Spirituality and the Occupy Movement
On the day before Thanksgiving, I went with my two children to Zuccotti Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. Desiring to share in the activism and idealism of the Occupy Movement, we went to the spot where Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was born. To our disappointment, we found a small, bedraggled crowd standing around in the cold drizzle. Nine days earlier, police had completely destroyed the OWS camp. The only traces left were barricades, security personnel, police and a few people with drooping, battered signs of protest.
Walking through an opening into the barricaded park, I was struck by how small the space is. Not a trace of the People’s Library, the 200 tents or the trash survived. Yet something was still alive here, if bruised and brooding. I stopped to listen to two young women in their 20s being filmed for an interview. “The Occupy Movement was incredible while it was here in Liberty Square,” said one. “But now it’s moved to other locations. OWS lives on in cities throughout this country, and the world. We’re hurting here; in fact, someone just got arrested 15 minutes ago for lying down in the park. The police won’t let anything happen. We need to regroup and reorganize. But we’re not dead!”
Leaving the park, we walked a couple of blocks to Wall St., where the New York Stock Exchange, J.P. Morgan’s imposing stone mansion and a statue of George Washington stand together in a triangular vortex of political and financial power. Breathing deeply, I took some time to release my judgments while I stood at this crossroad of American hegemony, symbolizing the Empire of the 1%. “Those greedy people,” whispered my judgments, “I bet they just care about making billions for themselves. They aren’t concerned about the environment or justice or sustainability! etc. etc.” There were many emotions, too, rising up for my attention. Anger, superiority, guilt, blame. None of it was pretty.
I released it all with my breath and turned to prayer. Standing beside the statue of George Washington, gazing at the Stock Exchange, I prayed, “Beloved One, may this spot on Earth be uplifted. May greed and domination of one over another be healed. May everyone here come to peace and equality.
May the truth of our union be returned to this land. May the joy of our oneness heal the errors of our ways.” Knowing the power of prayer is real, I blessed the Occupy Movement AND Wall Street. Together. Equally. On the subway, I contemplated the 99%. People are coming together around the world to make a stand for justice, truth and balance. Everywhere I hear stories of “ordinary” people becoming heroes as they step out with courage, facing police brutality, racism and fear. Some of our neighbors are taking pepper spray in the face — and worse. It’s going to take massive discipline to create lasting change. With satyagraha, the peaceful commitment of Gandhi, I know we can do it.
And while I’m inspired by the 99%, my heart also goes to the 1%. Without including everyone, we cannot forgive and start anew. As Starhawk informs the violent dictators in her story, The Fifth Sacred Thing, “Even now, there is room for you at our table.” That line always moves me, because it tells me that even at the very last moment, there is a place for everyone. It’s an extraordinary welcome, giving the chance of grace to each person, as long as they come to the table of thanksgiving, where each person is sacred and respected.
Admittedly, it seems we’re a long way from such a resolution, however delightful it may appear. Many people, rich and poor, have no intention of renouncing violence. They may never choose to take their seat at the meal of plenty. Still, we who love peace carry on.
There’s much work to do, and we have the opportunity to do it with conscious awareness and gratitude. We need an entirely new framework, though, because all too often, leaders of the 99% devolve into the 1% once they ascend to power (see Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Pol Pot of Cambodia, and the history of France and the United States). Eventually, a new cycle of revolution begins and the process repeats itself endlessly — unless we change it.
One essential way to shift the global situation from a battle between the 99% and the 1%, or “us” vs. the “others,” is to deepen our spiritual abilities. For success, we must listen to the still, small voice within. When everyone begins acting upon this inner wisdom, each person will intuitively know what to do, when to do it, and who to do it with. And in case you’re wondering which of the many voices in your head to listen to, remember that action from this state of consciousness is always truthful, loving and compassionate.
Bringing meditation practices to the forefront of our personal lives complements our action in the streets. The compassionate nature of Reality offers wisdom when we examine the option of switching our bank accounts from corporate giants to credit unions. This is no longer a time for an either-or mentality when it comes to living on Earth. We aren’t spiritual OR political. It’s time to be both. Your inner listening will guide you to right action.
One obstacle you may encounter is the idea that peaceniks are weak. Many protesters wonder how they’ll have any impact without their anger. So a big part of our transformation demands grabbing a-hold of the immense power of Creation. Rather than the temporal muscle of Wall St., we choose, instead, the supremacy of the force-which-gives-us-life.
Walking off the battlefield altogether, we’ll find that we still show up at meetings and protests in the street, but now with a sense of serenity and determination. Listening to and acting on our inner guidance, we gain the kind of power that served Gandhi and Martin. In addition to being gentle at heart, we’re fiercely committed to liberty and justice for all. We agitate for what we DO want, rather than ranting against what we DON’T want, receiving increasing clarity from our inner vision. Taking time to be still, we’re energized to spread the message of peace and respect for the Earth who sustains us.
If you need some inspiration, let me tell you about our brother Pancho, who lives at Casa de Paz in Oakland, CA. Pancho fasted for 9 days to dispute nuclear weapons research in the UC system. Sitting peacefully with locked arms at a student protest, he invited his arresting officer to a Mexican meal, saying, “I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?” At another arrest during Occupy Oakland, he wrote on a piece of paper: “On Mondays, I practice silence. But I’d like you to hear that I love you.” The officer smiled.
This article was also published in the Mountain Spirit Chronicles, Winter-Spring, 2012
Ana Holub, MA teaches about the healing power of forgiveness and other peacemaking techniques. As a writer and counselor, she offers sessions, seminars, CDs and books about creating peace, justice and joy for all. Get more information at www.anaholub.com and www.clearpathtopeace.com.
 “If You Want To Be a Rebel, Be Kind” by Nipun Mehta. Find it at www.dailygood.org/view.php?sid=127