Saturday, December 3, 2011
Tomorrow, Sunday December 4th at 2pm the Oakland General Assembly will vote on a proposal to change the name of Occupy Oakland to Decolonize Oakland. This has been a somewhat controversial proposal and the vote tomorrow will surely be interesting.
First of all I want to say that as a pagan, as a white person committed to fighting against racism, and as an organizer, I wholeheartedly support this proposal.
I am a pagan, someone who practices earth based spirituality. This means my faith is filled with practices that honor our mother earth and this faith is a critical part of how I live my life. As a pagan of European ancestry I have the blood of colonizers in my veins who stole the land of this continent and destroyed life here. Before that, these ancestors rejected the ways of my and their indigenous ancestors and destroyed European indigenous traditions.
Colonization is the weapon that drove my ancestors away from right relationship with the earth and each other.
Colonization is the force that fuels the murderous ways of globalization.
Colonization is the voice that tells us that one life is worth more than another.
The use of the word "Occupy" has made me uneasy since the beginning of this beautiful movement. The day the camp in Oakland was born, my friend was visiting from the Kamloops band in Canada. I asked him if he wanted to go down to witness the birth of the encampment instead of coffee. He expressed his unease with the whole "occupy" movement.
"Don't people realize that this land is already occupied and has been for hundreds of years?", he asked.
My heart dropped and I felt a wave of shame wash over me. I felt ashamed of the sad reality that most Americans don't think about the fact that this land is already occupied. This proposal is an opportunity to begin to shift that paradigm. How can we expect to create anything different when we're using language that is charged with the history of imperialism and genocide?
My elders have taught me that words are powerful. When we do magic, we are always conscious of the language that we use because the words we use create the reality we manifest. Why should it be any different with our social movements?
When I was living in Patagonia working with the Mapuche people in their struggles to reclaim the land of their ancestors, I was blown away by how much support there was for the movement by non-native identified people. I remember sitting on a long bus ride with an evangelical Christian police man who to my shock and awe was overwhelmingly supportive to the Mapuche land struggle. People were making the connections between the stealing of land from the original people of South America and the stealing of resources from ALL of the current people of the country. After the economy crashed down there, people woke up to the fact that our struggles are connected.
I feel like we are in a moment where this is possible up north. People across this land are waking up. People are making the connections and Americans are beginning to understand that the 1% has been stealing from the people. I believe that people are ready to begin seeing the way that that theft is connected with the colonization of this country and the stealing of land from native people. This name change is a way to push this conversation forward.
You say it's not strategic right now, that our movement is to young and that we must keep the name "Occupy" so the public doesn't get confused. And I ask you when? When will the time be right for us to stand against genocide? When will the time be right for us to bring forth a new vision of the future? When will the time be right for us to abandon our dysfunctional relationships with each other? When will the time be right for us to move towards a respectful relationship with our mother?
Many times have people on the left said, "the time is not now". We've seen it in feminist movements when white feminists have argued, "we'll fight patriarchy first and then we'll dismantle racism". We've heard it in the LGBT movement when folks say, "We'll win protections for gays and lesbians, and then we'll work on transgender rights".
Do I need to point out how utterly ineffective these tactics have been?
We can't build the allies we need if we leave people behind.
The time is now.
Come join us tomorrow at Oscar Grant Plaza at 2pm.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Today we shut down the ports. That's right. We shut down the port of Oakland. Gosh, writing for this blog just gets better and better. My morning began at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. I met up with an interfaith group of folks who have been on a peace walk for a nuclear free world from Diablo Canyon, a site of one of California's largest nuclear sites to Sogorea Tea,an Ohlone and Miwok sacred site. It was a beautiful group of folks and primarily led by monks from Japan and Ohlone and Miwok elders.
Our walk began with a prayer, a song, and the burning of white sage. Elder Wounded Knee Deocampo, reminded us that we were in prayer for this walk. There was a group of about 40 of us. We precessed slowly in with chants and song. I was asked to help with traffic control for the walk and so I spent much of the walk actually running between intersections to make sure that traffic was stopped.
