We are the 100%: A Mindful Response to #OccupyWallStreet

Via on Oct 6, 2011

When Occupy Wall Street started to break, I felt excited, captivated and weary.  Democracy needs our involvement, I’ve always felt, and we haven’t been too involved the last few decades.  Could this be a turning point?

Thousands have demonstrated in New York and other cities around the rallying cry: “We are the 99%”

However, the us vs. them attitude I feared may lurk behind the  99% vs. 1% dichotomy rubbed me the wrong way.  It’s true that civic society hasn’t been properly represented at the table, next to corporations, but history doesn’t show good results when we kick anyone off the table in an attempt to correct an imbalance.  In an interconnected world, is there really an us and them, anyway?

I find inspiration in my Zen Peacemakers training and also from yoga activist Michael Franti, who visited Occupy Wall Street this week.  When I encountered Franti through his documentary I Know I’m Not Alone and his appearance at the Wanderlust Festival in VT, I sensed that he was a fellow peacemaker.  Below, I quote the words of ZP founder Zen Master Bernie Glassman, from the peacemaker manual Bearing Witness, co-written by Zen Master Eve Marko and also words from the video (also below) of Franti’s Wall Street visit.

 

“When peacemakers vow to be oneness, there is no Other” “The banks aren’t evil”

Bernie: “When we vow to be oneness, we vow to see everything as the Buddha, as Christ, as the Way. Because the Way is everything…I have met many social activists who believe that everyone is the Way except rich people. They’re comfortable going into shelters and food panties, they mingle easily with people on the streets of our inner cities, but they can’t say hello to someone with lots of money.  In their case it’s not the poor and dispossessed who are the Other, it’s the rich. When peacemakers vow to be oneness, there is no Other

Franti: “The banks are not necessarily evil.  The people who work at banks aren’t necessarily evil.  There are some corrupt people there but theres’ also some people there who do things that are worthy.  Because every shop that we see in our towns, there was a loan that was given by a bank.  Every car that somebody bought, there was a loan that was given by a bank.  every home that somebody has…Wall street is so linked to all of our lives…It’s not as simple as just Wall Street.  There’s all of us that need to be involved.”

YouTube Preview Image

“Heal our society as a whole”

Bernie:When we bear witness, when we become the situation — homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death — the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.

Loving action is right action. It’s as simple as giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who has fallen on the floor. We take such direct, natural actions every day of our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special. Each is simply the best possible response to that situation in that moment…

The peacemakers we remember and honor most are those who try to heal our society as a whole, not just pieces of it. Instead of donating money to a food pantry, they try to eliminate hunger….During this process they challenge every human being and institution, as well as our very way of life. And they’re often killed for it”.

Franti: “The real estate crisis was… a crime.  Because Wall street is so linked to all of our lives, I believe that they have a responsibility to the rest of us.”

How could we not separate ourselves from the 1%, while still working to heal society?  Apparent contradictions are prime ground for practice within the Zen tradition.  Doesn’t “What is our one demand?” have the irreverent ring of the Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The poster that started it all

Every morning we repeat the impossible Bodhisattva vow to free all beings from suffering… and we do the best we can.

 

 

About Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Ari Setsudo Pliskin is Zen Yogi who works to actualize the interconnectedness of life online and on the streets. While once addicted to school, Ari has balanced his geekiness with spiritual practice and time spent on society’s margins. As a staff member of the Zen Peacemakers, Ari assisted Zen Master Bernie Glassman in his teaching around the world. Ari studies Zen at the Green River Zen Center in Greenfield, MA and is an Iyengar-style yoga teacher. Ari loves comic books as well. Ari currently serves as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café . Connect with Ari on Facebook or Twitter: @AriPliskin.

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16 Responses to “We are the 100%: A Mindful Response to #OccupyWallStreet”

  1. Having written the piece yesterday, about my experience marching with the OccupySF, and obviously writing from a different perspective.. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/10/occupysf–

    …I LOVE your piece. I'm also a yogi and you've hit several chords for me, showing the complexity of this movement! I see and honor all sides of the coin. Thank you for a beautiful piece.

