November 17, 2020
To Whom It May Concern at the Internal Revenue Service,
I write in response to the notice you sent me, dated November 16, 2020, of your agency's intent to seize my property if I continue to refuse to pay my federal taxes for tax year 2018. The amount of these taxes is $2413.43, inclusive of penalties and interest.
As I have explained to the IRS many times in the past (I haven't paid taxes since 2000, so we've corresponded with one another quite a bit!) my conscience forbids me from paying these taxes because they would be used to fund, among other deeply immoral things:
- war and preparation for war
- a racist and punishment-based criminal justice system
- unfettered destruction of the natural world
The word "economics" is derived from the Greek oikos, which means "home." Economy specifically refers to the tending of the home. The system we presently have in the United States is actually, therefore, anti-economics. Rather than tending to our home we are quite literally destroying it, and the taxation system your organization administers serves to perpetuate this destruction. I am duty-bound to not cooperate with it, and therefore resist taxes as an act of civil disobedience.
I am not opposed to taxation in principle, and I recognize that tax dollars fund many things that are life-serving. However, because I have no way of directing my contribution so as to avoid enriching the US military, the prison-industrial complex, and the US government's compact with Big Oil - to again cite the previous three examples - I have no conscientious choice but to withhold payment entirely.
In order to contribute to the general welfare of our society and the world, I have offered the full amount of my calculated taxes since 2000 to support humane efforts to build a more just and peaceful society and world community. In this way I like to think that my civil disobedience becomes civil initiative. In recent years the majority of the taxes I've redirected have been offered as long overdue reparations to Black and Indigenous-led groups working for their own liberation. If and when our nation transforms its spending priorities to genuinely reflect a commitment to healing, justice, peace, and ecological responsibility, I will be happy to pay taxes to the IRS.
I send this letter with all due respect for the individuals who work at the IRS. My objections to the role your agency plays do not obstruct my care for you as human beings. In fact, my tax resistance is as much on your behalf as it is on my own.
What a day it was!!! This past Thursday the 29th, we worked with hundreds of activists to block a portion of 14th street in front of the Oakland Federal Building so that we can paint this beautiful street mural Choosing Democracy!!!
Above and below the lettering are 12 round murals, created by 12 different community based organizations showing their vision of what democracy could look like. The The designs in between the round murals was created by Native artist/activist Edward Willie, and is an homage to the basket weaving traditions of California's Indigenous peoples.
The blockading of the streets were led by 1,000 Grandmothers for Future Generations, and we had support from youth groups and young children for the painting, making this a beautiful intergenerational event! During the 3-hour blockade, we were also blessed with music from the Thrive Street Choir, Lu from the Peace Poets who called in from afar and others.
We are still compiling all of the photos and videos of the event, and this page will be updated as they become available, but check out some of it now below!!!
Thank you to EVERYONE who came through and supported this project!!! Please remember that this is just our first run. If the current administration tries to steal the upcoming election, our plan is to do a much larger version of this mural in San Francisco, and we'll need all hands on deck!!! Please make sure to sign up for our mailing list for updates and Bay Resistance's text alerts by texting "RESIST" to 41411.
Watch this short clip from Maya Media with highlights from the day
Check out ALL the images from Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography HERE.
Check out drone footage from Mercury News
Watch a short Time Lapse video of the painting
Check out the almost completed mural from ground level with Maya Media
Watch this short video of the action on Facebook from Peg Hunter!
Check out more Drone Footage from Emanuel Desousa @FreshFotography
Thanks to our Representative Barbara Lee for retweeting our action!
Beautiful! https://t.co/VEJTmcrhDQ— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) October 31, 2020
- Check out more images and drone footage from above from the Mercury News HERE.
- Listen to a short story and watch a short video on KCBS 106.9 FM HERE.
- Listen to a short piece on KALW 91.7 FM HERE.
- Read this article on Common Dreams to hear reflections from each of the 12 organizations who painted Democracy murals!
Check out these individual murals of 12 different groups and their vision of what Democracy could look like!
Poor People's Campaign/Cardboard & Concrete Unhoused Artist Collective
We know that many people around the country are feeling a deep level of anxiety around the upcoming November election, and the chaos that may follow it. We believe that one thing that can help us ease that anxiety is to not wait until November, but to begin preparing ourselves for it now.
East Point Peace Academy and the Yet-To-Be-Named Network have been busy building relationships with many community members from across the Bay Area to organize a series of trainings and workshops, building a vision for 10 days of gatherings leading into the election as well as some action ideas for after the election - particularly if there is an attempted coup.
We invite anyone who is interested in being in community with us - particularly if you are based in the San Francisco Bay Area - to join us for any of these upcoming workshops.
CLICK HERE to see the list of all upcoming workshops
CLICK HERE to see our upcoming "Preparing Together" workshops, which are two-hour introductory workshops that will provide a framework for our organizing, as well as updated information about our November plans.
CLICK HERE to see our upcoming "Enhancement Trainings," which are short skill-building workshops on everything from art building to direct action to emotional regulation tools.
If you would like to be updated about future actions and workshops as we inch closer to the election, make sure you are signed up for our mailing list!
We are also in conversations with artists and activists from around the Bay Area to organize a series of potential actions if there is an attempted coup. Many of these actions will require people to be in small teams of trusted friends. PLEASE consider committing to being in actions with a team of 3-8 people you know and trust. Once you have your team, check out this resource and fill out this survey so that we can coordinate!
