Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy America: Doing it Right

I have been following the activities of various Occupy camps.  I used to be a political organizer, so I am very familiar with the process and protocol of protesting.  In all my decades following politics, I have never seen a movement like this.  Perhaps if you are a generation older than me, you may have.  Not since Dr. King has there been a movement like this.

Mark my words, this is the beginning of the end of our current power structure.  (Trust me, I saw the financial collapse coming too).  This Occupy movement will work.

Unless it doesn’t.  And there is one good reason it might not.

The protesters.

OccupyWallStreet began as a non-violent protest.  As long as the protesters involved remember this and stay true to that principal, the Occupy movement will succeed.  If they do not, the movement will fail.

And it very well might fail.

I have been keeping tabs on OccupySF and OccupySacramento, mainly because they are close to me and I know both areas well.  (I currently live in SF, and used to work in Sacramento).  For the most part, I have been impressed by what I have seen.  Their dedication is amazing.  And I am equally impressed by OccupySF’s intention to gather peacefully and lawfully.  I love the fact that they even had signs up saying no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco smoking is permitted in the camp.  If anyone needs to smoke, they must to go completely off the block where protesters are gathered.  I love this for a number of reasons:  1)  It shows law enforcement that OccupySf is serious about complying with the law and respectful of their surrounding.  2)  It shows the world that we are not a bunch of pot-smoking hippies playing bongos, as the right wing would have us believe.  3)  It ensures that the participants in the movement remain clearheaded at all times.  4)  It means the camp can’t get busted for drugs or public consumption of alcohol, thereby discrediting the movement.  5)  The camp collectively voted on this rule.  (How cool is that?!)

There are a number of reasons that non-violence works.  Chiefly among them is the core principal of doing things peacefully, and as lawfully as possible.  For the most part, this is what I am seeing.  But there are a few areas where the Occupy movement is falling short.

Martin Luther King said, "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."  I am seeing protesters screaming “Fuck you!” at cops.  Really guys?  That SO isn’t helping!  Lest we forget: the cops are NOT our enemies.  Might there be police brutality?  Sure.  Might protesters get hurt?  Yes.  Does that mean we should take the stance that the cops are just WAITING to beat heads in?  No.

Personally, I don't think people should expect police brutality at all. And that fact that we've come to expect it is a bit unnerving. As long as people are lawful and respectful there should be no cases of police brutality or arrests.  And if there are, then that could further the Occupy movement by shining a more favorable light on it.

Granted, there are a few bad apples in every barrel.  But come on, aren’t we the 99%?  The same is true for the police force.  99% of them are GOOD.  Only 1% is perpetuating the violence.  It really is not fair to judge the 99% on what the 1% does, now is it?

It seems that some members of the movement have already decided that the police are the enemy.  They are NOT.  Your experience in this movement will depend entirely on one thing:  your interaction with the police.  Instead of chants like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, SFPD has got to go!” or “Police go home!” how about instead chanting things like, “You are part of the 99%!” or “Police come join us!”  This isn’t us vs. them.  It is us AND them.  Making it only us.  The trick here is getting THEM to see that.  And as long as you are spewing all that hatred and animosity, that is never going to happen.

Take one protester I saw.  He screamed “Fuck you!  Fuck you!  Fuck you!” over and over again for a full minute until an officer finally hit him.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not for a second condoning what that officer did.  But I DO question whether or not the situation would have unfolded as it did without all the fuck you’s.  I am seeing people who have already made up their mind that the police will be violent.  You need to build a RELATIONSHIP with the police.

If I went into my marriage thinking it was only a matter of time before we got a divorce, how do you think that marriage would go?  Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.  Like it or not, you WILL have a relationship with the police.  The only question is how would you like that relationship to go?

The police are going to do what the police are going to do.  They have to follow the orders they’ve been given.  How are YOU going to interact with them?  How are YOU going to respond to their requests?  How are YOU going to make their jobs easier?  Those are the questions you should be asking yourselves.

This isn’t India under British rule.  This isn’t the racist South in the 1960’s.  The police don’t hate us.  They don’t want to turn fire hoses on us.  They don’t think we are animals with no rights.  Stop treating them as though that is the case.

Be polite.  Thank them for their service.  Ask them how you can help make things go more smoothly.  Shake their hand, and look them in the eye as you do so.  Remember that the person you are shaking hands with is part of 99%.  You are Occupying for him or her too!  Treat the officer accordingly.

