Friday, October 28, 2011

Love in the Wake of Violence: Notes from Oakland, October 28th

by Miki Kashtan
“It is not nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us.” -- Gandhi

I have not been to OccupyOakland since Saturday. For almost two days, no one was there, as police blockaded the area after destroying the camp early Tuesday morning. As of Wednesday night, occupiers broke through the police blockade and reentered the plaza. Along the way police used so called “non-lethal” weapons, one of which critically injured a young man who has since become a symbol for global solidarity for Oakland.

I sat at the computer intending to write an entirely different piece, one that’s been waiting for days now, about leadership and facilitation in the movement. I was simply unable to do so, because my heart is completely consumed with how to hold all that’s happened with love and human understanding. This includes all the people whose actions I find extremely difficult to comprehend. I cannot write about anything else involving this movement I so want to support until I am able to metabolize these events.

It is easy for me to extend love and understanding to the occupiers who braved the police and continued to march towards the plaza in an effort to reclaim it. It is easy to extend love to Scott Olsen. I read about him a little. I looked at his face. He’s a young man who chose to ally with the occupiers after serving two tours in Iraq and then joining Veterans for Peace. No challenge for me. I find it inspiring that someone who was in the army can wake up to move towards peace and transformation. It is easy for me to extend love and understanding to the people from Egypt who are organizing a march specifically in solidarity with Oakland. It is easy because I can identify with them, see them as being like me. I can see their care, and I connect with care easily.

And it’s not all easy. My attention is drawn to some reports suggest that some of the marchers threw rocks or bottles at the police. How can I extend love and understanding to any who may have participated in such actions?

I close my eyes, and I do all I can to imagine that I am the one throwing a bottle at the police. I imagine the rage, the helplessness, the absolute insistence on maintaining my human dignity despite everything, the surge of determination to remain powerful, to make something I believe is right happen. And I try to imagine my arm moving back with a rock in my hand to gain momentum, and then throwing the rock, and the sense of power I get from it, that I am doing something for justice. It’s extremely difficult for me to fully imagine this, an act so counter to my sensibilities, to how I know myself. I am filled with tears as I do it, and am completely connected with the human possibility of this act I would never myself choose.

I poke around, read some more, and encounter a comment on the OccupyWallSt site: “If that is true about ‘some protesters throwing rocks and bottles at the police’, it was EXTREMELY STUPID of those protesters and they should be banned from Occupy Oakland for life. Some of them were no doubt ‘AGENTS PROVOCATEURS’ planted by the CIA. Throwing rocks and bottles is EXACTLY what the 1% hope we will do, so as to justify a police crackdown and the imposition of MARTIAL LAW”.

I can feel in my body the anguish of being called stupid, and I pull myself away from that anguish to focus on the person who did the calling. I know about the power of nonviolence in the face of repression. I have such deep hope that the Occupy movement will deepen into more nonviolence. And so, despite having just understood in full and embraced in my body the people who possibly threw things at the police, I am totally and easily aligned with this person’s deep concern about this action. And yet a part of me recoils from the idea that they should be banned forever. That’s where the challenge lies for me. Why call them stupid, and why the desire to ban them. So I close my eyes again, and then I find the link. I know of the many times I wish that someone disappeared whose actions I find disruptive of some purpose that’s important to me. Through this, I can imagine being this person. I touch the active passion for this movement to work, to be impeccable in giving the police no excuse, so that the sympathy of the world can be maintained.

I am awash with overwhelm. So many more actors and players are involved, not only with Scott Olsen’s injury. I am thinking of the people dealing drugs in some of the encampments. Or the ones whose actions leave women feeling unsafe at night. I know of and have seen people who inhabit different enough realities that their participation in meetings and activities challenges everyone. I branch out and think of the police who attacked the occupiers, and especially those who made the choice to throw one more tear gas grenade at the people who were gathering around Scott Olsen after he had just been injured. Can I ever find room in my heart for all of them? Then there is the Tea Party person who holds the organizers of the Occupy movement responsible for Scott’s injury. And last and by far not least, I think of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who issued conflicting messages in response to the actions of the police, including initially commending the chief of police for what she referred to as “a generally peaceful resolution”, and is now facing increasing pressure to resign. There is no blog post that can be long enough to include my efforts to embrace them all.

