It's been a crazy couple of days in the San Francisco Bay
Area. For a group of about 170 Occupy Oakland protestors camped near City Hall,
the madness began at about 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday October 25th, when police in riot gear began
tearing down tents and forcibly removing people from Frank Ogawa Plaza, issuing
at least 70 arrests in the process. Later that day, hundreds of protestors
reassembled and attempted to take the park back, only to be met by a large
regional police force who fired volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags
and flash grenades. In what looked like an urban war zone, more arrests were
made, several people were injured, and a young Iraq war veteran named Scott
Olsen received a critical skull fracture.
The next night, partly in reaction
to the overbearing force used by police, at least 1,000 people convened for a
general assembly meeting, from which emerged a call for a daylong, citywide
strike designed to shut down Oakland. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bay,
a similar number of people amassed along the Embarcadero in response to reports
that the Occupy San Francisco encampment would also be torn down. Apparently,
the massive show of support prevented the eviction from happening, although a
live feed that I tuned into just before midnight seemed to show police throwing
sleeping bags, food, and other personal belongings into the back of a garbage
Just to be clear, I received all
this info in digital form, mostly via Facebook friends who braved the elements,
surrendered sleep, and risked arrest and injury. But it wouldn't be quite accurate
to say that I witnessed it all from the comfort of my home, since much of what
I saw made me distinctly uncomfortable. Especially disturbing was the video footage
of Oakland protestors clashing with police, culminating in the now-notorious clip of Olsen,
lying injured on the pavement, being helped by comrades who are then dispersed
with yet another deafening flash bomb. "WTF?!!" I thought, "Did that really
just happen? What country is this? What kind of world is this?"
My disbelief turned quickly to
anger at the cops. "Why are they so violent, so ruthless, so uncaring, so inhuman?"
Then came cynicism: "Some of them must be henchmen of the 1% – mercenaries paid
to show protestors across the nation who's the boss." My mind fell right into
the all-too-familiar dichotomy of "us vs. them," of peaceful protestors against
Blue Meanies and their evil overlords. But as I watched and researched a little
longer, the grays became more apparent. Some of the protestors were clearly antagonizing
the cops, and others were allegedly pelting them with rocks and bottles. This
is not to say that the behavior of a few black-bloc types would justify an all-out
assault against a largely peaceful crowd, but that the line in my mind between good
and bad began to soften and eventually fade.
What slowly came into focus was a moving
picture of human beings in pain. Some were in physical agony, half paralyzed by
tear gas or projectiles. Some were filled with rage, at both the imbalance of
power in the situation and the system that maintains it. Many were fearful of what harm might
come to them, their friends, or their allies, and some were simply doing a job
they had hoped would garner admiration or at least provide some security during
a time of financial uncertainty, perhaps even thinking of their families back
home, their own physical and emotional ailments, or the dim prospect of a decent
The more that everyone's humanity
emerged, the more that compassion welled up inside me. Through moist eyes and a
soft heart, I could clearly see how all the wounds of the past were being
played out in the present. I well understood that despite our deepest desire, none
of us are truly free, least of all those caught in the game of power and money.
I saw anew how extreme wealth indicates a poverty of spirit, of real community,
of love. I later shared these feelings and insights with my wife, a student of
Indian mythology, religion and language, who reminded me of Lila, the divine
play. We are the 100 percent, performing our unique roles in some cosmic,
karmic drama whose outcome and purpose lie forever beyond our understanding. In
other words, we're all in this together.
Given how much is at stake — not only
our individual futures but also perhaps that of humanity at large, if not life
as we know it — do we really want to keep playing the tired old game of "us
against them"? Can we not take to heart the words of Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote "…the line separating good and evil
passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties
either, but right through every human heart." The Hindu
master Ramana Maharshi put it even more starkly. When asked how one ought to
treat others, he replied, "There are no others."
Call me an idealist (many have, and
I take it as a complement), but I want this movement to be different from all previous
movements that have pitted the righteous against the depraved. I long for a
true revolution of the heart, a love-olution in which there are no others. As
we of the 99% stand against the injustices of a dysfunctional and dying system,
let us stand for profound change by
embodying the respect, tolerance, patience, empathy, kindness, and other qualities
we find so lacking in our supposed adversaries. Indeed, we have a precious opportunity
to teach these qualities by example, by being the change we want to see in the
world. Remember, the whole world is watching.
As a way into a sacred heart space, I offer a brief meditation on loving-kindness.
Watch it at the peril of your cynicism.
Darrin Drda is a Bay Area artist and author whose book
entitled The Four Global Truths:
Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times was recently published by EVOLVER EDITIONS/North Atlantic Books.
Images by Dignidad Rebelde, used
courtesy of a Creative Commons license.