Love in the Wake of Violence: Notes from Oakland, October 28th

by Miki Kashtan

“It is not nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us.” — Gandhi

I have not been to OccupyOakland since Saturday. For almost two days, no one was there, as police blockaded the area after destroying the camp early Tuesday morning. As of Wednesday night, occupiers broke through the police blockade and reentered the plaza. Along the way police used so called “non-lethal” weapons, one of which critically injured a young man who has since become a symbol for global solidarity for Oakland.

I sat at the computer intending to write an entirely different piece, one that’s been waiting for days now, about leadership and facilitation in the movement. I was simply unable to do so, because my heart is completely consumed with how to hold all that’s happened with love and human understanding. This includes all the people whose actions I find extremely difficult to comprehend. I cannot write about anything else involving this movement I so want to support until I am able to metabolize these events.

It is easy for me to extend love and understanding to the occupiers who braved the police and continued to march towards the plaza in an effort to reclaim it. It is easy to extend love to Scott Olsen. I read about him a little. I looked at his face. He’s a young man who chose to ally with the occupiers after serving two tours in Iraq and then joining Veterans for Peace. No challenge for me. I find it inspiring that someone who was in the army can wake up to move towards peace and transformation. It is easy for me to extend love and understanding to the people from Egypt who are organizing a march specifically in solidarity with Oakland. It is easy because I can identify with them, see them as being like me. I can see their care, and I connect with care easily.

And it’s not all easy. My attention is drawn to some reports suggest that some of the marchers threw rocks or bottles at the police. How can I extend love and understanding to any who may have participated in such actions?

I close my eyes, and I do all I can to imagine that I am the one throwing a bottle at the police. I imagine the rage, the helplessness, the absolute insistence on maintaining my human dignity despite everything, the surge of determination to remain powerful, to make something I believe is right happen. And I try to imagine my arm moving back with a rock in my hand to gain momentum, and then throwing the rock, and the sense of power I get from it, that I am doing something for justice. It’s extremely difficult for me to fully imagine this, an act so counter to my sensibilities, to how I know myself. I am filled with tears as I do it, and am completely connected with the human possibility of this act I would never myself choose.

I poke around, read some more, and encounter a comment on the OccupyWallSt site: “If that is true about ‘some protesters throwing rocks and bottles at the police’, it was EXTREMELY STUPID of those protesters and they should be banned from Occupy Oakland for life. Some of them were no doubt ‘AGENTS PROVOCATEURS’ planted by the CIA. Throwing rocks and bottles is EXACTLY what the 1% hope we will do, so as to justify a police crackdown and the imposition of MARTIAL LAW”.

I can feel in my body the anguish of being called stupid, and I pull myself away from that anguish to focus on the person who did the calling. I know about the power of nonviolence in the face of repression. I have such deep hope that the Occupy movement will deepen into more nonviolence. And so, despite having just understood in full and embraced in my body the people who possibly threw things at the police, I am totally and easily aligned with this person’s deep concern about this action. And yet a part of me recoils from the idea that they should be banned forever. That’s where the challenge lies for me. Why call them stupid, and why the desire to ban them. So I close my eyes again, and then I find the link. I know of the many times I wish that someone disappeared whose actions I find disruptive of some purpose that’s important to me. Through this, I can imagine being this person. I touch the active passion for this movement to work, to be impeccable in giving the police no excuse, so that the sympathy of the world can be maintained.

I am awash with overwhelm. So many more actors and players are involved, not only with Scott Olsen’s injury. I am thinking of the people dealing drugs in some of the encampments. Or the ones whose actions leave women feeling unsafe at night. I know of and have seen people who inhabit different enough realities that their participation in meetings and activities challenges everyone. I branch out and think of the police who attacked the occupiers, and especially those who made the choice to throw one more tear gas grenade at the people who were gathering around Scott Olsen after he had just been injured. Can I ever find room in my heart for all of them? Then there is the Tea Party person who holds the organizers of the Occupy movement responsible for Scott’s injury. And last and by far not least, I think of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who issued conflicting messages in response to the actions of the police, including initially commending the chief of police for what she referred to as “a generally peaceful resolution”, and is now facing increasing pressure to resign. There is no blog post that can be long enough to include my efforts to embrace them all.

