Yoga Sutra 0: Judy Rebick on the Occupy Movement.

Via on Oct 27, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011 | transcribed and compiled by Mike Hoolboom


Not Knowing

Chris Hedges, a longtime award winning journalist, said that he’d covered every major revolution in the past 25 years… and that he was sitting around with friends in Berlin one evening in 1989 who were musing that the wall might come down in a year, or two years, or perhaps never. Six hours later it was down. In other words, no one knows what is going to happen – this is the nature of a movement. Of profound social change. You need to figure out where you stand and then drop it. What is the occupy momentum? It’s not an organization, or a campaign, it’s a changing, shape-shifting MOVEMENT. Like the women’s movement in the 1960s, there are many different ideas about what the problems are, and how to address those problems. One of the qualities of a movement is that it seems to come out of nowhere.

At this moment there are 1900 Occupations around the world – in Canada alone there are 32.

Why now?

Why is it happening? It’s a cry against the inequalities of the system. And the first inequality that was addressed was economic. In the United States, where the Occupy movement began, the top 1% controls 42% of the wealth. If you make more than 1/2 million dollars a year, you’re in the 1%. The bottom 20% earns less than $6,000. In the 1970s the top 1% controlled 8% of the nation’s wealth. Since 1987 African-Americans have lost 1/2 their net worth, Latinos have lost 2/3 of their net worth. What we are witnessing is a class war waged by a rich white minority against people of colour. Taxation, health care, massive housing foreclosures, environmental devastation, educational segregation, defunding of state services: these are symptoms of the class war.

Mainstream media didn’t pay attention until white middle class people began taking action. Political class and the media have been complicit with the quickly growing gap between rich and poor. The media have spoken in the master’s voice, masking it as common sense. Neo-liberalism means tax cuts, privatization, a lack of regulations, cheap labour outsourcing, so-called free trade deals, etc. The mantra has been: what’s good for business is good for everybody. Look after the wealthy and profits will “trickle down,” but there’s no trickle down, there’s only trickle up. More and more wealth is generated and it all goes to the top and stays there.

The Occupy movements are addressing this inequity. “We are the 99%.” The disparity between have and have-not is starker in the United States than in Canada because we have better unions. In 1981 Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers and banned them from public service for life. In Canada we networked and developed coalitions against the free trade agreement. Mulroney pushed it through, but it was limited, he couldn’t get everything he wanted because of the organized resistance. We didn’t get the fulfillment of that neo-liberal dream until the Mike Harris government came into power in Ontario.

Today, the gap between rich and poor in Canada is the fastest growing in the so-called developed world. The present day inequities are the largest since the great depression, an economic calamity that led to a huge upsurge of working class radicalism. This moment is like that moment, except it cuts across class lines. Bill Maher said that he was waiting for the hard hats to attack the hippies but this time the movement is youth led and supported by unions.

New Society

When I visited Occupy Wall Street in New York it was like a dream come true. It is a new society in miniature. For instance, it is a no-money economy. Everyone shares everything. The food is great, it was the best meal I had in New York in two weeks. I was there with Velcrow Ripper who was shooting Occupy Love and when it started raining someone showed up beside us with an umbrella. “Do you need this?” When I returned it, the woman at the desk thanked me as if I had given her a precious jewel. “This is exactly what we need right now!”

There is constant discussion of issues. In Sante Fe there has been a lot of talk between the Native population and the Occupiers (where have you been for the last 200 years?), in NYC there was a lot of talk this past week about neighbourhood noise complaints and the drummers. There are daily meditations. On Thursday some anti-Semitic remarks were aired, and the following night 200 Orthodox Jews showed up to recite the prayer of the dead, and they put up a sukkah (a temporary dwelling), where only the Orthodox could pray, and then groups of reform Jews showed up and put their sukkah inviting everyone to join them. This multiplicity and diversity is all happening at the same time. There is a place for everyone.

