Sunday, April 15, 2012

Small acts = Big Change.

This blog has 3 parts:
  • Balance and alignment. Small acts of restoring our alignment with the earth's cycles can lead us toward health and our true power;
  • Occupying your life with habits of health. Strategies for overcoming patterns of addiction and imbalance, and;
  • Big in the small. What does healing yourself have to do with healing the world?
Thanks for reading! Take what's useful, and pass it along.

On Balance & Alignment
There's a natural equilibrium to things. Opposites dance in delicious juxtaposition within all that is. Health is a state of balance... but it's not a static balance. It's life constantly pushing against death and decay. In this dynamic there is no good or evil; only balance and imbalance. Health is our natural ability to right ourselves, to regain our center, in the midst of motion. A surfer or skater or contact improv dancer will tell you, there is a peace that comes with riding with the motion instead of working against it. There are some pretty big forces of nature at work out there. How well will we ride with these changing times? What gives us this sense of balance? What knocks us off?

Balance is about alignment. When I was studying Tai Chi, my teacher stressed the importance of alignment. "When you are aligned with the earth beneath you, that's where your power comes from." A shift of foot, a position of knee, makes all the difference in whether my strikes will be rooted to the earth or cut off someplace in my body.

Alignment is something you can gain a sense for. It is not something that anyone else could tell you, if it's "on" or "off". When you've got it, you've got it. Accessing this power has to do with approaching the moment with a clear and open mind, and grounding yourself in your core.

My feet are rooted in the earth. As I sink down, her power gathers up through the center of my body and flows through my hands. I hold my legs steady, knees over toes, and feel the strength in my thigh muscles building as I keep them crouched in "horse stance". It takes a surprising amount of effort to keep form. The more I practice this, the more feel my energy growing in power. I notice the mornings I do Tai Chi, the power behind my words, my intentions and my actions are stronger, and clearer. I feel more at ease with myself, and my mind is more focused. The days I practice, I wonder what the heck is in my way, that I don't do this every morning of every day!

It is in aligning our purpose with the desire for wholeness and health of the Earth and all her people, living systems, and beings, that we will find the power to not only topple the 1% system and its inherent drive toward extinction, but also find the power to bend towards the ground beneath our feet and truly work together. To grow food. To mend. To thrive. We will only know true wealth when we begin investing in all of us, not just some of us.

A model of society centered on profit above all else is spinning our planet, her people, and her vital systems out of control. Conducting our relationships out of ego-stained projections is no way to go. Alignment is everything. Why do I do what I do? Is it from a sense of "should"? Is it based on emotional reactions to things I'm afraid of or angry about? Often, things I do out of a sense of "should" turn out to be hollow promises that I drag my feet to fulfill. The work drains my life energy, energy that could be spent doing things that feed me. Things I do out of a sense of foreboding or fear usually aren't my most wise or considered choices. Another more brilliant solution may be sitting right there, but I'd be too focused on my worries to notice it. The times I act out of anger, more often than not it blows up right back in my face moments or months later. What goes around, comes around.

The only thing that can give us the willpower, courage, and strength to overcome that which we must to survive the times ahead (I know this will sound cheesy!) is love. Love, plainly and simply put. There's a reason artists and musicians won't shut up about love. It is the answer. It's the fountain of energy that always flows.

Too many of us are drowning alone, in warped and twisted realities. We have bought into the illusion of separateness. We hunger for connection, and don't realize we have become like insatiable ghosts, consuming substitutes for the real thing. In pursuing our addictions, we are destroying everything in our wake.

How do we wake up from this story, and learn to find nourishment in the world around us again? We wouldn't need a substitute if we were given enough of the real thing: Connection.

Our most sacred relationships have been wounded all around us. There are some pretty horrible things we humans have done to each other, to other living beings, to our earth. There is so much to heal from. Sometimes it feels overwhelming. But we must stay with it. Stay past the blame, the shame, the anger, the grief-- and listen. Listening is a gift we give one another, that heals and connects. We begin to find the love we've been hungry for our whole lives. Each of us carries a child within us, that longs to be understood. We crave the possibility of oneness. It is this connection we sometimes glimpse, in the eyes of those dearest to us.

Is this sense of connection a phantom butterfly, that we chase in our romantic endeavors? Or can it be a deep and pervading kinship that extends beyond blood-ties? What is your story about love, and in what forms will you recognize it by?

Love is what's left after everything else is stripped away. Every child is born knowing how to honor life. It's never to late to start cultivating an open heart. Compassion means if I love one child, I can love all children. And we were all once children. The possibility of love is what keeps us reaching across differences. The possibility of love is what motivates forgiveness. Growing an open heart sends the tips of your roots way, way down, opening to the essence of the situation. No matter how many times we are mowed over, we will grow again. We will rise again. Rooting ourselves in love will make this revolution truly unstoppable.

Growing Power
There are small ways we can recover our alignment with the earth, and re-establish our natural rhythms. Once you begin looking for places that our dominant culture messes with ways we could be aligned with the earth, I develop eyes to see it all over the place. The pervasiveness of the pattern suggests a methodical attack on all the earth-based, indigenous cultures of the world, beginning with the tribes of Europe.  (An excellent analysis of the decimation of the indigenous tribes of Europe and the connection to Eurocentric cultural relationships with indigenous cultures past and present is outlined by John Trudell in his speech/poetry reading, "DNA: Descendent Now Ancestor".)
How many of the "traditions" associated with Christmas or Easter are actually ancient practices and symbols associated with ancient indigenous ceremonies, which once helped us align to the seasons and elements surrounding us?

Why do calendar-months almost follow the moon's cycles but not quite? How aware are you of its cycles? Notice: does your body feel differently at different phases of the moon? Oceans and tides are affected by its pull... You walk on this earth. Why shouldn't you feel it, too?

Ancient cultures across the world once timed their plantings by the moon. We used to know which crops should go in the earth when, based on the moon. I'd love to learn this someday... I think there are still a few keepers of this information. Throughout the season, there are other messages, as well. How soon the spring frogs begin to sing. When the corn puts forth its tassel. Much time would be spent in observation, in listening. Elders were our treasures, because they could help us decipher what the signals meant. Their decades of experience, and lineage of information from their grandparents, could tell us something about the messages of earth. The earth talks to us all the time-- we've only lost the culture that teaches us to hear it.

We can regain alignment, and begin to hear those messages, in small ways every day. As Mary Oliver says, you have only to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. My eyes hunger for natural light, so in the daytime I open the blinds. At night I cover my eyes for true darkness. Given a choice between the grass or a sidewalk, I take the path less traveled by. (and yes, it has made all the difference!). I notice the moon's phases. I celebrate the seasons. I greet the signs I recognize, in the parade of life-cycles going by. Did you smell those crabapple blossoms yet? Did you let the rain of the storm kiss your face? Why not be as wild as possible, within the cages of self-limitation this culture is so fond of? Spend an hour each day noticing nature, gardening or taking a walk. Liberate your body's natural sense of time and season. Live by the sun and moon.

Celebrating seasons also means eating locally. This early spring, I've been steadily browsing on the first early sprouts. Ever eaten stinging nettle, dandelion leaves, lily leaves, or fiddlehead ferns in your eggs or your soup? Wild-crafting is the art of knowing which of the plants out there are edible. These seasonal plants are natural food-medicines that help keep us healthy. Dandelion leaves and steamed nettles are excellent spring tonics for cleaning the liver, after a long winter of nothing but grains and roots. Try it! Way better for you than iceberg lettuce and California-shipped produce. All we need is truly right here. Little by little, we can regain the natural power and strength we once had as a people. As human creatures living in balance with the earth. It is possible.

On Addictions and "Occupying" your Habits with Health

Out of any given day, most of what we do is habit. It's astounding, to think of all the things we've never noticed could be done differently, because we were so focused on doing things efficiently. Efficiency is a recipe for streamlining your life to the point of exquisite boredom. Out of any given day, to what extent are you changing things up enough to keep awake to the moment? Do you feel you are as alive as you could be? Are you as happy as you want to be?