We hope to see you soon!!!
East Point has launched a series of trainings to help us prepare for a series of actions in November. These trainings, each of which will be two-hours long, will give people an introduction into the ethos of Fierce Vulnerability - out of which our actions and gatherings will emerge - and will share our vision for 10 Days of Deepening Together - a commitment to gathering together for the 10 consecutive days leading up to the election.
Please join us for one of these trainings! All times are Pacific Time. (To Register: Click on the date to view the details of each session, then fill out the registration form at the bottom.)
THURSDAY, OCT. 8TH: 5:30PM - 7:30PM
MONDAY, OCT. 12TH: 10AM - 12 PM (BIPOC ONLY*)
THURSDAY, OCT. 15TH: 5:30PM - 7:30PM
MONDAY, OCT. 19TH: 10AM - 12 PM
THURSDAY, OCT. 22ND: 5:30PM - 7:30PM (BIPOC ONLY*)
- to build a deepened sense of community and connection with one another
- to explore principles and practices foundational to a "fierce vulnerability" approach to direct action
- to pass along key information about emerging action plans for the Bay Area, and immediate next steps
- to support the process of getting folks organized into small action teams
Join us and help spread the word!!! We hope to see you there, and in the streets with us!
Here we go. We're just about a month away from what is perhaps the most important election of our lifetime, and we are gearing up to be in community together through whatever comes.
In the past couple of weeks, East Point has worked with the Yet To Be Named Network and began a seven-week practice group of the book My Grandmother's Hands for 100+ white-identified people, and hosted a Fierce Vulnerability weekend workshop for 70 Black, Indigenous and People of Color, all to prepare to engage in November.
That process has led to several visioning calls as well as 30+ people being trained to give a 2-hour training that we will be offering throughout the month of October to prepare us for action.
While the details of our plan are still coming together, here's an outline that is emerging for the Bay Area:
Preparing Together: October 8 - October 24
During these weeks, we will be offering two tracks of trainings. One will be a series of trainings offered twice a week to share with people the ethos and worldview out of which our actions emerge, as well as our plans for the actions and how to plug in. CLICK HERE for our calendar and to register.
Another track of trainings will offer concrete skills, including Direct Action, Emotional Regulation on the frontlines, Art Building and others.
Deepening Together: October 25 - November 3
We will then commit to being in community together for 10 consecutive days leading into the election. Each day will have a theme: some possible ones that are emerging include a Day of Grief, a Day of Resilience, a Day of Visioning, etc.
These days will offer us an opportunity to deepen in relationship so that when it is time to act, we will be in a better place to act collectively and in relationship with each other.
Taking Action Together: November 4th onwards
Regardless of the results of the election, we want to commit to being in action together. Regardless of the result, we know that our democratic process has broken down, the climate is in crisis, white supremacy is taking the lives of Black and Brown people and destroying the soul of this nation.
We are in conversation with many activists, artists and healers to design possible actions based on various scenarios. It is hard to know what will happen on November 4th, but again, if we are in relationship, we will be ready for anything.
We will continue to send you updates as they become available, including our entire calendar of trainings (which we hope to announce in the coming days).
We also acknowledge the many communities around the country who are also preparing for November. We encourage you to check out our friends at Choose Democracy who are leading national trainings to stop a potential coup. Daniel Hunter also wrote an important piece on the "10 things you need to know to stop a coup." And The Atlantic has published, "The Election That Could Break America," a lengthy and powerful description of the various forms the potential coup might take (the article is available at that link in both written and audio form).
To stay updated, make sure to sign up for our mailing list!
A few nights ago, my partner heard me whimpering with discomfort at 3:30 in the night. I was crying. He tried to wake me up. I was worried that the deer may not have enough water at night in the fires and the smoke. I could see their soft innocent faces in my dream. I went out in the middle of the night to put out water. Most nights these days I find myself waking up in the dead of night with images of animals and birds in pain.
It all began some time back when I went camping alone at a remote site in a forest in California. I did not have an agenda of rock-climbing, hiking, surmounting a mountain peak or getting exercise. My intention was to attune to the rhythm and speed of the elemental realm and listen to the forest. To allow the spirit world to touch me deeply. I did not know that such a simple intention was about to disrupt my life- perhaps permanently!
It was profoundly 'wholing' to be able to immerse in the fecundity of the wild. I could feel the forest pregnant, primal and pulsing in the amplitude and intensity of its own erotic charge. Slowly expanding the ravines of my own sensual pleasure. As I walked into the ecotones of my subconscious, the veils between the human and spirit realms started getting thinner and thinner.
The soothing darkness of the thick mysterious night continues to nourish my heart. Memories of jumping in rivers and feeling the sunlight dry the droplets on my brown skin brings a trembling delight to my heart.
A potent but unpredictable process ensued in the forest which continues to unfold, palpably, for many weeks even after I returned to the city. Like an enormous transmission moving through my system, I experienced a magnitude of care and love in my heart that I had never experienced before. As if the trees, the birds, the soil and all of life became my lover - my consort - my family.
This love entered along with extraordinary grief. It too is revealing much that I had not seen before. It is clarifying. Melting layers of delusion. Sprouting new tendrils of insights in interbeingness - stretching out to mend.