When we arrived at Occupy Oakland, we were greeted with cheers and expressions of support. Some people cheers and applauded or stood and watched almost transfixed by what we were doing. Other people stopped and prayed as we walked by. We arrived at the ampathetre in the middle of a song by local hip hop musician, Favi. She graciously acknowledged the presence of the drum and the elders in the middle of her set. After her song ended she gave up the mic to Wounded Knee Deocampo who introduced the walk to the crowd and was greeted with cheers of support and applause.
I got to say as a side note that I was seriously impressed that Favi shared the mic with such honor and respect. Not a lot of musicians walk with that kind of humility and are willing to let go of ego for the sake of the movement. I feel like I learned a lot from her about leadership in that moment. Admittedly, I was already a fan, but I got to say now I'm REALLY a fan. So please take a min and check out her video on you tube and like her page on facebook. (shameless plug)
We then walked over to near the Dia De Los Muertos altar and folks sat down and began with prayers and meditation. I thanked the elders for sharing the walk with me and invited folks to join the pagan cluster in our spiral dance. A few folks came with me as I wandered over to our meeting place for our loosely planned spiral dance around noon. We met up with Riyanna and Jason and some other reclaiming folks. I walked past T. Thorn Coyle and invited her to join us (and am feeling really glad I did because she ended up leading the spiral dance!). After selecting a song and some folks scouting out a location we walked through the crowd drumming and singing.
We gathered in a circle on Broadway between 13th and 14th and began to draw some attention with our singing and drumming. New folks came to join the circle as we sang. The spiral began and we wove our dance into the spirit of the streets.
Let it begin with each step we take
and let it begin with each change we make
and let it begin with each chain we break
and let it begin every time we awake.
I saw the spirit of struggles past in the eyes of those I've known from years of magic and activism and saw the spirit of beginnings in the eyes of those I had just met. The energy swirled around us and through us as we danced and sang. As our spiral came to the center a beautiful cone of power shone out between us and spread out through the sky covering oakland.
I touched the ground sending the excess energy into the earth, feeling her softness beneath the pavement of the streets of downtown Oakland.
Thank you mother. Thank you.
Next stop was lunch and then I went back to the my friends on the peace walk to share in their prayer and meditation. I did my practice of the day first with the sound of Japanese drumming and then drumming by the proud warriors of Sogorea Tea. What a blessing and an honor to get to practice with such sounds around me!
I wandered over to the interfaith tent for a discussion about how the interfaith community can best support the needs of the folks camped at Occupy Oakland and the movement in general. I only caught part of the meeting but it seems like there is strong sentiment in support of maintaining the interfaith tent beyond today. My impression is that there will be a need for folks to help “staff” the space, so if you are a faith leader, a person of faith and/or or spirit, please keep your ears and your schedules open. I'll try to post more information as I hear about it.
I wandered back over to our meeting place for our next spiral dance. We decided to wander through the crowd this time inviting people to join us. By the time we arrived on 14th street in front of the staging area for the march we were quite a large group. We drummed and sang and danced a spiral blessing the march It felt like such an honor to be able to bring this tradition not only to the streets, but to the march and to our movement. In my work as a faith based organizer, I saw many different kinds of ceremonies used in a political context. As a witch, it felt like a tremendous gift to dance this sacred tradition that I have known since I was a child in the streets of the Oakland General Strike.
The march started and we began the long trek to the ports. The spirit of the crowd was upbeat—people were singing and chanting, smiling and laughing with each other. We marched over the bridge to the ports and as we reached the top I looked back. My jaw dropped. A sea of people were behind us. As far as I could see the streets were filled with protesters. I felt tears begin to fill my eyes as I began to imagine the impact that this demonstration may have on the world.
We arrived at the ports as the sun was beginning to hang low in the sky. You know, that magical time before sunset when the colors change and peoples inner beauty begins to manifest in a physical sort of way. The group of folks that I was with sat down on the railroad tracks to rest. I ran into more people than you would imagine. I even saw my godfather's daughter (when you're from Virginia and live in California that's a big deal). It felt like a reunion with a bit of dance party mixed in there.