"Non-violence ... requires greater heroism than of brave soldiers ... The world does not accept today the idea of loving the enemy. Even in Christian Europe the principle of non-violence is ridiculed ... Christians do not understand the message of Jesus. It is necessary to deliver it over again in the way we can understand ... But I must say that so long as we do not accept the principle of loving the enemy, all talk of world brotherhood is an airy nothing. "  These are the words of Mahatma Ghandi.  Remember him?  The guy who led a whole country to freedom against the ruling class that hated them and treated like second class citizens?  If that can work against the British, with guns, ready to kill and feeling totally justified in doing so, surely it can work on American police officers with pepper spray and twisty-ties.

Speaking of twisty-ties.  You guys do know that our goal in this movement is not “get arrested”, don’t you?  Let me say that again.  Getting arrested is NOT the point of this movement.  And in fact, we would do better to have little or no arrests.  For as long as the American public can remember, freaky wack-jobs have been protesting and demanding to be arrested.  Do you know what most of the American public does when this happens?  Roll their eyes and mutters, “Freaky wack-job!”  What will make America stand up and listen are us following the laws, remaining calm, and NOT getting arrested.

Do you know why?  Because most protesters show up precisely TO get arrested.  The very fact of arrest suggests impermanence.  They are here to get arrested, and then go home.  What will amaze and wow the American public is the realization that we are NOT going away.

AND, more importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough:  WE MUST BE FOLLOWING THE LAW!

Take OccupySacramento for example.  They chose for their site a park that is closed to the public after 11 pm.  They chose to use for their base, a park that is closed to the public after 11 pm. Then they complain when they get arrested!  Of course you are getting arrested, OccupySacramento.  YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!

They could easily remedy this situation.  Move the base of operations to a park that is NOT closed to the public, or simply move to a sidewalk in front of a bank.  Sidewalks are public property.  They do not close, and people cannot be arrested for gathering there.  I have pointed this out several times to OccupySacramento, suggesting they move their camp.  Yet, night after night, they stay at the same park.  You know, the one where they are breaking the law by being there?

This saddens and angers me to no end.  It saddens me because I thought we were smarter and more evolved than that.  The problem is that that particular park is closed after 11 pm?  GREAT!  Move somewhere else that isn’t.  PROBLEM SOLVED!  It angers me because this is my movement too, and this makes us look bad.

I know they are claiming the right to peacefully assemble.  They DO have the right to peacefully assemble.  Just not in that park after 11 pm.

Until the movement reaches clarity on what non-violence and this movement is about, things will continue to break down.  This is not a chance to riot.  This is not a chance for anarchy.  We MUST maintain order.  Otherwise we will look back on this movement, years from now and call it the “downfall of our society”.  Michael Moore is right (whether you like him or not).  It is either non-violence now or violence later.  It should be a no brainer.

But just in case, let me spell it out for everybody, just so we can be clear on what is needed:

We MUST follow the laws.  Even the stupid ones like closing a park at 11 pm.
We MUST include the police officers in our movement.  They are part of the 99%.
We MUST speak to everyone, ESPECIALLY the police, in a civil, respectful tone that acknowledges they bring something to the table too.
We MUST chant only positive things, at all times.
NEVER, at ANY TIME must we spew hatred at the police (or each other).

"Wherever there are jars [conflicts], wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love. In a crude manner, I have worked it out in my life. That does not mean that all my difficulties are solved. I have found, however, that this Law of Love has answered as the Law of Destruction has never done." ~ Ghandi

Repost this, retweet it.  We need to get the word out until every single Occupy camp out there has gotten the message.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Day I Forgave My Rapist

This is a blog from about five years ago, and one people ask to re-read or for me to re-post because someone they know could benefit from it.  So I figure this is the perfect post to christen my new blog site.

This was originally posted in 2005, I believe.

This blog is a long time coming, I suppose.  My good friend Jake has been bugging me to write it for a long time.

For those of you who don't know, I was raped.  Though I was raped three separate times, this is only the story of one of those rapes.  Not even a story of the rape, but a pivotal moment afterwards.

Please note that while this is not sexually graphic in nature, this bog will very likely be triggering for many victims of sexual assault.  Please read with appropriate caution and keep yourself safe.

Because this story is not about the actual rape itself, you will only get the details that are absolutely essential to the story.  When I was 18 I was raped by two guys while canvassing door to door for a political cause.  The invited me inside, had me drink a butt-load of Everclear, raped me, and laughed about it with their friends afterwards.

I attempted to press charges, but, as in most cases of rape, could not make it stick.  So they walked.

This is the story of eight years later.

It was July 15th, 2003.  A Tuesday, in fact.

I had agreed, with much grumbling, to drive my best friend to fucking Novato of all places for a job interview.  I had told her I would do it, but would resent it, and she told me that she was totally fine with me resenting her for it, but she really needed the ride.

As we are almost to Novato, she tells me to take the Bel Marin Keys exit. 

"Oh."  I say.  Thinking to myself that Bel Marin Keys is NOT Novato.