Changing patterns requires attention. It requires effort, and self-discipline. It requires crafty and careful strategy, and on occasion, great sacrifice. And the worst thing is, when you actually accomplish the change, it's still day by day. A bad day or a fight with someone we love can send us reeling back to where we started from, mired in the thick of addiction. I've had friends who have been smokers for decades. Several have managed to kick the habit, several haven't.
We live in an era of addiction. It's fair to say that our economy is addicted to oil. We are addicted to screens. We have replaced healthy patterns with unhealthy ones, succumbing to the sexy temptations of smartphones and cigarettes. It's quite possible that we were given our individual addictions as a gift. Once we understand how to cultivate willpower to end one of these smaller habits, we may be ready to tackle some of the larger ones. Perhaps we can end our addiction to world-domination, and be ready for peace at last.

Note: only you know what's out of balance and what's not. Anything, really anything can be an addiction. And things other people are addicted to, may be just fine for you. You know an addiction because it's the thing that starts pushing out other good things in your life. Then you make a choice. Do I want good things in my life, or just this ugly habit? Name it, then begin to change it. Get support. Start small. Be persistent.

The word "Occupy" will never be the same. Filling your life with the things you want is an act of revolution. Link together your desire to be healthy and powerful with the destiny of the planet and its people. We need you. We need you strong. Let's help each other occupy our lives with better habits.

The power of self-discipline can be self-taught. I heard someone say it takes 3 weeks to cultivate a new habit. What 3 things do you want to grow out of? Find 3 things to fill that time/space/pattern with, that you want to invite. Start slow. Occupy just one part of one hour without your addiction. Fill the time instead, with something that feeds you. Then do it again tomorrow. You have a whole summer. One month per habit. You can do it!

The big in the small. It's a matter of perception.

In case you are wondering what all this self-healing work has to do with fighting a Revolution, I leave you with a couple images, a quote and a poem. On photons and galaxies.

Photo and quote from "Super Vision; A New View of Nature" by Ivan Amato.
"Entangling". Life becomes even more fantastic the more we learn about it. Quantum mechanics have found that they can "entangle" two photons, the particles that make up light. In other words, even though the photons are separate, they can share a single quantum state, which is like saying that one photon carries the face of the coin and the other photon carries the tail. Actually, it's weirder than that because both photons are, in a sense, simultaneously in the head state and the tail state until someone takes a look at one of the photons. That act of looking effectively causes the photon to "choose" one or the other state, and that instantly entails that the other photon carries the partner state. Ultraviolet photons have wavelengths in the 200-nanometer range."

Photo of MyCyn18, an 8,000-light-year-distant nebula. This space object has a diameter about 1 light-year across. Also from the book "Super Vision".

we intersect
we overlap
& ripple
as we choose
which way to be

just the act of looking
can change the result

tell me
how will you choose
to see?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Occupy Your Body! Embodiment and Activism

Your body is an incredible instrument.

Somehow in the everydayness of living in a body, it's easy to forget what a miraculous thing it is, to have one. It's easy to forget to pay attention to it, or the signals that it gives us every moment, of every day. Shoulders hurting? Feet aching? Back thrown out? Caught a cold? In our culture today, we are taught to view the body's messages as reasonless obstacles, to be endured or pounded out of us with drugs. With everything else there is to do in a day, the body often comes last in our list of priorities.

But each of these aches and pains is a message to us, asking us for something to change. Sometimes change is not possible, and enduring is simply what you must do. But sometimes there are small ways, small kindnesses we can give to ourselves, supporting this complex and beautiful body that is supporting us.

Shifting our relationship to our own bodies is an essential next step in human evolution. In the dominant culture, there has been an explosion of workout gyms and Yoga centers. There seems to be a general movement-- from a disembodied, mental experience of life-- toward a way of living that includes having a body (at least in the hour that you go to the gym). However, the emphasis, in many cases, seems to be about shaping and weighing, dieting and appearing. There is an element of self-mastery to it, and more than a hint of competition. In some cases it seems as though people are treating their bodies almost brutally, requiring their bodies to shape up as a measure of sex-appeal, self-esteem, or social power. But the body has a voice! Deep in our cells is a way of knowing that can't be heard, so long as you are constantly telling your muscles what to do. The relationship of mind to body is still out of balance. To "Occupy Your Body" is to acknowledge that "you" don't just have a body, you are a body.

Denying the true expression of our bodies is one more way we allow ourselves to be oppressed and enslaved, and cut off from nature. The story of our relationship to body is the story of our relationship to earth. Our attempts to control and manage our planet's resources have only brought us pain, war, and toxic living conditions. Attempts to over-manage our own bodies result in anorexia, bulimia, mental illness, drug abuse, domestic abuse, violence, and depression, to name a few. I think much of what we suffer from, personally and culturally, can be traced back to mistreatment or abuse, and lack of access to what our bodies need for health and safety. Much of this is imposed upon us, from an early age, as part of a domestication process. Parents and teachers, in an effort to help us "fit in" to society, curbed our wild-human instincts and taught us to repress and deny our body's impulses. After a certain point, however, most of us took over and become our own monitors, our own oppressor. Even if no one is watching, we don't explore our bodies. We don't explore sexually. We don't play, or express, or dance. But our natural impulses cannot be bridled indefinitely. Repressed, they simmer and stew, fermenting into a toxic form. Sooner or later it breaks out-- usually misdirected at those closest to us, or against ourselves.

Most animals on the planet cannot be tamed, because they will not act against what they know in their bodies to be true. Earth knows what it needs, for its own healing. The forest would soon take over our cities, if we only stopped cutting the trees back. Our bodies also know what we need. If I tune in and learn to listen to what it says, my body can better serve as my ally and friend as I walk dance move toward wholeness and freedom. How wild will you allow yourself to be?

Occupying with Balance: Avoiding Activist-Burnout
In my community work, I've noticed a culture of overwork tends to dominate in non-profits, social work, and activism. Body-denial becomes a thing to brag about-- who slept the least, who spent the most hours, who suffered the most. There's often a train of unspoken narratives: "Whatever you do, put yourself last because you're doing it for the team"; "you're sacrificing yourself for a great cause"; "if you put in just one more hour, that will make all the difference in saving the world"...

Sometimes there is a time for pushing ourselves like that. When a harvest is ripe, it's appropriate to go out there and work all night to pull it in, with tangible results. The issue I had with puppetry, was that there was no end to the "crunch times." There was a celebration every few months. I became used to a rhythm of pushing hard, then collapse. Then push hard, then collapse. Yes, I got results. My determination paid off, and we created some really beautiful work together. I question now, however, whether I could have had better boundaries around my health and my time. Did I really have to sacrifice my health, my relationships, my personal life? My experience has led me to look carefully: what kinds of projects do well with this kind of crash & burn rhythm, and which do better with a "steady-does-it" routine?

I've noticed a similar pattern with the endless rallies and calls to action. My thought is that the strategy of the powers-that-be must be to bombard us with as many terrible laws and bills as possible, and keep us running until we are worn out. I've already seen several Occupy-ees burn out. Several good ideas or projects got dropped or fell through the cracks because the core organizers pushed themselves too hard, and then collapsed. I've also noticed many people "not having time" for things like discussion, or relationship-building, mediation, or some of the other in-between-actions-events. Yet it's engaging in our relationships with each other, that builds understanding, trust, and solidarity. It's in welcoming new people and helping them get plugged in, that our movement grows. It's in keeping an eye on our public image, forming alliances, and focusing on outreach that we grow our true power. In the uncertain times ahead, we'll need this solid foundation with each other. More strategic thought into how we fight this onslaught, while keeping the movement steadily growing, would be a good idea.

How do we build a culture of gratitude, self-responsibility, and group-accountability? An Occupier from North Carolina came by last month, and spoke about a series of "interaction-agreements" they had formed, to address some of the boundary and work-balance issues that had arisen. I admit, I'm concerned about the upcoming Re-Occupy. I hope that people take care of themselves and find a good balance between "saving the world", and attending to their own well-being. I hope that we can share resources and respect our different approaches for accomplishing this Revolution. There are many ways to build a movement, and many strategies for what it means to "Occupy." (my last blog has more info about the angles I'm busy working on).

What if the fight against the corporate-machine is a decades-long fight? How can we support each other on the front lines of pushing for our rights, while also working on the home-front to strengthen our resilience, creating infrastructure to survive the coming environmental crises? How do we encourage each other to truly take care of ourselves, and take care of each other, as we do this work together?