Just before 7pm it seemed pretty clear the ports were closed. A group of us decided to walk down to the next gates to see how things were going further down on the docks. Around 7pm there came a call for folks to physically block the gates so some folks sat down and we began a picket line. Or well at least tried to. I had a moment of realization of how small the labor movement in this country currently is when it became clear that a solid majority of the folks there didn't know what I picket line was. Someone later referred to it as a “circle march”. I'm hopeful that this movement will inspire many many more workers to participate in organized resistance at their workplaces and in their communities through a myriad of tactics including “circle marches” :P
We sat blocking the gate until we received word that the ports had been “offically” closed for this shift. We all began the long march back to Occupy Oakland. We marched with a few trucks that had gotten stuck in the mix trying to leave the port. They honked in rhythm with our chants showing their support. The woman next to me said, “I don't think that I've ever marched with trucks escorting me—this is pretty cool.” I nodded in agreement grinning from ear to ear from the actions today.
I'm still smiling as I write this. Estimates are that there were somewhere between 20,000-40,000 people in the streets today. That's tens of thousands of people who felt like this is important enough to leave work, to leave the routines of their everyday life behind, to join with their families and their communities to participate in direct democracy.
Today in our second spiral dance we sang these words as we were dancing,
We are the rising sun.
We are the change
We are the ones we've been waiting for and we are dawning.
My friends we are the 99%. We are the ones we've been waiting for.
And we are dawning.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Last night I found a new hope for the world. Both literally and figuratively. I was running a few minutes late and found my classmate Hope at the entrance to the Bart station. She was my first hope of the night. We were heading down to what is quickly becoming known as Oscar Grant Plaza for Seminary of the Streets. We met up with my friend from witchcamp, Riyanna at the Bart near the plaza and headed up to seminary of the streets together.
There was a small but lively crowd beginning to gather at the corner of 14th and Broadway. The three of us wandered around a bit and eventually found the Seminary of the Streets group. By 6pm the crowd had grown to over 400 people and it was clear that the general assembly would need a bigger space. Someone suggested Oscar Grant plaza. The crowd roared in affirmation and began marching to the amphitheater.
After learning about Scott Olsen, the Iraq war veteran, who survived two tours in Iraq only to be shot in the head with a tear gas canister by Oakland Police, I decided I had to be in the streets with the people. Apparently I wasn't the only one outraged. It became clear as the public comment began that the number of people had grown to the thousands. I was surprised at the amount of robed clergy that were in the crowd. I saw folks from a lot of different traditions—UU stood out by their bright yellow “standing on the side of love” shirts and many of the Christians by their style of religious attire.
I got a text from a friend that the San Francisco Police Department was gearing up to raid Occupy SF. It was getting dark and I decided that I wanted to be in San Francisco if the shit hit the fan over there. So I quickly swooped home, made a few more vinegar and lemon soaked scarves (good for decreasing the severity of tear gas inhalation) and ate some dinner. Riyanna and her partner Scarecrow were heading over to SF as well and we decided to car pool.
So I swang by their house to pick them up. They had a bunch of Maalox on the table and were making bottles of mixture that makes a great wash when you are tear gassed. I asked if they had extra. Yes was the response. Scarecrow says to me,
“Have you ever used it before”
My training as an EMT many moons ago never taught us how to deal with chemical weapons. And I had no idea how to respond herbally to direct needs as a result of tear gas.
Scarecrow kinda smiles at me and then in an authoritative voice tells me to make sure to calm the person down and that the pain will pass quickly. He tells me to instruct the person to kneel as you rinse their eyes gently from the tear duct out and make sure that folks tilt their head so that the wash doesn't run back into their eyes.
“Ok. I can do this.” I thought to myself. “It's just like any other eye wash”
We loaded up the car and headed down to Occupy SF. When we got there there was already quite a sizable crowd. I recognized old friends from HAVOQ and felt reassured to see people I knew. As I walked across the camp, I was amazed at how well organized things were. The medics were distributing supplies to protect the people if the cops came with chemical weapons. People were role playing and rehearsing the way we would respond when the cops showed up.
