Friday, November 11, 2011

Violence, Gunshots, and Candlelight

Tonight was an evening of candlelight at Occupy Oakland. 

I never thought about it much before, but in our culture, we light candles to both celebrate life and honor death.  Tonight, both felt immediate and present at Oscar Grant Plaza, as people came in ones and twos and little clusters, in both sadness and curiosity, after the news hit the wires that a young man had been shot and killed near the encampment. 

As fate or synchronicity would have it, we had already planned a candlelight vigil to celebrate Occupy Oakland’s one-month birthday tonight.  But that had shifted suddenly, of course, just as everything must change in the moment that a young man was murdered on the streets of Oakland.

Sadly, a young black man being murdered in the streets of Oakland is not an uncommon occurrence.   There have been over a hundred homicides in Oakland this year alone; statistically, two-thirds of homicide victims in the city are African American.  This is a city riddled with poverty and violence, with more school closures being announced every day.  This fact, however, has not stopped Mayor Quan from capitalizing on this tragedy as yet one more reason why the encampment should be shut down, arguing earlier tonight at a press conference that, "The risks are too great for having an encampment out there. It's time for the encampment to end."  Earlier this week, the mayor hosted a press conference that focused on why the encampment was bad for business downtown.

In both issues, she seems to be missing the point that so many Occupy Oakland folks understand at a deep level: the violence, the poverty, and the hardships that the Occupy encampment brings out of the shadows and into the middle of downtown Oakland, where they cannot be ignored, are part of the reason that we Occupy.  We aren’t creating the violence or the pain – we’re just not willing to hide it in social or psychological ghettos anymore. 

In the plaza, a woman from the Oakland Teacher’s Union steps up to the mic, offering her condolences for the victim’s family and her union’s continuing support for the Occupation.  “We teach these kids every day, and some of the kids that we teach die.  There have been nine students killed in Oakland this year alone,” she says.  “Even those that make it, many of them go on to college and get saddled with debt for the rest of their lives.  So we understand why you are here, and we will also be here with you, after school and at night, doing whatever we can to make a difference.”

Earlier in the evening, I went to a meeting of folks committed to creating a unified voice for people dedicated to non-violence at Occupy Oakland and beyond.  It’s a conversation that I’ve been a part of, and desperate to write about, since the police riot last week after General Strike protesters closed down the Port of Oakland.  And yet, each time that I’ve sat down to write about it, I feel stuck – as stuck as the conversation has been within the community, held hostage by didactic idealogues, ego, and distrust.  Strangely enough, somehow in the stark, heartbreaking violence of today’s events, there was a sudden opening within me, as if the energy was forced free from its stuck place and could now pour forth, tumbling out like water against rocks.  Perhaps that’s simply because everything feels shaken and stirred up inside of me. 

As humans, our relationship to violence is confusing and long.  It marks our history books, maps out the eons of cultural evolution on timelines that begin with roman invasions and carry on through two world wars, while the countless days of peace and prosperity are invisible, unremarkable.  For many spiritual leaders, both the ancients and the new-fangled, violence is the external manifestation of something dark and hard to look at within us.  Interestingly enough, those who endorse philosophies such as the innocuous-sounding “diversity of tactics” agreements and the “defense” tactics of the Black Bloc also recognize the truth of this internalized violence – it’s folks like me, who identify with non-violence as a philosophical belief, that can sometimes stridently ignore it or discredit the reality of violence as yesterday’s affliction, somehow passé now that we’ve all become yogis and co-counselors.   

I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly gone all black-bandana-and-gas mask on you.  But I can feel the deep complexity of violence tonight, the fingers of this disfigured thing within us and how, in a heartbeat, it can change everything.  I don’t think that wise folks like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama, or Emma Goldman would advocate turning away from the fact that violence in the world is actually the manifestation of something fractal and injured within each of us.  They would say, I’m sure, that we need to look at it and listen to its story in order make peace with ourselves and with our world -- to create healing on a level that we can only begin to imagine from where we stand now.

