I like to take advantage of the fact that my birthday coincides with the New Year as a time to take stock of life in general and my life in particular. Since I've recently been admonished for sounding the alarm of impending doom when people just don't want to hear it, I'm hesitant to write about my assessment of our current situation. So let's just assume, if you are reading this, that you know full-well we are facing a convergence of catastrophes and I won't go into the depressing details that inspired the following essay.
Most of my friends consider themselves progressives and many are in the throes of frustration and despair. Their hopes for peace, justice and sanity have been dashed by an onslaught of double-speak legislation and democracidal judicial rulings. They are heartbroken by family and neighbors who have bought into an Orwellian system that encourages them to speak and act against their own interest, without a shred of human compassion. Some of my friends are so exasperated that they have even been citing this sentence in the United States Declaration of Independence that justified the American Revolution:
- But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
But revolution, in the traditional sense, is not a realistic strategy for dealing with the unabashed evil we are facing today. It may have worked for colonial revolutionaries, but it would be disastrous against the brand of despotism we face today. Gun control opponents take heed - nothing you have in your gun cabinet can defend you from the high tech weapons and psyops already being wielded against us. But while outright rebellion is not a viable option, no matter what the Borg may say, RESISTANCE is NOT futile. What we need is a concerted roadmap for a new kind of resistance - an irresistible resistance that transcends the barriers of our controlled media and transforms opponents into eager, compassionate converts. So over the next seven days I am going to offer some suggestions for achieving what Swami Beyondananda would call an "upwising"- a quiet movement of compassionate resistance.
#1: HELPING OTHERS - If someone needs help, just help them, because that's the right thing to do.
Marches, demonstrations, protests, lobbying our legislators, writing letters to the editor and even blogging are becoming so ineffective that they're irrelevant. Our voices have been strategically silenced while crisis unfolds. It's time to put down the protest signs and get all hands on deck to help the folks falling overboard. Despite anything the media tries to tell us, the economy is NOT getting better for the majority of Americans. There are no jobs and when good people can't earn money or can't earn enough money to pay the mortgage or rent, and the government cuts out all the safety nets, hard-working, decent folks end up living on the sidewalks.
Take a walk downtown any evening and see people huddled under every overpass, in doorways, behind shrubbery. Open your eyes and SEE human beings, families, women and CHILDREN living on the sidewalk of YOUR town or city! Ask yourself, "Is this acceptable?" Then decide to do something to help. You don't need to help every person in the world who is falling on hard times. You can't. So don't look for someone else to tell you what needs to be done- you heart will tell you. People are so desperate that you can't make a mistake, any act of kindness is important.
Go home and gather up that camping gear you haven't used in years, extra blankets, jackets, ponchos and whatever you can spare and just take them to the places where you see homeless people. Pull over and ask if anyone needs some dry clothes or a sleeping bag. You'll be astonished the first time someone tells you that they don't need anything "but the old lady huddled up just over there needs something". All of your preconceptions about poor people will go out the window as you see first-hand, over and over, that the worse-off people are, the more they seem to care about one another. I think that might just be an aspect of human nature that the powers-that-be, who are trying to get us all fighting amongst ourselves, have overlooked. And it might be our most powerful weapon of compassionate resistance.
Strike up a conversation with the people you meet on the street. Don't be judgmental- just remember that if it wasn't for some good luck you could be them. Please don't preach or tell anyone what they should do. Be ready to listen, because people have so much bottled up and no one to tell it to. You might be the first person who ever showed an interest. Your attention is as valuable as anything else you can offer. Just making eye contact and saying "Hello!" to someone you might normally ignore, is an act of compassion. If you are worried that people will ask you for money if you acknowledge them, then have a response ready, although you will seldom need it. I respond with the question, "Are you hungry?" At least you have acknowledged their humanity.
