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,


  1. May I post a link to this wonderful blog so my fellow Occupy Antelope Valley participatns can be as inspired by your accounts of the Oakland events as I have been?

  2. thank you... real 'reel'...
    Andras, from OWSNC...

  3. What a beautiful, heartfelt blog post. My friend Kayla emailed it to me. (She's in the E. Bay now, I'm in So. Oregon and lived for years in Berkeley and SF.) Leave it to the pagans to bring beauty, song and sacredness to this amazing new phase of political activism. My heart opened and my eyes teared as I remembered taking part in the earliest Spiral Dances created and organized by Starhawk and the Reclaiming Coven. Studied with Star and members of the coven back in the '80s. Thank you for keeping this power of transformation alive within the wild, self-organizing blossoming & battering energies of the Occupy movement.

  4. How do I subscribe to your Wild Serenity blog, Riyana?

  5. Never mind about my "subscribe" question. I just figured it out and will be receiving your blog posts through my Google Reader function.

  6. I just updated my homepage so that you can subscribe and get these updates direct to your inbox -- thanks for asking! And for reading!

    :-) R

  7. much love and gratitude to all of you in the streets. also curiosity with just a touch of apprehension about where this Occupy movement is going. your story gives me hope that it is headed down the good road, headed toward POSSIBLE

  8. Thank you for your kind words, Lucy. I think many of share that apprehension, and the sense of the possible! They are two sides of the same coin, I think.

  9. Beautiful! THanks for writing Riyanna! It was so sweet to get to spend so much of tis magical day with you!