What we are up against is more than a few banks, a few laws, or one election-cycle. We are up against a system of oppression and colonization, exploitation and greed, that surrounds us and is within us. To survive as a planet, we have to come together now, and learn how to be one people as we've never been able to before.

The Politics and Fashion of Disconnection:
I think it's no coincidence, that we are experiencing such heavy backlash against women, gays, and people of color in our culture right now. It's intertwined with the fear of people still rooted in a patriarchal, racist, and homophobic culture, and their subconscious grasp that their ways are coming to an end. I think of these drastic measures as a dinosaur thrashing in a tar-pit. The old ways are on their way out. The story of stripping procreative power away from women is deeply woven with the story of earth, and the ways we have raped and pillaged her resources, taken her bounty and harnessed it into commodity. The same pattern destroys Indigenous cultures, wherever they are encountered, killing them, ripping them from their homelands and distorting their cultural stories with disrespect and appropriation.

It is the same fear, that keeps us cut off from our bodies, cut off from our true natures as human beings alive on a planet that breathes.

I look at neckties and I see a psychological noose. It's so plain, it's right out there, and yet we call it fashion and buy nice ones for our fathers on Father's Day. I know many men who refuse to wear them. And yet, it is the costume-code for dressing up in our culture. I admit, I don't get it. Why would the most powerful people on earth place something around their collars that gives their necks a sense of being constrained? Does it help them feel better, giving themselves a story of not being the ones in control? "Oh, it's not my fault my decisions are destroying lives and destroying the planet. After all, my company has its own bottom line. If I didn't do it, someone else would."

I look at high heels and I see shackles. A woman's physical strength is in her legs. You can't run in heels. The power of women is in our deep connection to the Mother Earth. Of course, the fashion of the oppressor is to encourage us to put things on our feet that push us away from the ground, and disconnect us from our source. As though everything we are, all that we eat is not from the soil. As though we could somehow push away death, push away the thought that we will one day have to return to the earth, ourselves. Earth has life-- and we, our bodies, mind, and spirit, are a part of that life.

(Photo: Tar Sands and Boreal Forest, Canada)

The time for disconnection is over.
We cannot afford
any longer
to deny the existence of
as a part of life;
as more powerful
than humans;

Women Mother Sister Daughter
we know what it is to be
enslaved colonized
raped beaten
So Rise UP
It is our time
Speak for Earth
Speak for our Bodies
Speak for our Children

Men who would be our allies, please
Learn to listen

We do not have time
to play these games with you
We do not have any bodies left
to feed your wars
We do not have time anymore
to wait, patiently, for you to stop
interrupting us

Interrupting Life,

For a new world to be born
One must die.

So un-noose your neckties
Kick off the high heels
Turn off the TV
and come out to dance with me

The answer is in your body
The answer is in your body
You were never made to be a slave
You were made to be free

* Black & White Photo by Ann Marsden. Malia Burkhart, Butoh dance. Promo for "The Survival Pages", a 2007 performance for the Naked Stages Program through Intermedia Arts and the Jerome Foundation.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Do We Want and When Do We Want it? Manifestation 101

This past weekend my backyard was host to a steady stream of neighbors and Occupy-activists. They entered the gate and followed a pathway around the canvas side of a circular wall, finding a door that was loosely draped with a hanging sleeping bag. Taking off their shoes and ducking their heads through the entryway, they stepped into another possibility. (occasionally getting their socks wet along the way...)

This backyard-occupation was the first manifestation of the "WHealthy Human Village." This is a project which evolved out of OccupyMinneapolis over the winter. We are a group of Occupiers interested in Earth-activism, working toward changes we wish to see in society, by living them in the now.

The circular-dwelling is called a "Ger" in Mongolia. (Our culture knows of it as a "Yurt"... which
is actually a derogatory term used by Russians.) The Ger is a traditional structure, simple, elegant, stable, and mobile. One of our members, Bird, spent the greater part of this past winter building one in his garage. It's made of a single lattice-wall, that's curved around into a circle. On top of this, a ring is fitted with rafters, creating a low cone-shape for a roof. Using clothespins and rope, we hung painter's canvas all around the outside walls, fitted tarps across the top, and insulated the inner walls with blankets. With space-heaters, rugs, cushions, and sleeping bags spread out on the ground, we soon had a cozy, womb-like space that could fit up to 20 people.

Our original plan, as the "Whealthy Human Village", was to take over a piece of MN Dept of Transportation-land and set up an earth-friendly version of "Occupy" over the winter. For various reasons, this plan fell through (see the Village blog here for more info on those events). We had no land to set up, and had learned that for the type of community we wanted to build, perhaps it would be wiser to be in a place with the permission and consent of our neighbors. We decided to morph our dream of a semi-permanent Occupy-"village" into a series of shorter-term weekend events, happening in backyards and community gardens around the city. The idea was that we could practice setting up and taking down the structures, learn about what it takes to organize and host events like this, and develop our vision, agreements, goals and intentions along the way.

I spent this past week taping flyers to doors along the block, inviting them to come help plan and attend the weekend events. Katie, the block-activist who heads the "National Night Out" organizing every year, showed up at our planning meeting in the Ger. She volunteered to bring pancakes on Saturday morning. Katie and her family are part of a posse of parents on the block, who regularly have neighborhood events-- often co-organized with their kids. (Moment of place-pride: I gotta say, my block totally rocks!) I live in Powderhorn Park, an area of Minneapolis known for its artsy character and activist-streak. I've also noticed that not many of my neighbors, as groovy and as aware as they are, have been involved with Occupy. And I've been wondering why.

How do we keep "Occupy" from becoming exclusive?
It's been bothering me, as I've been doing my work with OccupyMinneapolis, that there often isn't space for families to join us. I know many Occupiers who are parents often end up leaving their kids at home, making a choice between their parenting duties and participating in shaping a world they want their kids to grow up in. How hard does it have to be, to find meeting-places with separate rooms, where kids are welcome? I've been noticing that so many of the people involved with the core organizing of Occupy are childless, younger, or otherwise less burdened by responsibility. It's unfortunately typical, of people without kids, to not prioritize having kid-friendly spaces. Those who have kids are often already too burdened to do that bit of organizing-- so it gets left out. But shouldn't families be able to get involved? Aren't we missing their voices, as we choose our strategies and think about how to change our world? Shouldn't the young ones be around us, and be part of this revolution as their experience of growing up? What about others who have a hard time getting around? Elderly? People with disabilities? Do their voices count? How can their perspectives be heard?

Occupy's character is formed by the people who show up. What populations are missing from the "core-group" of our movement? How do we extend our structure, to become more inclusive, more inviting, more open and accessible? A 24/7 Occupation is one way to do it. How, though, do we open the doors to allow for those who can't be there as often? At the plaza last fall, I noticed an "inside-group" forming, made of the people who were there all the time. To be "inside", one had to show up X amount of times, until their presence would be recognized and welcomed when they arrived. There were General Assemblies every night. I went to almost every one for 2 months straight, while my health and home-life deteriorated. I didn't eat well, I didn't sleep much, and other goals in my life were on hold, as I poured myself working more than full-time into organizing, facilitating, discussing, emailing, etc. One by one, I noticed our most brilliant organizers fizzling out like 4th of July sparklers. I wondered how long we could go on like this.

Then winter happened. The Plaza was swept. We changed our structure to meet once weekly with committees, and to have decision-making General Assemblies only twice a week. There was a sense of welcome and invitation at the gatherings we had, because we hadn't seen each other in awhile. People looked happier. We weren't arguing all the time. At the "Re-Gathering" weekend, we actually had fun while talking about difficult issues. It felt like we were settling into a pace of meetings and discussions that was more manageable, and allowed for some of the other pressing matters of living to have some priority and space alongside our organizing.

There's now a call to Re-Occupy on April 7, at a couple locations in downtown Minneapolis. I admit I have some apprehensions about being as involved with a Re-Occupy as I was this past fall. My gut sense is that many of the core issues that arose when the fall-Occupy happened still haven't been addressed. I'm wondering how this movement can grow and still be sustainable for the people in it. I'm wondering if there's another way to organize ourselves. Is it possible to craft a structure that doesn't create an "insiders" group, who burn themselves out being there 24/7, and an "outsiders" group, who give money or food, but due to balancing their other responsibilities, don't feel able to be part of the central-action?

