The Earth Swaraj: The Independence of the Earth.
“The new paradigm is not about putting people in power, but power in people.”
- Can we have both, old trees and new gyms?
- Which corporations are benefiting from the construction of the sport facility center?
- Who elected the University of California (UC) Regents?
- Why have the undergraduate fees increased 90% since 2003, while top executives at the UC receive millionaire bonuses?
- Memorial? What memorial?
- Can we use the money of the taxpayers to improve the lives of impoverished people in our community and throughout the World instead of constructing atomic bombs?
- Is it true that every nuclear weapon the U.S. has ever had has been designed by the UC?
- What is the purpose of education?
- What is the meaning of life?
These were the basic questions raised by student and non-student tree-sitters as they tried to protect the Memorial Oak Grove on the UC, Berkeley campus. The place that saw the birth of the Free Speech Movement in the 60s showed that it could still stir consciences.
Though the Free Speech Movement itself is marginalized as a “Free Speech Zone” and a museum -the Free Speech Movement Cafe- with chairs nailed to the ground and a beautiful flat screen, in a fixed channel, with the latest news from CNN. And ultimately attempts to protect the Grove from the University’s plans to raze it for an expanded sports facility did fail. Sleep deprivation, political repression, and occasionally brutal behavior by some of the officers of the UC Police Department did eventually bring the protectors (and protestors) out of the trees and at the time of this writing they are gone.
The echo of trees falling was heard around the entire planet, but we heard with that echo the reverberation of the questions with which we started this article and the brave heartbeats of Michael Schuck and dozens of modern-day satyagrahis involved in the movement.
More than two months have passed since Mike decided to refuse bail and stay in the Santa Rita jail to serve time. This is part of his understanding of civil disobedience and satyagraha: as long as there is a law attacking human rights or violating human dignity or endangering the magnificent biodiversity of our planet and her natural capital, there will be responsible citizens willing to break that law.
Mike also remembered Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “Prisons are the temples of freedom.” He has been teaching yoga and meditation to his fellow inmates; he already stopped a massive fight; the best security he has, while been surrounded by an extremely dehumanizing atmosphere, are his 5 points: 1) Meditation, 2) Respect, 3) Love 4) Compassion 5) Being a Model Prisoner (always with dignity); he has inspired ARTivists in jail to draw spectacular masterpieces of redwoods, Golden Gates, sunsets and nonviolent revolutionaries standing on the highest branches of the threatened trees.
It is just not possible to lock up the human spirit.
While Wall Street is in crisis, Mike and many like him (courageous citizens of the World) are increasing our social and spiritual capital.
One soul at a time… victory to the World.
In the 30 minutes it took the UC to chop down “Grandma Oak”, an oak who had stood when the university was merely a seed, we saw another proof of integrative power at work: inspiration. When we offer Satyagraha, it is victory even when the only heart changed is our own. As Gandhi said: “Full effort is full victory”. Four satyagrahis remained in the last redwood of the Oak Grove as long as they could, and we shared with them this touching letter we had just received:
“Dear tree-sitters and supporters,
Your struggle means a lot to me, and when I am old enough to participate in civil disobedience, I will join you. However, at my current age (10) my parents would be blamed instead of me, so I’m trying to find legal ways to help. Here is 20 dollars to help bail those of you who’ve been arrested out of jail and some homemade jam.
I’ll bring more when I can. Good luck!
Of course, Sophia in Greek means wisdom. If we touch just one soul, if we change just one heart, that’s victory!
We believe that these last 2 years will be remembered as a turning point for all who are protecting our natural/ecosystem wealth and with it the lives of our children, and their children. We have learned that fear —of violence, of authority, of the future — is the real prison, a prison we create for ourselves. We have learned that cooperation and love transcend race, gender, class, age and all the other artificial labels that keep us divided. We have learned that this Earth is not inherited from our ancestors, but is on loan from our children. And most importantly that even the smallest acts of love can have an enormous rippling effect. The tree-sit did good work, as Michael Nagler explains, even though it did not “work”. The tree-sit has touched all of us in one way or another, and our experiences here will inspire us to continue planetizing the Ahimsa Revolution: The Earth Swaraj, The Independence of the Earth.
In solidarity and service,
If you want to be a rebel, be kind. Human-kind, be both.
Francisco “Pancho” Ramos Stierle
Read more about the needed transformation of the University of California: