by Catherine Gammon
I’ve just come back to Pittsburgh from a couple of weeks in New York, including some days upstate, here again just in time to attend a General Assembly before starting retreat tonight with Rev. Shohaku Okumura. Somehow these weeks seem to have packed everything in together.
In Brooklyn most of the time I was with my family (daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter) but we did visit Occupy Wall Street twice and I had a wonderful day of sitting at Brooklyn Zen Center with Rev. Teah Strozer and the sangha there.
Occupy. Zazen. Grandma. All seamless.
Heather and I took a walk in Zucotti Park one afternoon shortly after I arrived. Not much was happening at that time: campers and visitors mingling in small conversations, the food station, the media station, some Raging Grannies, some people with signs standing along the street with the police, the handmade posters and signs spread out on the ground for reading, sort of a horizontal art gallery, a few people starting to make new signs, and important work getting mobilized—a young man with dreads and tie-dyed balloon pants at the center of many concentric circles (the first rings seated, the next rings standing) giving instruction in the method for facilitating small group discussions.
Even though I visited and appreciated what I saw, I watched most of this develop on the internet. I was a little bit wary of the rhetoric of occupation – wary of name-calling, blaming, rage. Until last night the last time I had been bodily present for an organized protest event (my visits to OWS in New York were during non-organized times) was an execution vigil at San Quentin in 2002, where I sat in meditation, part of a group of Zen students from Green Gulch. The rage from the speakers platform that night was sometimes palpable, aimed from above toward the demonstrators below, as if those who had come to protest the execution were the perpetrators of it and at the same time needed to be whipped up into a similar rage. That prisoner was executed that night and that rage is understandable. But rage begets more rage, and rage doesn’t speak for me.
Happily, Occupy Wall Street seemed to be different, consciously working against the rageful model of political action, consciously working to be the change, to create the change in the movement itself. My second visit was to Washington Square Park on a Saturday afternoon. The whole family went this time, and we planned to meet some friends from San Francisco Zen Center. We were hoping to arrive in time to hear Bill McKibben’s soapbox speech (which had been announced on Facebook as a teach-in), but we were late and missed it.
We missed that speech, but by cell phone we did find my Zen Center friends in the milling crowd, and my granddaughter got to enjoy the playground. When we left the park we walked through the Village before returning to Brooklyn. Life was, is, going on everywhere as usual, including our own lives. It’s a peculiar juxtaposition, life as usual and radical transformation. The next day I sat a day of zazen at the Brooklyn Zen Center and heard a wonderful simple dharma talk by Teah Strozer. Maybe ordinary life as usual and radical transformation are not so strangely juxtaposed after all.
What I have seen so far of OccupyTogether tells me we are seeing, we are part of, a new political style, a way of action in which ends and means are not separated. People have compared the style of these occupations to the movements of the sixties, and there is reason for that. But there is more that is completely of this time, this generation. I got some feel for this newness watching the New York general assembly being live-streamed, but what really brought it to life for me was attending the assembly in Pittsburgh last night, listening and looking around the room (this meeting was in a church sanctuary, filled with about 300 people, but it could just as well or even better have been in a park or a parking lot). Feeling your body with the other bodies, your hands raised to express agreement with the other hands, your voice if something moves you individually to join in the speaking—all this says, this is really happening, this is not a mediated event, this is this life, right now. Everyone is invited. Everyone is encouraged. Dissent is possible. What is not invited, not encouraged, is any form of violent speech, hate speech, rage speech. Nonviolence is the practice—for some a tactic, for others a way of life, but for all a commitment—and this nonviolence does not just mean being polite to police and respectful of property.
(A post from Eve Ensler at Huffington Post and on the V-Day website captures the joy and the implications of how this is working, and I recommend it, along with attendance at a local General Assembly, to anyone who may be baffled, doubtful, curious, hesitant, and most especially indifferent to what might be happening “out there,” which everywhere really is just right here.)
The meeting style and practices of the Pittsburgh General Assembly I attended last night (which seem to be common to most assemblies throughout the movement) were familiar to me, thanks to trainings offered at Green Gulch, but this is the first time I have seen them applied in such a large group. As Cordelia, my not-quite-two-year-old granddaughter, would say, Wow!