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From an Occupier in Oakland: Violence, Gunshots, and Candlelight

Riyana made me cry with this post about the young man killed outside of OccupyOakland last night.

Sadly, a young black man being murdered in the streets of Oakland is not an uncommon occurrence. There have been over a hundred homicides in Oakland this year alone; statistically, two-thirds of homicide victims in the city are African American. This is a city riddled with poverty and violence, with more school closures being announced every day. This fact, however, has not stopped Mayor Quan from capitalizing on this tragedy as yet one more reason why the encampment should be shut down, arguing earlier tonight at a press conference that, "The risks are too great for having an encampment out there. It's time for the encampment to end." Earlier this week, the mayor hosted a press conference that focused on why the encampment was bad for business downtown.

In both issues, she seems to be missing the point that so many Occupy Oakland folks understand at a deep level: the violence, the poverty, and the hardships that the Occupy encampment brings out of the shadows and into the middle of downtown Oakland, where they cannot be ignored, are part of the reason that we Occupy. We aren’t creating the violence or the pain – we’re just not willing to hide it in social or psychological ghettos anymore.

At OccupyAustin there are many (often male, white-skinned) people who do everything they can to avoid bringing conflict into the open. It's "just not nice" to get passionate and argue in public. (In light of this it is perhaps not surprising that violence and safety remain priority issues for most occupiers here after more than a month of wrestling with those issues, something evident in the breakout sessions during last night's General Assembly.) I believe one of the reasons so many of us have come together in dialogue is that we live in a violently oppressive society; here in N. America we live in a society that specializes in exporting violence to the rest of the world. In the Occupy movement we are trying to face this horror and bring it into the light. Women and people of color suffer relatively more trauma from the violence of this civilization. Now some of the historically more privileged classes are waking up to the truth that we all suffer when any one of us is oppressed. A wise woman working with OccupyAustin said last night, "At this point we are all trauma victims."

As humans, our relationship to violence is confusing and long. It marks our history books, maps out the eons of cultural evolution on timelines that begin with roman invasions and carry on through two world wars, while the countless days of peace and prosperity are invisible, unremarkable. For many spiritual leaders, both the ancients and the new-fangled, violence is the external manifestation of something dark and hard to look at within us. Interestingly enough, those who endorse philosophies such as the innocuous-sounding “diversity of tactics” agreements and the “defense” tactics of the Black Bloc also recognize the truth of this internalized violence – it’s folks like me, who identify with non-violence as a philosophical belief, that can sometimes stridently ignore it or discredit the reality of violence as yesterday’s affliction, somehow passé now that we’ve all become yogis and co-counselors.

I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly gone all black-bandana-and-gas mask on you. But I can feel the deep complexity of violence tonight, the fingers of this disfigured thing within us and how, in a heartbeat, it can change everything. I don’t think that wise folks like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama, or Emma Goldman would advocate turning away from the fact that violence in the world is actually the manifestation of something fractal and injured within each of us. They would say, I’m sure, that we need to look at it and listen to its story in order make peace with ourselves and with our world -- to create healing on a level that we can only begin to imagine from where we stand now.

Issues like violence and non-violence, freedom and oppression, are complex. Despite our disagreements we are arguing together, and that's the main thing. Riyana, in closing:

I am restored in dark-pit moments when I remember that my brothers and sisters around the world stand with me. The Great Lie that we are alone simply cannot hold up in the face of such activism! May we nurture and support that root love in each of our kindred, and work together to heal the hatred planted there by a system day by day losing power over us.

Please go and read the whole thing. There is a lot more and it will move you.

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