Occupy Tuesday

About 100 people at General Assembly tonight, a little down from last night. Maybe 30 in the direct action working group meeting after GA. About 50 at the nightly 9pm-til-late candlelight vigil at the jail. We found out today that Sur, Greg, and Josh H. will have bail hearings Wednesday at 9am, and Josh K. will have one 9am Thursday. Also Thursday, a 2pm hearing for the appeal of some convictions for the March occupation of Monroe Park. There's hope that those convictions will be thrown out, which will give a boost to our own jailed occupiers and make jailing us for future occupations harder. May it be so.

The break in the occupation has increased energy for demonstrations, vigils, courthouse visits, etc. We'll be supporting our folks in court, protesting at the Mayor's office, protesting at banks, etc.

Samhain raid on Occupy Richmond

At 1am Samhain morning 175 police brought in floodlights and bulldozers to destroy the Occupy Richmond encampment in Kanawha Plaza. They gave folks 15 minutes to move their belongings, then moved in.

There were 10 arrests. Some folks were given summons and released, and two we've bailed out; but Sur, Greg, Josh and Josh are being held without bail (on misdemeanor charges!) because the magistrate believes they'll occupy again if released. Their trial is set for late November.

In November, most likely, their trespassing charge (a class one misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail) will be thrown out, and they'll be convicted of being the park after dark (a traffic-ticket type of offense, theoretically punishable by a $250 fine, in practice $25).

In other words, not only is Richmond violating the First Amendment by abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble, it is also persecuting these four under color of law by jailing them without a trial -- not because they might flee a $25 fine but because they might commit free speech.

We're going to continue the occupation, more fluidly and perhaps more assertively. We hadn't marched much so far, but tonight we marched far enough that my feet still hurt, waving at Halloweeners, singing Solidarity Forever, and chanting All Night! All Day! Occupy RVA! as well as less local chants.

Thursday my Central Virginia community had a Samhain ritual, visiting the land of the dead. Saturday night my regional community had a Samhain ritual, visiting the land of the dead. Tonight my Richmond community had a Samhain ritual, too. We've got four still to bring back, in token of the thousands, millions, billions of us we need to restore to freedom in the years to come.

If you're in Richmond, come on down to the General Assembly Tuesday at 6pm, on the inlaid compass outside of VCU's James Branch Cabell Library at Park and Linden streets.

#OccupyRichmond begins

The big question Saturday will be where to occupy -- the very first planning meeting, way back in the mists of beginning on October 5, had decided to defer the choice of location until the day of action. There's energy around two main choices, Kanawha Plaza near the banks, and Monument Avenue near the "statues of dead white assholes". The police have promised either a permit or an informal hands-off for sleeping in Kanawha Plaza, and discourage Monument Avenue. The newly involved and excited folks at the core of the #OccupyRichmond group are attracted by the idea of targeting the banks around Kanawha and are inclined to trust police assurances that we won't be arrested for sleeping there. (It's illegal to be in a park after sunset in Richmond, punishable by a fine). Long-term local activists have proposed Monument Avenue partly because it has wide grassy medians that aren't parks.

I'm worried about trying to make such a choice by consensus -- or modified consensus: we use a 90% rule. In practice that means that if there is a 90% preference for a proposal, it's acted on without much discussion. Dispreference is signaled by wiggling downturned fingers (the opposite of the wiggling upturned fingers of agreement). Our signal for a true block is crossed arms, hands in fists. Then there is discussion.

Yesterday's meeting got bogged down in blow-by-blow consensus readings on ten or fifteen points of process, and folks got restless and jumped stack with direct responses way too often. We decided to use a technique from the People's Assemblies and take a stack of folks speaking to the strength of each proposal and a stack of folks with concerns. And perhaps to ask for consensus to take a preference vote.

At the 4:30 facilitation working group meeting I hear of another facilitation meeting with an entirely different set of folks, to happen around 9:00 after an 8:00 event involving "stuff with herbs and scents". I'm worried about having two sets of people making decisions, so I decide to go to that one too.

