The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading like wildfire for a little over a month now, people are hearing about the 99% rising up and demanding that the widening gap that is growing between the haves and the have-nots becomes smaller. The Occupy movement describes itself as:
Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians to build a better society.
It has become the 1% and the 99%, these numbers have been burned into most news coverage of this new movement and rightfully so, but I have always believed that I was part of a different statistic. Noah Levine in his book The Heart of the Revolution describes a definition of another 1%, people who follow the teachings of the Buddha and the Dharma are ones that go against the stream and are a part of a very select group of people. I find it interesting that he used this kind of language and imagery before this movement arose, and in many ways I find it very fitting to be using it at this point in time in history. So my question is, what is a Buddhist to do with a movement like this one? I believe in this cause and find that it is really great to see its success since its inception in September, I am also happy that it has been mostly peaceful as movement, so what can a socially engaged Buddhist like myself bring to this movement? I actually found a great article at the Buddhist Peacemakers Institute website about occupying the present moment.
- Interconnection. We are moved by the interconnectedness expressed in this movement. Occupy Wall Street is not about one environmental situation or one war, but rather about all of the systems which create suffering for all beings, and which are all related to each other. Our spiritual practice is not just for our individual enlightenment, but to end suffering for all beings, so we are moved to address this system.
- Ending suffering means changing the conditions of inequality. The influence of money, corporations, and banks in our U.S. political system blocks all of the human and environmental goals that BPF works towards. Numerous Buddhist texts point out that if an individual lives in poverty it is not due to karma as a form of personal punishment, but rather that poverty exists within a web of collective causes and conditions. The Buddha also noted that the way to build a peaceful society is to ensure equitable distribution of resources. Many U.S. Buddhists believe in the importance of cultivating a limitless heart that embraces the goal of a society in which everyone has their basic needs met, plus education, a living wage, and the opportunity to care for their families and to develop spiritually.
- The means are the ends. We are moved by and in agreement with the nonviolent tactics of the movement. We believe in the power of compassionate presence, of bearing witness, and of nonviolent strategies toward spiritual awakening and liberation. The people on the streets in New York, and around the country and world, are in the process of being the change they wish to see, to use Gandhi’s phrase.
We participate in solidarity with the 100%—with all beings. While we want to change the situation of disparity in world, we don’t want to exile the 1% from our hearts. Furthermore, we are aware that lumping people together, whether into the 99% or the 100%, can invisibilize people’s experiences, especially those of people of color, and the many others who bear the heaviest burdens of inequality in the U.S. and in the world. While we are all interconnected, we are not all the same. With this recognition of diversity, we stand in solidarity with the 100%.
This is what I find sticks with me the most out of this statement, standing in solidarity with the 100% and not exiling anyone. I mean, in a way, this is why the 99% are so upset right now, they feel pushed aside and ignored, so it is not much better if we push the 1% to the side and ignore them. It is not the people who are the problem but the system that exists in the world, this is what we must change. We are all interconnected and we must work together (everyone) if we want to change things for the best. We want to end the suffering of every being, not just a select group. Let’s continue speaking out against injustice, but lets not forget to bring compassion and wisdom to the movement. Organise a meditation flashmob at one of the occupy protests in your town and show people that this revolution will remain peaceful and compassionate, let’s not forget that this revolution must also happen within us! Be the change that you want to see in the world!