A report from a week of action and citizen lobbying
In DC with Code Pink Women For Peace:
How Would The Buddha Protest?
Why I Went To DC With Code Pink
My intention in joining Code Pink this week was to push my own envelope. get out of my comfort zone, take some risks, and LEARN through trial and error what direct action feels like to me. The inner difference between watching (and critiquing) from the sidelines, and being engaged, a participant, an agent of action rather than reaction, has been profound for me. Life changing. I recommend it to all of you! I learned so much about myself, how I react, how I work with others under pressure, where I’m tempted to hold back (and why), different ways that leadership takes form and arises, and how important it is to OFFER the music, not wait to be invited, to trust its power enough to bring it open handed and eagerly, as the gift that it is. It’s not about me- its about the age old power of song- a tool for social change and human empowerment for millenia. I get to be a channel for this timeless and universal language, and I am deeply grateful for that.
Protesting at the White House During Bush’s Address To The Nation Following Gen. Petraeus Senate Testimony
At times the energy of the protestors veered into the realms of unfocused anger and finger pointing, name calling, and such that I don’t choose to participate in. Not only does it create a general tone of antagonism and potential violence (as the violent tendencies in others gets triggered) but I do feel it weakens our power as a movement, casting us into simple “we’re good- all the rest of you are evil” simplistic dichotomies.
The art of peacemaking and “being peace” as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches is not easy matter, but if we are going to this much trouble to put our bodies and personal security and safety a little more on the line, I would want us to really rise to the highest level possible of personal attitude and intention. What this looks like would be different perhaps for each person. For me, I stood in silence, sometimes sending “metta” (lovingkindness practice) to the police, the President, the demonstrators, myself. And I initiated singing together whenever I could either be heard, or the energy felt so volatile that I knew something need to change.
Wonderfully, the music did accomplish a change in energy, over and over. Singing together brought a unity, harmony and groundedness that that I know helped many people (who said so). So the tone would shift for awhile, the power of song claiming us all and evening out our ragged spirits and energies. Then another upswell of shouting and anger, then more song. So I guess all the ways of public speech were covered!
How Would The Buddha Protest
My spiritual heroes and mentors: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Kong, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Llama, provide incredible models of wise and skillful and strategic action in the face of almost unimaginable oppression, violence and power imbalance. Each of them were operating in a particular time and place, a cultural context, and their actions and approaches were coherent with that community and time.
They skillfully challenged the predominant system without going so far outside it that they were marginalized and dis-empowered.
My job- our job as engaged practitioners-
is not to completely IMITATE the form of their actions, but to diligently and honestly seek within our OWN cultural context (in my case, not just American empire, but modern feminism and western Buddhism) for what makes sense in this place and time and circumstance. For me, the underlying principles are my true guidelines: is my action/speech motivated by hatred , blame, or any attitude dismissive of another human being? The FORM of the action may not look loving and peaceful, but one cannot always speak truth to power without setting off reactions of anger and hostility. (As I write the monks are marching- and being beaten- in Burma. May they be well and safe!)
Code Pink and other direct action groups can look downright annoying sometimes.
But when so many more subdued and conciliatory or diplomatic means seem to get sucked into a vortex of governmental oblivion (from voting to protesting to traditional lobbying)- perhaps loud, colorful, humorous, challenging action IS the skillful means needed. To quote the great Malvina Reynolds:
It isn’t nice to block the doorway
It isn’t nice to go to jail
There may be nicer ways to do it
But the nice ways always fail
It isn’t nice…
But if that’s freedom’s price
We don’t mind.
Is singing funny, ironic, satirical songs in public, directed at policies and policy makers who are, in their delusion, doing incalculable damage to the planet and her people, is that non-Buddhist? Is not love, joy, fun, fierce compassion, and truth, at the heart of the singing and the actions. In my heart- YES!
Skillful means, one of the Boddhisatva’s vows, can include a wide array of techniques and approaches, and part of the skill, I’m thinking, is being attuned to the moment and the cultural context (and of course one’s own heart and what feels right). Just as Buddhism takes root in many different cultures and changes in form as it adapts, skillful means looks different in different cultures.
One further personal reflection- I’m a minister’s daughter, raised to be very “good”, not make waves, not trouble the community. So it is all too easy for me to misinterpret kindness as niceness, peace as passivity, compassion as “don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.” My experiences in DC with Code Pink really stretched me outside that box and challenged that confusion. I am deeply grateful to have had this opportunity to bring my practice into the hurly burly and see myself act and speak and sing in ways that were not “nice”, but were, to the best of my current ability, rooted in genuine compassion and love for humanity, our planet, and yes, even this country.
Read a more extended account of the week with Code Pink in DC. DC/Code Pink blog