5 Fresh Ways You Can Sit To Change Shit
In storefronts, on street corners, outside voting booths or the doors of Goldman Sachs, we’ve seen Buddhists bring their half-lotus some unlikely places in the name of social engagement. Political sits “work” because juxtaposing an outward posture of (perceived) peace with strong political demands or direct action can shake up expectations and send a powerful message — while also reminding us to attend to inner liberation even as we fight for justice.
Here are 5 radical ways we could, in the words of The Interdependence Project, “Sit Down To Rise Up.”
1. Bodhisattva Blockade
The photo at right shows the day, September 1st, 1978, when a man was run over by a train shipping weapons to the contra wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. A train that he was attempting to blockade.
“As he sat in half-lotus, Brian Willson was hit and dragged beneath the train. He sustained a serious head injury. His legs were severed from his body. Miraculously, he lived,” writes the Zen priest Maylie Scott.
Later Scott joined a cohort of blockaders called Nuremburg Action, which included a crew from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, to take up the fight after Willson’s near-fatal injury, occupying the same spot on the tracks where he went under. For years protesters continued these ritualized actions, arrested again and again, returning over and over to the same site to block trains. Maylie, ordained as a priest at the Berkeley Zen Center, wrote a poem about it, too.
Guided Meditation On The Tracks
Blackbirds squealing on the chain-link fence.
Let us appreciate the ground
that supports us, the breath
that sustains us, the wind
on our faces, the sun
on our backs.
Let us know how this place extends.
How the quick missile spreads dirt,
and flesh. The soft and hard places
where the bullets lodge. The profits,
the jobs provided, the services lost,
the taxes we pay, the governments
we bring down and those we bring to power.
We are here because we know
the facts of interbeing
do not leave us alone.
They have brought us to this ground
where blood has been spilt,
that allows us to sit, that holds
our confusion, our collusion,
and failure of intention.
This place where weapons trucks
and trains carry death each day.
Where nothing is disowned;
where, in this moment, we are whole.
2. Sit-Lie Defiance
While some merchants lobby for these ordinances in an effort to clear their storefront areas of “loiterers,” many social justice groups denounce them as an attempt to push poor people out of sight — not to mention a frightening criminalization of the use of public space.
“‘If they enforce the law the way it’s written, people will think they live in a police state,’ says Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California” (in USA Today.)
If you’re a Buddhist who believes that “sidewalks are for people,” and there’s a sit-lie measure on the ballot in your area, you can put those sitting- and lying-down meditation skills to use for direct action.
3. Encampment Defense Adhiṭṭhāna
In the tradition of “we shall not be moved,” meditators can contribute our adhiṭṭhāna (strong determination) to compassionate confrontations when police try to break up an Occupy encampment, anti-tar-sands tree sit, or other physical community of politicized people.
As Pancho Ramos-Stierle demonstrated during a raid of the Occupy Oakland camp, sitting still amidst a storm of police can dramatize courage in the face of state repression in a way that appeals to mainstream sensibilities (though bold, loud resistance — or silent escape — also have their time and place, depending on one’s circumstances).
And as this happy camper of the Tar Sands Blockade shows, hanging out in a tree sit creates an airborne community of direct-action earth defenders.
4. Sit-Down Strike
To pull this one off, you have to be part of an organized workforce ready for an indefinite strike. In which case — we salute you! Feel free to strike sitting, walking, lying down, or in any other posture suitable for waging class struggle while developing awareness of the Three Marks of Existence. Hell yes.
5. Lockdown Lotus
Whether immobilizing nefarious, earth-destroying machines or barring the entrance to City Hall, locking down can gum up the works for a little while and send an unmistakable warning to the target: expect direct interference.
Lockdowns have been a common tactic in the Tar Sands Blockade and resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as a tool for recent demonstrations in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners of California. I’d love to see and hear about more Buddhists following suit!
What are other creative ways to sit for a (social) change? Would love to hear your ideas in comments!