Besides, the stuff with herbs and scents sounds intriguing. It turns out to be, well, magic -- we speak our intentions, we sing songs, we laugh, we cast herbs onto a 300-year-old Turkish prayer rug, gather them up, and take them out to spread over the city. It's a bit weird doing magic with monotheists -- they keep saying things like "we're all the same" where I'd say "there's room for all of us". Still, there's ecstasy. We start with "I am opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the One", and later folks take up "We are rising up like the phoenix from the fire -- children of the earth, spread your wings and fly higher" to the same tune. I'd learned the phoenix chant in jail in 2000 (though "children of the earth" was new to me until I heard eddy sing it in DC). It's nice to have that thread return.

We don't finish until 10:00, and there's no energy for talking about facilitation. We do find out that the police officer who's been talking to us says the mayor has decided to enforce all the clear-the-park laws after all, and grant no permit.

There are about 300 people here, maybe half new. We have an outside facilitator, a woman who's trying to take a break from activism but has been persuaded to come back just this once. She's excellent, at first letting the occasional person with an inappropriate direct response finish before pointing out that it wasn't in process, and later as the crowd becomes more educated stopping people earlier.
The local Occupy Richmond man working with her, who'd been a bit tentative at a previous meeting, steps out and covers her back with great confidence.

As people speak, its clear there's more energy for Kanawha Plaza than Monument Avenue, but neither gets 90%. We finally consense to take a vote between them, with one true block that turns out to be not a block of this current preference vote but a strong concern about doing the same in the future.

Folks march to Kanawha, where there's more discussion about taking the park (despite the sunset law) or staying on the sidewalk. The eventual decision is the sidewalk. Folks seem to have the idea that sleeping on the sidewalk is also illegal, though I can't find a reference in the city code. I'm willing to sleep in the park or on the sidewalk, with or without the risk of arrest, but I do need to sleep sometime! I give another oldster a ride to his car, bring back some water, and go home. But do I sleep? No, I send you this!

/Now/ I'll sleep.


#OccupyDC adopts consensus

A few of us are at the #OccupyDC General Assembly, witnessing the assembly adopt consensus as its decision-making process.

We strain to hear the participants. Cars come and go honking their support, heartwarming and ear-splitting. Clearly many here are well-versed in consensus, but they are cutting no corners. Someone compliments the facilitators on their respect for freedom of expression and asks for a similar respect for time. Shortly thereafter the consensus process is adopted by a sea of twinkles and we hoot and holler.

The slow process continues. There is a call for concerns, standasides, and blocks on the question of how much time to spend discussing the hot question of the last few days: how to handle relations between #OccupyDC and the October 2011 group. That discussion is passionate and generous: these folks are from DC; most of October 2011 is not. That truth is spoken. As is the truth that goals of the two movements are the same.

We're not DC residents either, so we witness. The meeting is awkward, long, and slow. And it touches the heart. The care taken here, and the patience of the assembly with that care, with each other, is an opening to a better world.

We Don't Forsake Her [Tar Sands Action]

Saturday: I am waiting to be arrested at the Tar Sands sit-in, whose purpose is to pressure the Obama administration to reject an oil pipeline from the Canadian tar sands plants (think of a combination of mountaintop removal and fracking) to refineries in Texas. The pipeline would pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for people in eight states and irrigation water for a third of the irrigated land in the U.S.

There's always a point in an action where the energy flags and I start wondering why in the world I got myself into this. The Tar Sands action is an old-style civil disobedience sit-in, with heavy emphasis on "civil" and on dignity, which suits my personality better than my politics. So I stand in the hot sun, guiltily happy to be bored rather than scared, but missing the giant puppets and outrageous costumes and anarchist youth and spiral dances of a carnival of resistance. Still, it's an impressive turn-out, particularly since it will be the first arrest for almost everyone I talk to. (243 are arrested Saturday, 1252 over the two weeks of the action.)

And standing there bored I get a drive-by mystical hit, the kind that comes in a flash and changes your perspective for a long time. The words for this one are "it's the second person /plural/" -- which is less inscrutable than it sounds. It's a reference to something a goddess had said to me a long time ago, in a period of great personal pain and despair: "You don't forsake me." Not a promise that /she/ won't forsake /me/ -- an observation that I don't forsake her, as if she'd turned to the back of the book to see how it turns out. The hit I get Saturday is that it's us: /we/ don't forsake her. Implicit in this mass of people waiting patiently to be arrested is a long chain stretching back to the beginning and forward to whatever the end of the book may be, made of heroes, yes, and martyrs, and also ordinary people like me and the others waiting here. We don't forsake her. Not now, not in the future. That's the message.