Someone told me they were expected to arrive around 10pm. On the other side of the camp there was a lively picket line filled with old friends and familiar faces. I saw members of the SF labor council, old friends from my union organizing days, even members of the board of supervisors! With the brass liberation orchestra playing and the picket line that was filled with people dancing, this was beginning to feel more like a party, than a protest where the cops could come and arrest people at any minute.
Cheers spread across the crowd as the information about Oakland's vote for a general strike spread. My friend Tracey texted me telling me about it. There had been a discussion and then a vote with over 1500 people voting to support the strike. It was an almost 97% yes vote! Those are good numbers for a strike vote!
People were saying the cops were coming at 11pm and then they were saying 12pm. Some people left but I was amazed at how many people stayed as the night wore on. It was a lively atmosphere—people were laughing and joking. Joking more and more as the night wore on and people began to get punchy.
When I woke up this morning, I would learn that our efforts halted the organized, funded, and planned raid in San Francisco. The cops were armed in riot gear and ready to go—and yet they didn't. Last night, I learned that when we organize, when we work together, when we dance and sing together, we have the power to stop the attempts to silence us.
The gang I had come with hung in there until almost 3am. We decided to call it a night since we were all becoming increasingly less coherent. I logged onto face book when I got home and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the images of the massive crowds of people in Oakland. I felt tears in my eyes as I learned that there had been solidarity actions in support of Oakland throughout the country and throughout the world. New Yorkers staged a solidarity protest and stood their ground in the face of police brutality from the NYPD. People in Egypt had organized an protest in support of our efforts in Oakland. EGYPT!!! It was just a few short months ago that we were protesting in support of their people's movement. Now our brothers and sisters over there were in the streets supporting us!
I shut down my computer and rolled over to go to sleep with a new found hope in my heart.
The General Strike has been called for Wednesday November 2, 2011. Folks were saying last night that there hasn't been a general strike in the United States since 1946. We have a moment now. We can make history. I urge you to talk to folks in your community. Go down to your local occupy. Talk with folks there. Organize efforts to support the strike on the 2nd. Don't go to work on the 2nd, join us in the streets. And if you have to go to work, come join us when you get off.
I am the 99%, so are you. Let's show the government of this country that they are accountable to the people and not the corporate interests!
See you in the streets on the November 2nd.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
We began at 101 Market, in front of the Federal Reserve Bank where the “Occupy SF” encampment has been for several weeks now. There were several speakers including Mayoral Canidate, John Avalos who gave a riveting speech that got the crowd roaring. The march was blessed by a member of the American Indian Movement, grounding us in our roots with the earth and reminding us all that San Francisco is already occupied land—it's occupied Ohlone land.
The march began slowly. As we arrived at the Wells Fargo Headquarters, there were brave individuals blocking each entrance to the building linked arm in arm with big smiles on their faces. It was just before 8am and I was so moved by the way that we were all working together. There had been so much organizing done to pull together this action—meetings, 1-1 conversations, art parties, strategy sessions, and so much more.
It was beautiful to see all of this work coming to fruition.
Around 8am, the protesters who were blocking the employee entrance to the bank were arrested and the bank was opened to employees to enter. The main public entrances remained closed, blocked by folks sitting arm in arm committed to remaining in place until the bank was shut down or they were arrested. The bank officials were in a predicament. Risk the bad press of tens, possibly hundreds of more arrests or close the bank and loose the business for the day. Later in the morning we learned that the CEOs had decided to back down to our demands and close the bank for the day!
The Brass Liberation Orchestra (BLO) rocked out at one entrance as protesters danced in the streets. The other entrance continued to be blocked by community leaders and activists serving as prophets, making clear the demands of the 99%. A joyful picket line circled on the sidewalk in front of the bank. People of different colors, sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, genders filled the streets.
