With yesterdays big protests in Berkeley, the continuing unrest in Syria and Egypt, and big new gatherings in Russia, it seems that the world is now fully perinatal: something new is coming from the womb.
The self-immolation of a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi on Dec. 17th, 2010, set off a wave of revolts in North Africa and the Middle East—dubbed the Arab Spring—which soon spread to Europe and the West. Youths ramapaged in Britain, the Middle Class marched on the Kremlin and the “Occupy” movement bloomed in American cities from New York City to Flagstaff, Arizona.
Old-school protesters and the Right-wing critics of Occupy bewailed the indirection of the movement, but as a one Egyptian professional caught up in the Tahir Square protests said, “I know what I don’t want.” Americans are angry about the skewed distribution of wealth in the country and business-as-usual aftermath of the mortgage crisis, among other things.
A positive new vision hasn’t emerged, but that is often how it is when change is demanded in a society or a relationship or life-path.
First we say, “no!” then we make new dreams.
A swami in Rishikesh, India’s north, listened for months to a voice that told him to go to Bangalore. He talked over the move with his brother disciples, but got no support. “What is in Bangalore?” they would say. “It is a city of money.”
But the messages still came and eventually, trusting spirit, he traveled south. He expected that a guru would appear in his life, or a disciple, or a situation, but when he got to Bangalore, nothing came to pass. He idled for weeks, not knowing what to do.
This is sometimes how protest the status quo works. Protest is usually a destructive act. It is a shattering of standing relationships. It is a “yes” to change—the change from something is often sure, but the change toward something is sometimes vague. In every case, “Something is rotten in Denmark” and the stench drives us forth. We end up with less at first—a life on the road, a day without a job, or a bed without the one we loved.
Change may be hard, and we hesitate. Saying, “It’s alright,” is always an option, as we recoil from rocking the boat.
One night, I was walking the streets, taking a break from my desk, I passed a man who walked slowly, breathed heavily and had a profound stoop in his shoulders. I’m a yoga teacher, and when I see bodies closed by habits of emotion or diet or movement patterns, I feel called to help. Usually I mind my own business, but that night I felt the sharp obligation to say something. “Have you tried yoga?” I asked. Abruptly, he said, “I’m alright! I’m breathing!”
So it goes in the pre-change world.
Things are alright.
But it’s getting harder to inhale. That’s the common pre-amble to protest. Things as they are make us uncomfortable. That foreshadows a new pattern of choice.
Things might be lousy, or they might be just alright. We’re hanging tough, but we sensed there’s a better way.
When I was in Junior High, I wasn’t a tough kid, but I stood out in my own way, and found myself in fights from time to time. A kid named Steve Anderson who’d been insulting me for months, threw a text book of mine into the trash in our locker-room, and I’d had it. I shouted in his face, “fuck you, Anderson,” and he duly challenged me to a fight him. He was bigger than me and a better athlete, and I’d been trained to avoid conflict from my life as a preacher’s son. I matter-of-factly refused him. Disregarding the rules of masculine of engagement, I just said, “I’m not fighting you, Anderson. You’d kick my ass.”
That pretty much ended it.
Sometimes we protest, and that’s it. The change is internal and the external situation changes spontaneously.
The “no” we make creates a new map of experience. Our perceptive frame, new self-concept and pattern of choice suffices to shift things. The simple “no” kills something that has little will to live.
Sometimes the protest wells up within us to create change easily, but more often comes after great courage and sacrifice. As John F. Kennedy phrased it, it is a “long twilight struggle, day in and day out.”
Change is often undramatic. It comes from daily re-commitments to shift habit. The great poet, writer and compiler of the first English Dictionary, Samuel Johnson, re-committed himself all his life to the simple, but constantly frustrated goal of getting to bed early. If our foe is worthy, the business of protest may be life-long. Chronic problems require chronic resolutions.
As Krishna cried out to his chela (student) Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “fight!” Though a junior high pacifist, when I said, “Fuck you, Anderson!” I was already fighting.
The protestors in Tahir Square encountered the police and army again and again and—even now—with Egypt’s president Mubarak in jail, and elections in progress—the military still bullies the people, still kills protestors in Egypt. And people still fight.
Our Occupy movements don’t seemed to have changed the status quo much yet, but this is just testament to the worthiness of our adversaries and the unchanged portion of ourselves. Protest is, an ongoing event for societies and individuals. To grow requires resistance, focus and dull work.
At the end of the day sloth, habit and comfort are our most trenchant devils.
In the 1980s, I had a favorite synth-rock band called the Human League who cut a track titled, “Comfort Kills.”
It’s a good message to keep in mind, when the notion of protest enters the head, and the urge to stay in bed, or say “yes” one more time, or to avoid acting for fear of the unknown visits us one more time.
Sometimes it is time to say “no” regardless of what waits on the other side.
Sometimes it is time to fight.