Does that chain include the entire human race? The cops counting out their plastic handcuffs too? The people who plan to profit from the pipeline too? Eventually? I don't know. I don't know.

The rest of the day: The women are arrested first, then the men; and within each (apparent) gender, the (apparently) old before the young. Lisa and others, many arrested on previous days, cheer us as we get photographed and put on paddy wagons and buses. I'm number 118, at 60 the youngest in my paddy wagon. The woman who fills out my ticket doesn't check off the "offense" box -- maybe they didn't bust me for "failing to obey a lawful order" but "improper refrigeration of food"? The folks filling out the tickets are annoyed with the folks who brought us in because we're not in numerical order; the man who fills out my receipt is annoyed with me because I put my hand on the table. Police are bureaucrats with guns, David Graeber says, and I think he's right.

Still, I hope they don't forsake her. When she looks at the end of the book, I hope she sees they don't forsake her.

Pantoum for an abandoned car lot

We built the holy place by accident:
uprooted trees and planted streetlights high
on winged pillars, proud against the night.
We had no darkness there, no memories

of tree roots or street plants. Lighted high,
each glowing surface promised future glory.
We had no darkness there, no memories,
no vision but the self, reflected in

each glowing surface. Promised future glory,
we found the latest models, trimmed with chrome,
but no vision. In the self-reflected
mirror nothing lasted, nothing that

we found. The latest models trimmed with chrome
grew old, stopped moving, finally vanished in
that mirror. Nothing lasted, nothing.


The unlit streetlight stands, a monolith
grown finally old. Moving stops, vanishes
in memory--the way things might have been,
unlit by streetlights: a monolith stands
strong guardian to mark the place renewed

in memory, the Way. Things might yet be
redeemable: here there are the traces of
strong guardians. To mark this place renews
an ancient blessing on the fallow land.

Here, there, the traces are redeemable, of
the face those builders carved. They saw deep, knew
the ancient blessing: on fallow lands
they weighed their careful steps and laid no stone.

Those builders saw the face they knew carved deep
on winged pillars. Proud against the night,
they weighed their careful steps, and laid no stone
by accident. They built the holy place.

(An old poem of mine, for the Brigid tradition started by Reya and continued by
Deborah Oak)

Dao De Jing, 12

We’re blinded by color,
deafened by sound,
numbed by flavor,
maddened by gallops and hunts.

When we get what’s hard to get,
we get stuck.
That’s why the wise act from the belly,
not the eye.

So let go that and pick up this.

Dao De Jing, 11

Thirty spokes join a hub:
the axle goes in the empty space.

Shape clay to make a pot:
the water goes in the empty space.

Cut doors and windows for a house:
you go in through the empty space.

So thingness is what you have;
nothingness is what you use.

What's up with these Tao Te Ching posts?

The Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) is an classic Chinese work, very short and very frequently translated. Here's a link to 29 versions! Because the original can carry really different meanings, translations vary wildly. So once you get into it, there's an itch: what does it really say? Is it a mystical book with political asides, or is it a political book with mystical asides? In my twenties I read several versions and started writing down a version that appealed to me, but had no way to check my accuracy (or lack thereof). These days there are several verbatim translations available, including one that's freely downloadable. (Click on the Matrix Translation.)

So I've started back on creating an English version that fits for me. I don't know Chinese, let alone archaic Chinese, so this isn't a translation; but the verbatim translations let me hew closer to accuracy than I could imagine thirty years ago. Such non-translations are almost as common as real translations: I follow Ursula K. Le Guin (whose version I admire very much), Stephen Mitchell, Aleister Crowley, and many others.

For now I'm just trying in each chapter to come up with language that captures something of the poetry of the original (and doesn't mangle the meaning!) When I get through with all 81 I'll go back and wrestle with the Hobgoblin of Consistency.

If you're intrigued, I'd start with Le Guin's version. She is a wonderful poet, and she uses the fact that Chinese doesn't make gender or singular/plural distinctions to talk about wise people rather than the (male) Sage. (As do I.) The book by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English remains the most readable true translation I've found. Gregory Richter's Gate of All Marvelous Things is a very approachable verbatim translation, while Jonathan Star's offers many alternative meanings for each word.

P.S. on Tao Te Ching versus Dao De Jing: These days more and more people use the pinyin romanization (Dao De Jing), rather than the older Wade-Giles system, and I may well start using that as a title.