Why I Won’t Occupy Any Street.

Via Julie JC Peters
on Oct 14, 2011
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I was once in a workshop with celeb-yogi extraordinaire Sadie Nardini, and she asked us a question that really stuck with me. I’m going to paraphrase here:

“If you could tell the world one thing—just one thing, and it would be up there in the sky in every city trailing behind a huge jet or something, and every single person in the world would look up and really, like really read it, what would it say?

What one thing would you tell the whole world?”

Think about it for a minute. What would you tell the whole world? What is your one true intention? Your core message, as Sadie calls it? Your truth?

She was speaking to a group of yoga teachers, and we stand up in front of people all day long and teach them about where to put your knee in this pose and how to move your hip over there to do that pose, but she was asking us what we really wanted to teach. And whether you are a teacher in any literal sense of the word, I think it’s still a good question–maybe the most important question–for all of us. What’s your truth? What would you scream from the rooftops?

The room was quiet for a few minutes. But my head wasn’t. I knew mine right away. I waited and listened to the responses–“Inner Peace.” “Love Yourself.” Sadie’s, in case you are interested, was “Know Thyself.” Mine was (and still is): “Think for yourself!”

Now here’s the part where I tell you all about my core message and why I think it’s important. But that doesn’t mean you should agree with me. Remember, you should think for yourself here.

When I was little, my dad taught me one really important lesson. I’d get mad about some bad guy on a TV show or I’d ask why my brother insisted on tearing off my barbie heads or something like that, and I still remember him saying, “Well, nothing is really black and white, Julie. It’s all in shades of grey.” A cliche, I know, but my five year old brain really got that.

Then, when I was in high school, I remember finding myself standing outside of Queen’s Park in Toronto, protesting Bill-160something because my friends were all there protesting Bill-160something. It occurred to me all of a sudden that I had no idea what Bill-160something actually was, and how could I be standing here in the cold yelling in resistance to something I didn’t know the first thing about? I dropped my little protest sign and got the hell out of there, vowing to never stand behind something unless I really felt like I understood it.
Later, in school, I was taking a course in Eastern religion. I grew up Anglican, so I knew the basic rules of being good and what ethics generally meant– you know, don’t kill people or steal or covet, whatever coveting was. But my teacher–a little ex-Zen monk who changed my life in so many ways that semester, asked us the following question:

“You know that it’s wrong to kill people. But do you really know why it’s wrong? Have you really taken it deeply into your heart and thought about it to the point that you know the only true answer to that question? If not, you are not an ethical person. You are just a sheep following the rules like everyone else.”

So five year old me and teenage me and young adult me had a little revelation in that moment. An ethical world is one in which people think for themselves, and really do think, not just follow. And it’s hard. But I vowed, again, to always, always try.

Which is why I will not be participating in the Occupy Thecityyoulivein movement. Even though it inspires me to see so many people caring and trying, and I think it is potentially powerful. But ultimately I don’t know what the purpose is. I don’t know the plan or the intention or what specifically is supposed to happen after sitting in the cold yelling about something you don’t really understand. I see its necessity, and I think it’s amazing when people just rise up because they are powerful, and I believe as individuals and as communities we can create change. But standing around yelling vaguely (or respectfully communicating, which I hear is what’s actually happening) is not my form of social revolution.

See, I’ve been doing it all along in all the ways I know how to, in the places where I can see it working. That’s why I left school–I care so deeply about injustice and pain and all the shit that’s going on, and I felt like all my ideas and thoughts were doing nothing behind institutional walls.

So here I am in the real world, with finance analysts and psychotherapists and women with babies who have cancer and teenage boys suffering depression, doing my absolute best to teach. Not where your knee should go or how your hip should move or what you are supposed to look like. But to get to know your own body, your ego, your brain, your own complicated mess of a self, your healing. To get powerful because your mind and body are connected and communicating and can then tell you what your strengths are and where your calling is to create real change. In my mind, there is nothing more revolutionary than poetry and yoga.

But your calling doesn’t have to look anything like mine–it might be through making music, or engineering safe drinking wells in Africa, or being at the forefront of the environmental revolution through researching clean alternatives to fossil fuels, or documenting the real lives of women in countries that refuse their right to vote or get educated, or yes, occupying Wall Street, but follow that calling because you’ve thought about it, and you understand it, and you know it’s going to do something meaningful, if not something black and white.

But, you know, don’t take my word for it. Think for yourself, right?

 


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About Julie JC Peters

Julie (JC) Peters has been practicing yoga on and off from the tender age of 12, and it has gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in Canadian Poetry. She is a yoga teacher, spoken word poet, and writer, and teaches workshops on yoga and writing called Creative Flow. Julie also owns East Side Yoga in Vancouver with her mom, Jane.

Comments

50 Responses to “Why I Won’t Occupy Any Street.”

  1. nate says:

    Yep, Scott is right. Took him 3-4 sentences. You could even get a graph if you wanted. If you don't dig participating, that's cool, but don't act like you are somehow more enlightened.