Is that a little scary? Then start out by helping someone else who's already doing something for the less fortunate. My hope in humanity has been totally restored in the past few months as I've worked with so many local groups of people who are out there giving their time and energy to helping the poor. No one gave any of these groups an instruction book on how to do this. In every case they have started out with one or two people who just decided to do something. They didn't ask for permission; they just followed their hearts. Groups like Girls Think Tank (www.girlsthinktank.org) who distribute backpacks filled with necessities to people living on the streets and Just call Us Volunteers (www.justcallusvolunteers.org) who prepare and serve delicious and nourishing meals for the homeless, began just that way, and now have inspired many volunteers to help them. It's also how we started our organization, Amikas (www.amikas.org).
Many people I know, who help the poor, belong to a church group, but you can just as easily get your friends together to do something, or make it a family project. Compassion isn't copyrighted by any one religion or organization. I was talking to a man in the post office the other day, when it was so miserable outside, about ways we can help people living on the street. He told me that I had a good heart. Then he asked, "Are you a Christian?" with the assurance in his voice that I must be. I never thought about what I do in terms of religion, but in terms of recognizing our shared humanity. So I responded to his question with a question - "Do I have to be a Christian to have a good heart?" He thought about it for a second and then I saw the light go on. "No," he said, "You still can have a good heart." Yes! That's how you incite compassionate resistance!
My favorite group to work with is San Diego Veterans for Peace (www.sdvfp.org). They are part of a national organization of veterans who have experienced the horror of war and speak out in support of peacemaking instead of war mongering. Just last week the national Veterans for Peace organized an act of civil disobedience outside the White House that resulted in 138 activists getting arrested- and not one mention of it in the media. In my opinion, the work the San Diego Veterans for peace group is doing has a much better chance of building a resistance movement. Since over a quarter of those living on our streets are veterans, the SDVFP has been focusing on helping homeless veterans, and recently started an all out effort with their Sleeping Bag and Poncho Campaign that uses 100% of the funds they raise to purchase sleeping bags and ponchos!
My husband and I went out with them last Wednesday night during a pause in the relentless rain and wind we've been having here. Being able to give a sleeping bag to a man who was facing a night of miserable cold and rain with nothing but the clothes on his back, was as exhilarating as it was heart wrenching. SDVFP volunteers have been going out every night, even in the rain, even on Christmas night. They go to the Veteran's Winter Shelter and talk to the veterans who line up outside waiting to see if any beds will be available that night. There are always more people waiting than available beds, so a lucky few are chosen by picking numbers. Then Vets for Peace volunteers make sure the guys who don't get in the shelter have a sleeping bag and poncho and whatever else they can give them so they can get through the night.
One man whom I was talking to, had his foot all bandaged. I learned that he had diabetes and he was so happy that they didn't have to amputate his foot. He wasn't one of the people chosen to get in the shelter and I watched him limp away with his crutch and wondered how his foot was going to heal if he was living on the street. Thanks to Vets for Peace, at least this man who served our country had a sleeping bag and a poncho so wherever he ended up sleeping he'd be warm and dry, knowing some people care about him. That's what I call "Supporting Our Troops"! Go to http://www.sdvfp.org/vfp-documents/101213-projectponcho.pdf to find out how you can help support the good work this group is doing.
There are many organizations asking for your help these days. Because of the depressed economy, donations to all non-profits have plummeted just as the need for help has grown. The problem is compounded by the fact that government funds for many safety-net organizations have been cut or eliminated entirely. Right-wing pundits and conservative politicians are preaching a poisonous lie that depicts the poor as lazy or trying to get something for nothing. They think that the only reason to volunteer for anything is if it will help advance their own agenda. The best way we can counter this mean-spirited attitude is by our own example. When people see you treating the poor with respect and going out of your way to help them, they come to realize that this is the way human beings are supposed to act. Kindness IS contagious. Your efforts will attract others to join you and soon it will be the norm to be altruistic, and our Compassionate Resistance movement will grow.
In celebration of my birthday and the New Year, I will share a new suggestion for practicing Compassionate Resistance each day this week. If you think these thoughts have value, please pass them along.