Spirituality and Politics

Marianne Williamson announced a special event today dubbed Sister Giant. With the announcement came a wonderful essay about the connection between politics and spirituality. I heartily recommend reading the essay, and I encourage my more radical readers to bear with her general liberal idealism and non-violence worship. For my more mainstream readers, I will absolutely get into my clear disdain for reformism and non-violence romanticism. This topic is very personal to me and has been key to my own spiritual transformation since 2009. Here is what Marianne wrote:

Over the years, many people on a spiritual journey have asked me why I keep going on about politics, and many people involved in politics have asked me why I keep going on about spirituality. Today however, more and more people seem to sense, as I do, that each holds a gift for the other.

People on a spiritual path – personal growth, spiritual practice, recovery, yoga and so forth – are the last people who should be sitting out the social and political issues of our day. And there’s an important reason for this: people on such journeys are adepts at change. They know that the mechanics of the heart and mind are the fundamental drivers of transformation. This doesn’t just apply to one person, but to masses as well; if you know what makes one life change then you know what makes a nation change, because a nation is simply a large group of people. America keeps trying to fix itself by moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. Clearly this isn’t working, and people in the consciousness movement have some important clues as to why.

People involved in the inner journey discover the value of the feminine, or spiritually receptive and inclusive, aspect of human consciousness. Everyone archetypally is a parent to future generations. And a motherly love – putting the care of children before every other consideration — is the ultimate intelligence of nature. Yes, women are homemakers — and the entire earth is our home. Yes, we are here to take care of the children — and every child in the world is one of our own. We have evolved to a point to be ready to say these things, in a meaningful way and with a collective voice. Making money more important than your own children is a pathological way for an individual to run their affairs, and it’s a pathological way for a society to run its affairs.

Albert Einstein said we would not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. We need more than a new politics; what we need is a new worldview. We need a fundamentally different bottom line. We need to shift from an economic to a humanitarian organizing principle for human civilization. And women, en masse, should be saying so.

The US incarcerates more of its people than any nation in the world, or any nation in history. Our military budget is almost twice that of all other nations of the world combined. At 23.1 per cent, our child poverty rate is so high that it is second only to Romania among the 35 developed nations of the world. 17,000 children on earth die of starvation every single day. We are the only species systematically destroying its own habitat. And two billion people – almost a third of the world’s population – live on less than 2 dollars a day. There’s a lot more to those statistics than a simple “To Do” list can fix. Those facts will only change when we bring to our problem-solving a far more committed heart.

Currently, the US Congress is comprised of 16.8 per cent women. Our State legislators are comprised of 23.6 per cent women. Would our legislative priorities be what they are today – tending always in the direction of serving those with economic leverage first — were those legislative bodies anywhere near gender equal? Would the “war on women” exist as it does now? Would child poverty – or poverty, period – be given such short shift? I like to think not.

Yet there are understandable reasons for the lack of female participation in our electoral politics, not the least of which is that the entire political system is contrary to everything a feminine heart stands for. It lacks inclusion. It lacks poetry. It doesn’t nurture. It doesn’t love. And without those things, the feminine psyche disconnects.

Where does that leave us though, if we simply shudder at the thought of politics and then ignore it altogether? Talk about being co-opted by a patriarchal system! We will have gone from men telling us condescendingly to not bother our pretty little heads about important things like politics, to not bothering our pretty little heads without even being told not to! The suffragettes struggled and suffered so much on our behalf; what a travesty of everything they stood for, if we simply look away as though we can’t be bothered.

And yet we should be bothered. Our challenge is to not look away, but rather to transform the field; to create a new political conversation, our own conversation, out of which we can speak our truth in our own way.

My hope and intention is that Sister Giant will be an incubator for the emergence of that new field of political possibility, entailing a new conversation about America and a serious sense of sisterhood. It will cover everything from psychological and emotional issues to a spiritual perspective on politics, to actually training women how to run for office. I want to be a cheerleader for women who have never considered running for office or being involved in a campaign, but who in the quietness of their hearts might think, “Why not me?”

As we awaken individually, we will act more powerfully collectively; legislation and political campaigns will embody a new kind of thinking only if we engage en masse. In the absence of our engaging the political system, we allow it to become something other than what we are. That in fact is what has happened, but it’s also what we can change. For what we engage, we transform. And what we engage with our hearts is transformed forever.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the desegregation of the American South was the political externalization of the goal of the Civil Rights movement, but that the ultimate goal was the establishment of the beloved community. He said it was time to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of human civilization. He wasn’t called a New Age nutcase or considered an intellectual lightweight for saying such things, and neither should we be. I don’t think making love the new bottom line is naïve; I believe that thinking we can survive the next hundred years doing anything less, is naïve. Sister Giant is a place for anyone who agrees with that – male or female, from the political Left, the political Right or the political Center. It will, I hope, contribute to a new conversation, a new America and a new world.