The first night in the forest I experienced fear. Especially fear of wild creatures like bears and mountain lions. I pitched my tent, tucked myself into my sleeping bag and these waves of unease passed through my chest. I woke up twice in the middle of the night imagining a bear standing outside my tent. It wasn’t. Clearly, I was tripping. That’s what a forest does to you even without any intoxicants. It deeply reflects you back and pulls up dormant emotions from the dark hidden caves of the subconscious.
After about twenty-four hours, the fear subsides. After the first two nights, the fear is completely gone. Instead I began to feel care for the bears and mountain lions. My body unfolded. The breath started softening and spreading into regions of my pelvic floor. I could feel my muscles widening, and my nervous system resting ever more deeply.
The over-culture has injected these stories of fear of the forest. But in my time in the wild over many years, not once have I experienced a single incident where any animal went out of its way to harm me. There is a connection here. Between the multi-million dollar deforestation industry and the lucrative political war and weapons industry. If America wants to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan, it has to create a narrative of fear. Iraqis are dangerous, cruel or demonic beasts that need to be fought in the righteous battle of democracy. Dehumanizing the Iraqis gives Americans moral authority to torture them. Similarly, a forest is a dangerous place full of vicious beasts waiting to eat you.
I may be digressing.. allow me to reel back a little.
My intention was to attune and converse with the forest. But this forest was not really opening up to me. This was unlike my experience of being in forests in other parts of the world. I finally had the painful realization that it is not trusting me. It was heart-breaking.
Meanwhile, in my meditation, my mind was revealing story after story about racism. I was confused. After a few days, I drove out to the dirt road to find a bar of signal on my phone and called my partner.
I tell him, “I am trying to do my elemental practices. I want to be present to the trembling leaves and the enormous redwoods, take in the sounds of the river and smell the morning air. But instead I’m kind of a hot mess here! Instead of being present to the immediacy of the sensorial experience, my mind is flooded with stories. I have conversations about colonization with my activist friends in the city. But I am not here to write a paper on Racism. I just want to feel some quiet and calm so that I can be present to the forest instead of all this anger.”
He laughs, “You’ve never been the one to manufacture quiet and calm - not even as a meditation teacher. You have always seen emotions as important messengers. What is the anger and discomfort trying to tell you? This has to be a messy process. It has to. And you’ve done this so many times before.”
He was right. I have given many talks on how anger is a clarifying and potent force that needs to be honored. I needed my own medicine fed back to me.
And the one thing I do know after twenty years of meditation practice is how to sit in discomfort. This is the teaching of the ancient feminine Tantric Lineages - to be able to conjoin or unite the macrocosm with the microcosm. Inversely, so much of the modern consumerist meditation industrial complex is built on avoidance of messy emotions and conflict.
I came back to my site and tried to do some awareness practices. But it felt like the practices were keeping me a little rigid. They were creating a scaffolding so that I didn’t go into a complete freefall. I could see that the scaffolding was there to keep me safe - to keep me in the known - in the familiar.
A point came, when I had to decide. “Can I let go of all defenses and safeguards and find the courage to freefall? Do I have the capacity to descend in the underworld of the collective psyche?” It was an enormous risk. But gripping on to the comfortable and predictable felt even more painful.
When one leaps off the cliff in radical trust, one doesn’t know if the ground will ever appear.
I gave up all practices. Submitted all the structures and scaffoldings of “concepts” to the forest as a loving offering. And asked the forest to take me into the depths of its heart.
The next few days were full of intense body pains. The stories and emotions ran wild. The body was releasing toxins. I could not eat much. There were times I could barely even walk. I would have to lay down and simply find the energy to breathe.
Over time, a new feeling gently emerged. A secret happiness floating up like a soft tiny cloud. Something subliminally cracking open and the delicate ribbon that connects all life was beginning to reveal itself. Lying on the ground I felt its tender gravity on my body. I was becoming heavy with pleasure. A tear rolled down my face. I felt like I was being slowly swallowed by the forest.
Images of indigenous people of the land that we call California, living here hundreds of years ago, came alive. Them worshipping this forest. Holding rituals intended to offer respect and gratitude. Them treating the soil, the trees and the animals like their relatives. Referring to them as their brothers and sisters. I realized that in order to communicate with the forest, I first need to build a relationship with these wise ancestors who cared for this land. I needed to honor them and make offerings.
After a while, it seemed as if the forest began speaking to me - mostly in images. It was delivering a vision and there were times my body could barely hold the energy of this transmission.
The most important teaching was in the ‘gaze’ of humans towards the trees and animals. It was as if they were looking at their beloved. As if they were witnessing the sacred.
This was a relationship that was tended. This is why the forest and its spirits trusted the ancient humans. The forest spoke to them, offered visions and teachings, and took them inside its pulsating energies and secret mysteries. The forest played with them and delighted them. This was a movement of reciprocity.
In ancient times nothing was taken without permission. There was a process of relationship building, bowing and honoring.
As I saw these images, I realized that this was true about most Earth based indigenous cultures in every continent. This is how humans were once in ‘right relationship’ with the non-human world.
When the white colonizers came to the Americas they did not follow the native ways. Instead they destroyed most communities that were holding the inseparable weave of sacred relationality! Even in Asia, cultures that saw the ‘divine’ in trees and rocks - cultures that acknowledged and worshiped the forest spirits - were called names such as savages, pagans, uncivilized, primitive, uncultured, heathens by the white colonizers! This includes my own ancestors from India.
Earlier I could see the inseparability of racism with the ecological crisis in the form of how the climate crisis adversely impacts the poorest of poor communities around the world in brutally unequal ways, and how most climate refugees are people of color.
