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Sunday, November 13, 2011

We are the 99%

Few things will wake you up on a nice sunny Sunday morning like watching police beat up students. I was reading through HuffPo and then over to BoingBoing and as much as I like reading politics, it is striking me as increasingly obvious how out of touch the right and the left are. On just about everything.

I don't know if it's that our so-called “leaders” are just plain dumber than ever or that there is more of them than ever and so there's this critical mass of stupidity, venality and ignorance that's built up, somewhat like a dump that's way overdue.

What caught my eye was this. Please watch the video and follow the links to both Aaron Bady's Twitter feed and his blog. I've been reflecting a lot on my little jaunt to India and while most of it is for what I've been describing as self-enrichment, another part of it – perhaps more important – is that I'm wondering what I can bring back that will be of value. That's assuming I come back. At this point, after watching this video and reading Matt Taibbi's piece, “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests”, I'm ready for a break from all this.

What I don 't want to lose is and hope to gain is a renewed sense of engagement with the political moment. I've been disaffected by the establishment's response to not only our current malaise, but just about everything for, well, my entire life. Hence, the rallies, the emails, the letters, the memberships in Human Rights Watch, ACLU, Amnesty, etc. Hence, living as small and hopefully, harmlessly as possible for those around me, but at the same time, hopefully, living from a sense of principle that if any society is to change, it needs to start with each of us living with as much awareness as possible of our impact on the environment and each other. Not only in not harming either, but hopefully, actually aiding and sustaining both.

I don't need to go to India to do that. But the personal is the political and the personal here is honoring a vast heritage that has provided me with a sustenance beyond measure. When I was fifteen, I read the “Bhagavad Gita” and discovered a world that resonated across cultures. I read a Time-Life book on the world's great religions (called “The World's Great Religions”, I think) and delved into Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Eventually, I wound up practicing Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition that I find immensely rich and while my engagement with it has its share of issues and conundrums, I still feel very close to the teachers and fellow travelers I've met.

Going to India as a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Buddhism feels like it will provide a sense of completion or closure for the first part of a journey that began almost forty years ago and at the same time a bridge to continuing what comes next. I'm planning on going with eyes and heart open to all the rest of it; the day to day, quotidian reality as well as the supernal.

Another aspect of this is how deep this experience will be will be judged over a period of time that I cannot say and in ways that I cannot suspect. The changes in our lives from big moves happen at the smallest, often unnoticed levels, but are more profound as a result. What doesn't change but needs to be listened to all the more carefully is the awareness of what lies behind the chatter of the mind.

Listening to that awareness extends to other areas our lives, as well. If the exterior world we encounter is a reflection of the interior, then there's been a lot of chatter going on for far too long to be healthy. Hence, OWS; hence, the numerous examples of people standing up and pointing out that there needs to be a seachange. As Taibbi points out, it's not just a railing against economic injustice, it's a pervading sense that the system no longer works, it's broken top down. What makes OWS significant is that the occupiers are diverse but share this sense of communion/community and that it's not about utter nihilism, it's bearing witness to and generating awareness of this underlying rot in our society.

And it's being done with relatively little anger from the protesters' side. It's sad and disheartening that the police, particularly in Oakland and Berkeley, resort to violence and suppression; but that's to be expected. I don't hate cops, but there's a mentality among some that isn't exactly enlightened. If anything, the police should be protecting the protesters in their own self-interests. A lot can be learned from people coming together peacefully and trying to work out an alternative to the various messes that beset us. The police are the 99%, too.

Naomi Price was interviewed recently and asked what was it about the OWS that she responded to and she replied that it was when she saw a sign raised by a protester that said “I care about you”. This I think is the heart of the matter. Not only do people sense that we're losing our humanity to people greed-driven and blind, but that we can do something about this and we can do it best if we're motivated by genuine caring for one another. This is what I sense when I read when I read the blogs, when I talk to people.

Watch the video on the BoingBoing post. It's four minutes long, it's not pleasant. But for the first time in my life, I was more genuinely sad than angry. The cops with their batons are just pawns in this. That their only way to deal with protesters is to beat them four or five on one speaks more to their blindness than anything else. It doesn't absolve them from their cruelty, but it adds another dimension to the human cost of what the elite have visited upon this country.

The personal is the political: I would argue we've come to this state of affairs because of ignorance and indifference to the suffering of others; the greed is symptom of a much deeper fog. We try to dispel that fog over and over again, sometimes with action, sometimes with art, sometimes with prayer. But each time brings greater benefit. OWS, across this country, is all of this on a large scale.

It doesn't matter that there isn't one cohesive set of demands (notice that's the language used by the mandarins and the press); it matters that people have come together to bear witness and sow the seeds of questioning the fundamentals and the ethics of the situation. We live in a period of divisive, slick politicians scrambling to achieve high office but without a clue of what needs to be done or how to serve. Poverty and unemployment are bandied about like musical refrains and the solutions being proposed are obfuscatory and band-aids at best. The one percent is well aware that those who have jobs aren't going to complain, that from their complacency they'll ignore (or better yet, disdain) the dissident and the unemployed.

Nor do I wish to vilify or revile the one percent as human beings, but their time is coming due. I don't know that we'll see mass uprisings on the order of what's taken place elsewhere, though those revolutions have been relatively peaceful. It might also be that over time, that new oligarchs will arise unless a fundamental shift in the way we relate to ourselves and each other transpires. It doesn't have to be; humanity has great potential and I believe our ability to care for one another is what keeps us truly alive.

I'm heading to India on Tuesday. Let's see what we can learn.

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