First of all I have two purposes here: 1) to build/elaborate on what Marianne has said 2) to offer what I would call a common-folk, grounded perspective. I wanna say organic intellectual, but it seems a bit pretentious to label my own writing as that.

In 2009, I took part in a hunger strike to call massive attention to the ways in which the university I was attending was unduly putting many resources for students of color on the chopping block. Long story short: when the Age of Austerity had begun, the university administration was taking advantage of the political climate to push an agenda of cutting ethnic student resources whose money sources were different from that of the ones that seemed to just be drying up out of nowhere. I think you can see where I’m going with this. For those who don’t see, it was outright racism being pushed under ulterior motives.

This is in the middle of a climate where entire departments and programs were being completely eliminated, massive student fee increases, huge cuts to financial aid, less classes, more students, and less faculty.

One of the resulting organic mobilizations was the Student of Color Collective, a gathering of students from various ethnic student organizations/groups with varying degrees of socio-political activity. We resolved to support each other until we met each and every one of the demands of our respective communities. I can’t underline how powerful that felt to feel like we were having each other’s backs in our efforts. At times coalition spaces can disintegrate once bigger or mainstream groups get their demands met, leaving smaller contingencies and more marginalized communities hanging out to dry.

The collective mobilized. We had roughly a month to respond to the cuts announced at the end of the school year, leaving the cuts to go into effect over the summer when most of the student population would be at home. We decided to revive a tactic with historical significance to the activist community at the university: the hunger strike.

It wasn’t as simple as waking up one day and just not eating – though it certainly could have gone that way. A big brother figure of mine offered to give the hunger strikers some guidance to fasting as a native and spiritual tradition. He invited us to a sweat lodge ceremony to cleanse and prepare ourselves inwardly for focus, discipline, and vision. He also invited to speak to a medicine man passing through our area. It was all new to me. I did not grow up with native culture or much of any kind of spirituality. I had only began exploring spirituality about 2 years prior and still felt like a baby in gaining understanding of myself and my relation to all of creation and infinity.

He told me something that set me on a path to question what I had known and felt up to that point about life. He said “You have to be careful with this sort of thing. What you’re doing here is mixing politics and spirituality, and the two do not mix.”

My brain had what I call a “reset” moment. My thoughts came to a halt and I sat silent in thought and emotion for a moment. My heart told me it’s true and not true at the same time. It’s true because prayer has had yet to put a halt to many harsh realities of this world – a reality caused by politics. However, something deeper inside rang feeling “Everything is connected. Even when it is not apparent, one must make the effort to connect the dots.” This has stayed with me three years later and has continued to run deep through everything I do to where I still am exploring the question: How is politics connected to spirituality?

Never underestimate the power of asking yourself a question you’re committed to finding the answer to. If you really want it, the Universe will send you the exact experiences and pieces of information you need to know at the exact moments you need them so you may gain true understanding of the answers you seek.

Thank you to Marianne for having the courage to deny both the political and spiritual naysayers who are quick to brashly demand she “leave spirituality out of politics” and “leave politics out of spirituality” respectively. Also, we can’t forget the general call to avoid taking a stance on controversy so as not to upset the audience.

She offers up some great insight when she says “People involved in the inner journey discover the value of the feminine, or spiritually receptive and inclusive, aspect of human consciousness.

Politics is overwhelmingly a masculine environment. The duality of masculine and feminine is still present with the respective dark and light capacities. Detach the racial connotations of dark and light for a moment, as this is relating to spirituality, which does not place an inherent good/bad dichotomy on all things. The same goes for masculine/feminine. All beings – regardless of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and who they’re attracted to – have masculine and feminine energy running in and throughout them. For more info on detaching from good/bad, check out this video parable here.

The light masculine political energy is that of debate, intellectual dialogue, representation, and provision.

The dark masculine political energy is that of aggression, might is right, paternalism and domination.

The light feminine political energy is that of nurturing, care taking, children-centering, and inclusivity.

The dark feminine political energy is that of subversion, manipulation, lies, and deception.

These are my own personal and very brief descriptions that could be explored much, much further. I would ask you to consider: Which political energies do you see being manifested in your own government and many other governments world-wide?

