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.