We are up against some pretty big forces. The structures of greed and imbalance, power, control, and money, are monolithic and centuries old. Last fall we managed to create a few cracks in the sidewalk of oppression. I wonder if further demolition could be given to the weed-seeds, to organize through some different strategies-- ones that say YES more than they say NO. There is something happening in the culture, something that desperately wishes to be born. Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do right now is to slow down, to notice these little sprouts and give them space to grow.

This "Weekend Village" was an Occupy-experiment: could small-scale organizing, block-by-block, become a way for local people to come out, meet each other, and get involved in creating changes? Does the core of "Occupy" have to be a place away from home, or can we also focus on organizing in the neighborhoods where we live? It seems that many of the people I've spoken to over the past 6 months view Occupy as something they generally support, but as beyond their means to participate in. What if "Occupy" were suddenly right there, outside their front doors? Would they come? What could happen?

On Saturday morning, Katie and her two girls Zoe and Anya, showed up with pitchers of batter and electric skillets. Freshly-grilled pancakes, stacked on a plate and doused with ample syrup, were handed to the neighbors on my block as they filtered in. About 15-20 adults and kids were spaced around the floor, licking syrup off their fingers and sipping their coffee or mint tea. After sharing our "headline news" about what had happened to us over the winter, we had a conversation about what's happening with Occupy, and I introduced the Village-project. "We're here to see if we can brainstorm some solutions, toward economic-independence and developing local resiliency against some of the eventual environmental crises headed our way. What can we do to meet our own needs, by working together?"

In the short and lively discussion that ensued, we set up a collective work-group, with 5 families to spend 6 weekends over the summer helping each other out with home-and-yard improvement projects we couldn't afford the time or money to accomplish on our own... plus one extra weekend to work on a beautification-project for the block at large. I have two neighbors who want to go in on backyard-chickens with me, because while I have space for a coop, I don't have the regular schedule or lifestyle that would allow me to commit for caring for them every day. Another neighbor, who already has chickens, agreed to help us out if we need advice.

I just took my dog for a walk. One of my neighbors, who never talked to me much, shouted "Hello!" and called to me by name. She'd come to the movie-screening in the Ger on Saturday night. While we were setting up and we'd had some conversations about her husband's sudden death 8 years ago, her basset hound's passing away last fall, and some of the troubles she's having with her house. From the sound of it, I think she's been kind of lonely. It seems this weekend-event opened up a way for her to feel connected. I know, this time, I'm not going to forget her name again. By hearing the stories about her life, this house on my block suddenly has a face and a story to it. If this isn't part of changing the world to be a better place, I don't know what is.

Over the course of 3 days at the backyard-Whealthy Human Village, connections like this happened in spontaneous ways. Relationships deepened, as we shared stories together in a relaxed way. An OccupyStPaul family stopped by, and we discussed protests and direct actions, possibilities for strategic organizing, or employing elder-power on the front-lines for actions to defend the earth. One of the Village-organizers shared her skills in spinning yarn. Some neighbors down the street own two standard poodles, had been saving their fur, and brought the fur, and the poodles, over for a visit. Yes, Rachel did manage to spin the fur into yarn! (One of the dogs was much softer than the other, turns out...). We knit and spun while a 4-month-old baby practiced pushing up from laying on her belly. We talked about how having a craft like this calms the mind, and creates something functional and beautiful. We dreamed of having a craft-circle for a new barter-network... Angora rabbits? Mohair goats? A poodle-farm? Silly, perhaps. Or maybe we'd be able to grow a dye-garden, knit, and spin yarn together while spinning stories about our community and world, & what it's going to take to heal it. Bird brought over his power-tools and demonstrated the intricacies of creating the central-ring that holds up the Ger-roof. A woman trained in non-violent communication techniques led a teach-in. An "Intergenerational Council", specifically inviting elder-activists to join us, spent a Sunday afternoon envisioning a future we'd like to live in. We shared these dreams with each other, and created a list for our common vision. One of the Villagers, a member of the Dakota community, distributed some tobacco and led us in a closing-blessing-ceremony.

I suppose the events of this weekend could be summarized as: a bunch of old & new hippie-earth activists got together and camped out in a handmade room for a weekend. But that would be missing the point.

On Visionary Organizing:
Grace Lee Boggs is an Elder-activist, 96 years old and kicking, whom many around the world have cause to listen when she speaks. I was inspired to read the following article, timely posted, by Colorlines:

“I would say to a young activist, ‘Do visionary organizing.’” Boggs told Hyphen. “‘Turn your back on protest organizing and recognize how that leads you more and more to defensive operations, whereas visionary organizing gives you the opportunity to encourage the creative capacity in people and it’s very fulfilling.’”

At a time when people are re-evaluating their relationships with money, work, and people in their communities, Boggs says these dire economic times provide the political space to answer serious questions about our common social values. It’s the lesson that she learned early on in her life, growing up in America the daughter of Chinese immigrants.

“I had the idea, for example, from my father that a crisis is not only a danger but also an opportunity and that there is a positive and negative in everything,” Boggs said. “Being born Chinese meant a big deal to my life, I think.”

My first protest-action was in 1998 on my college-campus, against the conservative administration's budget-cuts that de-funded the radical student-designed-education program I was enrolled in. In 1999, I joined in protesting against the reroute of Hwy 55 and protect the four oak trees sacred to the Mdewakanton Dakota. I was in a supporting role in providing food to the encampment there, attended their rallying-events and was witness to their final showdown with the cops. In the leadup to the Iraq War, I was strapping on stilts in Osaka, Japan, joining in the demonstrations there. Back in Minnesota, I was on the streets with people fighting against Bush's re-election. I coordinated and led a brigade of folks in a puppet-protest with Code Pink during the RNC in St Paul. I've been at countless other protests for different causes where we gathered en masse and chanted whatever the person with the megaphone said, in unison.

Most of these protests ended in tragedy, despite the massive numbers of people uprising (the trees were cut down anyway, the Iraq war happened anyway, Bush got re-elected anyway)... But that's only part of the reason I'm not pouring my heart and soul into to traditional-style protests at Occupy. At many of the actions I've been to, I often end up feeling alone or isolated. It's easy to show up to a protest, yell your piece, and go home again without having gotten to know anyone. How many times have I been walking side by side with others, having no idea who these people are, that I am in "solidarity" with? How many times can "Hey Hey Ho Ho" be recycled, anyways?

When I do go to rallies and events involved with OccupyMinneapolis, I try hard to infuse some element of creativity into it. At a solidarity-rally, circuiting the skyways after the Occupy Wall Street raids, Sam, a fellow Occupier noted: "You're always trying to get us to sing something..." It's true. At a recent "Occupy Our Food Supply" Rally, I took the megaphone and made up a song on the spot, to the tune of "Old MacDonald", changing the words to fit the message against Cargill's disproportionate control: "Mr.Cargill stole our farms, EIEIO... and to our food has done some harm, EIEIO. With a price-cut here and a price cut there, here a cut, there a cut, everywhere a price-cut..." Back during the Madison uprising last spring, I showed up at the U of M solidarity rally with a hand-painted banner, a drum and a song (video here). The atmosphere of the rally shifted, tangibly, before and after singing. A girl came up to me at a protest recently, who remembered me, and that song, even though it had been a whole year. Apparently it made an impression on her.

I greatly appreciate the "Pirate" angle that OccupyHomes has brought into their protests against the banks. It's just fun to dress up. It catches media attention. It's been very fun to witness the transformations of various Occupiers into their "Pirate-personas", and has probably baffled many a banker (or security officer) with how to respond to "Captain Jack Sparrow" or "GlitterBeard" demanding their booty back. Another creative protest I caught wind of via Facebook was the "Matador Wall Street Bull" action... which involved very few people but was epic in its conception, execution, and documentation.

I'm wondering, this spring, if we can redefine what "Direct Action" means, and expand the scope of possibility for more creativity, more fun, and take relationship-building and all-ages-accessibility into account. I love it that someone had the idea of planting sunflowers in spaces all over the city (as is being planned as a Guerrilla-Garden action on May 1) as a radical and culture-changing action!