There is a growing sense that negotiations with police and politicians aren’t worthwhile, that they are going around the existing leadership and the existing structures. They’re not just protesting against a system, they’re living in a different way. There is an enormous pressure to articulate demands, as Van Jones said, addressing the Occupy crowds in Zuccotti Park: “They ask us what do we want? We don’t want anything. We want everything.”

The women’s movement had different foundational strands. Betty Friedan insisted: women don’t want to be only wives and mothers. A movement starts with an identification of a problem. And this forces people to talk about it. Even The Economist, the magazine of the 1%, ran it as their cover story this week.

Whenever you have demands the movement divides, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people think the solution is a new economic system that is more fair, run by people and workers. This is a revolutionary demand. In the women’s movement the idea of a “gift economy” was floated, and I might have thought it was a bit flaky then, but now it’s being practiced. The reason the food is so good at Occupy Wall Street is because it’s not a charitable donation, instead it’s a way for people to express their solidarity. When I walk through neighbourhoods in Toronto, merchants approach me and ask: how can I express solidarity with the Occupy movement? How can we help? Because they feel inspired.

The powers that be don’t know how to attack or repress the movement yet. But eventually the repression will come. Instead of the savagery of the Tea Party, which imagines a society in which everyone turns against everyone else, people are sharing like they did in the 1930s.

From Occupy Wall St. website

A message to blue-collar police:
Do not do what you are told. We are peaceful and you know this. We offer you coffee in the morning and water in the day. You always refuse and we know that’s because they told you to. Speak of the crimes of your supervisors. We will help you. We are expressing the same frustration that you feel. You are the 99 percent. Join us. Join our conversation.

The general assembly is the new democratic form created by the Occupy movement. There are hand signals from the crowd (ok, that’s enough, or yes!), volunteer coordinators, it’s consensus driven. Once a need is decided upon people take it upon themselves, and have such agency, and this leads to a profound intellectual and emotional fulfillment. Kevin, from Occupy Toronto says: “I’ve never worked so hard. We come from an expert-based society. We’re told that we don’t know how to meet collective needs. But now everyone has a new job. After a week that feels like years, it turns out that ordinary people have the capacity to solve our own problems. Here is the principle: that the people most affected by a decision should have the most say.”

Be the Change

Non-violence has been at the heart of the Occupy movement. They aren’t providing the spectacle of broken cars and windows that the media crave. They haven’t responded to the sometimes brutal police force used against protestors with force of their own. If we want a new society we have to be the change. Don’t tell me anymore about the I-Phone, the I-Pad… what about the We-phone, what about us?

Ronit says that when she first entered St. James Park she was confronted with fears she had internalized, particularly after the brutal events of last summer’s G20. We all remember what the police force here is capable of. How does money, hierarchy and violence live in my body? I went to the park wondering: who is in charge here? Who is going to protect me if things go wrong? And the answer? No one. The scenario allows you empower yourself. You have two feet and a heart to stand on. Come to the park and feel what is going on inside yourself and outside of yourself, and pick one thing and decide what you’re going to contribute.


MICHAEL STONE will  speak at Occupy Toronto this Saturday, October 29th at 5pm, St. James Park. Info:!/event.php?eid=191877104223625

About Michael Stone (Centre of Gravity)

Centre of Gravity is a thriving community of Yoga and Buddhist practitioners integrating committed formal practice and modern urban life. We offer weekly sits, text studies, yoga practice and dharma talks. Retreats, guest speakers, online courses and audio talks deepen the feel. Each week Michael Stone dishes a talk, often on primary texts by Dogen, Patanjali, and the Buddha, that are collaged with today's headlines and psychological insights to produce an engaged shape shifting dharma, at once historical, personal and political. Notes on these talks by Mike Hoolboom form the heart of this blog. Michael Stone is a yoga teacher and Buddhist teacher. He travels internationally teaching about the intersection of Yoga, Buddhism and mental health. He has written four books with Shambhala Publications on ethics, yoga's subtle body, inner/outer pilgrimmages, and the sometimes uneasy blend of social engagement and Buddhism. Please check out the website at .


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One Response to “Yoga Sutra 0: Judy Rebick on the Occupy Movement.”

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