Tonight, in the yellow glow of the candlelight vigil, I could see in the tears and hear in the hushed voices a movement trying to deal with violence in a real, deep way for the first time. 

An older black woman is singing something wordless and vaguely hymnal when I arrive.  She stands beside a young woman wearing a hat that says “Faith” on it in sparkly rhinestones.  The young woman doesn’t say much, and what she says is fairly unintelligible, though the emotion is clear and unambiguous.  She is in mourning.   She has lost someone that she loves.  Later, I learn that Alex – the young man who was murdered – was her cousin.

After a while, the interfaith group that had meant to host a vigil of an entirely different nature starts singing “Peace, Shalom, Salaam,” and then “Circle round for freedom.”  The amorphous circle around me, however, does not pick up the song.  There’s something awkward yet heartfelt in the group, and after a moment, I remember that most of the rituals of grief and mourning in our culture have been lost.  No one seems to know what to do or say.

Finally, the older black woman speaks up, her voice strong and melodic, like a preacher.  “This is unity,” she says.  “Why can’t the whole world know this unity?  Black and white, all of us together.  We’re not out here for violence – we’re out here for love.  Now, Alex is love.  He is spirit now, and the spirit never dies. He is with God.  And God is with us, because God is love.”

Sometimes, when people say things like “God is love,” and “We’re all here together, black and white,” it just sounds cliché and trite.  But not when someone has died.  In the face of deep mourning and our own human mortality, these simple words become the simple truths that we can fathom in spite of the chaos in our hearts and minds.  And it is true – we are all here together, those who knew him intimately and those of us for whom Alex is a symbol and a moment in time, not a person – lover, friend, cousin.  They graciously allow us to share their grief. 

There is a bright gift in this tragedy, as there often is in dark, sad moments – the energy in the circle around me, even with the slight awkwardness, feels galvanized and cohesive for the first time since the violence following the General Strike.  Just this morning, we were all arguing, almost ready to come to blows about non-violent discipline and property destruction and creating shield barricades around the perimeter of camp -- even the pacifists, or perhaps, especially the pacifists.  And, well, we still don’t agree.  But something has shifted. 

I’m not sure what that shift looks like for the those folks who are more likely to throw bricks or start bonfires, but for me, I’ve come to understand something of why non-violence seems to sit so awkwardly in the collective mindset of the motley Occupy Oakland encampment.  In Oakland, the concept of non-violence, which linguistically can seem like the negation of the reality of violence both internalized and external, doesn’t make sense on a visceral level, that deep place of life-experience and instinctual understanding.

And yet, this is what we are all yearning for in our best moments -- it is part of the driving force behind our occupation.  We are not here for violence.  We are here for love.

“We are a people who’s hearts have been broken,” a woman with blonde hair and a clerical collar in her purple shirt steps into the center of the circle and stands next to the altar.  “A people who’s hearts have been broken, in this plaza where miracles are happening every day.  And we pray to you, oh God, to take Alex’s spirit into your arms… to bring him home at last.”

Silently, I say my own prayer to the Goddess, who is the mother of life and also the crone who brings death and rebirth.  I pray for Alex, who I never met and now never will, and I pray for the ex-soldier who killed himself at Occupy Burlington earlier today, and I pray for this movement as we struggle to find our own path in our quest for love and unity. 

But I do have faith – it sparkles within me, within my grief, like rhinestones, or candles, or stars in the darkness of night.  And I know when my faith seems unfounded or too complicated, I can chose to align with it anyway, in the face of those stark realities.  At those times, it helps to have the solidarity and wise words of friends and allies of this great work – like those of a wise witch named, wonderfully enough, Serenity:

I remind myself that it is not "light" and "dark," or as simple as "oppressive" and "free." It is the struggle within each of us and within society as a whole to recognize and reconcile these selves. Some people feel an intense fear that change won't come, coupled with rage at the system-as-it-is, and feel no patience for prayer or non-violence. I know
that, for many who may turn to property destruction or banging signs on patrol cars, their fear and rage are born in love, and hope: love of justice, and hope that it is indeed possible. Doubt creeps in, we sense in our bones all that is at stake...