It takes enormous effort to imagine the human emotional logic that would lead all these people to the actions that they have chosen. I find this effort deeply significant, because I want to live in a world where no one is a throw-away person. I want to create a world that works for all of us, not just those who are easy for me to understand and love. I want everyone to have their humanity honored, to have access to resources, to have food, and shelter, and health, and love. I really want everyone’s needs to matter, these are not just words for me. It’s the only way I know, ultimately, to end the millennia-old cycle of violence, hatred, suffering, and separation in which we live.

In the meantime, I want to extend love to myself for a moment. It’s so demanding to make room inside me for everyone, so, so challenging. Some years ago, when Rabin was assassinated, I called a friend to work my way through the many reactions I had. I do not have God in my life, haven’t believed in a transcendent being in many decades. Nonetheless, among the many feelings I found, the one that surprised me the most was a moment in which I felt something I can only call compassion for God. I understood, in that moment, that God’s job, in that moment and in all moments, is to love everyone fully and equally, all of creation. And that meant loving the assassin. And I felt compassion for the enormity of what it would take. I am a mere mortal, and it’s taking all I have to even imagine it.

In conclusion, I want to be sure I clearly articulate that no amount of love and understanding for everyone is a substitute for action to bring about concrete and material results. The point of this love is to ensure that our actions are free of violence, hatred, and separation. So that we don’t end up where so many revolutions have in the past: recreating the very conditions that the revolution was seeking to change. This means including, ultimately, the 1% in the final outcome just as much as the homeless that are being reached out to in some of the encampments where they have lived for years before the occupations started. Unless we include everyone, some people will eventually become some new 1% and some others will become drug dealers and threats to their fellow humans. I fervently hold on to this love. It’s my insurance policy that success will mean success for all.

24 thoughts on “Love in the Wake of Violence: Notes from Oakland, October 28th

  1. sarah

    I am moved to tears in reading this. We have such a long way to go. I too want to expand my heart to create room for a bigger love for the world and the people in it so that no one is disposable in my mind. I have been concerned that the 1% are an easy enemy and wonder how to reframe the conversation to hold compassion for them. I doubt they are fulfilled in life or they wouldn't be

  2. Ronnie Hausheer

    Miki, I am deeply touched by what you wrote. I enjoyed its comprehensiveness, its expansiveness. Your words shed light into the musty corners of my heart, the places I don't visit often. My heart beats fuller. Thank you.

  3. Elkie

    I too am moved to tears. I am in touch with so much fear and uncertaintly and doubts about my own capabilities that although I marched in Brussels on 15 october I haven't yet been to an Occupy site here in the Netherlands. I feel guilt about this. Old fashioned guilt. And I am still paralyzed. Your blog inspires me. And i am afriad. Not of the situation itself but of making the simple

  4. Anonymous

    Miki, what a fake and disturbing sensation of neutrality you give here, trying to equally understand each and everyone's feelings! Almost as well as newspapers' trained professionals. This a-critical, a-historical, view of the conflict going on in our contemporary societies amazes me. OK, let's give up for Miki for reaching the conclusion that anger is not enough! let's also

  5. Anonymous

    My heart expands as I read your words. I am so sad to read the comment above mine. Wanting others to truly understand the meaning of nonviolence. Wanting all of us to see the humanity in everyone and not label it as neutral but as a way to heal and all go forward. With deep love and companionship. Mitsiko

  6. Kathryn Hermes, fsp

    Miki, I am printing this out and bringing it to chapel as a path to follow in my own life in a religious community. I have so far to go in truly loving, loving, loving enough to understand and so to reach a conclusion "where everyone's needs matter." Thank you.