"What Do We Want? ____! When Do We Want It??? NOW!!!"
In my own life, stating what I want for myself clearly at key points has made all the difference. Perhaps my work as an artist has given me a different view on manifestation than other people. On a pretty regular basis, I imagine seemingly impossible things, and a month or two later it's rolling down the street or unfolding on a stage. As a MayDay Parade artist, I've gotten to see sketches I've drawn turn into giant parade floats. I've met plenty of people who use their intention in a focused way, and achieved tremendous results in their lives. Of course, I also observe that simply stating what you want & when you want it-- doesn't have as much effect as when you are actively working to make it so. ;-) But a clear intention helps.

Some say that the Universe responds to a "Yes" and a "Thank You" in a direct and powerful way. Some even say that "No" doesn't register, so that when you say "No More Killing!", what is actually sent out into the energy-field is the message, "____More Killing!" I don't know what your experience has been with woo-woo stuff like this, or where you stand on some of the radical ideas and research posed by quantum-mechanics or the work of Masaru Emoto, for example. But I can say that the power of intention has had a very real and instant effect on my own life.

The way we ask for what we want makes a difference in other ways, too. I was talking recently to another Occupier and blogger. He mentioned that, to keep up with the amount of stuff he's writing, he often uses anger as his fuel in writing. And mentioned that this anger was starting to bleed over into other areas of his life... "At the end of my work day, I often feel like I've been poisoning myself for five hours. [My partner] actually told me last night that I was starting to seem angry all the time." This morning, I listened to the news on DemocracyNow!... Today is the annual anniverary of the Fukushima Plant meltdown, and we still haven't drawn the connection to the danger posed by other nuclear plants around the world and shut them down. Obama broke my heart the moment he used the words "safe" and "nuclear" together (along with "clean coal")... and I knew he'd been bought out. BP is still in business. The Old Boy's Club must know they are demographically going down, for all the terrible things they are saying against women's rights and attempting to legislate our bodies and our health. I can't even decide which of the horrible things happening in the world I should include in this paragraph as the most horrible. There is no shortage of things to be outraged about.

Back in my organizing for the Code Pink march on the RNC, the coordinators wanted to reclaim use of the term "Pro-Life", and use that in some of our slogan-generation. Of course the "Pro-Choice" advocates in the group ruled against it. But it does raise the question, why "Pro-Life" is a term we allowed to be owned by a very specific group around a very specific issue. (Who, in my view, don't do nearly enough to eradicate poverty, rape, empowering young girls, providing birth control, or providing decent shelter, food, or education for any of the countless children who are undercared for in our world... but that's for another blog)...

These times feel very much to be about a struggle for Life. I don't just mean my life, or even our childrens' lives (if I get to have children)... Lately I've been having some conversations with people whose version of optimism is to say "Well, Earth's life will continue, even if we humans exterminate ourselves..." Some people shrug their shoulders and mention that the Sun, itself, will turn into a supernova and we'll all die then, anyways. It tears at me when I hear people talk like this, as though all the beauty being destroyed every moment doesn't matter. I wonder if they have any children in their lives, any one person in this generation, they'd fight for to make the world a better place to live. It strikes me as a death-wish. Or an excuse.

Some people are awake and responding to the earth-crisis, but from the heady way they talk about it, I wonder how much they are in tune with their own hearts. I listen to other people advocate this and that solution to the massive problems we are facing (such as voting, or legislative, or different light-bulbs, or using less plastic forks). Of course every little bit makes a difference. I will act where I can. I'll vote. I will call my legislator. I'll change my lightbulbs, I'll wash my utensils. But when it comes down to it, I have to conserve my own life-energies and put them where I feel it will create the deepest change. I have to organize in ways that feed and sustain me. Anger and grief are sources of fuel. They burn hot, and also burn me out when I run on those feelings only for too long. But underneath those feelings of grief and rage is a slower, deeper fire: a sense of deep and abiding passion-- for life, for the beauty of the Earth, and caring for the future generations. I will base my actions on what I most love, and work for that through what I most love: the talents and service I was born here, at this time, to give.

As Grace Lee Boggs' father said, "...a crisis is not only a danger but also an opportunity and that there is a positive and negative in everything."

On my better days, I can turn around and view the impending crises we are facing as a society, as a nation, as a planet, as an opportunity. There are many Indigenous prophecies, such as the Hopi, who speak of this time as the Great Purification. The Seven Fires prophecy of the Anishinaabe people mentions turning from a material reality to a spiritual reality. Joanna Macy, whose work has profoundly affected many, describes this moment as the "Great Unraveling" and, simultaneously, the "Great Turning." It's quite possible that it's too little, too late. But I have to try. Even if it's just in my own backyard, organizing with my neighbors to have a few chickens. Even if it's just in learning how to communicate compassionately, and how to love just a little bit more. Maybe this August we'll see some sunflowers blooming in odd spaces, and be reminded that a little bit of resistance has taken place.

As I see those nodding heads and cheerful yellow petals, I will remember to say YES, and Thank You. Yes to life. Thank you to my ancestors, my neighbors, the person who planted the seed, for this chance to be alive and fighting for life.


Comments about this topic, or on the writing in general, are welcome! I'd like to hear from you.

Next topic: Occupy your Body! Liberation of the white male and the suburban woman. Why do men wear ties? Why do women wear high heels? Fashion as psychological enslavement, Embodiment as Activism.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Collective Intelligence: Why Occupy is Wiser than it Thinks...

Q: What do Bugs, Sex, and Mutants have to do with Occupy? Read on!(*okay, I put "sex" in that list partly just to hook your interest. But it does fit in with this theme...)

First off, I will own that I am a nature-geek. When my sister wanted to watch the "Monkees" on TV, I would hide the remote control to keep the channel on "Wild America." I would watch nature-documentaries for hours and never get bored. It was really hard for me to get why she would rather watch some goofy guys singing cheesy songs wearing too-tight clothes on Channel 24, when we could be watching Channel 2, and see real monkeys resolving their territorial disputes, swinging through trees with mind-reeling gymnastics and deafening howls. I was a quiet kid, and could spend hours scooping up guppies in a pond just to see their different-colored tails.

All this to say, observations about nature are a major way I understand the world. I am a pattern-seeker. Some patterns take time and attention to notice... even though they're right there. When did you last really marvel at feathery etchings of frost on a window, or the spirals in a sunflower-head? I saw a book called "Chaos Theory" and it had pictures comparing patterns in nature: the branches of capillaries, the branches of a river, the branches of elm trees in winter, twining into the sky. I had noticed these similarities before, but I'd never thought there might be a whole branch of science devoted to studying this! The idea is that patterns repeat, and that you might be able to understand something much bigger than yourself, by looking at something much smaller than yourself. Capillaries carry water. Trees carry water. Rivers carry water. The branch-pattern happens for a reason.

So the nature-observer in me has been looking at some of the patterns I see in Occupy, and wondering: What nature-metaphor could describe what I see happening here? If we were a plant or creature, what would we be?

I've heard Ricardo Levins Morales, one of the artist-sage-historians I know, describe Occupy as the first set of plants in succession. After the ground is disturbed, these are the first plants who move in and cover the earth. Some of the best plants in this "pioneer" phase are the ones we usually call "weeds." In most of our dealings with earth, we do a lot of "disturbing." Plowing, digging, building. After these plants have covered the bare ground, new trees start to take root and grow. Eventually, a forest moves in. The plants "know" what to do. It's a dance that holds the soil in place until the trees have time to establish a community in their basket of roots. A "Climax forest" is the result of centuries of accumulated effort to establish an ecosystem that, if you've ever been to one, truly feels like holy ground. This is what the earth would do, if we only just let it.

There are forces at work on the planet. It knows how to heal itself. Our job is to humble our monkey-minds enough to get a sense of what we don't know, and to listen. Then act, prudently. We humans tend to think we understand everything. Up until now, we've been prone to act rashly, boldly. I'd say arrogantly. We ignore the signs all around us, telling us to stop.

Nature is powerful. If we continue to align ourselves with the false wealth of money and human-based power, humankind will be shaken off (with a mass-extinction of plants, animals, and ecosystems on our hands). Conversely, if we *do* align ourselves with the force of life seeking health and wholeness, we will have power behind us that is truly unstoppable.