Why does system change seem to be more possible in the daylight? Why do some forget their own power when night sets in? Is it that when the sun sets, we recognize that the struggle will continue into the next day, and the next? Did we hope this one action would be enough to change the tide?  And it *is* changing, beings awakening in their solidarity with one another and the earth.   But it will take patience.

I am restored in dark-pit moments when I remember that my brothers and sisters around the world stand with me. The Great Lie that we are alone simply cannot hold up in the face of such activism! May we nurture and support that root love in each of our kindred, and work together to heal the hatred planted there by a system day by day losing power over us.

And with those words, with that serenity in the face of all that’s sorrowful and hard, I’m off to sleep. 

In love and solidarity,

More photos, graciously given permission to reprint by Elizabeth Dougherty...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Laying the Foundations for a People's Economy

By Jason Scarecrow

In these past couple weeks, we have seen the Occupy Movement grow, evolve and spread quickly across this country and around the world. One of the most exciting aspects has been a unification of many different sectors demanding either a new or reformed economic system. Some mistake this shared call for altering our current economic model, in part or entirely, and see it as disparate groups urging different kinds of reforms. In truth, it merely sounds different depending on the specific symptom being focused on: appropriate taxation for corporations and the wealthiest one percent, predatory lending policies by banks, austerity measures that strip social programs, government collusion with corporate interests that endanger people and the environment, and the process of deciding governmental budgetary allocations.

In the passionate arguments for free cooperative healthcare, food systems, and accessible education for all, we see the articulation of many of the component pieces required in moving beyond simple policy debate towards creating a new economic model -- a People’s Economy.

In working towards either an entirely recreated economic model or to steer our current system toward increased protection and care for the citizenry and the environment, there are certain tactics that will increase our numbers and momentum. Some that are already being used widely and effectively in the Occupy Movement are direct democracy decision making, gaining and holding common space, and temporary interruptions of business-as-usual for certain targets that pose the greatest dangers to the common good or that serve as powerful symbols of the most exploitive forms of capitalism.

One next step is to engage and develop local, community-based systems to provide for all of our basic human needs. While many of us continue to be dis-engaged by the currency-based job market, we maintain the skills developed over recent years and the passion for service that motivated our vocational pursuits. Working through the Occupation Movement allows people with practical, human-scale skills (such as construction, sanitation, food production and preparation, healthcare, education, and permaculture) to contribute to the community and receive the intrinsic rewards of appreciation and recognition. This allows more people to be a part of the movement while also increasing the strength and resilience of the Occupations as a whole.

The piece that we here in the Bay Area are perhaps best suited to take the lead on is Food Sovereignty. There is some energy and infrastructure for this already, although it would need to be increased if we want to develop true autonomy for local Occupations. Residential food producing landscapes, urban farms, and mass chicken coop construction for residential settings could be cooperatively developed and installed. In doing so, we would vastly increase our capacity for local self-sufficiency on a wider scale. Some food would need to come from outside of the city, but much of the meat, vegetables, herbal medicines and cooking spices could be produced within the city itself.

Sanitation is another critical matter that the Occupation Movement must resolve in order to be sustainable. At this point many Occupations have porta-toilets on-site, which are generally serviced by local businesses. There are definitely some good things about this situation -- for example, law enforcement often reacts violently when suspecting untraditional sanitation and feces in Occupation spaces (it is shocking how often public safety and sanitation are used as excuses for chemical and other physical attacks on occupiers). However, composting toilets, perhaps retrofitted into porta-toilet shells, are often more sanitary, smell less, and can be easier to clean without equipment, and have the overwhelming benefit of keeping necessary nutrients and minerals from being flushed downstream.