I think we tend to see more dark energy of both the feminine and the masculine with a greater amount of negative masculine, as Marianne points out with her statistics of representation. And obviously feminists could not have so righteously named the system/status quo as being patriarchal in nature if it were not so male-centered in the first place.

However, as many (not all) radical Native thinkers have reminded us, the world will not necessarily be bettered by a so-called matriarchal system. It is ultimately about the sacred balance of both masculine and feminine. And feminism, for many, is about the restoration of that sacred balance.

Politics is ultimately about division and separation. While spirituality reminds us that we are one.

This is where I break with Marianne’s insight and analysis.

Politics as a whole needs to die. Politics is about basing ones actions on the presumption of scarcity and egocentricity. There is not enough to go around for everyone so I will dominate, lie and deceive my way into getting more for me/my family/my community/my country than for you/yours.

The current political order and structure was based in patriarchy. To be more specific, it’s a colonial power structure that was meant to serve the purpose that it has achieved and stratifies, directing power, energy, and money toward a shrinking minority of people who are mostly white, mostly men, mostly old, mostly heterosexual, mostly anglo-saxon, and so on and so forth.

I can’t sit here and day dream about a time when the political structure is returned to the people. Audre Lorde strikingly reminds us all that “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House“. A restoration and cultivation of the feminine will ultimately melt the foundation that the establishment/status quo/control system rests on, imploding political institutions in on themselves.

And while I do find myself in agreement with non-violent principles, I grow weary of the spiritual camps that bestow so much glory unto Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar E. Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more who are overly romanticized and given far too much credit for the gains they helped achieve for the people. This is the nature of our ego-centric social order, however, ultimately placing more importance on the cult of personality than on the movements for Justice that gave them such rise to prominence. For every famed leader, there are faces of every day men, women, children, and elderly much like ourselves who they would have been nothing without. Just another voice shouting into an abyss of earthly consciousness.

And for every famed non-violent leader, there were self-defense leaders right alongside them, often times providing protection to these same non-violent leaders and groups. It’s a symbiotic relationship and I doubt we will see as large and effective thrust for change until we can respect the other camp’s methods to achieving the same objective more and more of us are beginning to long for. This is one consideration the debate around Diversity of Tactics should well pick up.

I won’t be attending Sister Giant, but I am glad a leading voice like Marianne is bravely leading people who heed her truths into culminating and ground-breaking discussion that many spiritual people NEED to have. I can definitely say for myself that when I’m around political people, I’m usually pushing spiritual discussions. And when I’m around spiritual people, I push political discussions. It’s hard to have a more comprehensive picture of reality without considering both frames of reference. So how, then, do spirituality and politics connect for me?

Spirituality is ultimately about practice. There is a term used in certain ceremony circles called the “walking prayer”. Praying for something to happen without taking any actions to shift the world in that direction or to take any opportunities that Creator places before us is in effect not taking any actions to help ourselves out of our collective societal and human conditions.

Spirituality is also about building our world from within. We explore and build up our inner world so that our outer physical reality will shift to reflect our move towards and eventual placement in our “ideal self”. This might change our world in an individualistic sense. However, we still have to remember where we come from. I remember my family, my ancestors and my community that have done so much to set me up to be in the place I am today, and even in this very moment. Giving back to the communities that boosted us to where we are is vital. The true power to change our collective condition is to get collective with our actions.

The drive to affect as many lives as possible during one’s lifetime is a desire reflective of industrialist, egocentric mentality that thinks in terms of numbers. I would put forth that it is about changing our lives and our world together.

Participation in politics is but a means to an end. Get in and get out. Support other people in their efforts as you feel the need. We can postulate that radical politics and mobilization is all that’s worth our time and attention, but at the end of the day, the bread & butter issues matter. Health care, reproductive health & freedom, living wages and equal rights for undocumented immigrants – the list could go on. Believing that taking part in politics is good in and of itself is folly, and ultimately lends oneself to the political machine that drives any true movement of the people into the ground. That is what the political system does, and that is what the political system is for. The Tea Party was hijacked by mainstream conservatives and mainstream liberals tried to do the same to Occupy. Some might argue the liberals succeeded. That’s a different discussion.

Dr. King warned us that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” He was, in part, alluding to the great disconnect in humanity today. A cognitive dissonance where we know the way we feel the world should be, yet we overwhelmingly accept and even defend the unjust order that snuffed out the light inside that told us how unfair the world is. It’s what allows someone from an industrialized society like the US to donate to a kid in a foreign country where the US had a hand in overthrowing and destabilizing their society for decades to come. Instead of working to stop the crushing destroyer that is the US and its military industrial complex, complacent comfort is found in charity.