  2. Scott_Newsom says:

    Their intention seems very clear to me. They are protesting economic inequity at such a massive scale that it threatens democracy. They want changes to bring more equity into the world so that more people will have more better paying jobs and all wealth won't be concentrated among the wealthiest 1% of the population. They have hit the nail directly on the head.

  3. Merlin says:

    Julie, I've seen you perform a few times at the Cafe Du Soleil so I know who you are, and I think you are absolutely right. And, for the record, it doesn't sound to me like you are pushing some more-enlightened-than-thou attitude. When I was reading your article, I was reminded of how when a Jack Layton passes away, or a movement like Occupy wherever occurs, it seems like everyone, especially in the East Van spoken word community, conforms into this cookie-cutter collective that I find a little startling in its lack of originality or independence of thought, especially since these poets tend to perform pieces about bucking social norms and knocking down the walls of convention. I, for one, was thrilled to read someone in that community writing something that didn't fall in line with the herd. Your truth is yours, and I respect you for having the presence of mind to share it so succinctly.

  4. Lia says:

    I think part of the Occupy movement is about having many conversations with many different people about things that too many of us neglect to talk about. One of the ways people learn to think for themselves is by listening and becoming informed. Perhaps Occupy is less about shouting about things you don't understand, and more about coming together to develop a better understanding of what is happening in the world right now.

  5. Joe Sparks says:

    For an intelligent human it is quickly obvious that cooperation enhances survival more than competition. Even in circumstances where there is the appearance of intelligent competition between two human beings, closer examination will make it plain that the apparent competition is based on cooperation, with each person challenging and assisting the other to exceed previous limits and perform better and better and better.
    Everything in the universe is deeply interesting to a functioning intelligence. For two or more intelligences to share any particular of such interests is thoroughly enjoyable.
    Trust your own thinking. Trust your own thinking. Trust your own thinking.

  6. catnipkiss says:

    I dont fully understand all the OWS stuff, either, but I think its awesome, and because it TAKES numbers to make this kind of protest HEARD – and it is being heard!! – in this case, I think it is okay to jump on the bandwagon to add your voice to the song of many. I would if I were not out of the country! But I also understand your choice to not partake, because you have a commitment to helping people through your own teaching. I think both ways will ultimately help make changes in the world, and change is good! Alexa M.

  7. Tom Fallon says:

    First, I would agree with the above commenters on the agenda or cause being available for all to see, The New York General Assembly outlined their declarations very clearly in the beginning. I also do understand what the author is communicating, standing in real opposition. We can all take to the streets and stand in unity to the injustices in the world or we can stand up in our daily lives by giving in ways to combat those issues. I was given a similar dilemma, go to New York and protest or do something that would directly impact an issue I felt strongly about.
    I choose to donate 10 hours a week at the local habitat for humanity rather than protest, I know this 10 hours will not solve all the worlds problems, however, imagine if all this energy was directed other than in opposition. What a beautiful world it could be :) Namaste Tom

  8. ctindale says:

    Julie just like you understand somethings really well other people understand other things really well. I understand why we are in this economic mess , its a much more complex answer than people realize , although I would say the folk occupying Wall Street have got it pretty close. I don't think you have to have an evolved sophisticated political agenda, if you look at the history of most of the great social movements they started out pretty unorthodox and evolved into something more sophisticated as they went along. In a spiritual sense thought can only take you so far, one of humanities greatest attachments is its attachment to concepts, is the universe infinite or finite, is it not infinite or not finite, attachments to concepts causes as much suffering as our physical attachments. You cant answer a lot of questions with the mind, thats why we meditate to be of no mind, so sure think for yourself but remember thought is also the problem and the greatest barrier. Maybe humanity understands intuitively what it should do

  9. garr says:

    lephantjournal.com

    There is nothing spiritual about apathy. There is nothing Yogic about pretending that our society is just and peaceful. It is not. Ahimsa and Satya are not nice words, pretty concepts. They are precepts to be embodied through thought, word, and deed. All power to Seane Corn and all those who care. The 1% are watching. Let them see that there are no percentages when it comes to Humanity… there is only ONE LOVE ✿ ONE HEART ❤ ONE VISION ॐ (intro+link via Ben Ralston) Occupy Chicago OCCUPY SLOVENIA / LJUBLJANA Occupy Together Occupy Canada Occupy the London Stock Exchange

    116 · Like · · 4 hours ago ·

  10. maxzografos says:

    Its about injustice. At the very least OWS gives focus to what has been the elephant in the room for more than a decade. Is there an occupy movement here in the UK btw?

  11. OWS – is not a new type of movement it has happened through out American History. For this generation it has been long coming – we have sat through the 80's and the 90's and watch corporate greed escalate. People are now saying "we will not go quietly into the night" . I agree with the point of the writer, that you should not blindly follow any cause – Know what, know why, and the expected results.

  12. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  13. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  14. Ben says:

    Most ridiculous article I've ever read on Elephant.

  15. Farso says:

    You are seeing push back against OWS from the yoga community because yoga is elitist and practiced by a large number of the wealthy. OWS is a danger to these people.

