The other day I ran into a friend with whom I worked in Occupy Santa Rosa. Towards the end of my time with the Occupy movement, she (probably unbeknownst to her) became much more than a friend; she became a “Wild Woman” meeting me in the dark woods, offering me another chance to make my dreams blossom.
Before I began organizing with Occupy Santa Rosa, I had been raising my two young children full-time and working on a novel in ten to twenty-minute spurts each day (on good days). Then I attended the first Occupy Santa Rosa march and General Assembly, and almost overnight I became deeply engaged with the wild, but suddenly seemingly possible, dream of cooperative political culture in the streets. It felt like my life as a member of a consensus community was merging in a magical way with my patchwork history of political organizing. People who cared about nonviolence, about organic agriculture, about workers’ rights, about homelessness, about climate change, and more, sat together in circles in the grass, on concrete, on folding chairs, talking to each other, making new connections, and making decisions in which no one lost. That is the beauty of consensus decision-making. It may take a long time; it may take hard work – but no one loses.
Except that, over time, I did. But not because of consensus. I am a member of a residential community that has been practicing consensus for 40 years, and I know that it can work. But rather because Occupy, for me, became an all-consuming promise. I joined the media working group, the corporate personhood working group, showed up at the OSR Spokes Council, started a Free School that offered outdoor teach-ins in downtown Santa Rosa all spring and summer long. I checked my email and Facebook page incessantly. I paid babysitters to watch my children so I could go to marches, teach-ins, and meetings, or took my children with me. I attended trainings and “convergences” for the fabulous organization Move to Amend. I felt alive. I missed my husband. I felt exhausted. I missed my children. I thought, surely all this is going somewhere, must open some door for me, and even maybe for the world. I missed my friends.
And my writing… well, my creative writing went farther than the back burner. I tried getting up at 5am for a while to re-engage with my novel, but luckily my need for sleep, and my children’s need for some continuity in their life with me, won over. My two-year-old son, especially, needed to know where his mother was going to be when he woke up in the dark. It was bad enough that I was not fully present in the light.
The friend whom I ran into the other day became my guide when I began to understand what I was doing to myself and my family. She is an elderly activist who works for the rights of the disabled, the poor, and the racially-oppressed, but who has also written a novel. What would the world be, she asked me, without literature? And why isn’t cultural work considered valuable work in our society? Can you see yourself, feel yourself, as a cultural worker committed to creativity, not worrying about what doors it will open and for whom, but rather being true to your spirit? And then I began to ask myself, Aren’t I working with Occupy because I want others to be able to be true to their spirit, rather than shackled to an unjust economic system? Why can’t I want even a little bit of that for myself?
“In the end,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “a woman must rest now, rock now, regain her focus… She thinks she cannot, but she can, for the circle of women, be they mothers, students, artists, or activists, always closes to fill in for those who go on rest leave. A creative woman has to rest now… She has to go see the old woman in the forest, the revivifier. …”
Eventually, after many long talks and long quiet walks, I said goodbye to Occupy. I tried to stay active in Move to Amend for a while, because I do believe that of all the issues that Occupy addressed the one they work on – the abolition of corporate Constitutional rights; the achievement of government for the good of the people, rather than the profit of the shareholder – is the one that will have the most far-reaching impact on our political system. But the months and months of intensive organizing had taken too great a toll on my family and my spirit, and I eventually walked away from that, too. I try, really try, almost every day, not to feel confused and ashamed about how small, how private, my life has become since then. I try to just notice the feelings, then notice what is immediately in front of me, and move on.
So, a few days ago, I ran into my friend. She told me that two days earlier the Sonoma County Supervisors had not only decriminalized homelessness, but also actively committed funds to open a shower, restroom and car-sleeping facility at the County Fairgrounds, and offered motel vouchers to homeless families with children and other homeless people at risk. This development is undoubtedly, if only partly, due to the longest-surviving, most deeply-committed working group in Occupy Santa Rosa, the Dorothy Day Working Group, which began a bold “Legalize Sleep” campaign in 2012. I was not part of that group, but I did my best to help them by editing some of their press releases, and I also organized a teach-in with Paul Boden, a (frankly) kick-ass San Francisco organizer for the rights of the homeless. When my friend looked at me and said that Occupy Santa Rosa had something to do with this local victory, I felt, for the first time in a long time, a tiny bit proud.
Wow, I said to her, breathing deeply, you never know when a seed will start to sprout. You can only plant it and tend it as best you can, trusting that it is there under the dark soil. But, I see now, you also need to nurture the soil, and that takes authentic creative passion. Something in the way that the members of the Dorothy Day Working Group came together, some passion deep inside their lives and their connection, served to nourish, rather than drain, their individual and collective soil.
I walk through my days now, on the dry country roads of our land, my laughing, or crying, or pouting children by my side, red-winged blackbirds calling, squirrels chattering and gathering, gathering for the winter that is finally here. I putter in the kitchen and drive my children to school. I sit in my writing studio and nourish my mind with the stories and ideas that call me. And I meditate to gain practice in being here, here, here; to see that the world is much bigger than my stories about how it should be. And I feel my soil becoming rich and loamy again, seething with life.
But even if you plant the seed, tend the seed, and enrich the soil, you still don’t know when the seed will sprout. Which moment of which day. Under cloud cover or brilliant shine or in the dark of night.
It’s out of our control.
Here we are, lurching, gliding, in our own human time, towards blossoming.