The reclaiming Reclaiming Witchcraft community is one of the pagan communities with which I am involved and every year at Samhain we do a spiral dance. We invite in the ancestors, our beloved dead, and those who have passed to dance with us. We dance holding hands in a spiral and then spiral out again. As we are dancing we look every person in the eyes. Every person. For me, each spiral dance is incredibly powerful, but our dance at Samhain is huge, sometimes with 1,000 people in attendance. To look 1,000 people in the eye is an experience that is difficult to describe with words.
Today our protest outside the bank felt like a spiral dance. Maybe the veil has already thinned because as we were protesting, as we were picketing, I saw the faces of my beloved dead in the eyes of the protesters.
Root Sister, I felt you dancing in the streets with the BLO.
Eric Quezada, I heard your voice in the prophetic words of the speakers.
Elder Sister Dorothy Stang, I felt your determination as those blocking the entrances to the banks refused to move.
Shutting down the bank felt like an offering for the dead. It felt like an offering to the ancestors of this land, the Ohlone ancestors, the Miwok ancestors, and all of those who have died in the struggle.
Friday, September 23, 2011
What is it about the traditions that we are raised with that are so difficult to relate with? I was born to Catholic parents. Well Catholic by upbringing, but that's about the extent of it. I was baptized Catholic under the influence of my grandmother but that was the extent of my interactions with the Catholic church as a child. When I was 7 or 8 my family started attending the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Va. It was a wonderful tradition to grow up with for a number of reasons. The religious education program was designed to offer children knowledge about different religious traditions and encouraged participants to come to their own understanding of their relationship with the divine. This was great for me as I found witchcraft at a young age and the UU church offered me the privilege of growing up with access to elders and teachers in this tradition.
I became involved with the Pagan group at the church, helping to form a youth contingent of the pagan group and later got involved with YRUU, the national network for UU youth. YRUU was a wonderful place for me to grow spiritually and socially. As a queer kid growing up in Virginia, it was tremendous to have a spiritual community where I felt seen, held, and loved for who I am. My involvement with my congregation was a significant part of my life as a young person and helped to ground me amidst the chaos of my life in public school and, in many ways, a homophobic town.
When I look back at that time in my life, I am so grateful for that community and the way that I was lifted up as a human being by my church and by the UU community as a whole.
At my first Two-Spirit Naraya dance, I had a dream the third night of the dance. I my waking life, I had recently been accepted into a UU seminary and was trying to decide if I was going to go (yes, my discernment process has been going on for several years now). Discernment was part of my prayers for that ceremony.
In my dream, I was speaking with an elder. I said to him, “I don't think I'm a Unitarian Universalist anymore.” I remember the feeling in the dream. My heart hurt to say it, a feeling of sadness and loss washed over me as I was saying it. But as the words came out, I felt this weight being lifted from my chest. I woke up with confusion about the meaning of the dream and again the feeling of relief.
The words of that dream came back to me when I recently received an email from someone at the regional office of the UUA reaching out to UU students at my school. I'm not sure how to respond. I don't think I'm a Unitarian Universalist anymore.
But what does it mean to lose your religion when your religion is Unitarian Universalism? What does it mean to be a Unitarian Universalist in the first place?
I know that my spiritual path as an adult has led me deep into a beautiful and complex forest that continues to unveil itself to me. I know that this path has led me to traditions and practices that have opened me up to direct, embodied experiences with the divine. I have felt myself crack open and touched by creator.
I know that I have never had one of these experiences in a UU worship service. Occasionally, when we're singing, I'll feel the gentle breeze of spirit but nothing more. And that's the piece that's holding me back. How can I step into a leadership role of a tradition where during worship, I have never once felt touched by the divine? How can I step into that role when I have felt creator so closely, so clearly, somewhere else?
In my heart, I know that the way I was held as a young person by my congregation back home was the work of spirit. I know that community is sacred and that holding each other is a sacred act. But we don't need a church or an institution to hold each other. I've seen spirit move like that when we were organizing a union at my old job. I've felt spirit move like that when we we were in the streets protesting the iraq war. I have heard spirit whispering like that through the voices of the congregational leaders during my work as a faith based community organizer.