Eight years previously, I had been raped in Bel Marin Keys.  There is a BIG difference between Bel Marin Keys and Novato.  At least for me.

Though my friend knew about my rape, she did not know that where she was about to be interviewed was two minutes from where I had been raped.

"When you're done here, there's something I need to do."

"What?" she asked.

"I'll tell you when you get out," I said.

You see, I had been taking a self-development course over the last weekend.  One of the things that I had been talking about alllllllll weekend was forgiving our offenders.

Well, lo and behold, the Universe had dropped, smack into my lap, an opportunity to put my money where my fucking mouth was.  Thanks a lot, Universe.

About an hour later, my friend emerges from the office where she had been interviewing, plops into the car and asks "So, what did you need to do?"

I looked up, astonished and confused.

I had so very conveniently forgotten what it was I had to do.

Trying to brush the subject under the carpet, I muttered out of the side of my mouth hurriedly, half hoping she wouldn't hear, "Oh, I have to go forgive my rapists."

I'll spare you all the details of how the next five minutes went, my friend trying to talk me out of it, me forgetting the way, turning around, needing to stop to go pee.

The only thing worth noting was when she pointed out it was the middle of a work day & no way would they be home.

I answered her, very sure of myself "The Universe didn't put this in my way for them not to be home."

So we pulled up in front of the rapists house.  The garage door was open.  It looked, for all the world, like someone was home.

I took a moment and steeled myself.  I took off my sunglasses, spit out my gum and let down my hair.  All of my defenses, anything I could possibly use to hide, gone.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"  my friend asked.

"No," I quietly answered.

"Okay," she said, "But I'm leaving the window down, and I'll be here if you need me."

I walked up the driveway, looking cautiously into the garage at all the filing cabinets, green hanging files abundant.  I walked up to the front door and rang the bell.

A man answered the door.  I recognized him instantly.  Yes, he was older, as was I, but it seemed to my eyes he had aged far beyond the eight years that should have showed on his body and face.

"Is Sonny here?"

"He doesn't live here anymore"

"Oh.  Okay.  Well, I don't know if you remember me or not, but back in '95, '96" (I saw him stiffen at this point.  He most definitely remembered who I was.) "you and Sonny raped me."

It seemed to me a sort of calm acceptance washed over him.  Later, my friend would tell me it looked to her as though he thought I might pull a gun on him and shoot him; and that if that was what was to be, he was ready for it.

"I want you to know I forgive you.  And I give up making you wrong for it."

"Sonny's sober now."   Those were the first word out of his mouth.  "We were into drugs for a while, and we finally had to move away from each other – he's in Sacramento now."

"Well, will you tell him I forgive him?"

"Yeah, sure."

There was a very long awkward silence.  The kind you get when you run into someone you haven't seen in a while and you've just finished catching each other up and there's nothing left to say.

"So…" he said.  "How's things?"

"Good." I said.

"You're happy?  You like your life?"

"Yeah," I said.  "I'm happy.  I like my life."


Again, a very awkward silence.  It was obviously up to me to either say something, or leave.

"So, as long as I'm here…" I said.  "If you have anything you'd like to say to me, anything at all, whatever it is – I'm ready to hear it.  And if you don't – that's okay too."

In my mind I sat braced, expecting him to say "You asked for it you little slut!" or some such thing.

What he actually said was this:

"I'm sorry.  Things happen.  And I hope you have a wonderful life."

I do not know if I can possibly convey, over the internet, just how powerful that all was.  I never failed to elicit chills & tears when I tell the story in person.  The energy between us could have powered a Nuclear Reactor.

I got into the car, drove away, rounded the corner, pulled over, and sobbed like I had never sobbed before.  It was the best goddamn cry of my life.  I didn't know it at the time, but I was letting go, truly letting go of all the emotional baggage that had come with that rape.

Later that evening, my husband (then fiancĂ©) would tell me how my entire body language changed.  It has remained changed to this day.  People who knew me before suddenly didn't recognize me.

While that part of me that is concerned with social justice and the reformation of sex offenders thinks it was a really good idea to forgive them, and something I think all victims should do, if they can get there, the more important thing is that as a victim, it is the single most important, powerful thing I have ever done in my life.  I could really give a shit how it affected him.

The bottom line is that I stood face to face with that man, and I gave up all the weight I had been carrying around with me.  I stood there, sure of myself, ready for any harsh words that could possibly be slung my way.  Instead, I got an apology, and I saw, in his eyes, the damage of what he had done and how it had worked its spell on him.

In the end, I was better,  I was bigger, and I was stronger.  In the end, I looked evil in the face and did not flinch.  Indeed, I even forgave it.  And in so doing, I relinquished its hold on my life.