99 or One

By Malia Burkhart   February 23, 2012   99 or One 

At the “Occupy Re-Gathering” this past weekend, the facilitator told us to raise our hands if we are part of the 99%. (which I did)…. then, as a joke, the facilitator asked us to raise our hands if we are part of the 1%. I raised my hand. All eyes on the room turned on me, curious. I said the following short blurb, which I’ve been saying since the first week of Occupy:

I’m part of the 1%, and you are too. As people living in the United States, by the level at which we consume resources, and by our access to a kind of power to change things, compared to the rest of the world we are the 1%. Also, to the rest of the species on the planet, who would like a say in how we are running things, humans are the 1%. We owe it to them to speak up and also to listen.”

Calling ourselves 99% was a bold and brilliant move, that has the richest 1% quaking… and also, possibly, laughing. So much hangs in the balance around this idea. Can we really overcome our differences enough to join forces and reclaim our freedom?

How, exactly, have we been enslaved? There is a general feeling, among most of us, of being trapped. We want there to be an enemy, someone clearly evil we can point to and say, “That person. That 1% person is the root of it all. If only they were gone, then we would be free.”

When we call ourselves the 99%, without touching our long and twisted history of injustice and pain towards each other, how “Solid” is our Solidarity? Centuries, even millenia, of human injustice await to be healed. Women still silenced. Indigenous Nations still stolen from. Post-slavery people still pushed to the bottom. People told they are “illegal” and separated from their families because of our Free-Trade policies and unjust immigration laws. How can we expand our awareness of all of these struggles, as we ask for their participation in our movement? How heavily do we take our responsibility, to include their voices as we decide our activist-strategies? Do we include a sense of the other 99% of the world, as we organize?

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How do we act in solidarity with post-colonial countries still strangling in debt? With repressive regimes where their right to assemble is met with mass slaughter? Do we unionize on behalf of sweatshop-workers around the world, or do we buy their cheap goods? Do we consider the sacrifices in lifestyle we will all have to make, to counter Global Climate Change? Is it too late?

They have been waiting for us, Occupy. Eyes around the world lit up for a moment with hope, when they saw our numbers and our spark. We’ve had a few successes, now. Let’s dream bolder, and dig deeper…

As a healer, an activist, as a student of world news and also of its history, I see cycles of violence and greed, corruption and tyrants, endlessly looping. Israel, Palestine. Oppressed people who seize power only to become the oppressors. Abused children who grow up to be abusers. I also see a mistreatment of our “Societal Ailments” caused by a lack of holistic understanding for the root of the problem. The “War on Drugs” targets depressed, abused, or marginalized people who turn to drugs to escape, who are then criminalized and sent to prison. The “War on Terror” glossed over any explanations why people in the Middle East may have felt it a holy duty to strike out against the United States (do we really still think it’s because they hated our “freedom”?)… 10 years of occupation hasn’t done much to heal those wounds, any more than going to jail helps a historically-oppressed person feel better about their situation in life.

How can we be freed, not just from unfair tax-laws, money in politics, or corporate personhood, but also be freed from these all-too-human patterns that are destroying the very planet we depend upon for survival? What is the root of the problem, and what is the best antidote?

What we are trapped within is a system, a pattern… A system that includes us, that uses us, that feeds off us and our work, our time, our labor. We are told it is only by participating in this system that we can survive. The reason we obey is because we have been domesticated. We are expected to hang our heads, put our blinders on, and continue working, consuming, surviving. We accept this as reality because we have never seen another way. Or if we hear rumor of one, if we dare to dream of another way, we are accused of being “unrealistic” or “utopian”…

Let me say first, I support working in many directions simultaneously. Yes, I support efforts to reform politics. To be more green in our Occupation, we should get some real dishes and wash them, instead of using disposable ones. (& Yes, wash your own!) But what if the magnitude of the problems we face are beyond legislative solutions? What if politics and legislation are means set up to channel and filter our grief and our rage, pacifying us with false promises and a “lesser of two evils” choice? What if the way out is not possible by working within a capitalist framework? What if we can’t address the scale of the Environmental Crisis through “green” consumer choices?