Most of the shelters that people stay in while Occupying are tents that are not produced locally, but imported. This is okay as an immediate, short-term situation. However, most Occupiers in the global north are facing a long, uncomfortably cold winter, because many of us are not used to living outdoors (although its getting warmer each year!). Unfortunately, there is no assurance that increased housing infrastructure at the Occupation spaces will be safe from police destruction and theft. Mass squats and shelters built with natural materials in and around the Occupations are another option that would be warmer, more secure, and harder to steal. In terms of movement-building, living collectively is tremendously important, and the reality of winter weather necessitates improved quarters for the coming months. Many in the building industry and permaculture community have knowledge and skill instrumental to creating solutions to these issues.

As demonstrated during the American Civil Rights campaign of the 1960s and the South African Anti-Apartheid struggle, divesting in the dominant economy is a hugely effective way for those who are disenfranchised by the current system to gain power. As we transition away from our dependence on destructive distribution and processing systems to meet our basic needs, we can go beyond merely denouncing the current economic model and prove that WE DO NOT NEED their system. Another world is possible, and being actualized through the place-based autonomous zones now occupying many major cities. The more we can provide for the social services and basic human needs of those in the Occupied spaces without supporting or depending upon governments and mass distribution systems, the more we can accurately declare we are living a viable alternative.

With Respect and Solidarity,
Jason Scarecrow

Following The Law Of Love: Anarchism of the Strong by Emma Goldman

As we all debate and talk amongst ourselves about the "anarchists" and how they did or didn't mess up the General Strike, I thought I'd share this excerpt (from the Earthling Opinion blog) that touches upon the heart of anarchism as a philosophy....

* * * * *
The most vital right is the right to love and be loved. No one can express all their latent powers and potentialities freely unless they can freely give and receive love: Love in freedom is the only condition of a beautiful life. […] Whether love lasts but one brief span of time or for an eternity, it is the only creative, inspiring, elevating basis for a new race, a new world. [...]

Emancipation, as understood by the majority of its adherents and exponents, is of too narrow a scope to permit the boundless love and ecstasy contained in the deep emotion of the true woman, sweetheart, mother, in freedom. […] Until woman has learned to defy them all, to stand firmly on her own ground and to insist upon her own unrestricted freedom, to listen to the voice of her nature, whether it calls for life’s greatest treasure, love for a man, or her most glorious privilege, the right to give birth to a child, she cannot call herself emancipated. 

How many emancipated women are brave enough to acknowledge that the voice of love is calling, wildly beating against their breasts, demanding to be heard, to be satisfied. […] The greatest shortcoming of the emancipation of the present day lies in its artificial stiffness and its narrow respectabilities, which produce an emptiness in woman’s soul that will not let her drink from the fountain of life. […] To give of one’s self boundlessly, in order to find one’s self richer, deeper, better. That alone can fill the emptiness, and transform the tragedy of woman’s emancipation into joy, limitless joy. [...]

Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State- and Church-begotten weed, marriage? Love is genuine only if it is freely given. “Free love?” As if love is anything but free. […] Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. […] Love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom, it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. [...]

Liberty is every person’s natural right, it cannot be given; it cannot be conferred by any law or government. The need of it, the longing for it, is inherent in the individual. Disobedience to every form of coercion is the instinctive expression of it. [...]

Every time someone breaks a law, they are refusing to consent to the legitimacy of that law and the legitimacy of the government that promulgated the law. They are acting as if the state is irrelevant in their life. Thus they are weakening the state’s power and taking one step closer to its collapse, because no government can exist without the consent of the people, consent open, tacit or assumed.

Withdrawing consent from the state is an act of freedom. It removes the barrier to the free expression of one’s own fullest potential. It is opens the door to one’s own unique creativity, spontaneity, and love. Taking the state out means letting the life force in. [...]