(How do we align, you ask? That's the big question of this age we're in. There are ways to listen to nature. Animals, plants, and even the weather speak to us all the time. There is more than one way of knowing... In fact, there are as many kinds of intelligence as there are life-forms on the planet. What if we let them be our teachers? But that's for another blog.)

"Collective Intelligence" is a term scientists use to describe the behavior of creatures like ants.
Have you ever noticed a line of ants, tracing the shortest distance from a food-source to their nest, and wondered how they "knew" where the food was?

Occupy sprang up, spontaneously, in locations all across the United States. No one thought of planning something like this. A horizontal structure and collective-decision-making were at the heart of each of these Occupations. The culture we began creating showed a willingness to invent, to try out a different way of being.

In October, a new group of humans arrived on the Government Plaza of downtown Minneapolis. We crawled out of our holes, the little places where we were surviving alone, and came into the open. We pushed tables together between concrete planters, and called it a kitchen. People cut apart mattresses, took out the stuffing, and invented sleeping bag covers. We began sharing resources with each other, developing new sign language and changing "point of process" from a pinkie to an index finger. We created teach-ins about consensus-decision-making. We organized. One of the most exciting things was the cross-pollination that began occurring: Occupations were talking with each other. Alternative Media. Facebook. Visitors traveling across the country and checking in. Like ants spreading across a field, we put our antennas together and shared information, stories, strategies. Media set up Livestream, and Occupiers across the country tuned into each others experiences, chatting late into the night with whoever was tuned in.

Later, as we began having conflicts and problems with each other, it was reassuring to know that other Occupations were having the exact same dynamics, similar issues. We heard some of the ways they were working to address the problems. We shared ours with them. It took some of the intensity of individual ego-clashes happening, and helped put them in a broader context: What we were experiencing was normal, and tied to much larger dynamics at work. Occupy had a hive-mind, and we learned much by tapping into our collective-intelligence.

Let's remember what makes us different than the "powers that be", and celebrate and honor how smart we can be when we let chance help us. (Give chance a chance) By including some space for random networking in our gatherings, along with "keeping the agenda" linear-styles of organizing, we can keep getting smarter. Keep the internet free, develop our relationships and networks with other Occupies, and let's continue supporting each other as we do this work.

Coming back to what sex has to do with Occupy:
In the biological sense, sex is a lottery. It's a way nature found, to more wildly and radically combine genes. Before sex, all that existed was cloning. Each offspring an exact replica of what came before. Single-celled organisms ruled the day. Evolution happened very s-l-o-w-l-y. Occasionally an organism would get the reproduction-codes wrong, and a "mutation" would result. If the mutation happened to be a good one, that organism could possibly out-do its "parents." This was a cool thing, life replicating itself. Without it we pretty much wouldn't be here right now ;-). But long story short, life before sex was pretty boring.

With sex as an evolutionary survival tool, suddenly mutations weren't a once-in-awhile phenomenon. Sex meant that each parent could throw their genes into a giant mixing-pot, and what came out looked like neither one, exactly. The reason you look so different from the other members of your family is because you are all mutants. But you just may have an evolutionary cutting edge over your sister or brother (which in nature, would look like having more healthy children than they do...) Nature banks in diversity. Ancient agriculturists knew this, and for this reason the Indigenous tribes of Peru developed hundreds of varieties of potato. If one type of potato didn't do well, another would. This is very different than the current model of agriculture, which favors uniformity and monocultured fields. Standard fields planted in standard rows deliver a standard potato to the standard McDonald's, to make you a standard order of french fries. A question posed by many (who are paying attention to food & where it comes from)... is "How resilient are these acres and acres of only one type of plant?" The answer is Not Very.

Evolution happens because the organism is responding to stress. Some conditions in the environment are becoming intolerable (no food, no place to live, unsafe due to predation, climate change, etc.... sound familiar?) ...the organism has to do something to ensure the line of its own ancestors has a chance in the future. A weird and fascinating fact: around times of environmental stress, the rate of mutations seems to increase. The species is seeking a way out.

This is where Diversity, as a major strength of Occupy, comes in.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but let's use sex as a metaphor for consensus-process.

How do we view disagreement?
Usually, as something to be avoided. At least I often do. What can I say? I'm Minnesotan. Maybe Occupy Minnesota is having a particularly hard time with Consensus-process because we are sometimes called out (by out-of-state-folks) for a culture steeped in passive-aggression and buried resentments. What's this about? An inherited quirk from Norwegian culture? I'm not sure. But it is a pattern I see, that when there is disagreement, we often back away. Instead of having it out in the open and working it out right then and there, we run, we avoid the situation. We may pretend we still like that person to their face, then talk mean about them behind their backs. Or fill our plate with things to do, and suddenly a few months have gone by and you hope whatever it was has been forgotten about.

Avoiding conflict is a natural human thing to do. So is sticking with the people who more or less "clone" our ideas and don't challenge us to think differently. But it's not very growthful. Our ideas change only very slowly, and our version of reality can become more and more off-base. In our culture, "cloning" is much more likely to happen when there is an absence of critical thought or civic engagement. When people wrap their identity around an opinion that they hold, saying "I believe" instead of "I think" (Thank you, John Trudell)-- it makes it that much more difficult to engage in true dialogue about an issue. But we are so much more than our opinions. We are also human, and so is your "opponent." As strongly as you feel your truth, because it is based in your experiences, there is another set of experiences, and another truth, held by another whose life you can't truly understand because you haven't lived it.

But what if, instead, we began thinking of disagreement as a sexy chance to merge viewpoints? What if, instead of trying to clone my ideas onto you, I acknowledge that I only know my own story, and open my mind to hear your story, and the reality that you see? What if we could find a way to respectfully communicate our different experiences, identify the issues between us, and come out with a diversity of ways to address it?

Part of our evolutionary process, as a new culture and as a movement, is to learn how to turn our challenges into strengths. Consensus-process, many would agree, has been one of the most difficult pieces of Occupy. But there is a reason we don't want to shift to replicating the same models of dominance, hierarchy, and oppression of minority voices, that we are fighting against.

A key evolutionary moment happened in the world, when a few smart mutant organisms began using oxygen as a source for life, by breathing it. Before this, oxygen was building up in the atmosphere, and was toxic to all living organisms. Overall, it seems oxygen-breathing was a survival-strategy that went pretty well for life on earth. ;-)

Right now, our world is brewing in conflict... there seems to be no shortage of it. A similar evolutionary leap, on the scale of learning to breathe oxygen, seems called for. What if we could turn the way we deal with conflict into tools that help us better understand the complexities of human relationship? What if our goal was less about being right, or even keeping up a shaky veneer of 'peace', and we thrived instead on growing the heart and learning from each other?

I've been alive long enough now, to recognize something about conflict: Even though I may run away from a problem, by moving or changing jobs or ending a relationship, sooner or later I have to deal with it. The job/person/place changes, but the pattern keeps coming back. I say to it "Hey, I recognize you. I thought I left you in the dust, long ago." The pattern laughs at me and says "HaHaHA! You fool. Running is futile. Don't you know I'm part of you? Anyways, I had something I was trying to tell you..."

We are suffering, now, from the patterns of oppression, dominance, and disconnection our ancestors have been running away from for generations. As we try to escape from looking at our own shit or dealing with it, we set up walls of defense around our communities, our neighbors, family members. We separate ourselves from the earth. We separate ourselves from our own bodies. But we can't keep running. We just can't. Too much is at stake now. We have to open those doors, because the house of our planet is burning down and working together is the only thing that can stop it.

Of course it feels too big to handle. I feel overwhelmed every day at how much there is to heal from, how much there is to do. But then I remember the patterns of nature. How the small reflects the big. I will do, today, what I can, to face what must be faced. When I am in disagreement with someone, I will do my best to hold them with compassion and try to understand their perspective -- while honoring my own. I'll look at my own life, and see what this conflict is teaching me, right now, about where I need to grow. Let's be mutants & proud. How about a little Consensus-building next week? (wink, wink ;-)...

Next Blog: What do we want and When do we want it? Manifestation 101 and why YES and THANK YOU are powerful magic.

Thanks for reading. Writers out there, I welcome suggestions or comments on my work. & Readers, the same...


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What does Art have to do with Revolution?

