Thursday, October 27, 2011

Striking for Hope....

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

Spiral Dancing in the Streets

Image from the action to shut down the Wells Fargo Headquarters on October 12, 2011

October 12, 2011:

Today we shut down the West Coast headquarters of Wells Fargo. That's right. We shut it down.

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.

We witches believe that during Samhain, sometimes called the witches New Year, the line between the living and the dead is the thinnest. This is true in the tradition of my Celtic ancestors and this time of year is one that many different cultures have honored the ancestors and those who have come before us. Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated throughout much of Latin America that celebrates the liminality of this time of year and honors the dead and the ancestors. In Hong Kong, the tradition of Yuh Leh celebrated and honors the dead during this time of year.

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.

My prayer is that it is an offering that is well received by the spirits of this land and the ancestors of this land.
My prayer is that the spirits and the ancestors will continue to bless the 99% and will fill our sails with the great wind that is spreading across this place known by many as turtle island.
My prayer is that yesterday was another beginning.
My prayer is that these winds will blow across the land and blow open the doors in our hearts that allow us to be blind to the web of life that connects us all
My prayer is for imagination.

My prayer is for the possibility that is growing
with each gathering,
with each new encampment,
with each conversation that allows us to open our hearts to one another.

May the tiny baby that is the new world we are imagining
Be ushered into creation
With the blessing of the ancestors
And the loving hands of all the midwives in the streets bringing that world into possibility.

Ashe, Aho, Amen, and Blessed Be.

Image of the Reclaiming Samhain Spiral Dance 2009 By Richard Mann

Root Sister 2009 By Timothy White Eagle and Adrian Chesser

Sr. Dorothy Stang 2002

Eric Quezada 2008