February 27, 2011

Sitting in Solidarity at the Wisconsin Capitol. ~ Andrea Russell

The original protest photo featured on Gawker and Huffington Post, featuring Andrea Russell and Alicia Wright

The yoga studio or mediation hall is not the most appropriate place for political debate. However, these practices have great tools to offer and can serve as a message of peace as we navigate political upheaval. Yoga and meditation can teach us to stay grounded when the ground feels groundless. The practice can teach us to keep our hearts open in the face of diversity and adversity. The practice can help us to widen our circle of compassion beyond those in our immediate circle and fuel a passion to stand up for the rights of all beings.

Up to 100,000 people have gathered at the Wisconsin state capitol, rallying each day against a bill that threatens to strip union collective bargaining, restrict voting, take away vital state aid and health benefits, and sell off power plants on no-bid offers. If you read the bill you discover it is filled with hidden agendas. Meanwhile, the Governor has said he will not negotiate and the democratic senators have fled the state in order to slow it all down.

Inside the capitol, an around the clock sleep-in protest is being held with speakers from both within our community and across the country, including Tammy Baldwin, Jesse Jackson, Amy Goodman, and Tom Morello. We’ve been in the press around the globe. Thirteen days into the peaceful protests, there has been no violence. The police officers and state troopers are often seen protesting when they are not on the clock. As you enter the capitol, you hear and feel the sound of the conch shell being blown, the drum circle raging, and thousands of people chanting.

There are infinite ways to stand up for what you believe in and to rally for peace.  If you spend the night or arrive early you will find people practicing yoga.  On Saturday, a few of us gathered to meditate for an hour and then practiced sun salutations for another hour on the first floor of the rotunda; it was incredible to feel the positive energy of the space and the intentions in our hearts infuse the protests and our practice.

Alicia Wright had the brilliant idea of organizing ‘hands around the capitol.’ On Monday, with our signs in hand, we ran and chanted around the outer sidewalk of the capitol, encouraging hundreds of people to hold hands and create a giant circle of solidarity around the building. Within minutes, the entire circumference of the capitol was encircled with chanting, smiling, radiant people.

If you wind up the marble stairs to the third floor west balcony, you will come upon those sitting in solidarity, meditating to increase peace and compassion. We sit every night from 7:30-9:30 pm; people come and go, and each day several more sit. Many who haven’t sat before, but are curious, join in too.

If you can sit and breathe, you can meditate. The energy is high and the drums are loud–there is not a moment of quiet, yet the deep stillness that can be experienced as your bones vibrate from the sounds of drums and chanting moving through you is profound.

The beauty of hearing thousands of people singing the national anthem or chanting, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” brings forth a deep well of joy and hope. To see how our community and communities across the nation have come together in peace to stand up against this bill makes me proud to be a Wisconsinite and part of the global community protesting peacefully for change.

Andrea Russell was born and raised in Wisconsin. She teaches group yoga and meditation classes, therapeutic lessons, and a variety of workshops.  She is on facility for Alignment Yoga’s 200 and 500-hour teacher training programs in Madison, Wisconsin.  In addition to yoga, Andrea is a nationally and state certified massage therapist and body worker specializing in Neurovascular and Craniosacral Therapy.

Off the mat, she blogs, enjoys cooking healthy organic food, being in nature close to the earth, and visiting the sacred sites of the world. You can find her on Facebook and her website.

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