Driving down Martin Luther King Way towards downtown Oakland today I passed a mile of fresh graffiti under the highway. One pillar had been tagged with "All cops are bastards." Windows on two businesses were boarded up, their fronts painted with "Forgive yourself," and I still cannot tell who wrote those words, the shop owners or the people wrecking them.
My home away from home, Yoga Tree Telegraph, is at the intersection of the #Blacklivesmatter protests that turned violent in downtown Berkeley last night and the entrance to Highway 24 in Oakland, where, just a couple minutes ago, I drove past a horde of Highway Patrol officers in full riot gear, lights flashing on their SUVs, ears bent toward shoulders with fingers cupping headsets. Protests over the Ferguson verdict have taken the form of mass highway blockades, and at this moment here in the studio I can hear the heavy bellow of a semi-truck's horn -- like a dying animal -- undoubtedly stuck on the highway, and I'm overcome with emotion.
My teacher Pete Guinosso begins class. "There's no way we can ignore the helicopters," he says, "so we might as well bring them in," and we close our eyes.
"Revolution," my teacher says, "starts with tenderness."
We act out when we don't feel heard, when our community, our loved ones, and our lives feel threatened. What the decision regarding Michael Brown and these protests here at home have brought to the forefront of our attention is that we as a culture must work on our abilities to speak truth and, most importantly, to listen.
At this very moment, my chest is ablaze, my stomach is churning, and my eyes are streaming. I was born and raised in Berkeley and Oakland. This is my home and I care deeply about my community. I am both proud of a country that can take to the streets, and saddened to my core at the form this protest has taken here. We are meeting violence with violence, and I can feel our collective fear and anxiety as potently as the helicopters who've been circling our neighborhoods for the last two weeks.
Don't get me wrong: I am deeply disturbed by the state of equality and human rights in our country. I also respect and honor the men and women who put their lives on the line to be our first responders, who brave the alarm page to extricate an accident victim from a car, to go after the bad guys if something happens to us, to uphold a system of right and wrong. With the decision in Ferguson, I understand -- I see -- the hypocrisy of putting my trust in such a statement, but I also believe in change... and that change starts with us, in our own bodies.
When I look and listen to my own body, I cannot pretend to be a black person. I am a relatively privileged white woman living in a white man's corporate society. That said, I feel stifled, repressed, and locked in by a system I don't agree with on a daily basis. My student loan debt could feed a small country. Community, yoga, writing -- these things all feed me, and with them I'm trying, bit by bit, to be the change I want to see. But it's hard. And discouraging... or at least it was until I found a group of like-minded souls. On #BlackLivesMatter, the organizers ask people not to dilute their message by changing the message to #AllLivesMatter. And so I won't. I'll speak, instead, to what I know.
In yoga training, we are learning to lead through non-violence and compassion, to send breath into the most uncomfortable of positions, to move from a place of stillness. We learn how to listen, how to release what we don't need, how to voice what we do. We are doing the work of becoming healers, and part of my work is here on the page, the rest is out there in the world.
And so I say to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, speak up for what you believe in and listen to the voices around you. Open yourself to the world so you can be seen and heard. Share your story so others might share theirs.
From Eckhart Tolle:
"No one chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity. They happen because there is not enough light to dispel the darkness."
Be the light.