It takes enormous effort to imagine the human emotional logic that would lead all these people to the actions that they have chosen. I find this effort deeply significant, because I want to live in a world where no one is a throw-away person. I want to create a world that works for all of us, not just those who are easy for me to understand and love. I want everyone to have their humanity honored, to have access to resources, to have food, and shelter, and health, and love. I really want everyone’s needs to matter, these are not just words for me. It’s the only way I know, ultimately, to end the millennia-old cycle of violence, hatred, suffering, and separation in which we live.

In the meantime, I want to extend love to myself for a moment. It’s so demanding to make room inside me for everyone, so, so challenging. Some years ago, when Rabin was assassinated, I called a friend to work my way through the many reactions I had. I do not have God in my life, haven’t believed in a transcendent being in many decades. Nonetheless, among the many feelings I found, the one that surprised me the most was a moment in which I felt something I can only call compassion for God. I understood, in that moment, that God’s job, in that moment and in all moments, is to love everyone fully and equally, all of creation. And that meant loving the assassin. And I felt compassion for the enormity of what it would take. I am a mere mortal, and it’s taking all I have to even imagine it.

In conclusion, I want to be sure I clearly articulate that no amount of love and understanding for everyone is a substitute for action to bring about concrete and material results. The point of this love is to ensure that our actions are free of violence, hatred, and separation. So that we don’t end up where so many revolutions have in the past: recreating the very conditions that the revolution was seeking to change. This means including, ultimately, the 1% in the final outcome just as much as the homeless that are being reached out to in some of the encampments where they have lived for years before the occupations started. Unless we include everyone, some people will eventually become some new 1% and some others will become drug dealers and threats to their fellow humans. I fervently hold on to this love. It’s my insurance policy that success will mean success for all.


  1. I am moved to tears in reading this. We have such a long way to go. I too want to expand my heart to create room for a bigger love for the world and the people in it so that no one is disposable in my mind. I have been concerned that the 1% are an easy enemy and wonder how to reframe the conversation to hold compassion for them. I doubt they are fulfilled in life or they wouldn't be hoarding all that money. In fact I think they must be miserable. And I see those using aggression to feel powerful have lost their faith in humanity. I can find compassion for how painful that must be. I don't know how to help others reach this place of compassion but I know we can only start where we are. Miki thank you for holding a space in your heart that few dare to hold.

  2. Speaking of the tea party, check this out:

  3. Miki, I am deeply touched by what you wrote. I enjoyed its comprehensiveness, its expansiveness. Your words shed light into the musty corners of my heart, the places I don't visit often. My heart beats fuller. Thank you.

  4. I too am moved to tears. I am in touch with so much fear and uncertaintly and doubts about my own capabilities that although I marched in Brussels on 15 october I haven't yet been to an Occupy site here in the Netherlands. I feel guilt about this. Old fashioned guilt. And I am still paralyzed. Your blog inspires me. And i am afriad. Not of the situation itself but of making the simple decision not to spend time writing my trainING for next week but to get ON the TRAIN instead and to meet and join the people who are saying 'we want to create a different world' here, now, in my own country. To offer my skills with humilty, to listen empathically, to modal nonviolence in the face of aggression and anger and confusion.
    Its just taking the first step. The first step.

  5. Miki, what a fake and disturbing sensation of neutrality you give here, trying to equally understand each and everyone's feelings! Almost as well as newspapers' trained professionals. This a-critical, a-historical, view of the conflict going on in our contemporary societies amazes me. OK, let's give up for Miki for reaching the conclusion that anger is not enough! let's also applause and praise non-violence a-critically to make sure we can finish a text implicitly saying that the squares movement around the globe is a "revolution". As you might have heard from the behalf of Desmon Tutu, Southafrican pacifist, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor"

  6. My heart expands as I read your words. I am so sad to read the comment above mine. Wanting others to truly understand the meaning of nonviolence. Wanting all of us to see the humanity in everyone and not label it as neutral but as a way to heal and all go forward. With deep love and companionship. Mitsiko

  7. Miki, I am printing this out and bringing it to chapel as a path to follow in my own life in a religious community. I have so far to go in truly loving, loving, loving enough to understand and so to reach a conclusion "where everyone's needs matter." Thank you.