It is one thing to employ violence in combat as a means of defense. It is quite another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalize it, to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary. […]The one thing I am convinced of as I have never been in my life is that the gun decides nothing at all. Even if it accomplishes what it sets out to do—which it rarely does—it brings so many evils in its wake as to defeat its original aim. […] If we can undergo changes in every other method of dealing with the social issues we will also have to learn to change in the methods of revolution. It think it can be done. If not, I shall relinquish my belief in revolution. […] Violence in whatever form never has and probably never will bring constructive results. [...]

There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another. […] All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose.

– by Emma Goldman

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sundown at the Port

There we are at the port, after two miles of marching and wondering if what we’re doing is crazy, if we’ll even be able to make it there, if the reason that we haven’t seen any cops all day is that they’re all waiting for us there in a massive strike force, rubber bullets at the ready. 

The sun is going down over the gray waters of the bay, and the sky looks like melted sherbet, all pink and orange and violet.  Everywhere, people are sitting on top of stopped trailer trucks and scaffolds and signs, and it’s almost like some sort of amazing tailgate party – the biggest one of your life, because whatever those pesky, petty estimates were that the mainstream media might have reported, I can tell you that certainly no less than 10,000 people converged on the nation’s fifth busiest port tonight.  Both Sistaboom and the Brass Liberation Orchestra are in full swing, providing the tunes, and everywhere bicyclists ride by with jugs of water strapped to their racks on the back, offering it freely. 

Imagine listening to these powerful voices singing beneath a nearly-dark sky and brass instruments blaring and drums grooving when the news finally reaches us, for the first time, over bullhorn and people’s mic that we’ve actually done it – we’ve shut down the port.  We’ll hear it many more times in the next couple of hours, because hardly anyone can believe it and we’re all dearly concerned that it’s a trick and we’ll all leave and then business as usual will resume.  And yet, each time, it is a simple reiteration of an unbelievable fact: we shut down the fucking port.

If you don’t know how amazing that is, consider this: one of the last times that the Bay Area tried to close the port (in 2003), anti-war activists were met with terrible violence --  police fired wooden dowels, sting balls, concussion grenades and tear gas into a crowd of about 600 protesters.  And all of this, for no better reason, than to “maintain access to the port for trucks and other vehicles.” 

But not this time.  This time, it worked. Without violence, without barricades, without riot cops.  With nothing more than some drums, sharpies, cardboard, a rough plan, and sheer gutsiness.

As I write this, it’s getting later, and as usual, things seem to be shifting and devolving in the cover of darkness by both police and protestors.  That makes me sad, because I know that the news of what truly happened today – all day – can so easily lost in the gritty glamour of violence and tear gas in these short afterdark hours. 

I guess that makes it all the more important for me to get it down, before it gets erased by the ugliness of the night.  But even if the power of what happens today ends up getting buried, I was there, and I experienced a twelve-hour day of complete peace and beauty: the disability rights brigade, the stroller brigade, the free food being passed out by different food justice groups, the indigenous elders from the anti-nuclear peace walk quietly beating rhythms on their hand drums, and Buddhists silently meditating at the edge of the plaza, and kind smiles everywhere from familiar faces and folks I would never have expected to be there.  I was there when the Teamsters truck came in, blaring “Whose side are you on, boys?  Whose side are you on?”  I saw Mujeres Unidas, the Service Employees International Union members, and the California Nurses Assocation staffing the medic tent so that our street medics would be free to assist with the dozens of impromptu and planned marches snaking all over downtown, and teachers (including one adorable sign that read “I am a kindergarten teacher” with a flower and an arrow pointing downwards to the aforementioned kindergarten teacher).  Perhaps even more dear to my heart was the woman holding the sign, “Peace on earth begins with birth; Reclaim your body, reclaim your birth.”

