soaked straw bales.  Apparently, we don't yet own said straw bales, nor have we rented the truck we'd need to haul them to and from the event.

"Hello?  Oh, hi, my name is Jason and I got your number from so-and-so, who said you might be able to help us... You see, we have these straw bales we'd like to give you for your crops... no, no, they don't have any fire retardant in them... they have urine.  No, not my urine.  I don't know who's.  It's for this thing down at the plaza.  It could be anyone's."

Later, Jason tells us that he can hear the guy on the other end of the line, muffled because his hand is over the receiver, calling to his wife upstairs.  "Get a load of this," he says.  "This guy's calling to give us a bunch of straw soaked in pee."

Jason is shaking his head as he's telling us this, as if it's the weirdest thing in the world that the farmer won't take humanure from the masses.  Starhawk, across the kitchen table with her usual midnight cup of tea in front of her, is positively cackling in delight.  I don't blame her -- I'm laughing so hard that I feel like I might pee right then and there, straw or no.

"I tried calling a bunch of people, but none of them would take it," he says.  "You know, it's the hardest thing in the world out here on the East Coast, trying to get someone to take your pee-straw."

He has this deadpan way of saying these things that occasionally gets me even after all of these years, and poor Eddy is quite often deceived by it.  "You're not in the Bay Area anymore," she says, seemingly earnest.

"I think if I could just finish explaining to them what a valuable resource it is, they'd be overjoyed," he says, still deadpan, no mercy.  "They might even offer to pick it up themselves so we don't have to shlep it all the way down there."

This discussion eventually devolves into a conversation about Home De-poo, where you can drop off your humanure and get paid for it, and the Pagan Cluster's new affinity group Occu-pee, who's mission is to create a place for folks on Freedom Plaza (where the Stop the Machine encampment is) and McPherson Square (where #OccupyKSt is) to relieve themselves in an ecologically beneficial way.

Personally, I'm not all that into Occu-pee, but as the night winds later and later, I find myself getting rather excited about the idea of Occu-pie.  Occu-pie was originally conceived as a way to keep folks who want to put the lid on the Occupy Together actions' recent flood of popular media as folks have become more and more convinced that anything with the word "Occupy" in it is being systematically negated within internet search engines like google and yahoo.  That may or may not be true, but the real treasure in the solution that more savvy and paranoid individuals than I have come up with is the possibility it presents for some serious kitchen-witchery-activism.  I'm imaging a sweet cob oven arrangement at Freedom Plaza that could serve up Occu-pie Pecan, Occu-pie Dutch Apple, and of course, Occu-pie Chocolate Mousse.  If we had Occu-pie Chocolate Mousse (gluten-free Occu-pie, of course), I'd feel pretty darn happy about being there whether or not it was for a good cause.

Soon all four of us are holding our sides laughing, probably keeping up the upstairs roommates who had enough sense to go to bed early.

Given it's the night before the big action, it only makes sense that you'd want to sleep, but as with many Action-eves, I find it hard to feel sleepy.  The giddy, zany laughter and discussion is the only thing I can imagine working for me right now -- it takes the edge off of my nervousness.  There's still so much we don't have planned, and so many dreams still to realize.  Is it really starting tomorrow?  Will our sacred waters purification system work?  Will we have enough pretty altar cloths and prayer flags to create the space we want for healing and ritual and magic?  How many people will come?  What will we do once we get there?

And, of course, will we have a place to pee?

No one can say for sure -- it's all a mystery.  For now, stay tuned.

In love and solidarity,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Holonic Shift Will Not Be Televised - But You Can Glimpse it on YouTube

I woke up to the sound of sirens getting closer, confused, wondering where I was and if they were coming for us.  After a moment of tense listening, the fire engines passed. I realized, as I raised up my groggy head from the thermarest and the cold air of the tent helped clear my head, that I didn’t have any reason to be afraid of sirens.  There have been times, in times past, that there were pre-emptive raids and snatches off of the street.  There have been other actions that were like that, where they came in the middle of the night and rammed the door and came in with weapons drawn.

But those are other days, actions of the past. 

Whatever is sweeping the country right now is different.  There have been no preemptive raids, no tear gas canisters stinging the air with their metallic flashing, no horses with hooves pounding down the road.  Certainly there have been some bad moments.  Overall, though, with the freshness of the crowds and the slightly mystified reactions of the press and US populace, the powers that be seem stunned into inaction.  People have criticized #OccupyWallStreet for not having a clearly defined message, but that may be because the intensity and reach of their message is incomprehensible to many people, even those who in the past thought they were in the know:

We do not want your dirty capitalism, your backroom deals that have stripped us of our homes and jobs, your power-over based purely on a financial system that is essentially a house of cards stacked in favor of those who have always had the power and the money anyway.  We have woken up from the slumber of the American Dream that you used to keep us complacent for so long.  This was an experiment, this thing called Liberal Capitalism, and it has proven a failure for 99% of us – the many to your few.