But now I could see that white supremacy and its scientific view divorced from sacred relationality with other life-forms is what has caused the environmental crisis. And I wonder how can white people who have not done sufficient work around anti-racism offer holistic ecological solutions to the world? What does it mean for white people to take on leadership roles in countries where they have destroyed native communities and their ancestral spiritual practices of listening to the Earth? How can white colonizers listen to the Earth when generations of their ancestors are steeped in behaviors of unconscionable extraction, anthropocentrism and consumerism? In order to truly listen to the energies of nature, isn’t it imperative for white people to unpack the trauma of intergenerational racism and do sincere work of healing it first?
In order to colonize others one has to colonize oneself first. In order to destroy cultures that view the Earth as sacred one has to destroy one’s own communities that have built and tended to deep familial and spiritual bonds with nature. First, you have to burn down your own Shamans and Witches.
In the work of ecological healing, it can be profoundly potent if white people would be willing to follow the ancient wisdom of the native people of the land that they have colonized. They need to seek out native people who still remember their ancestral Earth practices. It is likely that the solutions and pathways native people offer might sound unscientific, illogical, mumbo jumbo, meaningless superstition to a linear, rigid, anthropocentric, disembodied or heady person who has gulped down the kool-aid of white supremacy and consumerism all their life. But this is the necessary hurdle that one will need to overcome in order to wake up to a deeper and subtler reality. The invitation is to be humble and learn the art of courting the mystery.
The most glaring facet of white supremacy is ‘entitlement’. And its biggest gift to the world is capitalism that has literally broken the back of entire continents causing bloodshed and starvation, robbing many of their basic human dignity.
I also admit that I have met a small number of white people who are perhaps more free of the toxic white supremacist values than many people of color. And in some sense we need to distinguish the ‘behavior’ from the ‘race of a person.’ Unfortunately today, people of all colors across the globe are entranced by the spell of white supremist values of hyper-individualism, domination and control.
The Intertwined Ecology of Oppression
After going through days of heightened physical changes in the forest, I regained some strength. When I walked into the more popular old groves of the forest, they were peppered with tourists. For many people it seemed like the forest was another amusement park where they could extract another ‘experience’.
Entering a forest is like walking into a temple of worship or the abode of a lover. One cannot enter a forest with the mind of a colonizer who thinks they can walk into anyone’s home whenever they feel like - ransack, destroy or extract whatever they feel like. The modern mind lacks respect, relationality, humility or knowledge of rituals of permission taking.
Today some people engage in the elemental practice of Buddhist and Hindu Tantra with a desire to extract another ‘experience’. Or truckloads of tourists drive into the Amazon forest each month for shamanic Ayahuasca ceremonies. But I wonder if spiritual growth is possible without confronting racism, patriarchy and anthropocentrism?
With the advent of globalization and cultural homogeneity that which is considered ‘normative’ or ‘legitimate’ often gravitates and caters to white values or white-centerd needs. The painful truth is that human ‘entitlement’ plays out similarly. Human beings feel that all non-human life forms need to cater to human-centered needs. This is evident in not just white people but also in black and brown people who have lost connection to their roots and ancestral wisdom.
I found myself in the layered ecology of oppression - where the roots of one oppression extend into a greater oppression that is often not evident. The oppression of racism, casteism and patriarchy has deeper roots in humanocentrism. Part of my anguish had to do with how I too was conditioned by the values of domination and extraction - and how I too am completely complicit in this.
Today, most humans across all races display vulgar behaviors of entitlement towards nature. We humans seem to feel superior to other living beings not unlike white supremacists who seem to feel superior over other people of color. And somehow this obscene behavior is normalized.
It is violent to enslave other human-beings. My own ancestors were brutally enslaved. But fencing off a piece of land, possessing it as one’s property and creating a written document of ownership is not different from slavery. We need to deeply reflect - what is our relationship to land?
Enraptured in Ishq
I have a dear friend from India. She has an extraordinary medicine when it comes to romantic love for men. Her love is so full-bodied, rich, vital and erotic that it literally opens up portals of divine realms for many men who get into a relationship with her. It is like a transmission of Ishq which is an Urdu/Arabic word often used by the Sufis. There is literally no translation for it in English. Ishq is an intense version of love that includes the emotions of eros, fearlessness, untamable ecstatic beauty, delight-filled madness, worship, longing, surrender and sacrifice. For me, it is a sacred transmission just listening to her when she is enraptured in this ‘wild love’.
But the problem is that she is young and sometimes lacks discernment. In recent years she has wasted this love on men who completely lack calibre or depth to even understand what is being offered to them. Recently she was in a relationship with a man where unfortunately for him her love was an object to be consumed. He was so limited by analytical thought and logos that he could only calculate what he could get from the relationship and how he could optimize his experience.
She felt utterly commodified and violated! She was devastated and it took a long time for her to regain her faith in men. It was heartbreaking to witness her pain.
I realized that nature is perhaps feeling similarly about us humans. It offers us this incredible Ishq and we have objectified and commodified her. We violate her every opportunity we get.
Reckoning the Normative
I returned from the forest at once blissed out and deeply disrupted by grief. These days even driving a car over a highway feels like an extreme act of violence. I cannot believe how our species has come to ‘normalize’ such a behavior.