Do artists contribute to real change? Or are we just "peripheral"? Is art something strange people do in their "spare time", or is it an essential part of human growth and expression? Why would we waste our time adding an arts-element to our rally? Why would we play theater-games in the middle of a meeting?

I don't know who you are, reading this blog, or what your understanding or experience with art has been. Over the years, as an arts-teacher, it's become clear to me that something in the culture has driven a huge block between people and their natural and free expression of self. I have taught kindergarteners who have told me, with a self-resigned sigh, "Oh, I'm not an artist." As if we expect their construction-paper cutouts to look exactly right the first time.

This expectation for instant perfection is disturbing and entirely false. It seems many people think artists are natural geniuses, and call their skills "gifts." As if I didn't have my own trail of crappy refrigerator-drawings flying behind me. As if I don't have hundreds of songs I don't remember and were probably worth forgetting. My heart still thumps whenever I sing in front of people. But I do it anyway. It's where I need to grow. When I was a young adult, I was a terrible introvert. People had to ask me three times to repeat what I said, I was speaking so softly. (It's likely they still didn't catch what I said, but got tired of asking...) Through my art, I pushed the edges of my comfort-zone. Through my performance-work, I made myself get on stage again and again, until I could do it without shaking. Art can help us access pieces of ourselves we didn't know were there. Now, when I have something to say, I say it. I've gotten in front of Occupy-General Assemblies as a facilitator, confidently and with a strong voice. But people don't see those layers of effort, the many moments of embarrassment and self-forgiveness I've worked through, to be able to do what I do.

I see engaging with art, any art, as an essential outlet for being human. It is about pushing the edge of your own growth, and opening space for more of your true self to shine through*. (*see my previous blog, "99 or One", to read more about what being your full wild self has to do with Revolution)... Whether or not the art is "good" is entirely subjective. One person may love it, another may think it's trash. I've found the most important thing is whether or not I learned something in the process creating it.

What does Art have to do with Revolution? Our culture has made "experts" out of everything, including artists. As kids, we saw the adults putting art on a high pedestal, and saying "oh, if it can't be as good as _____(artist), I won't even try." This same passive, resigned tone pervades in our "democracy", when it comes to attempting to change the culture, to change our political system, or even to change the location of a stop-sign on your own block. Everything is untouchable, unreachable. We don't dare dream.

This year, 2012, I see as prime-time for a tremendous expansion of what's possible. Occupy has shaken up the idea that change could come from the top down, from the "expert" government leaders or corporate CEO's. Many of us now think, that in order to change to happen we will have to start it ourselves. Tell me that's not an artist-move. Yes, we will be shaky in our first efforts to organize ourselves, just as we are shaky in our first attempts to create anything new and different. The point is not to be perfect. The point is to express what you dream for, and work to make it happen.

What Art can contribute to the Revolution:
  • An Understanding about the importance of Process. Creating work that I know in advance how it will turn out, to me, is not art-- it's production. It may look pretty, but I know it's actually hollow. To make something that truly speaks to people, I have to be present to the process. In my work, I try to remain open to learning something new. I make mistakes. I wade through the discomfort of not knowing, and keep my eyes open for treasure in unexpected places. I accept what comes. I am willing to work at something, diligently, with nothing but a strong gut sense leading me on. Most of all I listen for the "ding-ding-ding" in my heart, that comes when the piece finally takes over and becomes what it wanted to be all along-- in many cases, despite my original opinions about what it should have been.
As an organizer working on the long-term vision, my dream for this movement is that it will go beyond what any of us are expecting could happen. I hold that dream lightly, and move in each moment with a deep listening for what might help us get there. I think a degree of humbleness and willingness to flow with it will get us further, ultimately, than a step-by-step plan or just the right GA-proposal, or expecting any one of us to have "the answer" to any of the delicious obstacles on the table.

To claim solidarity with people you haven't met and don't really want to interact with, by calling ourselves 99%, is hollow. To build true solidarity, there has to be a willingness to engage with the process, working hard and being willing for the end-result to look different than you thought it should. It might hurt sometimes. You may have to wade through the discomfort of not knowing, and keep your eyes open for treasure in unexpected places.

What if the process of working through the many issues coming up (such as racism, sexism, ageism, differences in religious belief, differences in opinion, right-wing, left-wing...)-- will give us just the tools we need to create our next big project: A New World Order? What if we could use those tools for respectful dialogue across differences, and began building solidarity with people in other countries? What if it were possible, to unite as one planetary people to do something, directly, about ending corporate power and turning toward healing the Earth? You may say I'm a dreamer... but really, what else is going to save us now?
  • Knowing that different projects require different scales of time. Some artists work on a single piece of art, stoically, their entire lives. Others whip out pieces right and left, like Chinese calligraphers. Knowing and embracing the many ways that artists create their work can give us an appreciation for a variety of time-scales in our collective actions. Some actions pop up overnight and are gone tomorrow. Others take months or years or even decades to reach fruition, but are long-lasting and wide-reaching.
Get a sense of the scale of this project: We are called upon, now, to save humanity.
Our ancestors have already saved us, many times over. Indigenous cultures tell us to consider how our actions today will play out 7 generations from now. Another reason why it's important to know our true history, and feel the pain of the past. This is just the medicine we need, to help us know what mistakes we don't want to repeat, and break the cycles of colonization, oppression, and greed.
  • Art is magnetic. It makes people curious. They want to come out and see what you are up to. With the right participatory project, it's contagious... people are drawn in, and as they work, get out of the television-induced passive spectator mindstate-- and into their creative, engaged, active, "Hey, I'm a part of this!!" mind-body-wow state. It's an addictive feeling. They will be back for more.
  • Art is a bridge-builder. In a collaborative-arts project, you can easily find yourself working beside someone you've never met before. A sense of community builds over time, and is created out of small connections like this. Through working on a project together, you might meet one more person, possibly someone very different than you. You might see each other on the street. You might become friends. In my 10 years as a community-artist-activist, I've seen old and young, people from different cultures, people who couldn't even speak the same language, making really cool and complex stuff together. Somehow words weren't even necessary, communicating instead through simple materials and a sense of the whole.
  • Singing or writing or making music or dancing can make your heart feel better. I don't know if we really need any other reason than that.
  • Manifesting something through art can embolden us to manifest other things we desire in our lives. Looking at a tangible creation, we can see, plainly, that something was done. Something happened here. In Portland, there is a wonderful neighborhood-beautification movement called "City Repair". Murals painted on the streets. Mosaic benches. Community gardens. Handmade gathering spaces. In projects like these, you get to live next to the results for years to come. The landscape and feeling of the block changes. Cars slow down. People look at each other and smile. If it's a garden you can taste the results. Seemingly impossible things begin to feel more possible.
(photo of a banner-batik-project at the Occupy Community-Day, a weekly event I helped coordinate, that happened for 2 months over the winter) (*oh yeah... adding art to your actions also makes for colorful photo-ops!)

Because it's related, I'll add a few more points:
What does Play or Improvisation have to do with Revolution?

  • Playing opens up our intuition. Intuition is faster and often more accurate than logical processing. The brain is usually the last to catch up to what's happening. We learn to trust our gut. We keep a channel open to the environment, and re-attune our senses to what's around us. How often has an answer that's been evading you for weeks suddenly spring into mind when your brain has loosened up, and you've let go of trying for a moment?
  • Play is a way to open your mind to the possibilities you may not even have dreamed yet. Play is a way to discover new things. The point is to grow. Things are fun because they challenge us in some way. Human brains are designed to grow. Play keeps the mind plastic and able to learn new things. We enjoy change. Evolution uses gene-pool "play" as a major strategy. Want to talk about "diversity of tactics"? Try looking at all the many variations of flowers out there, advertising for pollinators. Nature looks for something that hasn't been tried before, and will try just about anything. We are at a point in our cultural-turning where we will need all the imagination we can muster, and all the collective intelligence we can tap into.
  • Practicing improvisation trains you be calm and relaxed when unexpected things start happening (which they always will). Improvising as a group sensitizes your awareness and ability to respond to others. There is usually a give-and-take of listening and responding. We are present in the choices we are making. In improvisation, you learn how to listen, to respond, to initiate, to let go. It's a great practice for a "leaderless" movement. As we learn to trade roles in play, so too we can learn to trade roles in organizing.
  • Play develops your sense of humor. Humor is one of the secrets to keeping healthy and aging well. You do intend to grow old in this new world we are building, right?
  • Play can keep us moving through hard topics, lengthy meetings, and prevent burn-out. If we put just a little more "fun" into our meetings, we may be surprised to find we actually get more done. Moving the body is an excellent way to unblock the mind. Egos get set aside when you are asked to do something silly together. Overall attendance may improve, too.

