America’s Most Actively Inactive Activists
Only in a country where the average citizen sees 3,000 advertisements a day encouraging them to lick, stick, wear, tear, smoke, suck, nip and tuck until the cows come home can a group of people sitting in a public park be called courageous. America’s consumption-based frenzy has been agitated to such a state by the State, that a couple people doing nothing can and has become a whole lot of something.
“Awh S@#t Man!? They killed Frank?!” All heads in the camp whipped around and eyes were suddenly fixed on the hysterical man with a cell phone in his hand. A stream of expletives gushed from his mouth, with brief interludes of tamer words like “Frank,” “why?” and “how?” Almost as quickly as the heads had turned, three men came jogging with an urgency defying the stereotype of men who lived ‘out of doors,’ and soon our belligerent, bereaved friend was screaming “I’m COOL! I’M COOL!!” in a tone that didn’t help his case. The three men, apparently Judge, Jury and Jailor, came to the conclusion that this man was in fact not ‘COOL’ and they escorted him out of the otherwise public park.
This incident happened upon my second trip to Occupy Detroit’s camp. It was a sunny, unseasonably warm Tuesday afternoon in Detroit Michigan’s prophetically named Grand Circus Park. Grand Circus Park is the token green space of the only 4 blocks within the 143 sq. mile city that visitors bother to venture anymore. Within these 4 blocks, one can access the new pro baseball and football stadiums (Comerica Park and Ford Field respectively,) the Detroit Opera House, the famous Fox Theater and all the accompanying bars and restaurants that cater to the patrons of these establishments. A city with 30% unemployment would certainly have time to enjoy all such bread and circus, but who would have the money? The Suburbanites of course! Convenient access to all major highways at this epicenter of entertainment allow for residents of the deliciously affluent suburban doughnut surrounding Detroit to come and enjoy all the big city fun without ever having to see any of the big city blight that the once mighty ‘D’ is now famous for.
Indeed this small strip of Woodward Ave, the Wall Street of the working man, is all that’s left of
Detroit’s glory days. Largely thanks to union organization, the Motor City was richest in the world based on per-capita income (circa 1950). Detroit is now the buckle of the rust belt. The story is somewhat familiar by now, and the right or wrong of the details doesn’t matter so much. The jobs that were there in 1959 went to machines or Malaysians by 1999, and all the people that could afford to move out did so… and it was assumed all those who stayed were either stuck or stupid.
But at least this little chunk of Woodward, with its quaint, open stores, glass windows and functioning street lights, is a place where those who quit on Detroit could come and forget why they’d forgotten about the city. That was the case: at least, until the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement took hold smack in the middle of this mirage o’ merriment.
Folks here in Detroit are very thankful for the Occupy Movement. Rather than Detroit being considered a social anomaly, Occupiers across the land are waking people up to the reality of the Motor City being the canary in America’s coalmine. Occupiers understand a country that spends $38,000 per year on each prisoner in its penitentiaries and $8,000 a year on each student in its schools is not operating with the best interest of all its citizens in mind. Occupiers understand the system is designed to keep the 1% in progressively growing power through a network of financial institutions, media outlets and government policies. (Possession of cocaine, for example, which is the drug of the rich, is a misdemeanor, while the possession of crack, the drug of the poor, is a felony.) These are truths the American populace in general is slowly coming to realize, and the Occupiers should be commended for being some of the first to collectively say they want nothing to do with this sorry state of affairs.
This is actually the movements strength, inaction. Only in a country where the average citizen sees 3,000 advertisements a day encouraging them to lick, stick, wear, tear, smoke, suck, nip and tuck until the cows come home can a group of people sitting in a public park be called courageous. America’s consumption-based frenzy has been agitated to such a state by the State, that a couple people doing nothing can and has become a whole lot of something.
But this loitering for liberty can only last so long. America is watching, and absorbing. American was designed to absorb, or to “control the causes of faction” as James Madison put it in his 10th Federalist Paper. Faction was the greatest fear of the Federalist debaters who ultimately won out in the argument for America’s foundational structure. Federalists said that “big government means little people can never be too dangerous, they’ll kill each other before they can become strong enough to kill us.” Shocking that such a system was adopted by the men who were already in power… Thomas Jefferson and his Anti-Federalists were given a concession, the Bill of Rights. Jefferson said the beauty of the 2nd Amendment was that ‘it will not be needed until they try to take it.’ He understood their would again come a day when ‘we’ would be ‘they.’