How did we decide to build highways at the cost of destroying delicate and intelligent life-forms, blasting open wise old grandfather mountains, entering forests and plundering them? For extracting the metal of the car that is mined - how did we feel entitled to rip open the belly of the Earth without praying or permission taking? How did we get here?
Humans are so arrogant and lost that they call these extractive practices - ‘technological advancements and scientific achievements.’ So much so that we are now preparing to mine the Moon and Mars. How did we get here?
You may think I am being overly sentimental. But I am questioning how have we come to ‘normalize’ such psychopathic behavior?
In only the last one week of writing this article two reports came out. Humans wiped out two-thirds of the world’s wildlife in the last 50 years. Another report shows how hundreds of thousands of birds are suddenly dropping dead in the Southwest U.S., and no one knows why.
The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment report, published by the UN says that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. It adds, “Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.”
Nothing is inanimate. Every rock and every stream is alive, breathing and extraordinarily intelligent. Likely more intelligent than humans.
She is sometimes by mother, my sibling, my child, my lover, my deity. Some days the grief is overwhelming and it is hard to even get out of bed. In those moments I feel frozen from shame, guilt and despair. And some other times, I can be with it completely present - without the shame or despair.
I try to remember my practices of emotional resourcing and titrating. But I do not want to get 'rid' of this grief. I know what's in the way IS the way. I can see how this grief is moving me towards authenticity, aliveness and awakeness. Wishing it completely gone feels like going back to a more numb, contracted, disembodied and psychopathic version of living. The grief is tenderizing my heart, melting away layers of delusion. Membranes of the skin becoming more porous and the heart a tiny bit humble.
The tears need to flow. Somedays I feel that I am crying the unshed tears of hundreds of humans who are not yet ready to feel this.
Healing the Split
When I am violated by another person what is it that I really want as repair? What is it that I want from my sexual abuser? Do I want this person to be punished, beaten or dehumanized? Will that heal me? The answer is ‘no.’
Or when I feel into the intergenerational pain of colonization what is it that I want from white colonizers and their grandchildren who are enjoying the privileges of the loot? Do I want white people to be persecuted, tortured or humiliated? Do I want revenge? Will that heal me?
No. Not at all.
What I really want is for them to fully and deeply feel. To realize the impact of their actions, inactions and intergenerational privilege - the web of systemic harm it perpetuates across all aspects of life (social, economic, political, cultural, etc.). I want them to take the enormous risk of letting down all scaffoldings and sitting in the unknown. In the confusion. I want them to sacrifice their defenses. For transformation to happen it requires a necessary disruption. This is sacred alchemy.
I want them to experience the required intensity of grief for their harmful behavior. And from that place of being tenderized and humbled by grief, I want them to offer repair.
If they offer repair without going through any grief work, it will not help much. Infact, it is even possible that it might harm me.
Fortunately, I experienced on multiple occasions, when the person who had violated or hurt me felt genuine grief, something miraculous happened. I did not have to carry the trauma anymore because they are taking responsibility for carrying it now and doing the work of transforming the pain. As if a weight lifted off my chest and I could literally breathe deeper. Their grieving and genuine transformation created a magical and palpable form of healing within me. It was almost as if their grief transformed the pain into a medicine. And the very spirit of the relationship deepened.
Many people are willing to offer physical labor or intellectual labor. Even a level of (conceptual) spiritual labor. But what this work of ecological healing demands is emotional labor. This is indeed an enormous but necessary ask. Emotional labor is even harder than starting an institution or marching on the frontlines and getting arrested in a protest. Without the emotional labor, the outward actions might remain performative or exhibitionist.
Today, some environmentalists and activists are trying to fix the climate crisis without doing the emotional labor when it comes to their relationship with the Earth. Offering repair to the environment without putting in the emotional labor of doing the intense and important grief work is similar to a sexual offender in a Me-too situation, trying to immediately repair the pain of his victim without slowing down, without sitting with himself and deeply reflecting on the impact of his behavior. It is premature, arrogant and recapitulates a patriarchal and supremacist paradigm.
As my friend Lowell Harrison says, “I used to be an environmental activist trying to solve my own climate crisis - trying to keep my inner climate within a comfortable temperature by going to protests.”
Letting in grief feels like breaking open the dams built around the heart. It demands an abject vulnerability. A spiritual nudity. What will flood in will not only be guilt and sadness. But also an outpouring of strength, authenticity, beauty and love. We have done everything in our capacity to hold up the dam. Only when we allow the Earth’s pain to enter our bodies can we listen to Her needs. Take on her trauma so that she can breathe a little more easily.
We need to realize that we are standing on the shoulders of people who said that we have a crisis - anyone who has pointed out - shamans, indigenous folks and scientists - who have pointed out how enormous this crisis is. We are indebted to them.
But we cannot offer solutions for environmental healing without doing the grief work. Build your emotional capacity. Because it seems to me that there is no other way for humanity to come back into ‘right relationship’ with Nature without putting in the sincere emotional labor around grief. And I hope we find each other in this ceremony of grief - in hundreds and thousands - for there is nothing I wish for more than ‘togetherness’ in these intensified, polarized times.
From my experience of being around dozens of spiritual communities in the last twenty years, I can say that unfortunately, many spiritual communities are under-developed and anaemic in their capacity for emotional labor. Most of them lack a sophisticated understanding of working with messy emotions, largely modelling different flavors of spiritual & emotional bypassing.