  8. let´s just for amoment imagine that scott olsen killed some persons while serving in iraq. i don´t know if he did, just try to imagine and check: would we have identified with him then like we easily do now, after he´d became a veteran for peace and being injured by the police?
    i don´t think so.´
    it´s difficult to me also to identify and understand people who kill others or sell drugs or...
    still, we are all of the same spirit, we are all one in truth, we are one big family.
    i understand the love gandhi is talking about as unconditional in acceptance. total acceptance for whatever somebody does. this inconditional acceptance does not mean liking, agreeing, believing nor understanding, because all this are of the mind. acceptance happens in the heart, knowing thatwe are all potencially capable of doing everything that anybody has done so far. we are all connected in spirit and in the consciousness that is arising at this particular point of history.
    and yes, god loves all and so can we, because we are extensions, part of god, all of us.
    light and love.

  9. Miki, I do believe in God, didn't used to be able to use that word, but now I can. And, to me, you are the Voice of God. What you write strikes me so deeply and so authentically. It is what I aspire to. How I wish I could be, always, all ways. And I have similar hopes and dreams and challenges. Bless you and your blog and its title and all you are and do, and all beings, and all creation. Be very well.

  10. dear anonymous,

    i am again assuming you are the same person to whom i just responded twice. if so, then, once again, i am grateful to you for the opportunity to engage further.

    i do not think of myself as neutral by a long shot. i have incredibly strong opinions about any issue. i am fully aligned with the quote from tutu. however, tutu is the man behind the truth and reconciliation committee, the largest effort i am familiar with so far that operated from the premise that everyone must be integrated in some fashion into the future, even if there is blood on their hands.

    understanding people, to the extent that i can do that, is not in any way whatsoever similar to accepting their behavior or standing aside and doing nothing about the harm being created. it is only a way to protect me from becoming like them in how i respond.

    again, thank you for the direct expression of your views, and for choosing to speak them in this context. i look forward to hearing more from you.


  11. dear harald,

    i am completely with you. it would absolutely be much more difficult for me to embrace scott olsen's humanity if he had not joined veterans for peace and if we knew of some deeds he may have done while in iraq. that wouldn't mean i wouldn't want to find a way.

    i use whatever helps me understand a person. in this case it was his face that was easy for me to see as human, and the knowledge of the choice to join veterans for peace and then the occupy movement. that made it easy. i am still aware of his being a soldier and doing what soldiers do. seeing his humanity in other ways makes it then easier to stretch and see the humanity of those parts, too. as soon as i recognize someone's humanity somewhere, somehow, the rest comes more within reach.

    this work is extremely difficult and i find immense value in it. it fortifies me in trusting the possibility of creating the world in which i want to live.


  12. What Anonymous expressed is based, IMO, on a very common misconception that understanding the intentions and motivations of another is the same as agreeing with them. A closely related misconception is that anger (in the form of outrage) is the only way to mobilize one's inner power - that if anger is transformed into understanding and acceptance, we lose the will to act.

    I've heard you make these points very effectively, Miki, in social change oriented workshops and conversations, so I can't even find fault with what anonymous had to say because you don't address these two points in everything you write - understandably enough!

    I'm working for a return to what some Buddhist practitioners call the child mind - receptive and open to everyone and all of life. I have heard you say on more than one occasion, "Cultivate your curiosity." I would add, especially your curiosity about your inner landscape, as is exemplified in Harald's comment.

    If we can't see the humanity of another and are not even willing to try to reach for it, isn't it quite unrealistic to expect our own humanity to be seen, especially by someone we hold as morally or spiritually less-than?

  13. What made this post most striking to me was the immensity of the goal of actually loving everyone, no matter what or when.