To all my beloved Occupiers who want the Revolution and want it now, I offer these tools of artist-process and the importance of play for your tool-belt. I hope you will take them as gifts that we can all use, as we do this work together.

To the kindergartener who says they can't do art, and to all you grown-ups who say the same, I wish for you a painting or a poem or a piece of music to catch your heart and remind you of something you may have forgotten. May it awaken a desire in you, to say or paint or sing or move, so that your voice, too, can remind us of something we've forgotten.

Peace, Love, and Revolution,


Comments are appreciated!

Next Blog: Collective Intelligence and why Occupy is Wiser than we know...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

99 or One

At the "Occupy Re-Gathering" this past weekend, the facilitator told us to raise our hands if we are part of the 99%. (which I did).... then, as a joke, the facilitator asked us to raise our hands if we are part of the 1%. I raised my hand. All eyes on the room turned on me, curious. I said the following short blurb, which I've been saying since the first week of Occupy:

"I'm part of the 1%, and you are too. As people living in the United States, by the level at which we consume resources, and by our access to a kind of power to change things, compared to the rest of the world we are the 1%. Also, to the rest of the species on the planet, who would like a say in how we are running things, humans are the 1%. We owe it to them to speak up and also to listen."

Calling ourselves 99% was a bold and brilliant move, that has the richest 1% quaking... and also, possibly, laughing. So much hangs in the balance around this idea. Can we really overcome our differences enough to join forces and reclaim our freedom?

How, exactly, have we been enslaved? There is a general feeling, among most of us, of being trapped. We want there to be an enemy, someone clearly evil we can point to and say, "That person. That 1% person is the root of it all. If only they were gone, then we would be free."

When we call ourselves the 99%, without touching our long and twisted history of injustice and pain towards each other, how "Solid" is our Solidarity? Centuries, even millenia, of human injustice await to be healed. Women still silenced. Indigenous Nations still stolen from. Post-slavery people still pushed to the bottom. People told they are "illegal" and separated from their families because of our Free-Trade policies and unjust immigration laws. How can we expand our awareness of all of these struggles, as we ask for their participation in our movement? How heavily do we take our responsibility, to include their voices as we decide our activist-strategies? Do we include a sense of the other 99% of the world, as we organize? How do we act in solidarity with post-colonial countries still strangling in debt? With repressive regimes where their right to assemble is met with mass slaughter? Do we unionize on behalf of sweatshop-workers around the world, or do we buy their cheap goods? Do we consider the sacrifices in lifestyle we will all have to make, to counter Global Climate Change? Is it too late?

They have been waiting for us, Occupy. Eyes around the world lit up for a moment with hope, when they saw our numbers and our spark. We've had a few successes, now. Let's dream bolder, and dig deeper...

As a healer, an activist, as a student of world news and also of its history, I see cycles of violence and greed, corruption and tyrants, endlessly looping. Israel, Palestine. Oppressed people who seize power only to become the oppressors. Abused children who grow up to be abusers. I also see a mistreatment of our "Societal Ailments" caused by a lack of holistic understanding for the root of the problem. The "War on Drugs" targets depressed, abused, or marginalized people who turn to drugs to escape, who are then criminalized and sent to prison. The "War on Terror" glossed over any explanations why people in the Middle East may have felt it a holy duty to strike out against the United States (do we really still think it's because they hated our "freedom"?)... 10 years of occupation hasn't done much to heal those wounds, any more than going to jail helps a historically-oppressed person feel better about their situation in life.

How can we be freed, not just from unfair tax-laws, money in politics, or corporate personhood, but also be freed from these all-too-human patterns that are destroying the very planet we depend upon for survival? What is the root of the problem, and what is the best antidote?

What we are trapped within is a system, a pattern... A system that includes us, that uses us, that feeds off us and our work, our time, our labor. We are told it is only by participating in this system that we can survive. The reason we obey is because we have been domesticated. We are expected to hang our heads, put our blinders on, and continue working, consuming, surviving. We accept this as reality because we have never seen another way. Or if we hear rumor of one, if we dare to dream of another way, we are accused of being "unrealistic" or "utopian"...

Let me say first, I support working in many directions simultaneously. Yes, I support efforts to reform politics. To be more green in our Occupation, we should get some real dishes and wash them, instead of using disposable ones. (& Yes, wash your own!) But what if the magnitude of the problems we face are beyond legislative solutions? What if politics and legislation are means set up to channel and filter our grief and our rage, pacifying us with false promises and a "lesser of two evils" choice? What if the way out is not possible by working within a capitalist framework? What if we can't address the scale of the Environmental Crisis through "green" consumer choices?

What if the way out can be much sexier than buying things or changing legislation? What if it is more fun, and more colorful? What if the way out has to do with "re-wilding" our imaginations, undomesticating our lives, and reclaiming not only our rights but also our health? What if we could consciously choose to build a way out, by taking real steps toward food independence, economic independence: Local economy; Barter networks; Urban Gardens; Co-operative bulk-buying from farmers; Learn plant-medicine; Collectively-run businesses; Home-schooling.

What I mean is, if something needs doing, do it. Why wait for legislators to decide to tell us that our community's health is suddenly a budget-priority? Why wait for the economy to create a job when there is so much work to be done? What if, instead, we find a way to support each other, to feed each other, to house each other? Our truest "Homeland Security" can be found by investing in the earth's health, in the health of each other, and especially in the health of our children.

Children are wild people. They haven't been domesticated yet, and there are things they know that we have forgotten. There were core things inside of you, that you were born to do. This is your bliss. Your true calling. When you are in alignment with your true calling, things fall into place. If you ever meet someone who seems happy with what they do, ask them if this is true. But our culture seems bent on breaking us from that path, early in our lives, through a process of domestication we call "education."

As an arts-teacher, I've worked in countless schools over the past 10 years. I've seen various methods that teachers use to keep these small wild humans under control and doing what they are supposed to do. Some use punishment, some use rewards. Regardless of method, it is still domestication, coercion, and manipulation. With the decline of art, music, or physical edcuation in schools, I've seen a narrowing of options for kids to express their different ways of knowing. Children with gifts, such as moving their bodies skillfully, are told they are ADD and given medications to sit still during math class. Children who think in pictures are tested only on their ability to read. With the increase of class-sizes, opportunities for individualized attention diminish, and kids are treated more like herds of cattle than as the unique amazing beings they are. What gets valued is only what can be tested for.

In school, beginning with learning to count numbers, we are trained into a way of knowing that assumes it is the only way of knowing around. Were you convinced that certain things are "just the way they are", even though it made no sense to your heart? (If you get a chance, listen to the RadioLab podcast on "Numbers":

Education happens not just in school, but all around you. As a child, you saw how the adults around you interacted with their neighbors. You saw how they related the earth, to people outside the family, to animals. There is a social-education that happens every moment, and we adjust our own moral-compass accordingly, and learn (or don't) how to be kind.

I'm not a numbers-person. I always hated math. But give me some art-materials and tell me the shape you want, and I will know without measuring, which way the pieces need to fit together. There are some things I know, deep in my core, that are very difficult to explain in the language of logic.

One, the Earth is alive.

Two, we are all related... even the 1% of the 1% are part of who we are. Our own bodies are part of this living planet.

Three, Nature is wise. Through our bodies, our emotions, and our intuition, we can access that wisdom. Earth knows just what she needs to do to heal. Each of us, by our actions in every moment, can feed either into the collective sickness or the movement toward wholeness. Your gut knows the difference.

The way forward is for each one of us to reunite, joyfully, with our true purpose for being here. By doing this, we are re-aligning ourselves with the planet's own desire for health.
(& Yes, healing yourself is part of this work...) Listen for what needs doing right here, right now, in front of your nose and inside your heart.

The time is now, not just for Revolution but for an Evolution!!!

Welcome to my blog. Comments are appreciated.

With love,

Next Blog: Why Art is Important, and how play awakens our inner child and our intuition...