This work is hard. Humility is the starting point and humility is the end point. Humility is the indicator that you are clearly willing to sacrifice yourself. Willing to melt in the fierce heat of truth.
That is the freefall!
Enter with caution
Grief is not easy. There are many examples of people who have literally gone mad, taken to addictions or ended up in mental institutions. Do not take this work lightly.
Often grief comes with shame, guilt and despair. One needs to learn to work with the shame, guilt and despair separately and skillfully, without bypassing it and without getting stuck in it.
It is also a slippery slope. For one can easily co-opt the grief of the Earth and center it around oneself - making it all about “my enormous grief.” Thus turning it into another form of performance, exhibitionism, vanity or conceit. Or worse, we can turn it into a digestible pill and create a business out of it.
In order to do this work, one needs to ask, “How do I touch into the required and sustained intensity of Grief without getting stuck in it?”
Because being stuck in grief is dangerous not just for oneself but for the world. We cannot show up for the world and offer repair if we are not strong and resourced. And we need to show up for the world because the world is burning right now! I How can we embody the paradox of slowness and urgency?
Also, remember grief has many flavors. Sadness. Remorse. Appreciation. Adoration. Gratitude. Love. Hope. Even authentic joy. The concept of non-duality is familiar to those who are grieving. Grieving is not a denial of life, abundance or eros. In fact it is a welcoming of it. It does not evangelize asceticism. To paraphrase Emma Goldman, a revolution without joy is not a revolution worth having.
Many ancient cultures equate grieving to singing praise! Grieving is a celebration of the enormous love we feel in our hearts for the Earth. Let the spring of holy tears crack open your heart.
For now, I go up to a hummingbird in wonder, and gently whisper, ‘I love you!’
I sing a lovesong to the mountain and feel the loud drum beat throb with ever increasing force and cadence like a spirit moving through my bones so that my ancestors can hear it.
Kneeling, bowing, with heartfelt tears, and a willingness to listen, I say to the forest, “I’m sorry.” And I will say it again and again. A hundred… a thousand … a million times if need be… till it comes from the very depths of my heart..
….till I really mean it,
“I am sorry.”
As you have heard, East Point Peace Academy is working with the Yet To Be Named Network to prepare our Bay Area communities for mobilization around the November elections. We believe that there is a real danger of political violence regardless of the result, and we also know that this is a moment with the potential of massive transformation and we cannot turn away from it.
Chances are, you’ve probably been sitting with a lot of anxiety as we move towards November. If so, you are not alone. Part of the anxiety comes from not knowing: Not knowing what will happen in November, not knowing the extent of the violence that may occur, not knowing how this current administration will respond, not knowing how our own communities may respond.
Part of how we choose to respond to the anxiety of not knowing is to reclaim our power, and to know that despite our inability to predict the future, we know the kind of world we want to live in and we have the power to initiate action.
We do not have to simply wait in anxiety, to “see what happens” and react to whatever chaos may ensue. We can envision how we want to engage and what we want to offer to the world in a time of such turmoil. Our actions, intentions, and spirit is not dictated by the chaos surrounding this election.
So, we accept what we can’t know and can’t control, and empower ourselves by being in community and taking action together to fight for the world we want.
This Tuesday, white-identifying people in the Network began a 7-week study and practice group for Remsaa Menakem’s book My Grandmothers Hands. Next weekend, people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color will spend the weekend in a virtual Fierce Vulnerability workshop. These two events are a way for people to drop in to a felt sense of how we want to show up in the world, while we figure out what we want to offer to the world.
There is still time to register for the Fierce Vulnerability workshop, but the My Grandmother’s Hands group has already begun. We are currently creating a process for those who could not make these events to still be able to join our efforts. This will most likely take the form of a weekly mini-workshop where we will share some of our thinking about the how and the what of our plans.
East Point Peace Academy celebrates the efforts of friends and colleagues around the nation who are steadily, diligently preparing for November. It stands to be a November of unprecedented importance and quite likely of unprecedented political and social chaos. An increasing number of us believe that an election-related coup attempt by the Trump administration is extremely likely, and have begun to organize ourselves accordingly. While East Point's efforts are focused on organizing local direct action teams within the framework of the Yet-To-Be-Named Network, we're relieved to know that others are focusing on strategy-building for national mobilization. We expect that the teams we form here in the Bay will soon lend strength to a concerted nationwide effort to protect the most basic tenet of democracy: to count and honor the votes of the people.
We encourage courageous conversations during the coming days. One of the most powerful enablers of authoritarian takeovers is the psychological denial of well-meaning people. Sharing with loved ones that what we're seeing today are the tell-tale signs of an imminent authoritarian power-grab is key to building community readiness to actively and effectively respond.
And we encourage folks to get plugged into the growing movement! Check out East Point's local offerings, geared toward the formation of local direct action teams: My Grandmother's Hands Study & Practice Series for White-Identified People and Fierce Vulnerability for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
And also check out ChooseDemocracy.us, a national effort to protect the fragile remnants of our democracy during this wild election season: "by voting, making sure all the votes are counted, and preparing to take the streets in the case of an attempted coup." Our friends, social movement giant George Lakey (check out George's talk during East Point's "Where Do We Go From Here?" Speakers Series) and community organizer and author extraordinaire Daniel Hunter (check out Daniel's powerful organizing guide Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow) are two of the engines behind this important effort. We're hoping that a critical mass of folks in the wider East Point community will attend the two-part training sequence that George will be offering with co-facilitator Zein Nakhoda, September 23rd and 30th, titled "How to Beat an Election-Related Power Grab by Donald Trump". We're hopeful that this training will spark ideas for how Bay Area changemakers can contribute to this pivotal national struggle. Toward that end, East Point is picturing a local debriefing session after the conclusion of the training.
