–by Nipun Mehta (re-posted from The Daily Good)
The police had declared Monday, November 14th of 2011 as the day of the raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment. It was the first Occupy site to call for a general strike that shut down the fifth largest port in the country; it was also the first Occupy gathering to report a shooting and a murder, as police violence also reached new heights. With tensions mounting amidst political chaos, police escalated their violent crackdowns and the narrative of fear. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in preparation for the raid, police from around the state were called in, and uncertainty filled the air.
The night before, Pancho Ramos Stierle heard about growing tensions in the community and thought, “If police are stepping up their violence, we need to go and step up our nonviolence.” So on that Monday morning at 3:30AM, Pancho and his housemate Adelaja went to the site of the Occupy Oakland raid. With an upright back and half-lotus posture, they started meditating. Many factions of protesters were around but the presence of strong meditators changed the vibe entirely. Around 6:30AM, the police showed up in full force. Full-out riot gear, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas. All media was present, expecting a headline story around this incredibly tense scene. Instead, they found 32 people, all peaceful, with Pancho and Adeleja meditating with their eyes closed in the middle of the Plaza. As the police followed their orders of arresting them, people took photos — particularly of two smiling meditators surrounded by police looking like they’re ready to go to war. Within a day, that photo would spread to millions around the world, as Occupy Oakland raid ended without any reported violence.
One such experience can be enough for a lifetime. For Pancho, though, this is just run of the mill. In small ways and big, he is always looking to step up his compassion in the most unexpected places.
Raised in Mexico, Pancho was fascinated by the stars, planets, and galaxies. He would always look up in outer space and admire the border-less cosmos that we inhabit; and he’d imagine looking down at Planet Earth from outer space — and not seeing any lines across countries. He envisioned a world of oneness and unity, and when he got a full scholarship to study the cosmos at University of California at Berkeley, his vision got a huge boost. He moved to Berkeley to pursue his PhD in Astrophysics.
On campus one day, he serendipitously engages in a profound hallway conversation with a janitor. It opens his eyes to the janitor’s incredibly difficult life. Something awakens in him, as he actively starts looking for solutions.
“I saw that instead of PhD’s, what the world needs more…
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It seems to me that Pancho is one of the best followers of Jesus I’ve come across… except that he isn’t…. except that he is.
By whatever source, by whatever influence, by whatever name or label, may we all “PhDo” our acts of loving-kindess in this world of need.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Namaste,
p.s. for a more overtly Christian counterpart, see http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/12/forgiveness-happens—wow/ (I share about this in my book Kissing Fish)
Roger is an ordained United Methodist pastor and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.