I've been introducing myself as a pagan and not as a UU to people I'm meeting at school. I feel like it's a more accurate portrayal of my spiritual practices and beliefs. But there's something in me that just can't let it go.
So I'm going to meet with the UU's at my school and the person from my district. What have I got to lose?
Nothing but my religion.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Last night I was awoken to the sound of trucks--large trucks and heavy machinery barreling through the forest. I was called to this place through a dream. Well to be more exact I was called here through Witchcamp first and then a dream.
We were going to have this years Free Cascadia Witchcamp in the Elliot State Forest. We ultimately did not for a number of reasons. A large part of it was due to the sudden and tragic death of a sweet sister born of the roots of the earth. This years camp was also larger than expected and we were anticipating a group larger than the site in the forest could hold.
Two nights ago, as I lay in the safety of a bed,
the safety of a home,
the safety of my lovers arms,
I dreamt of this place.
The forest came to me that night.
In the dream, I was walking through the woods on a path. The forest was teeming with life. Sweet dappled sunlight shone through the trees as I walked through a rows of giant ancestors. There was an active under story--with ferns, oregon grape, and trillium among many other plant friends. Birds squawked and sang and animals scurried along.
I was simply walking as I took in the magnificence of this ancient place. I felt the ancestors of the forest nourish my spirit in the dream world.
I continued walking.
The forest shifted.
The tall trees became stumps.
The understory disappeared.
The dappled sunlight grew strong and glaring, imposing heat, drying up the moisture.
The birds stopped singing.
I was overwhelmed by death.
I awoke from the dream with the memory of the magnificence destroyed close to my heart.
And so I came here.
I knew I was driving along the forest before I saw any signs. I felt my heart drop and heavy sadness take over the land amidst the warm setting sun. It was late when I turned onto the unmarked but proper road to enter the park. The sun was low and the night quickly creeping up.
I left Portland late yesterday and so I didn't have time to stop for a map. I kicked myself for not trying to at least, look at a map of the park or some sort of directions before I got here. The park is relatively small and does not have big entrance signs or maps posted along the road like many parks. So I followed my gut and turned off on a small dirt road to look for a place to pitch my tent before the dark set in.
I admit, I was feeling nervous--maybe even a little afraid. It was already pretty dark and I had no idea where I was going to sleep. When I'm solo backpacking I'm not usually worried because the barrier of the woods feels like protection from the creeps and boozing men you sometimes encounter closer to the roads. The heaviness of the energy in the forest was impacting me. I could feel the fear of death among the creatures in the forest.
The first stars were emerging when I finally found a place to camp. I pitched my tent, brushed my teeth, and got into my sleeping bag as quickly as possible. I fell asleep admist the dark swirling energy.
I awoke in the darkness to the sound of trucks--large trucks and heavy machinery barreling through the forest. I laid awake in my sleeping bag listening to the trucks until the sun began to emerge.
At sunrise, I took down my tent, loaded up my car and followed the trucks. They led me up an isolated logging road, twisted and curvy, the road climbed high into the mountains. They led me to a site where logging of this ancient forest has begun.
The Elliot State Forest is the largest original coastal forest left in Oregon. According to Cascadia Wildlands, it's the "only place in only place in the Pacific Northwest where vast tracts of virgin rainforest are being razed." The forest is home to a number of threatened species of owls and other animals. In the 1990s there were significant struggles to protect this forest. Concessions were made by the forest defenders with the agreement that the land would be protected for generations. Those agreements are being broken and an amazing group of activists are fighting to protect this ancient, sacred, place.
Can you help save this site of original coastal forest from being destroyed? Please take a min and write to those in positions of power and ask them to halt all logging and protect this sacred place. Clicking on this link will take you to a site where you can submit a letter.
Below are pictures from what I found driving up that logging road.
It is with a heavy heart that I share these images with you.
But I have hope amidst the heaviness that this forest will be protected.
May we not close our eyes when we witness suffering.
May we open our hearts and be moved to action.
And may our actions touch the hearts of others to support the healing of our communities and our sacred mother earth.
Aho, Ashe, and Blessed Be.