Last night, I saw the power of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) at Lincoln Center Plaza, a public space that activists were barricaded by the New York Police Department (NYPD) from entering. From behind a police-patrolled barrier, I witnessed the power of the people first hand and had a taste of authentic democratic practice. I also caught a glimpse of the possibility that the burgeoning consciousness of OWS has the potential to unleash across this nation and perhaps the world.
What is this power? It's called Satyagraha. It means “truth-force.” It is the title of Mahatma Gandhi's autobiographical book about his early years in South Africa where he was first inspired to develop a philosophy of nonviolence, which he used to successfully oust the British occupiers of India. Prolific composer Philip Glass, honored the famous pacifist by composing an opera of the same name, which played last night at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan.
This Gandhian truth-force was powerfully at work in the OWS activists who convened outside Lincoln Center Plaza. Organizers invited activists to take off their shoes and place them along the barricade in an act of humility and to recognize the public space at Lincoln Center Plaza as holy ground. This act, reminiscent of a moment in Gandhi's life is portrayed in Glass' opera, which was taking place inside the building far across the barricaded plaza.
Lou Reed, who was on stack* last night at the general assembly, said that he was proud to be part of OWS. Noting the lack of access to the plaza by demonstrators he said that he'd “never been more ashamed … to see the barricades.”
As “Satyagraha” opera attendees filed out into the Plaza, OWS activists called out and invited them to join them. A small group streamed toward the barrier, forming a circle with opera enthusiasts on one side and OWS activists on the other. In that moment of oneness, there was a shared acknowledgement of the profound values of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who called the world to a higher consciousness.
As people on both sides shared their ideas and stories with one another in the spirit of Gandhi, the assembly resonated sonorously. For a few moments, all barriers to understanding were completely obliterated. Glass infused the general assembly with truth-force by joining demonstrators and quoting from the Lord Krishna. “I come into the world, a man among men, to put virtue back on its feet.”
This extraordinary, living and breathing example of nonviolent, direct action – in the tradition of Gandhi, was clearly and tragically lost on Lincoln Center head of security Susan Bick. She undoubtedly heard the request of OWS activists inviting her to engage with them about the hunger strike that was about to begin in the public space of Lincoln Center Plaza, for which she is directly responsible. She looked straight at the group for a moment, refusing to wave when asked if she would, turned on her heel, and then, flanked by several officers, walked away from the possibility of engaging with her fellow citizens in the transformative and deep democratic experience of truth-force.
*If you don't know what being “on stack” is – go to an OWS General Assembly and find out. Speak your truth. Be heard. Bear witness to the truth. Be transformed. Participate in the deep democratic movement and practice that is OWS.