Sunday Surfing: #Occupy, #Occupy, #Occupy!

There’s just too much in the news these days to keep up with here. Every morning I sit down to Twitter and my RSS reader right after breakfast and catch up on the latest updates coming out of the #Occupy movement. Some days, the news fills me with anger and frustration and grief; other days, with hope and gratitude and joy. More often, hope and anger mingle and turn in an intricate dance. It’s hardly possible to separate them. There is something like tragic, sorrowing relief when the violence of an oppressive system finally surfaces, like that moment in a dream when the monster only you could see finally lets its cover slip. There is a kind of horror to that hope, and hope even within the horror. I think maybe this is what it will always be like to be a human animal.

Still, I sit mostly on the sidelines. I have lots of excuses for not getting more deeply involved, and most of them sound pretty lame even to me. I’ve done my best to support the movement by making donations and helping to spread the word — I’d like to think that counts for something. I want to believe that for a movement so profoundly shaped by social media, communication and education have their place alongside direct action. That these acts are themselves a kind of protest.

Every time a police officer takes a billy club or pepper spray to a peaceful civilian or student protester in the name of “keeping the peace,” the message they send is that large groups of people are inherently violent, unsafe and intolerable. It is the message that those in power have always sent to those who advocate democracy and equality: large groups of ordinary people are dangerous, that’s why you need us, to keep you safe from each other. The Chancellor of UC Davis huddled in her office after a press conference on Saturday afternoon, afraid to go home because of the protesters gathered outside — so they began chanting, “We are peaceful! You are safe!” This is the message that #Occupy sends all over the world: You are safe. We really can trust each other. Communication, art and education trump brute force and violence.

So it’s in that spirit that I pass on these stories. Sharing stories is itself a radical act of social justice and peaceful protest. The more we share with each other through language and art, the less we have to rely on violence to get our message out.

Peace and the Police

First, from within the Pagan community, the Officers of Avalon released a statement regarding the recent incidents of police brutality, expressing their condemnation of such violence while also sharing concern about “anti-police” rhetoric within the Pagan community. In their statement, they point out what many protesters have also said: most police officers are themselves part of the “99%” who have experienced inequality and injustice at the hands of a corrupt system.

That said, eye-witness reports like this one from 70-year-old former poet laureate and professor at UC Berkeley, Robert Hass, pretty clearly show that incidents of police brutality are far from isolated acts by individual officers stepping out of line.

These incidents have sparked debate about individual and institutional responsibility for police brutality and militarization, as well as a renewed conversation about the “banality of evil.”

Poesis and Protest

Meanwhile, the aesthetic, artistic sense of the #Occupy movement is continuing to assert itself. My piece on #Occupy As Art was picked up by The Good Men Project, and Adam Robbert from the blog Knowledge Ecology talks about how, when it comes to #OWS protests, the medium is the message.

Over on Boing Boing, there’s an awesome interview with the folks responsible for the #Occupy “bat signal” that appeared during the march in New York City last Thursday (along with a cool video). And in California, students who were told that tents would no longer be allowed on the campus lawn responded by using balloons to suspend tents in midair along with a sign that read: Our Space.

#Occupy Wild Holy Earth

Over on Religion Dispatches, Jay Michaelson writes about the #Occupy movement as a deeper form of protest that seeks to combine linear and cyclical approaches to political philosophy and activism, drawing on insights from Jewish and Kabbalist tradition (though he could just as easily have talked about the modern Pagan celebration of cycles and seasons).

Rachel Signer shares a touching and inspiring piece on Killing the Buddha about discovering real human community in the people and processes of the #Occupy movement, and (as I already mentioned earlier this week) Timothy Morton addresses #OWS in his talk about ontological nonviolence and its relationship to Eastern philosophical and religious concepts.

Finally, T. Thorn Coyle muses on the tension between direct action and education as ways of bringing about cultural change, and the role that silence and contemplation can play in peacemaking, in her piece “Too Much to Say.”

Which brings us full circle, back to the beginning.


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Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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