As I watch the post-nightfall skirmishes on Livestream, I see in the low-resolution video what I saw earlier today when different vehicles tried to veer into the marches and people started getting ornery and banging into them with fists and signs: protestors all around chanting “peaceful protest” to deescalate our own side, because what we’re trying to create is so young and new and we don’t want it to be twisted by the shadows and remnants of that system we’re trying to leave behind but that is also within us.

I really don’t want to lose the magic of the day to this sudden infusion of drama, though, so I’ll tell y’all about the Spiral Dances. 

One of the most magical tools that I have to shift energy and create transformation in my little witch’s bag is the Spiral Dance.  I carried the vision of a spiral dance in the streets around in my heart all morning, having put out the intention with my community that we’d make one happen before the noon march, and as the time grew close I found myself inexplicably nervous – or, more honestly, the explicability of it is that whenever something is really close to my heart and I put it out into the world, I get nervous.  It seems that I can where my heart on my sleeve pretty easily here in the anonymous-feeling internet world, but in real life, I get angsty.

My angstyness lessened with each person that showed up, though, and soon we had twenty pagans there, young and old, experienced and new, processing through Oscar Grant Plaza and into the intersection at 13th and Broadway, and slowly more people came, tentatively joining the dance as it snaked behind Thorn.  Drumming in the center, I found myself wondering, again and again, if it would come together.  As if, with twenty-something wonderful witches singing and drumming in the middle of the street, it might not come together.  Finally, the snake became a spiral, and our voices fused and got louder, praying and singing at the same time, “Let it begin with each step we take, and let it begin with each change we make, and let it begin with each chain we break – let it begin every time we awake!”  It really does feel like we’re awakening, and making changes that won’t be unmade.

The moment was so beautiful that immediately we all wanted to do it again, but instead, we decided to get together again later in the afternoon.  I spent the interim at a couple of the bank protests and listening to music in the plaza, and then found my way back to the ancestor altar at the north end of the plaza to meet up with my pagan peeps.  We processed through the plaza again, our singing emboldened by the success of the morning, and with this new pride as the vessel for our voices, it felt as our love and desire for everyone’s participation seemed clearer and stronger.  We flowed out into the intersection again, this time closer to 14th and Broadway, directly in front a crowd of folks congregating for the first march to the Port.  Fifty strong, we begin the dance, this time singing:

We are the rising sun, we are the change –
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for
And we are dawning…

This time I’m leading, and my stomach feels like a butterfly dance party, and again I find myself wondering if it’s just going to come together this time.  Especially because it’s clear the march is about to start, and any minute we’re going to be inundated with critical mass bicyclists that seem either uninformed that we’re having a pagan ceremony over here or disinterested in letting that little fact change their trajectory.

And then, just as the march starts, the spiral comes together and we can hear all of our voices strong and clear.  The bicyclist bloc splits into a Y around us and then the people on foot start coming, and rather than stand there trying to cone we flow into them, still singing, and now the entire front of the march is singing with us as we begin down the street towards the Port.  It’s a bit untraditional and I peek at Chuck and Evelie for reassurance, who both beam at me.   It’s perfect, of course.  It’s a completely perfect, unpredicted moment. 

The march slows, and we slow down too, taking this moment to drop the words of the song into a single tone, which quickly becomes an unruly cheer.  Beneath the cheer, I get the sense of bright underground currents connecting all of us there about to attempt this unlikely feet – shutting down the Port – and everyone in the Occupy Actions and those who support us around the world.  I send a prayer into this web, that we will be safe and successful, that the day will be filled with joy and music and power.

Well, I already gave away the ending, didn’t I?  That totally happened.  All of it: the joy, the music, the power, and the port getting closed down.  A truly historic day.

I have so many thoughts, but its 2 A.M. and my dear one is still out there, so I can’t write anymore tonight.  I love you all and can’t thank you enough for your support, your kind words and thoughts, your trust.  More on all of this tomorrow, I promise.

