October 6, 2011

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

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.”

“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.



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