Lastly we recommend that interested folks check out another powerful offering called Listen, Learn, Act: Nonviolence for Community Safety, led by friends from the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Listen, Learn, Act is a 10-hour training process "designed to support our right to public protest by building capacity in local groups to prevent violence during civil resistance actions and provide protective accompaniment for human rights activists."
Let's get plugged in!! Now's most definitely the time.
2020 seems more perilous by the moment. We face an unprecedented web of compounding crises: the racial injustice crisis, COVID-19, the newest wave of wildfires and hurricanes - which of course signify the intensifying climate emergency, plus a horrifyingly uncertain presidential election that may be the most fateful, life-and-death election in our nation’s history.
It’s terrifying. And many of us are struggling to figure out what we can do to make a genuine, noticeable difference.
Shortly after COVID-19 touched down in the US, East Point launched a virtual speakers series titled “Where Do We Go From Here?”. We’ve had incredible presenters offering deep insights and invaluable guidance for changemakers during these chaotic times. We’ve learned a lot from these friends.
One of our key takeaways:
Nonviolence is about stopping cycles of harm; stopping cycles of harm is about healing.
Experimentation leads to learning.
When we’re brutally honest we must admit that we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what it would take to change the horrible course we’re on. As painful as it is to admit this, in a strange way doing so opens up a sense of possibility, and even a sense of relief. The space opens for simple, potent questions to arise: What actions do our hearts and imaginations point us towards? What do we have the power to do?
While we can’t know what the outcome will be, at East Point we’re convinced that our community has the capacity, creativity and courage to bring something beautiful into the world and to inject a measure of sanity into the madness of 2020.
We haven’t created a master plan for this “something beautiful”. But we have done our best to listen to how life is guiding us, and to discern next steps for how we might create the conditions for this “something beautiful” to emerge. We’ve decided to focus on two special offerings in preparation for November:
Fierce Vulnerability Weekend Workshop for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)
September 25-27 (Five 2-hour sessions beginning Friday evening and ending Sunday evening)
My Grandmother’s Hands Study and Practice Series for White-Identifying People
September 15-October 27 (Seven consecutive Tuesday evenings, 6:00 - 7:30PM (pacific))
We are envisioning both of these offerings as onramps to the Yet-To-Be-Named Network (YTBN). We anticipate that the Bay Area YTBN community will be a dynamic hub for action and organizing leading up to the November election. If you want to join us in preparing for that work please register for one of the above offerings.
We have been deeply inspired by the recent surge of popular uprisings. And yet, we continue to seek a place in this larger movement ecology where the work is seen and understood as healing work, and where the aim is to honor the dignity of all life and move us closer to Beloved Community. May it be so!
Fighting injustice can trigger trauma — we need to learn how to process it and take healing action
Are we simply trying to “shut shit down,” or do we want to open up this nation’s wounds and clean out the infections so that we can all heal?
Originally published on August 18th, 2020 by Waging Nonviolence. Republished here under a Creative Commons license. Click Here for the original article.
We are traumatized. Let’s start there.
Trauma can be defined as your body’s reaction to experiencing or witnessing something deeply disturbing. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition caused by exposure to a distressing event “outside the range of usual human experience.”
A global pandemic. The resulting economic crisis. Videos of police killing unarmed Black people. Images of federal troops in military fatigues and assault rifles confronting protesters every night. The global climate crisis. The ever-increasing population of houseless people. Trump.
One could argue that none of these things are within the “range of usual human experience.” Even if you have not been directly impacted by them or do not know anyone who has gotten ill from COVID-19 ― and even if you have a stable income, have never been attacked by police and live in a wealthy community ― witnessing these events in the media over and over can cause what psychologists call indirect, insidious or vicarious trauma. We absorb it simply because there is so much of it in the air.
Perhaps you have noticed signs of trauma playing out in your own life, in your relationships and in your household. Common responses to trauma can include anxiety, short tempers, hyper-vigilance, withdrawal, fatigue, cynicism, lack of empathy and restlessness, among countless others.
And in recent months, I have witnessed all of that come pouring into the streets and manifesting as collective trauma.
I don’t know if I am overreacting, but I feel like in my 39 years on this planet, I have never witnessed a time when things felt so fragmented and polarized, where things are so heated that it feels like society is tearing apart at the seams. Whether it’s protesters getting shot and run over, deadly violence over face masks or the general tragedy that passes for our political system these days, I feel like we are experiencing a collective trauma response.
When trauma is triggered, our neocortex ― the part of our brain that gives us the ability to reason, think through consequences, solve problems and take in and process new information ― becomes disengaged. We begin operating from the less evolved part of our brains: the limbic system (responsible for emotions) and the reptilian complex (responsible for survival instincts).
When trauma is triggered, our lives may not be in actual danger, but our brains don’t know that. Our survival instinct kicks in, and we lose the ability to see nuance and see everything in black and white. Something is either threatening or it’s not. Something is either right or it’s wrong.
When trauma is triggered, we lack the ability to take in new pieces of information, to be creative, consider different perspectives or think about long-term consequences. If our lives are being threatened, there is no time to consider any of that. You simply need to react, to fight or run away so that you can stay alive.