What if the way out can be much sexier than buying things or changing legislation? What if it is more fun, and more colorful? What if the way out has to do with “re-wilding” our imaginations, undomesticating our lives, and reclaiming not only our rights but also our health? What if we could consciously choose to build a way out, by taking real steps toward food independence, economic independence: Local economy; Barter networks; Urban Gardens; Co-operative bulk-buying from farmers; Learn plant-medicine; Collectively-run businesses; Home-schooling.

What I mean is, if something needs doing, do it. Why wait for legislators to decide to tell us that our community’s health is suddenly a budget-priority? Why wait for the economy to create a job when there is so much work to be done? What if, instead, we find a way to support each other, to feed each other, to house each other? Our truest “Homeland Security” can be found by investing in the earth’s health, in the health of each other, and especially in the health of our children.

Children are wild people. They haven’t been domesticated yet, and there are things they know that we have forgotten. There were core things inside of you, that you were born to do. This is your bliss. Your true calling. When you are in alignment with your true calling, things fall into place. If you ever meet someone who seems happy with what they do, ask them if this is true. But our culture seems bent on breaking us from that path, early in our lives, through a process of domestication we call “education.”

As an arts-teacher, I’ve worked in countless schools over the past 10 years. I’ve seen various methods that teachers use to keep these small wild humans under control and doing what they are supposed to do. Some use punishment, some use rewards. Regardless of method, it is still domestication, coercion, and manipulation. With the decline of art, music, or physical edcuation in schools, I’ve seen a narrowing of options for kids to express their different ways of knowing. Children with gifts, such as moving their bodies skillfully, are told they are ADD and given medications to sit still during math class. Children who think in pictures are tested only on their ability to read. With the increase of class-sizes, opportunities for individualized attention diminish, and kids are treated more like herds of cattle than as the unique amazing beings they are. What gets valued is only what can be tested for.

In school, beginning with learning to count numbers, we are trained into a way of knowing that assumes it is the only way of knowing around. Were you convinced that certain things are “just the way they are”, even though it made no sense to your heart? (If you get a chance, listen to the RadioLab podcast on “Numbers”:http://www.radiolab.org/2009/nov/30/)

Education happens not just in school, but all around you. As a child, you saw how the adults around you interacted with their neighbors. You saw how they related the earth, to people outside the family, to animals. There is a social-education that happens every moment, and we adjust our own moral-compass accordingly, and learn (or don’t) how to be kind.

I’m not a numbers-person. I always hated math. But give me some art-materials and tell me the shape you want, and I will know without measuring, which way the pieces need to fit together. There are some things I know, deep in my core, that are very difficult to explain in the language of logic.

One, the Earth is alive.

Two, we are all related… even the 1% of the 1% are part of who we are. Our own bodies are part of this living planet.

Three, Nature is wise. Through our bodies, our emotions, and our intuition, we can access that wisdom. Earth knows just what she needs to do to heal. Each of us, by our actions in every moment, can feed either into the collective sickness or the movement toward wholeness. Your gut knows the difference.

The way forward is for each one of us to reunite, joyfully, with our true purpose for being here. By doing this, we are re-aligning ourselves with the planet’s own desire for health.
(& Yes, healing yourself is part of this work…) Listen for what needs doing right here, right now, in front of your nose and inside your heart.

The time is now, not just for Revolution but for an Evolution!!!

Welcome to my blog. Comments are appreciated.

With love,

My Photo

I am an artist-activist working with the Occupy Movement in Minneapolis since its launch at the People’s Plaza in October 2011. I am from Minnesota. I am biracial (Japanese and German descent), I’m queer, I’m middle-class. I own a cat and a dog. I have traveled around the world as a peace activist and artist. I’ve lived in the country, in the suburbs, and in cities (Minneapolis, Chicago, and Osaka, Japan). I am a healer, practicing herbalism and a type of movement therapy and body-awareness work called “Global Somatics.” I am an arts-teacher and have worked with students K-12 across the Twin Cities and in greater Minnesota. I am a musician and songwriter. The core issues I focus on are: Healing relationships across human-differences, and Healing our relationship to the Earth.

By Published On: March 4th, 2012Comments Off on Malia Burkhart> 99 or One

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