Much love,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Spiral Dancing in the Streets -- on Strike Day

LAST SATURDAY EVENING, surrounded by several hundred people in a dark stadium, I feel the earth moving beneath my feet, the powerful collective energy of humans alive and those that have passed swirling all around me, and sense an opening of the portal of possibility.  In my mind’s eye, I see visions of ancient peoples and the thousands of ways that they protected their kin and their land, and sense their fierce loving dedication to the earth herself, their mother.

I hear a voice in my head: I will not forsake you. I cannot forsake you.

I’m not a person who has the gift of “hearing” very often while in trance or prayer. But this time, in hearing these words, it feels almost as if reality is pulsing or reverberating around and through me – that something multiversal was happening in that moment, something in non-linear time.  It is one of those things that you can’t ask for and never expect, but when it happens, you understand it instantly – or, perhaps more accurately, timelessly.

A couple of months ago, my friend Yarrow was waiting to be arrested at the Tarsands Action in DC (which ended with over 1,000 peaceful, non-violent arrests) and he heard a similar message.  He wrote a beautiful email explaining that for him, this was a message about humanity’s continued dedication to this work of protecting the beautiful green earth.
It's…something a goddess had said to me a long time ago, in a period of great personal pain and despair: "You don't forsake me." Not a promise that /she/ won't forsake /me/ -- an observation that I don't forsake her, as if she'd turned to the back of the book to see how it turns out. The hit I get Saturday is that it's us: /we/ don't forsake her. Implicit in this mass of people waiting patiently to be arrested is a long chain stretching back to the beginning and forward to whatever the end of the book may be, made of heroes, yes, and martyrs, and also ordinary people like me and the others waiting here. We don't forsake her. Not now, not in the future. That's the message.
Standing in the middle of the throng of people that night in Kezar Pavillion, dizzy with dancing and the songs of the ancestors ringing in my ears, I hear this message and it feels connected to his and yet somewhat different: for me, the “I” of “I will not forsake you” is both me and her, in that interconnected microcosm / macrocosm way that Joanna Macy calls, “the Greening the Self.”

Joanna began to develop the concept of “the Greening of the Self” or “the Ecological Self” after a conversation with long-time activist John Seed in which she asked him how he was able to handle the tremendous destruction of the beautiful rainforest that he loved and was fighting to protect:

John replied, “I try to remember that it's not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking."
This is what I mean by the greening of the self. It involves a combining of the mystical with the practical and the pragmatic, transcending separateness, alienation, and fragmentation. It is a shift that Seed himself calls "a spiritual change,” generating a sense of profound interconnectedness with all life.
This is hardly new to our species. In the past poets and mystics have been speaking and writing about these ideas, but not people on the barricades agitating for social change. Now the sense of an encompassing self, that deep identity with the wider reaches of life, is a motivation…to empower effective action.
-- Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
For Joanna, a Buddhist, the Greening of the Self is about connecting to the great web of life, the interconnection of all things.

For me, a pagan, it is the Goddess speaking to me and at the same time it is also me -- the little bit of earth that I am, a teeny little bit of Gaia -- speaking to her, “I will not forsake you.”

I understand, suddenly, that the earth cannot forsake me or any of us anymore than I can forsake my lungs breathing or my heart beating.  And knowing this – truly knowing it in my bones and blood – gives me the courage and dedication to not forsake her in turn, to continue to work and push and strive in order to protect the land and my kin of many forms in the face of the destruction caused by those who share my form but not yet an understanding that we are eternally connected and interdependent with all life.

MONDAY, Samhain true.  I begin my moon-blood after a morning thick with dreams, the kind of dreams that you wake from and feel like you’ve been dragging yourself through wet sand all night rather than sleeping.  For me, this blood is like a miracle, because it’s a sign of continued healing for me in spite of all of the stress of travel and Occupying and the like.  It’s also a sign of my fertility, my connection to the seas and the moon, and on this hallowed day, reminds me of the many women of my line who have carried life in their wombs and sang sacred songs to the earth and the ancestors.