    In the Jewish tradition the bible's words:"Love your neighbor as yourself", is so high a demand/commandment, that the most eminent commentaries felt it needed to be put into more 'digestible', doable, realistic, practical words.

    They agreed on this: "Do not do to your neighbor what you don't wish him to do to you."

    In the passion and danger of the moment of witnessing such cruelties as we are seeing from police in many locations, it sounds to me like too-high a demand of the human heart, to LOVE the perpetrator, even in that moment. I find it more workable to remember the slightly more objective picture of a police officer 'fulfilling his orders' violently as a person trapped in a system of repression, knowing only how to survive by acquiescing, accepting the authority of those in power, and doing their best at the moment to do what they understand and were taught they are ordered/'required' to do.

    I'm aware of the degree of interpretation here which is based on guesses as well as some respect for people in the extremely testing position of a police person of the controlling power.

    For me, that relieves some of my need to judge them negatively or feel rage or blame toward that perpetrator.

    I wonder if the self-demand to go as far as to love that person is almost impossible to achieve in such situations, and possibly arouses frustration, then, self judgment on our own parts......

    That, to me, could create even more disconnection than we began with......


  14. I see the main problem with the concept of loving one’s enemies to be what one thinks loving is. I know of two excellent songs that consider various ways people interpret love. They are “The Rose” and “Perhaps Love.” Like God, love can be thought about, felt, or experienced in many different ways, from the most superficial to the most profound.

    Stretching the heart to create greater inclusiveness, plunging deep into our being to discover our connection (Is this love?) with one and all, and purifying heart of limiting self-centeredness, fears and false idols all bear results with practice. Gradually through effort and grace, love becomes more and more real.

    If one thinks of loving as “liking a lot,“ admiring, or any thinking or feeling involving personal judgment of the character of another, then loving is limited and short-lived. The ideas set forth by Miki and the commenters, if faithfully pursued will bear fruit, expansive, brotherly and sisterly feelings of love.

  15. Nonviolent communication cannot be turned into a political project and comments made from this perspective are nothing but a misleading and biased post-modernist discourse. The irrationality of the core beliefs, that make up the totality of your argument, is what makes church followers so inclined to kneel and praise to your knowledge. Disguised behind the cover of neutrality, as when you present this anonymous comment of a OWS page, is the implicit moral judgment that orient your political though and opinion. Could there be a bigger mistake than mixing up ethics and politics?

    Let's have a look at the argument of Mrs Susan L, according to which what is needed is the inter-personal consciousness of intentions and motivations. That is to say that the emphasis, as you insist on defending, is to be put on personal relations: “It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us “. This phrase is a blatant manifestation of the issue as stake here. The transnational elite doesn't love or hate, they just do obey what the market imposes in order for them to get profits. It's not their violence, it's structural violence. It is preposterous to try to establish the bases of a political project without a total critique of society, and even more to do so when there is a blatant incoherence between practice and theory.

    On the other hand, you're evaluating the need to throw stones at the police as a weakness, helplessness etc. Who said it cannot be the joyful expression of the structural violence previously suffered in a passive fashion? Let's not confound nonviolence and self-defense.


  16. Anonymous,
    You make a good point, which I believe is (correct me if I'm wrong) that loving your enemy on an individual basis does not address the larger social context in which we live, that is designed to perpetuate the system that creates the conflicts in the first place. And learning how to speak non-violently will not create fundamental structural change. I can see the logic in this as we look at the system as a whole and all of the interlocking mechanisms in place to support it. That said, we need to remember that the system is created and perpetuated by people--individuals and groups who agree to behave in a certain way together. They may be oblivious to how they are affecting people and prefer to remain ignorant. Ghandi understood this well and went all the way to the top, making friends with those who were upholding the system he was non-violently fighting. This was part of his tactic and I believe the love he extended to the oppressors was genuine. Once he made friends with them, they became human, instead of the oppressors. And through his charm he managed to win them over. And guess what? He created the most powerful non-violent overthrow of an oppressive government, maybe of all time. He did this through what would have been known (had the term already been coined) through NVC and loving those whose policies his vehemently disagreed with. I believe, even with structural violence, that social change always comes down, at some point, to relationship. In this light, NVC is a profoundly powerful tool. To date, it is the one thing that gives me more hope that social change is possible and doable than anything else I have come across.