I demand and expect more of people, just as I demand and expect more of myself. All we can ever do is try our best, and be as zen as possible about things that happen beyond our best conscious efforts. And also, there’s no reason to assume the next paradigm shifting movement is going to look like a Million Man March. Open mind, open heart.

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Out of Unity you arise
The return to Unity is your Destiny
The Mind discovers the path of return
While the Heart provides the key to each stage along the way

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“I Could Be Wrong, But…” – A Critical Reflection On Privilege Discussions

When it comes to discussions relating to privilege there’s a certain dynamic that tends to pop up within circles of people who spouse themselves in some form or another as being both critical and conscious. I have seen time and again where someone in a position of relative privilege is silenced in the middle of a genuine discussion to explore the dynamics of any given system of domination. I’m not talking about, for example, simply checking a white fool for saying something ignorant. However when it comes to genuinely trying to understand what the deal is, or what they did wrong, I have seen a general tone be “Just shut up” in many cases.

I find this to be counter-productive because it erases the process of gaining understanding and compassion where there is currently too little or none. If all someone learns is “don’t say that” without an understanding of *why* then they aren’t truly grasping the matter or the importance – only that it *is* serious and important. Is this enough? I say no. Would there be any point to me making this assertion without explaining why? You decide.

In my opinion, when it comes to systems of domination and privilege, the person in the relative seat of colonial hierarchical power generally needs to shut the hell up and take the time to listen humbly to what the Oppressed have to say. I think of it as the fishbowl dynamic where we listen to the voices of those we have been conditioned to keep tuned out of our consciousness. It doesn’t end there, though.

There is also the talk-back where someone who is part of a community having a discussion reaches for understanding. This is different from denial and invalidation. It involves calling on their direct lived experience – their subjective understanding of the world – to assimilate into their being another way of seeing the world. And sometimes this is still taken as a threat, as if they are refusing to accept how things are.

I will even go as far as to say that when it comes to gaining an ever-growing understanding of systems of domination as we explore, feel, and observe them as they change throughout time, it is crucial to have a critically conscious understanding from the perspective of someone who embodies their relative place of privilege. I deeply value the White person who can give that intimate knowledge of the things white people say and do when Others are not around – especially if they once embodied such a place. I will never have that intimate understanding and cherish these insights.

I can say for myself that men (even self-proclaimed Conscious/radical ones) can say some pretty disconcerting things about women. Of my closer friends who I have related some of these experiences with, a few have told me that I need to check fools in those circumstances. And there comes a problem that I have with what I feel is a common notion of what it means to “check a fool”. It means shutting them the fuck up and letting them know what they said is messed up and why – with little to no continued discussion. In some cases I observe. In others I probe with questions and conversation. And in others I share my understanding of why I feel something is messed up. Still, there are plenty of times when I feel intimidated myself to speak out and even check some fools. Just being honest here.

This is not me saying that I am Perfect Conscious Man Who Can Do No Wrong. Of course I mess up, and am continually learning. But part of learning is speaking one’s truth with the assumption that one does not have the full picture. And when it comes to systems of domination, people who embody the Oppressor/Privileged role are part of the whole of the system – and thus have an important part to play in gaining an ever-growing understanding.

“I could be wrong… but…”

That’s what this is here. This is my opening up of that inner sense of knowing that tells me that something is wrong about these dynamics. That “shut the f**k up you privileged ________ boy” is not enough. That we can do more – and that we can do better. To me, a safe space is about knowing that things are going to get worked out – not that no one will ever say anything that is hurtful or harsh to the ears.

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A brief interlude of reality on the “privilege” conversation

An article seems to have been making waves among people who esteem themselves as forward thinking radicals.

Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation

A powerful image for a powerful article.

I have a lot of respect for this article that’s a good hour-and-a-half time sink of a read. There is one subject I want to clarify on, and it’s the idea of privilege analysis and its place within organizing and activist circles.

The article starts out quickly stating:

 

[This] is a critique of how privilege theory and cultural essentialism have incapacitated antiracist, feminist, and queer organizing in this country by confusing identity categories with culture, and culture with solidarity. This conflation, we go on to argue, minimizes and misrepresents the severity and structural character of the violence and material deprivation faced by marginalized demographics.