I decide to take a fast from technology, from caffeine, and from the Occupations.  Somehow, I know that there’s another message waiting for me on this day that we pagans say that the veils between the worlds are thinnest, and that I will only be able to hear it if I sink more deeply into present time and the living space of walking in the world (versus the virtual worlds of the internet and the adulterated time of caffeine and cars).

Sitting in the sun on my porch with The Great Cosmic Mother and my cat on my lap feels good and wholesome and nourishing, and as I read and write in my journal and let the beauty of the day fill me, I notice also a growing sense of dread within me, dread for the tomorrow that will bring me back to work and the internet and the plaza in the middle of the city of Oakland that has become a gravitational pull for me, the way a pigeon is called home through some sense of magnetism that humans can only guess at. But even stronger is the growing sense of dread when I think about Strike Day, which looms as a chaotic, frenetic, and possibly dangerous cloud on my personal horizon.

Luckily, I’ve done enough of shadow work to know that the messages I most need to hear are often cloaked in grumpiness and frustration, so with my trusty pen in hand, I begin peering deeper into the anxiety that has somehow become associated with something that I had thought I really wanted – a day that might truly be a revolutionary moment, a day that somehow might define the massive transformation that I’ve felt as an undercurrent for the whole year, since last winter solstice's lunar eclipse.

And I realize that although it feels like it is the earth herself calling me to do this kind of work in the world, when I do, I often feel incredibly from her and her rhythms.  My garden is literally dying, not because of the growing chill in the air and shorter days, but because it is parched and thirsty, uncared for (I keep thinking its going to rain).  I’ve completely abandoned my yoga practice, not to mention the daily practices of cooking my own food fresh from the farmer’s market and making herbal medicine, or hiking in the woods and swimming in the waters, in order to fully enmesh myself in the very human-world of politics and social justice.  It’s a powerful thing, this work of Occupying, but it doesn’t feed my soul in and of itself, perhaps because it doesn’t help me feel connected to those things that I consider to be the most sacred: the ancestors, the many living things that I share this planet with, the songs and dances of the stars, the dark potentiality of Mystery.  That connection to the sacred, and the more-than-human, often feels missing or lost in the busy, human-focused movement for financial equality, the elimination of student loan debt, and healthcare for all.

The whole world is watching, I think, seemingly out of the blue.  It’s a phrase I’ve heard often lately, when the cops are beating someone down, or when something dramatic happens in Zuccotti Park, or when we’ve been at Strike Planning meetings.  I’m not sure why it has suddenly popped into my head, but it seems unfinished, so I try to tease the thought out.

The whole world is watching…

What else? Something else.

The whole world is watching…

The song of the earth is emerging…

With each new day dawning,

The tides of power are turning.

A SPIRAL DANCE!  That’s the answer to my problem, I realize.  This is where all of this started, and it’s circling back around to it – because a spiral dance can help me hear the voice of the earth and experience the magic of connecting with others and is a powerful way to stop traffic or block an intersection, all rolled into one.

And so, TODAY on El Dia De Los Muertos, we will dance the spiral and sing in the streets.  Certainly, there’s a part of me that would rather be hanging out in my sweet little sanctuary in Berkeley with a warm fire in the fireplace and a cup of chai-honey tea, and perhaps I’ll get that tomorrow, too.  But first, let there be drums and chants and prayers in the streets as we celebrate our mother and ancestors and defend our birthrights for common land, pure water, clean air and passionate expression. I hope that you will be there too, dancing with me.  Perhaps She will tell some of us, again, that we will not / can not forsake one another.  Perhaps something new will emerge, a new message or a new spell.  Whatever happens, I feel quite confident that if we start the day with intention and beauty, there will be magic.

There couldn’t possibly be a better time for it.

We'll meet at the North end of Frank Ogawa Plaza (a.k.a. Oscar Grant Plaza) at 11:30 for the first spiral dance.  You can follow me on twitter for updates throughout the day: