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Samsara & Selfhood: Where the Practice meets the Pavement

This weekend a dear friend and I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to take part in the ongoing protests at the capital. As Ethan has previously reported, tens of thousands of people have been at the capital for weeks now passionately protesting the governor’s efforts to strip public-worker unions of their bargaining rights. Participating in the protest was an amazing experience for me. I left feeling energized and interconnected.  Although I had no expectation of this correlation, every moment I spent in Wisconsin felt like a direct extension of my Buddhist practice. Now it makes perfect sense.

I grew up working class and I am unapologetically pro-union. I am not naïve; unions and union politics are not perfect. Yet, it is undeniable that much of the economic, social justice, and worker/labor rights we now take for granted came from union work and collective bargaining - the very thing Scott Walker, and others in Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan, are working to end. From a Buddhist perspective, it could be argued that unions help introduce The Eightfold Noble Path into the work place. By working to alleviate harmful work conditions, worker exploitation, and other unfair labor practices, unions help keep those in power accountable for their intentions, actions, and livelihood. If the baseline of a Buddhist ethics is to do no harm, unions have a great track record having ended child labor, created the 40-hour workweek (and therefore also the weekend), and established safety regulations. It’s not The Jungle anymore, but as Michael Moore explained, things still aren’t awesome for the working class in this country.

Among the many inspiring things I got to see and do during the protests this weekend, two stood out. First, as someone who studies narrative, the repeated use of religion as a framework for and justification of the protest was intriguing. Everywhere you looked, Jesus was being invoked. Although I am not a Christian, I think Jesus said some smart things, and I am all about using the language needed to meet people where they are. America is America, and Wisconsin is the (upper) Midwest so its nice to see that at least Mike Huckabee, Fred Phelps, and The 700 Club don’t have a monopoly on the Because-Jesus- Said-So strategy. A great deal has been written on the connects between Buddha and Jesus, and along with the recent campaign asking “What Would Jesus Cut?” these protest signs reminded me that it all boils down to living with compassion.

For me, the most moving part of the protests was the outright, public declaration of interdependence. People from all over the country came to stand in the cold rain and snow with the Wisconsin workers. My friends and I drove the five hours from Minneapolis, but that was nothing. People came from all over: California, Texas, and New York. Other unions, and workers who aren’t even a part of the bill the governor is pushing were there. People from all walks of live, including upper middle class, and “white-collar” workers – all there. The police guarding the capital even joined the protests on their breaks. Tens of thousands of people recognizing that even if this isn’t directly about them – it affects us all. Signs of solidarity were everywhere.  I left Madison with a real, almost tangible feeling of interconnectedness so strong it feels like my heart might burst just reflecting on it now. Regardless of your politics, social justice work is where the practice meets the pavement. Where do you stand, and what does your protest sign say?

(I apologize for the blurriness of the photos. They are my personal pictures, taken on my phone as I marched.)

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Comments

More Liberal Garbage

WTF does this crap have to do with Buddhism? This is just liberal trash.

"For me, the most moving part of the protests was the outright, public declaration of interdependence."

Give me a feaking break.

Separate school and state. Government school unions destroy choice and innovation in education.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/05/geoffrey-canada-education-unions

Geoffrey Canada warns Michael Gove teaching unions 'kill' innovation

Barack Obama's education pioneer says union inflexibility is a barrier to schools reform

"In an interview with the Guardian, Canada said he had told Gove that in the UK the unions constituted an inflexible brake which was "killing" the innovation necessary to transform children's lives, and that they "cover up" for failing teachers.

Canada said: "Our charter schools were not unionised. My contract with my teachers is fair, and is two pages. The union contract is 200 pages. You cannot manage your business when you cannot make any decision without going back to 200 pages worth of stuff."

The truth of teachers unions:

<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/VOWh6mSsIvE?hd=1" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Who is against library volunteers? Teachers unions in Raynham and Bridgewater.

http://www.boston.com/yourtown/budgetblues/2010/10/who_is_against_library_volunte.html  

The teachers’ union in Bridgewater and Raynham is planning to file a labor grievance that could block volunteers from keeping the school district’s libraries open. And as word of the work action spreads, it is stirring up outrage in the two towns.

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And yes, I know plenty of teahers and my wife taught government school for 8 years.

wow.

this post was awesome. thank you so much for sharing angela.

regarding religion

Hi. I'm from Wisconsin and I just wanted to make a comment regarding Governor Walker and religion. I think that part of what you saw is a direct retaliation to some things that he has stated, such as god directing his life and his decisions. So, in my opinion, I think that some of the signs were less about the protester and more about turning around what he has said.

Interesting read here: http://religionvirus.blogspot.com/2011/03/god-tells-wisconsin-gov-walker...

Anyhow, thanks so much for coming to Wisconsin to protest. As a citizen here, I thank you.

Jodi from www.jodianderson.com/blog

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