Upon my first visit to Occupy Detroit, a few days before I saw ‘Frank’s’ grieving friend, I strode into camp optimistic and confident. I felt very grateful for the opportunity to share bhakti-yoga with these progressive thinkers. Expecting to find a park full of souls searching for meaning, truth and justice in this bankrupt world, I had a bag full of Bhagavad-gitas and a mridanga on my back, ready for spiritual dialogue.
The Bhagavad-gita As it Is is pure spiritual knowledge, infallible logic explaining the science of the soul. The mridanga is a double-headed drum that creates an intoxicating sound perfectly suited to accompany the congregational singing and chanting of God’s ecstatic holy names. For the average bread and beer American, this spiritual potency descending through mother India can often be too much. However, it is just what the doctor ordered for people who realize they are not what they own. Occupy Detroit, I thought, would be like preaching to fish in a barrel. But instead of coming upon the languid, bohemian scene I had hoped and prayed for… I arrived at camp during a committee meeting. Jefferson would be pleased…
Nathan was speaking. A burly, bearded, ‘outdoorsy’ type… and was offering a summary of his sub-committee’s, the ‘Get S@#t Done Team’s’ efforts over the past week. Nathan’s crew proved to be aptly eponymous. Through their efforts, the local plumbers union had volunteered all the necessary time and resources for repairing the bathrooms that Occupiers were being permitted to use by a local business. The local electricians union had pledged $1,000 plus cable and wire to ‘improve camp infrastructure’ and they were in talks about developing a system to heat the tents of all Occupiers through the coming winter. ‘Infrastructure?!’ Now it was my turn to use expletives.
Taking a look around, I saw a few of the knappy-headed vagabonds whom I thought would comprise the majority of the Occupy population. There seemed to be a few people who, if given the chance, would let me know how long it’d been since they’d showered with an air of accomplishment in their voice. But far outnumbering the couchsurf-protesters were the 20 and 30 somethings dressed in ‘casual Friday’ clothes, as though they themselves had just left work. This was, I realized, the case… as it was 7 o’clock when I came upon camp.
I learned the crux of that, and every meeting, was the week’s demonstrations. On the docket this week was a proposal for everyone to march to a bridge that connects Detroit with Canada. The bridge is privately owned by a man the committee heads gave a long list of reasons not to like. It was unanimously decided that on the following Thursday, Occupy Detroit would be taking up space near the bridge in an effort to draw attention to the proprietor’s improprieties.
The meeting culminated with a clear delineation of those individuals who would be performing ‘civil disobedience’ i.e. ‘getting arrested,’ and those individuals who would be occupying until they were asked not to. Naturally the casual Friday crowd would be bowing out graciously when the boys in blue arrived.
And who could blame them? Especially in a city like Detroit, when 30% unemployment has a 1/3 of the city wondering how they’re going to eat… who’s going to throw away work just to try and piss off a guy who makes more money in a week than you will in a lifetime? Upon realizing this, I affirmed my own desire to be there in Grand Circus Park and also confirmed my fears about the Occupy Movement.
Srila Prabhupada writes in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita (5.25): “A person engaged only in ministering to the physical welfare of human society cannot factually help. Temporary relief of the external body and mind is not satisfactory.” In other words, if Occupiers focus solely on the material circumstance of our current situation… the war is already lost.
The biggest scam ever pulled by Wall Street has nothing to do with Mortgage Rates or Crude Oil Prices. The most awful thing those men and any man could ever do is encourage a fellow human to think they are simply the body and nothing more. If we think we are merely a bag of blood, bones and piss, we can be coerced into dedicating all our precious time here on Earth to maintaining that sack of flesh. If that’s all we are, that’s all we got… then that’s all we should do.
But if that’s the case, then why would the collective attention of the world be set on a few people sitting in a park? Why would such seemingly insignificant inaction draw so much attention from individuals whose real interest should be the affordability of botox? Because we are more than the skin we are in. Our consciousness can transcend, as Srila Prabhupada put it, ‘the external body and mind’ if it is properly cultivated. Our creativity, our potency, our supreme potential goes so much beyond the name on our jeans or size of their inseam.
This is what I stand for when I visit occupy, and what could be captured from this inspiring movement is a sincere effort as a society to nurture and encourage authentic spiritual growth outside the limiting concepts of man, woman, old, young, black, white, wall street, main street… Though I understand the sentiment behind standing next to bridges and outside banks; ultimately such protesters are like a farmer who paints his barn and then expects the crops to grow. If we don’t address the real issue at hand, we are likely to not see a change that lasts the winter.