When trauma is triggered, everything feels escalated even if it is not. The brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol, leading your muscles to tighten. You begin to feel that the next threat is around every corner. And that sort of hyper-vigilance goes against our natural resiliency.
A Black/white worldview. An inability to see nuance. Struggling to think about long-term strategy. Being unable to consider different pieces of information.
And it’s happening on all sides.
I believe that Trump is an incredibly traumatized individual who has not had any opportunity for real healing. And him acting out of a place of trauma is waking up the trauma of a lot of his followers and supporters.
And in movement spaces, activists are constantly facing militarized police violence and having conversations about historical trauma ― oftentimes in unskillful ways that open up trauma but do not help move through them.
And then we hit the streets, and it’s trauma meeting trauma. And that is not an interaction conducive to healing.
Spaces for nonviolent direct action can be intense, scary and easily trigger a trauma response. And yet, those spaces are critically important right now to push for change. Our responses to violence and injustice have to match the escalation that it is responding to. And we are responding to incredibly escalated forms of harm. Nothing short of a direct confrontation with the systems of power feels appropriate.
So how do we engage in those spaces in a way that is likely to bring about healing? How do we not meet trauma with trauma, panic with panic, fire with fire? How do we build movements that can tactically “shut down” a highway, while leading with a spirit of “opening up” possibilities for healing and transformation?
Racial justice advocate and healer Victor Lee Lewis says that every activist needs to have some understanding of neuroscience and how trauma works in the body. In addition to classic literature on nonviolence strategies such as Gene Sharp’s “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” or Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” we should also be studying books like “My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk and “The Politics of Trauma” by Staci Haines.
Names like Peter Levine and Brené Brown should be as commonly spoken in organizing circles as Grace Lee Boggs or Leonard Peltier.
This nation is undergoing a collective trauma response. Trauma, whether it is manifesting in one individual or in a collective, will exhibit the same characteristics, and will require similar strategies to heal. The more we can understand the dynamics of trauma, the better position we will be in to help us move through it.
Move through trauma
Preparing our communities for nonviolent action should not only consist of the traditional “nonviolence” training methodologies ― blockades, medic training, legal observation, etc. It should also include learning emotional regulation tools in the short term, and a long-term commitment for each of us to learn about our own triggers and heal from our own wounds.
Gandhi spoke of the importance of “self-purification” as part of the spiritual preparation for a satyagrahi ― a nonviolent warrior. The language of “trauma healing” did not exist in his time, but part of our emotional and spiritual preparation as we get ready to face potentially traumatic events (getting tear gassed, pepper sprayed, assaulted and arrested) should be to have some awareness of how much unprocessed pain, grief or resentment we are holding, and releasing enough of it so that we are heading into the streets with spaciousness in our hearts.
Emotions like grief and rage are not only natural, but critical for us to honor and embody. And yet, I can’t help but feel that direct action ― with the yelling, the tear gas, the public and fast-paced nature of these spaces ― is not the most productive or safe space for us to be releasing unprocessed grief and rage.
Instead, we need to be creating more safe containers, held by experienced facilitators, that are explicitly designed for the purpose of tending to our grief and our rage. Once we have processed them and moved through them, the raging inferno of emotions can settle into a piece of charcoal: sustained, concentrated energy that is easier for us to utilize in skillful ways.
This is in no way to cast judgement on the outpouring of grief and rage in the streets. Particularly for marginalized communities, each instance of injustice can recall generations of violence for which the state that perpetuated them has never been accountable.
This in only an invitation for us to think hard about the right spaces to do the right work. Not every space can be everything for everyone in every moment. Direct action should be a place where we are inviting society to look at its trauma, not a place where we should feel safe processing our own pains.
Of course, moving through and processing our trauma is long-term work. In the meantime, nonviolence trainings should also emphasize short-term emotional regulation tools, like learning to bring awareness to our triggers, breathing or titration exercises or collective activities like singing. These practices can help us reengage our neocortex in a heated moment.
Shutting it down vs. opening it up
Finally, we need to be intentional about the purpose of our actions. Is it to simply overpower the “other side” and force change down their throats, or is our long-term goal to bring about social healing, transformation and liberation for all?
Are we simply trying to “shut shit down,” or are we trying to open up this nation’s wounds and clean out the infections of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism and other forms of separation and domination so that we can all heal?
If it is the latter, then let us be mindful of what kinds of actions may lead to healing. How do we balance the power and assertiveness that we so desperately need in these times, and maintain a commitment to the love and relationships that will bring about healing?
While I certainly do not have all of the answers, I oftentimes think about the power of silent marches, meditation blockades, or actions of spiritual atonement like the Reparations Procession that is currently making its daily walks through the East Bay.
When I was at Standing Rock, the elders told us, as we were preparing to go to town to engage in a direct action, “Remember, you are going to a ceremony.” What kind of creative actions could we think up if we viewed direct action as ceremony, or a modality of healing collective trauma? What possibilities could be opened up then?
In order for us to have that level of creativity, we cannot be in our trauma state. Trauma is not conducive to creative thinking. Which brings us to another paradox of these times ― how do we slow down enough so that we can fully utilize our neocortex and listen to our hearts while addressing the real urgency and opportunity of this moment?
I suppose it can start with something as simple as a breath. As the Rev. René August once said, “The struggle for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. The difference between a marathon and a sprint is in how you breath. Learn to breath.”