  2. Ari Setsudo Pliskin Ari Pliskin says:

    I think 99% slogan is great too. And 100%.

  3. sjfalk says:

    I find the idea or concept of "bearing witness" and doing yoga at the Wall Street demonstration an insult to past demonstrations where individuals literally put their lives on the line for something greater than their own point of view. Ghandi's nonviolent protests involved individuals standing up by sacrificing their bodies and not striking back against the police. What are these individuals willing to sacrifice? What is there "everyday practice" when no one is noticing? We need kindness and respect in our everyday actions. It is not about crowds or the social media hype. tThe difficult work occurs when we have to face ourselves. Can we be honest and at the same time compassionate with our own personal greed and anger?

  4. Noelle Imparato says:

    Without being disrespectful I must say that your question sounds like you are completely out of the loop. Read articles by Truthout or AlterNet like this one for example: http://www.alternet.org/story/152629/10_things_to

  5. Noelle Imparato says:

    Or read this article by Truthout: http://www.truth-out.org/got-class-warfare-occupy
    Again this is about wondering if Peace Makers are going to Bear Witness to what is happening NOW, and not only after the facts, like in Auchwitz and Rwanda? Are we going to figure out how to stand up in the middle of the action and help out with the evolution of events as they unfold – not just with the hopelessly poor, but with the middle class, the youth which is protesting now – and doing it now, not after it's too late. Will Buddhism be able to overcome its a-political reputation? That's what is at stake now in the West.

  6. Ari Setsudo Pliskin Ari Pliskin says:

    I'll be at the protest tomorrow (Saturday, Oct 8) and I'll see for myself.

  7. Morosini says:

    I'll like to make a comment: as long as Neoliberalism stays as the mainstream paradigm we will be having this kind of effects on society. Believe me, I know what I am saying as I live in a third world country and every day I live the effects of neoliberal policies. The WallStreet issue affects me in my country, it does. How can I do something for you?…

  8. [...] Ari Pliskin of the Zen Peacemakers offers a “mindful response” to OWS: “We Are the 100%.” Drawing on the precepts and particularly this one: “When peacemakers vow to be oneness, [...]

  9. Hari says:

    Now that corporations have legal rights as people, and they (the corporations) are actually who won the majority of the assets on the planet (including our natural resources), how do we bear witness to them? How do we treat entities like Exon, Walmart and HSBC like Jesus and Buddha?

  10. Rosa says:

    With all due respect, I become concerned whenever spiritual ideas of “oneness” begin to obscure our ability to make meaningful distinctions…

    we are the 99 percent, and we are not attacking the 1 percent, but inviting them to join us! And some of the 1 percent, are responding to the call..

    1% allies of the 99%

    http://westandwiththe99percent.tumblr.com/

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

  11. [...] joining the masses at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in downtown lower Manhattan, I had one question in mind “How do we keep this [...]

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  13. You could definitely see your skills within the paintings you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  14. [...] Where the Buddhist approach differs from the more socially activist movement is, as always, in the depth of response. It is not just enough to blame the ‘other’. Yes, it’s been the 1% who have got obscenely rich. But it’s the 99% who have bought the gadgets, turned off our minds, and blindly let ourselves be led down the Walmart of temptation. Yes, the structures that have led to the current situation are wrong and must change. But we have to change also. This is why I love Ari Pliskin’s slogan: ‘We are the 100%’. [...]

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  16. Renate S. Rose says:

    I agree with Noelle; this is a political movement and what is needed is bearing witness and naming the crimes of Wall Street. In order to avoid dualism it might be better to find a different name for "Wallstreet" which is only a metaphor for the many things that make our so-called democracy a farce and in fact a "plutocracy" financed to keep the Pentagon budget high and education low.

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