According to this politics, white supremacy is primarily a psychological attitude which individuals can simply choose to discard instead of a material infrastructure which reproduces race at key sites across society – from racially segmented labor markets to the militarization of the border. Even when this material infrastructure is named, more confrontational tactics which might involve the risk of arrest are deemed “white” and “privileged,” while the focus turns back to reforming the behavior and beliefs of individuals. Privilege politics is ultimately rooted in an idealist theory of power which maintains that psychological attitudes are the root cause of oppression and exploitation, and that vague alterations in consciousness will somehow remake oppressive structures.

Let me state briefly and simply that I feel people are making a big deal out of something that is relatively simple: not everyone wants to bring down the system.

So yeah. As an example, some people push statistics on representation for specific political means like opening up access to the university to communities who are commonly pushed away from that by the public K-12 education systems. If these stats on “proportional representation” are taken to the extreme, all it means is that race and ethnicity is spread out proportionally across the oppressive, hierarchical, and capitalist institutions. “Proportional representation” is a form of politics that compares the racial/ethnic demographics of the general population to the demographics of people in places such as universities or prisons.  It’s a lens of analysis that can be used for many means. Articles like the one posted are written by people I’ve seen constantly push a politic that says having a critical race analysis is equivalent to being a statist who wants queer people of color in high offices and CEO positions. This is understandable exactly because this seems to be exactly what some people desire.

Pushing statistics that show people of color populate a higher percentage of the prison population than they do in, say, the general population, and a far lower percentage in university should give us a keen insight into the real life effects of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Some people will push these stats to say this is what the system can only ever produce and thus it needs to be replaced. Other people only will say this is exactly why a reform of the criminal justice system is needed and call to address poverty since it is historically linked with crime rates. The difference should be noted that one is radical, while one is liberal.

Some people use privilege analysis to silence conversation and basically be a big baby about things to center everything around them and guilt the person in the “oppressor” role in the room. Pretty annoying. But even more, it’s debilitating! It stifles and brings all movement and conversation to a standstill when all people want to do is guilt someone into shutting up so they can be put on a pedestal. Granted, the guilt of being an oppressor is something that many if not most of us have to deal with internally and reckon with. 

And on the other hand there are people who don’t want to address their domineering tendencies because “that’s just how they are” as if growing up within this system could not have affected them. This includes self-proclaimed anarchists who say they prefer non-hierarchical, horizontal organizing structures, yet have no problem openly engaging in dominating spaces with their politics and voice.

We need to find a balance between the liberal co-optation of privilege analysis as well as the radical reactionaryism to the co-optation. People seem to have forgetten that “identity politics” and anti-oppression were pioneered by militant women in the black liberation struggle– anti-oppression politics was supposed to EMPOWER people in their revolutionary struggles. It was a response to men of color ignoring (queer) women of color in revolutionary movements.

Today’s identity politics/anti-oppression has been extremely co-opted in many areas, changing the language of empowerment to the language of “safety” and reform.

We need to get back to the original intention behind privilege politics– to EMPOWER those in oppressed positions to throw off their chains, and to EDUCATE those in privileged positions into being their accomplices (i.e. white “race-traitors” who assist militant movements i.e. Subcomandante Marcos)

As much as people try to posture as being “more radical than thou”, sometimes its absolutely necessary to engage in the political system for a specific end. Each person and group will decide for themselves when it is necessary. I definitely know some down folks who work to open up access to higher education for working class people of color by navigating the system with this kind of language.

I close my entrance into this fray with a raw insight (rant) There Are No Safe Spaces

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Precious Knowledge puts spotlight on Ethnic Studies ban in Arizona

Documentary: PBS Independent Lens – Precious Knowledge

Runtime: 55 minutes – Watch the full film through June 7, 2012

Great documentary. It pains me to see that we are still struggling to meet the reality of genocide. In this context, cultural genocide. Yet still connected with physical genocide. Taking away a beacon of hope like ethnic studies to pull the people out of the hole of drop out rates and thus near-inevitable incarceration is but a cog in the de facto machine of racial apartheid and class stratification.

Also, notice how the white bureaucrats in question use anti-racist language of the Civil Rights Movement to enact racist legislation. They also do not allow for any critique of the United States or the “forefathers”. And to the remark of Huppenthal wondering where the “forefathers” were in the classroom, it should be understood that is what the mainstream required history classes are for. It’s a double standard to expect mainstream history to overflow into alternative elective classes when the reason the alternative elective classes exist is to supplement what is missing in mainstream required history. I’m surprised no one in the class brought that point up.

 

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