angel Kyodo williams

Posts Tagged ‘justice’

when the people rise

In culture, identity, politics, relationship on March 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

why self-determination will always overcome fear
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Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen. Bahrain. Libya.

The last few months have borne witness to a powder keg of successive uprisings by Arab Peoples throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The desperate act of a Tunisian vendor—setting himself on fire in protest of his cart—and means of livelihood—being taken away—was a stand for self-determination that has been amplified by Arab People reclaiming their dignity one county at a time.

If nature abhors a vacuum, then indeed, it resists none more persistently than a vacuum of natural selfhood. When the breaking point of lack of fulfillment meets with the illuminating function of self-awareness, human beings, like nature, seek to restore balance.

When this happens collectively, We Are All Khaled Said…

…and the People rise.

This (r)evolutionary imperative to see manifest condition in which one can thrive is more ancient, more deeply rooted, and thus more powerful, than the inclination to oppress others for one’s own warped sense of self-gain.

In a global, media-drenched world, awareness of self is expedited by the sheer number of other self-expressions to compare one’s own expression (or lack thereof) to. Thus the cycle of being lulled to sleep by paternalistic promises–only to be rudely awakened by a nightmarish loss of freedom–is quickened. We come to terms more rapidly with the reality that as soothing as it may first appear when we are young and naive, we do not want to have everything taken care of by the Great Hero Father. Hence our empires rise and fall more swiftly than ever. Dictators, monarchs, aristocracies and elite parties beware: you are remnants of the past even before you take your corrupted seats these days. When your fabricated means of distraction falls away, the People will rise.

Beyond survival and security, self-determination is the underpinning of justice. When corrupt leaders falter on the first two, the last is the restorative penance that must be paid. Beyond simple survival, being able to determine our own path is the hallmark of self-expression, self-fulfillment, and most importantly, self-love.

In insisting upon the removal of decades-long dictators, the People reclaim their fundamental, inalienable right and responsibility to determine their own path. A right they have come to recognize has been obscured and hampered by individual men projecting an image of themselves as the sole reflection of an entire People:

  • what they will and will not have access to
  • how they are to be governed
  • what they can and cannot become

It would appear to the untrained eye that these Arab Peoples were ruled by different men, but to the eye of the astute, each dictator was a differently dated carbon copy of the other, and all of them mere proxies for fear.

But the People eventually stay the Iron Fist, lift the veil and see the cowering figure clinging to power is neither God nor Hero, just a small, desperate man. Emboldened by their commitment, empowered by their collectivity, liberated from the shackles of fear, the People rise to find liberation from the shackles of oppression.

Questions abound as to how the all-knowing US didn’t see such a wave of revolutions forthcoming: America’s deep-seated racism and perceived religious-cultural superiority conspire to make the quiet swelling of a sea of brown and black People calling for their freedom with fearlessness, grace and unwavering determination a political improbability. To see them do it in succession, leaving the realm of mere anomaly? Impossible.

Having paid so much to keep them divided, we simply lack the imagination to conceive of Arab Peoples bonding together in solidarity to restore the dignity and rightful place of their own. How else could we justify funding the suppression of their beautiful brown selves for so long? How else could we be so confused as to whether we should continue to underwrite Mass Muslim Control rather than proclaim the side of the People the only righteous side to be on?

Even as we witnessed it with our own eyes, we clung to our reductionist, divisive values: it was the youth, it was the educated, it was the middle class, it was the non-religious. No matter that many of the largest protests formed after Friday prayers. Even more un-humanizing, it was Facebook or Twitter. Make no mistake: no matter the vehicle or tool, it was the People.

The brown, red, black and yellow People of this country can learn volumes from the hopefulness and vision expressed by our Arab brothers and sisters. If invested in transformation of society beyond the policy win, past the campaign, despite the funders, our own organizers can benefit from the study of revolutionary change—rooted in the mass power of collective love for the People that unifies, coupled with the individual compulsion for self-determination—that will always eventually transcend fear.

When that happens, we the People, too, shall finally rise.

—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to the power of the People. may they rise again and again.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and Founder Emeritus of
Center for Transformative Change.
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and justice for all

In culture, politics, spirit on July 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm

[Adapted from a Public Talk recorded July 8, 2010 @ CXC.]

Today the verdict for Oscar Grant came down. It was involuntary manslaughter. It was the first time I’d come across information that Johannes Mehserle (the former BART police officer who shot Grant) sobbed when he testified about realizing that he had his gun in his hand. Right away an image came to mind of how many people would think, “Oh, he just made that up.” Or, “He put on a good act so he could get acquitted.”

A lot of people are, justifiably, very angry. It’s the first time a police officer has been tried in over 30 years; there’s a lot of frustration. And I’m sure there are a lot of people outside, and in this room, who think that involuntary manslaughter is not enough. And I’m sure there are people who believe he should be acquitted. We get very fixed ideas about how things ought to be and its really, really difficult for us to let things be as it is. I wonder if just for a moment, wherever you sit, you might just be with what it is.

That it’s not just “involuntary manslaughter,” but the loss of life. The loss of life and the pain, that even if it was Mehserle’s intention, it must be his to bear. It’s the pain that any of us must bear when we harm another. And then, the compounded pain of having to cover that up and get tight, to make ourselves believe it was justified. And then, carrying the pain and frustration of people—and peoples—burdened by a system that doesn’t see them.

Is it just for this one person to carry the burden of those thousands upon thousands of people, with their justifiable anger and resentment? Is it just to rest it on the shoulders of one man? A man who had the wherewithal to sob?

Maybe it’s an act. But whether the sobs are real or not, you can’t deny the suffering. In every direction, you can’t deny the suffering. Because if we deny the suffering of others, we deny the suffering of our own hearts. And if we deny the suffering in our own hearts, we make believe that somehow there will be justice if one person bears the burden of a system that has been flawed for hundreds of years—hundreds. Since the birth of this country, it’s been a flawed system.

It’s in the denial of our own suffering that we keep seeking
these petty expressions of justice that don’t speak to the root. That don’t get at what’s really

  • What is it that we’re cutting off in our own lives?
  • What is it that we’re refusing to see?
  • Who is it that we’re refusing to see, to acknowledge the
    pain and the suffering of?
  • What is it that gives rise to an entire society that can have this kind of act occur and split us into pieces? Not over how do we fix this system…but over, “Is this guy going to get sent away to prison for life, or is he going to get acquitted?”

He’ll never go free; I should say that. No matter what, he’ll never go free. Even if he walks out of the court with no time served, he’ll never really go free.

What is it that we have to see? What do we have to deconstruct? What are we holding onto that it’s time to dismantle in our own hearts so that we can create more space for real justice? This is justice that arises, not out of a sense of punishment, but out of a sense of love, justice that serves and embodies love. Not justice that is confused and mistaken for punishment.

Responsibility and Accountability
And that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable, because absolutely people should be held accountable. We have social and legal agreements that say folks under 18 can’t be held accountable until we classify them as adults. Why is that? How do we make this distinction that if you’re under
18 you can’t be held accountable for your actions? Because they don’t know enough yet.

They’re not equipped to make decisions in such a way that they’re able to be responsible, therefore they can’t be held accountable.

We have a society that doesn’t let people grow up in a way that lets them be responsible. We haven’t taught people to be responsible. So we can’t really hold people accountable until we take the responsibility as a society to teach people how to be responsible. And no one can be responsible, if they can’t love. And they can’t be responsible for loving others if they can’t be responsible for loving themselves. If you can’t love yourself, you cannot know how to love others. And if you don’t know how to love others—I’m not talking about romantic love, but agape love…Universal Love.

I’m not even talking about filial love, but the love that arises out of compassion. Compassion precedes that love. The love that arises out compassion arises out of recognition.

If you cannot recognize—if you cannot see—you cannot love. If you can’t see people, you cannot love them. If you can’t see them for who they are and what they are and where they are in all their differences, not their sameness…in all their differences. That’s where it gets ugly: when people are different and you can’t make sense of them easily. If you can’t see people for their differences, and appreciate their differences—not like them…I’m not talking about like them—who cares about that? I’m talking about love, the magnetic energy that is a vibration of your cells in relationship to other living cells. If you can’t see people’s differences, if you can’t see people for who they are, you cannot love them. And the main reason most of us cannot see others is because we can’t see ourselves…we won’t see ourselves.

It’s hard to hold the whole truth of who we are. It’s hard. But if you don’t want to hold the truth of who you for yourself, do it for us. Do it for us, because we need every single one of you. I need you to see me for who I am, and I know you can’t do that if you cannot see yourself. I need to be able to hold you accountable for how you show up. But I can’t do that if you’re not responsible for yourself, because you don’t even know who you are.

When we don’t reconcile the challenge of meeting ourselves, we look for false justice. We punish rather than hold accountable. We seek retribution rather than resolution. We try to get our broken hearts met by breaking everything around us in equal measure.

And when we find that our hearts are not met, we try to break more. It’s an unstoppable cycle of violence and trauma and pain and suffering, and it all begins with our refusal to see ourselves.

There are a lot of dark and unexamined places that our culture teaches us we can buy our way away from, that we can consume our way to the land of bliss and happiness never to meet the “me” again. If you just consume enough, you’ll eat the pain away. How’s that working for you?

The thing about our pain and our suffering is this: until it is met and seen for what it is, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like the dark places in your refrigerator, things hidden in little containers that you refuse to open, because you don’t quite remember when it got there. So instead of facing the smelly tempeh that might be in there, you eventually run into an infestation of things that can kill you, because you didn’t want to deal with it when it was just plain stinky. That’s really how it is. In fact, in my experience, things are never as bad as the idea you create of them.

Somehow, when we get caught in our stuck ideas about ourselves, we create better images of who we are, and we believe worse images of who we actually are. So we create fantasies and we believe fiction. Neither of these things abide in truth.

So that you don’t leave thinking that I’m all doom and gloom, I’ll give you some homework. Take it home with you, but start it right now:

Think about one person or situation that you’re not allowing yourself to see because to see that will mean that you have to see yourself. And take the first step to opening your eyes. Just one little step. Don’t try to fix it all at once, but take the first step to truly seeing.

Start the movement toward dismantling punitive justice and discovering the justice that comes from love.

—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to everyone that loves and would have loved Oscar Grant. and to Johannes Mesherle, in the name of justice, in the name of love.

angel Kyodo williams, is founder of urbanPEACE and it’s Center for Transformative Change. Happily, she is no longer its director, but the official Intellectual Guru Emeritus. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.

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