  7. harald rothermel

    let´s just for amoment imagine that scott olsen killed some persons while serving in iraq. i don´t know if he did, just try to imagine and check: would we have identified with him then like we easily do now, after he´d became a veteran for peace and being injured by the police?
    i don´t think so.´
    it´s difficult to me also to identify and understand people who kill others or sell drugs

  8. Joanne Roit

    Miki, I do believe in God, didn't used to be able to use that word, but now I can. And, to me, you are the Voice of God. What you write strikes me so deeply and so authentically. It is what I aspire to. How I wish I could be, always, all ways. And I have similar hopes and dreams and challenges. Bless you and your blog and its title and all you are and do, and all beings, and all creation. Be

  9. Miki Kashtan

    dear anonymous,

    i am again assuming you are the same person to whom i just responded twice. if so, then, once again, i am grateful to you for the opportunity to engage further.

    i do not think of myself as neutral by a long shot. i have incredibly strong opinions about any issue. i am fully aligned with the quote from tutu. however, tutu is the man behind the truth and

  10. Miki Kashtan

    dear harald,

    i am completely with you. it would absolutely be much more difficult for me to embrace scott olsen's humanity if he had not joined veterans for peace and if we knew of some deeds he may have done while in iraq. that wouldn't mean i wouldn't want to find a way.

    i use whatever helps me understand a person. in this case it was his face that was easy for

  11. Susan L

    What Anonymous expressed is based, IMO, on a very common misconception that understanding the intentions and motivations of another is the same as agreeing with them. A closely related misconception is that anger (in the form of outrage) is the only way to mobilize one's inner power – that if anger is transformed into understanding and acceptance, we lose the will to act.


  12. Anonymous

    What made this post most striking to me was the immensity of the goal of actually loving everyone, no matter what or when.

    In the Jewish tradition the bible's words:"Love your neighbor as yourself", is so high a demand/commandment, that the most eminent commentaries felt it needed to be put into more 'digestible', doable, realistic, practical words.

  13. Ron G

    I see the main problem with the concept of loving one’s enemies to be what one thinks loving is. I know of two excellent songs that consider various ways people interpret love. They are “The Rose” and “Perhaps Love.” Like God, love can be thought about, felt, or experienced in many different ways, from the most superficial to the most profound.

    Stretching the heart to create greater

  14. Anonymous

    Nonviolent communication cannot be turned into a political project and comments made from this perspective are nothing but a misleading and biased post-modernist discourse. The irrationality of the core beliefs, that make up the totality of your argument, is what makes church followers so inclined to kneel and praise to your knowledge. Disguised behind the cover of neutrality, as when you present

  15. sarah

    You make a good point, which I believe is (correct me if I'm wrong) that loving your enemy on an individual basis does not address the larger social context in which we live, that is designed to perpetuate the system that creates the conflicts in the first place. And learning how to speak non-violently will not create fundamental structural change. I can see the logic in

  16. RON G

    "I fervently hold on to this love. It’s my insurance policy that success will mean success for all. "

    WE ARE THE 100%

  17. Floyd

    It's moving to read the blog posting and the comments here. I think nonviolent approaches are so easily appropriated by those who hold power that those of us who advocate them must be continually on guard against such appropriation.

    I think this blog (and comments) are a safe place to have the discussion. But in some cases and places I think it would be better to wait to speak out

  18. Anonymous

    First of all, you'll see from Gene Sharp and real-life cases like Gandhi that non-violence works only (or better on) to overcome dictatorships and other alike totalitarian regims.

    Second, although capitalism stand on a social pact of acceptance of it's rules, it's plain negation or contradiction are not enough to ensure freedom

    Finally, and of most relevance

  19. David Keil

    Miki writes that what she wants to articulate is "including, ultimately, the 1% in the final outcome just as much as the homeless that are being reached out to in some of the encampments." This wish and responses to it stimulate me to think about the notion of enemy images.

    Is the newly popular concept of "the 1%" an enemy image or does it stand for a goal of a

  20. Rosa Z.

    thank you Miki for your post… and for clarifying the distinction between empathy and agreement. my sense is that we need both truth and love to be successful… either without the other, is not sustainable.

    In this conversation, it might make sense to mention that the 1% are being invited to join as allies…

    1% allies of the 99%

  21. jill edwards minye

    Thank you, David Keil, for articulating so well my thoughts and feelings about the 1%. In particular, I appreciate your statement, "I take the concept of the 1%" as shorthand for our wish for equal rights — economic and political", as I also, am so aware of my need to remember the humanity of the the 1 % rather than demonize them and fuel the enemy images that lead to agression


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