When the Occupy Wall Street movement began over two months ago, I just wasn’t interested. The national political scene mostly tires and annoys me, so I don’t pay much attention.
There they sat, quiet and stubborn college students; and there they stood, riot-geared tough-faced police.
I don’t know or understand the whole story. I know police work is difficult and complicated. But a scene like this leaves me cold, wondering what in the world we have come to. So do the vicious comments people scream at one another in the cyberspace around such videos.
Contemplating the scene after watching it the first time (and having a good little cry), I saw children all around. Idealistic and strong-willed children sitting on the ground. Threatened and insecure children strutting in their sunglasses and holsters. Simplistically-indignant children shouting “Shame on you!” at the bullies.
But no one stepping out of their pigeonhole. It probably wasn’t the time or place, but it seems we have less and less times and places for people to un-dig their heels and speak with kindness, patience, and genuine interest to one another across ideological lines. (A stream of pepper spray sort-of discourages such things too.)
Most of us have learned from childhood that we must fight to win. Of course, not at home with your sister (“share your toys!”). But in the movies and the storybooks, and definitely in the adult world – we have learned that you can’t prosper if you don’t beat down the bad guys. The good guys win. Not everybody. Only the good guys.
Republicans and Democrats, Tea Partiers and Occupiers, and many of us watching from our comfortable armchairs, are too often colorblind. We can only see ourselves and each other and the world at large in black and white. We line up people and ideas on “good” and “bad” sides, and then we start shooting – or spraying, or shouting. And we miss the depth of colors, the beauty, truth and goodness mingled with selfishness and brokenness in life at every level.
This is not to say we don’t form opinions and speak out for them. Personally, I am glad the Occupixies are doing their thing, and I much prefer this movement to the Democrats and Republicans (and philosophically I prefer it to the Tea Party, but I admire the grass-rootsiness of the TP too). But ultimately, we’re all a little lost, aren’t we? And it probably wouldn’t make things any worse if we practiced more patience and peace, listening and learning.
As I contemplate the UC-Davis pepper-spray scene – from my comfortable armchair – it’s easy to spout grand ideals about peace and love. But in the heat of showdown moments in my own life, I have stood (or sat) in each of those positions. I have sprayed and been sprayed, and I’ve shouted at bullies too. Sometimes, we become so passionate about our ideals or enraged about injustice, or even threatened and impatient, that we do dig in our heels or lash out at others; and I’m not suggesting that we can or even should keep such things from happening at all costs. History has taught us that “good guys,” eager to stop evil on every front, can all too quickly become “bad guys” in their very acts of fighting evil.
In discussing environmental and agricultural concerns, Wendell Berry called gardening a “complete action,” because it is not only a symbolic protest but also an actively-implemented solution to the problem it protests. Though I won’t be joining any tent cities, I have realized that I can launch my own protest just as effectively right where I am. I think maybe peaceful parenting, like gardening, is a complete action, and in watching the Occupillars, I am inspired to keep at it.
Peace begins at home. But it doesn’t have to end there.