  16. Interesting comments…Julie, I found this to be very honest, thoughtful, and beautifully said – as your writing always is! I have mixed feelings about the Occupy movement. My personal thought is that when I see a problem, I first want to look at how I am a part of the problem & how I can adjust what I am doing to make things better.

    I think there are many people involved who are sincere, and trying to make changes for the better. I think there are some people involved who are angry and just feel like they need to something. I think there are also people who have separate and varied agendas…but that seems to happen with most protests.

    I'd much rather listen to the thoughts of someone who has searched her heart and respectfully disagrees than someone who is going along sheep-like and uninformed or using the cause to further some personal agenda. Thanks for sharing this!

  17. fivefootwo says:

    Did you just use 12 paragraphs to explain why you think protesting by occupying a public space is ineffectual because in your personal experience it did not work out they way you thought it should?

  18. __MikeG__ says:

    Julie, I respect your position and I think it took courage to write this post.

  19. sky says:

    I think you did yourself a disservice in writing an article about a topic you clearly haven't researched. As a yogi, myself, I also choose to look for solutions rather than simply focus on the problem. However, our nation has been so apathetic that the problem needs to be voiced loudly and publicly in order to wake up the sleeping majority. It seems your alarm has yet to go off.

  20. Sommer says:

    I like this dialogue very much, thank you for inspiring it. For me, the important thing about OWS isn't the message necessarily, but the act. The act of dissenting, of marching, of occupying ensures democracy.

  21. Darrin says:

    This article seems to have inspired that age-old tension between activism and spirituality, between working to change the world and working to change one's self. When will we get past this ridiculous false dichotomy and realize that both are essential? My favorite reference for this comes from Joanna Macy, who speaks of "The Great Turning" as happening in three areas: (1) Holding Actions (ie traditional activism), (2) Change in Structures, which has to do with creating alternatives to the present system (think co-ops, farmer's markets, local currency, ecovillages, etc.) and (3) Shift in Consciousness, which is largely self-explanatory. All these areas and inter-related and important, and offer various ways to get involved. That said, the author of this piece seems ill informed and perhaps even a bit condescending.

  22. Jenifer says:

    I get a weird extrapolation out of this: "Because I don't know what this protest is about, everyone else must not know either."

    I can concede that there may be people who are swept up in the excitement of opposing proposition160something as the author was, but it is likely that the majority of the crowd, and even her own school friends, DID know what it was about and DID feel strongly and think for themselves that it must be opposed.

    Likewise, I can concede that there may be people in the Occupy movement who are there for the excitement and so on, but it's really not fair for the author to extrapolate that because she is thinking about it in a different way, everyone else is NOT thinking about it.

    I have thought a great deal about the Occupy movement, and researched it's origins, and observed what is going on. I've looked at myself deeply, and I see something very powerful happening.

    For me, the power of the movement is in three places:

    1. the people involved are shining a light on multiple grievances that many people — on the spectrum of political belief — agree on. it's saying "here is the problem." it is simply defining it without political focus. "These are the problems." It's not one central problem, it's "these are the PROBLEMS." So, there's the first part. These are the problems.

    2. there are no demands, because there is no one to whom to make demands. one of the problems is that the governments are corrupt. this is being shown time and again — so to make demands to a corrupt system to fix the problem is ridiculous. as one OWS gal put it "we are not going to make demands, because we are not asking someone else to solve this problem for us." There's a lot of personal (and collective) accountability in this movement. And i can seriously, seriously get behind that!

    3. There are no solutions, but there is the belief that if we come together and dialogue — our collective education, intelligence, experience, and perspectives will create solutions that no one person has thought of thus far, and that no political party or corporate organization or whatever-whatever is even considering. The general assemblies are opportunities for people to discuss possibilities for solutions — that are not government demands, but may include that as part of the process, as well as other social solutions that may not require any form of government or corporate involvement what so ever.

    These are things that my thoughtful, self-reflective, contemplative self can get behind. Which is why I Occupy.

  23. maria says:

    hmmm…interesting story. It is clear to me what “occupy” is about. I support it wholeheartedly!

  24. Andy says:

    Totes agree with the author. Perhaps I am getting less ideological in this day and age, but I can't help but ponder what this "movement's" change will look like. When it comes down to it, what sorts of things will change? And what are the political realities now affecting the possibility of change? What is it, and how possible is it? Sorry, but seeing yoga celebs bringing yoga into this makes me barf in my mouth. Yoga is personal and very important, and I am sick of it being this extroverted, 'hey look at me and how awesome me and my truth is' sort of thing.

    They claim this is not a political movement, but for it to be successful, ultimately politics come into it, and it is obvious most of the people getting all emotionally involved in it have no understanding of politics.

    Believe me, I support fixing the wealth disparity problem in this country. But how? Go back to Clinton tax rates? Reverse Citizens United? Publically fund elections? Sure to all of the above!

    But raising your Manduka as some symbol of defiance? Barf.

  25. Judith says:

    Occupy Wall Street uses consensus which is freaking amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dtD8RnGaRQ I've lived in communities which use consensus to make decisions and it can be difficult but it is ultimately very rewarding.

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