The entire country seems to be waking up to sirens and full of confusion, just as I did today from my post red-eye nap, hearing the wail getting closer and closer and then just as suddenly seemingly disappearing into nothingness.  And as the threatening keening of those sirens dissipates, in the silence that follows we are finding ourselves with the opportunity and responsibility to ask, “What do we truly desire, and what do we believe in?  What do we stand for?  What is the biggest dream collectively we can envision that will serve the people and the planet, and how can we get there?”

Well, when you’re asking questions like that, it only stands to reason the answers may seem obtuse at first. 

These are the kinds of questions and answers that wind their way down the foggy and mysterious path of the Third Way, or as we witches sometimes call it, the Good Road.  It may not be easy to navigate, but it is the only way to get where we need to go.  We’ve used up the luxury of time available for greed, oil, and wars.  We find ourselves suddenly dedicated to figuring out how to navigate the Third Way because we’re realizing that the other two lead off to certain destruction for humans and planet. 

As my mentor Joanna Macy says, is time for a new level of human consciousness on this planet: the holonic shift.  To Joanna, who for many years studied Living Systems Theory and ecospirituality, the time is ripe for the next evolution of consciousness.  

Consciousness as we know it was born when little particles bonded together to living cells, which then bonded together to become simple organisms, followed by more complex organisms with organs bonded into body systems.  Now, it’s time for us as separate organisms to develop a consciousness where we as individuals can bond together to be able to respond rapidly and effectively to the crisises on our doorstep, which is different than succumbing to mob mentality or fascism.  Like every species and every ecosystem, either we will evolve or we will be lost to the sands of time.  But we have a special opportunity, as well, because we can actively co-create our world and our destiny in this process of evolution.  We just need to be present enough, and brave enough, to do it.  

“It would seem that such a holonic shift is necessary for our survival,” she says in her essay, The Holonic Shift and How to Take Part in It.  “Since Earth's carrying capacity is limited, and since the ecosystems supporting us are threatened with collapse, we must learn to think together in an integrated, synergistic fashion, rather than in fragmented and competitive ways.”

As I’m sitting here in an unfamiliar and yet sweet home in Takoma Park, which is lush and green and swathed in brick and stained glass and quirky 5-way intersections, I feel like I’m on the edge of a precipice into something equally unfamiliar that I’ve been waiting for my whole life.  And that’s okay, because I feel like I at least have a road map.  It's a twelve-step process, and as I think about it, I realize that we've already mastered some of the steps...

The Holonic Shift and How Occupy Wall Street Fits In
By Joanna Macy & Riyana Sweetwater

1. Attune to a common intention. Intention is not a goal or plan you can formulate with precision. It is an open-ended aim: May we meet common needs and collaborate in new ways.

We are occupying everything, in cities and towns with a single voice calling for justice for our stolen homes and retirement funds and hopes.  As the Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street states, “As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

2. Welcome diversity. Self-organization of the whole requires differentiation of the parts. Each one's role in this unfolding journey is unique. 

It is exactly this diversity that the pundits use as fodder for their assertions that the new wave of protests are “disorganized” and “confused,” but that shows more about how stuck they are in old paradigms than about what is going in the streets and the city centers across the nation.  Dan Gainor, who writes for Fox News, claims, “The protest began with no stated goals, no public spokespeople and many of the most ridiculous attendees you could imagine – socialists, Code Pinkers, anarchists and more. (Anarchists are notoriously poor organizers.) Their slogans (they have many) include: ‘We are the 99 percent’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like.’

What folks like Gainor don’t realize is that yes, we have different ideas about how to create the world we want, and different priorities, but this diversity is our strength and not a weakness.  Many of us have born the brunt of greed of wealthy corporations, but in many different ways: some by the criminal destruction of the environment, others loosing their homes, still others fighting for their very lives as they demand safe accessibility to healthcare and healthy food.  Some of us have felt the brunt of the misdeeds of these transnational institutions here in the United States, and some of us have felt it in other nations around the world.  Some of us have been victimized for our skin color, our choices in who we love, our ages, our genders, our political affiliations, and more.  But our diversity is not the “reason we will never win,” as some conservative writers are claiming, hoping to dampen the collective spirit that is rising. 

3. Know that only the whole can repair itself. You cannot "fix" the world, but you can take part in its self-healing. Healing wounded relationships within you and between you is integral to the healing of our world.

Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Together protests have been criticized again and again for not putting out a specific list of issues of redress or agenda as their ancestors, the Students for a Democratic Society did (the Port Huron Statement), did forty years ago.  

What mainstream conventional political analysts, who seem to have a kind-of middle school crush on the movement-- simultaneous fascination mixed with constant, unremorseful bullying – miss again and again is that the fact that the Occupy actions are not claiming to have all the answers, or an instant fix, is part of their strength and one reason why they are succeeding and might continue to succeed where their worthy predecessors did not.  Combining the open-minded experimentalism that comes from the youth movement and the wisdom of experienced activists who spent years getting beat up and burned out before taking time off to study less ego-driven belief systems like yoga, Buddhism, earth-based spiritual paths, and deep ecology, these groups truly moving out of the American mindset that claims that the only way to get ahead is to use callous rationality to create systems of oppression and dominate those that don’t agree with your ideas.   

4. You are only a small part of a much larger process, like a nerve cell in a neural net. So learn trust. Trust means taking part and taking risks, when you cannot control, or even see, the outcome.

These Occupy actions are springing up across the country, like a web, bound by their common intentions and yet often not having any more connection with their counterparts than a twitter hashtag.  Folks from all walks of life are gathering in large actions, from unions to college students to out-of-work mothers and children.  They are not embroiled in constant debates over strategy or priorities – and again, this is part of their strength, because in moving slowly yet with trust they are able to move out of the false-beliefs that have been cultivated by the powers that be to keep us constantly separate and therefore constantly disempowered.  Of course the actual steps towards creating the new structures and systems do need to happen at some point, and it will mean difficult conversations and choices.  Yet, in spite of knowing that, we can stand up together now – because we know that together, with our many minds and hearts, we will come up with those answers.  Our collective wisdom is stronger and smarter than the cunning of the CEOs who are as ruthless in their attacks on one another as they are in their attacks upon the poor and working classes.

5. Open to flows of information from the larger system. Do not resist painful information about the condition of your world, but understand that the pain you feel for the world springs from interconnectedness, and your willingness to experience it unblocks feedback that is important to the well being of the whole.

For a long time, we in the US have had a cultural blindness to the harms of the worlds, but as the markets have collapsed and the corporations and wealthy watched as our numbers of hungry and unemployed have risen and folks without access to medical care have died, we are waking up to the voices of our allies around the world whose journeys for liberation and equality are bound up with ours.   For a long time, we believed in the American Economic model and basked in the privilege and relative wealth that the ultra-wealthy allowed us, all the while avoiding thinking about what would happen if those people who so eagerly exploited the needs, rights, and lands of others became so powerful that they no longer felt the need to keep us moderately satiated or decided on a different strategy: that of crippling us so deeply that we were willing to take whatever scraps they wanted to toss down.  What they didn’t see coming is that this new strategy has backfired, and our eyes and hearts are open now.  We know that American businesses, when headed by greedy uncaring CEOs who are willing to profit at our expense, are not our true brothers and sisters (not to mention that those businesses are no longer truly American businesses, but international institutions who would rather plunge this country into some of the worst unemployment rates and the largest financial inequity we have ever known).  We are interconnected with the many people around the world who are fighting this same fight: London, Greece, Spain, Egypt are just a few.

6. Speak the truth of your experience of this world. If you have persistent responses to present conditions, assume that they are shared by others. Willing to drop old answers and old roles, give voice to the questions that arise in you.

(more from the "We Are the 99% Project here… )

I'm not claiming that we have mastered the holonic shift just yet -- but as I get ready to try to drift back to sleep, thinking about what tomorrow and the Occupy DC and Stop the Machine Actions may hold, I feel restful and filled with hope.  I want to commit to memory - if not in the exact words, at least the impressions that resonate so deeply in my heart -- the rest of the map that Joanna has laid out for us, which promises so much, if we're willing to go there.  I know that her words may be the best advice there could be in the days to come:

7. Believe no one who claims to have the final answer. Such claims are a sign of ignorance and limited self-interest.

8. Work increasingly in teams or joint projects serving common intentions. Build community through shared tasks and rituals.

9. Be generous with your strengths and skills, they are not your private property. They grow from being shared. They include both your knowing and your unknowing, and the gifts you accept from the ancestors and all beings.

10. Draw forth the strengths of others by your own acknowledgment of them. Never prejudge what a person can contribute, but be ready for surprise and fresh forms of synergy.

11. You do not need to see the results of your work. Your actions have unanticipated and far-reaching effects that are not likely to be visible to you in your lifetime.

12. Putting forth great effort, let there also be serenity in all your doing; for you are held within the web of life, within flows of energy and intelligence far exceeding your own.

In love and solidarity,