  17. "I fervently hold on to this love. It’s my insurance policy that success will mean success for all. "

    WE ARE THE 100%

  18. It's moving to read the blog posting and the comments here. I think nonviolent approaches are so easily appropriated by those who hold power that those of us who advocate them must be continually on guard against such appropriation.

    I think this blog (and comments) are a safe place to have the discussion. But in some cases and places I think it would be better to wait to speak out, to not try to solve the whole problem with verbiage, lest our (often) soft and soothing words steal momentum from energetic activism that is on the cusp of bringing (greater) justice within reach.

  19. First of all, you'll see from Gene Sharp and real-life cases like Gandhi that non-violence works only (or better on) to overcome dictatorships and other alike totalitarian regims.

    Second, although capitalism stand on a social pact of acceptance of it's rules, it's plain negation or contradiction are not enough to ensure freedom

    Finally, and of most relevance here, is the agreement to which NVC can bring us: the total and acriticall acceptance of hierarchy. I've seen an episode of the Conflict Hotline about work problems and MY DEAR!! you have to accept everything and worry about your boss, be participative... WHAT?

    we live in a world where "coaching" sessions for workers are used to convince you that you are a good merchandise, that you have potencial to sell and should waste no time to do so, that your skills are valued at a certain price which you should be proud of...

    am I supposed to empathise with that?? let's not mix up politics and psycology, enough things are being done already in this realm by the police

  20. Miki writes that what she wants to articulate is "including, ultimately, the 1% in the final outcome just as much as the homeless that are being reached out to in some of the encampments." This wish and responses to it stimulate me to think about the notion of enemy images.

    Is the newly popular concept of "the 1%" an enemy image or does it stand for a goal of a socially more equal society, not controlled by an exclusive one percent of the population?

    On the one hand, the 1% act by and large as a unit, with millions of people serving it, laws, institutions of all kinds, and so forth. So the 1% is in that sense an adversary.

    On the other hand, those who make up the 1% are humans with the same human needs, some unmet, such as (for most) the need to contribute fully to life.

    I take the concept of "the 1%" as shorthand for our wish for equal rights -- economic and political. I don't take it as an invitation to jackal and to speak of others as "servants of the 1%" and so forth.

    The concept stimulates anger. The anger has been under the surface. The Tea Party tapped that anger. It is right for us to come out of our sleep and be aware of the unmet needs that are the deeper cause of the anger stimulated by reminders that 1% of the population run the society and reap its benefits, keeping them to itself. To act on the anger and the needs, I don't think we need enemy images.

    In some of the discussion above, I hear anger alongside deeper agreement about the fact that it is not individuals, but a system that is the problem we are encountering.

    I appreciate that Miki has shared her experience with the situation in Oakland.

  21. thank you Miki for your post... and for clarifying the distinction between empathy and agreement. my sense is that we need both truth and love to be successful... either without the other, is not sustainable.

    In this conversation, it might make sense to mention that the 1% are being invited to join as allies...

    1% allies of the 99%

    People of wealth step forward to join Occupy Together's call for economic and social equity

  22. Thank you, David Keil, for articulating so well my thoughts and feelings about the 1%. In particular, I appreciate your statement, "I take the concept of the 1%" as shorthand for our wish for equal rights -- economic and political", as I also, am so aware of my need to remember the humanity of the the 1 % rather than demonize them and fuel the enemy images that lead to agression and hate, while at the same time, as you so aptly expressed, " It is right for us to come out of our sleep and be aware of the unmet needs that are the deeper cause of the anger stimulated by reminders that 1% of the population run the society and reap its benefits, keeping them to itself. To act on the anger and the needs, I don't think we need enemy images". Thank you.

  23. I was moved to tears, again and again, reading this. Thank you.

  24. Awesome information!!!
    Thanks for the share!!!