June 16th meets August 4th: a lengthy report (by Kristen)
June 16th meets August 4th: a lengthy report
On the night of June 15th, I left my home on Salt Spring Island with a sleeping bag and a change of clothes and some food my friends had made for me, in anticipation of the "Right to Sleep" court case that was scheduled to begin the morning of June 16th in the Supreme Court of B.C.--a historically significant case in which nine homeless people challenged the constitutionality of the City of Victoria's by-laws against sleeping outside on public property. I became homeless in honor of the event.
I was attracted to this court case when, in late January 2008, David Arthur Johnston's journal account of his occupation of St. Ann's academy (which occupation was the catalyst for this court case) came into my hands; the words in his journal burn with truth and it was immediately clear to me that whoever wrote them was a poet, a prophet, an artist and a genius, and probably a hero and a saint too. The activity in which David Arthur Johnston engages is likely recognizable to most people as "social activism" or "protest"---his life mission is nothing less than to bring down the Crown (his word for the "baby raping monster" that runs the world.) I have spent most of my life feeling uncomfortable about, if not openly hostile to, "protests" and "social activism," but David's way was different. (Though I am intensely aware of the extent of the System's corruption, it is usually the world saving power of love and truth as expressed through artistic and spiritual activity that attracts me, not protests and social activism).
David Arthur Johnston stands apart--far, far apart--from the run-of-the mill activist-protestor type because of the difficulty he has undergone for the sake of truth. Anyone who spends 36 days in jail without food for the sake of truth is profoundly threatening to a System which survives by denying the truth. The willingness to undergo hardship--even unto death--has power in it which the authorities can't help but see and fear; hence David Arthur Johnston provides an heroic example which anyone expressing a desire to change the world would do well to follow. Our times can seem sadly lacking in heroes, and so to encounter one was an event that stirred me to the depths and encouraged me to step up my efforts to meet the world's madness with whatever shards of truth I could stir up from the strange depths of my soul. Inspired by David Arthur Johnston (a.k.a. "The DAJ"), I endeavoured to follow his example.
In the weeks and months leading up to June 15th, I shed the rest of the (relatively few) comforts I had become accustomed to---books, clothes, the house I had been living in for several months, the habit of earning and spending money. The DAJ hasn't used money in over five years and owns nothing but the clothes he wears. He doesn't even carry a bag. Though I was certainly impressed by the DAJ's degree of renunciation, the motion of renunciation started in me long before I met the man, and had been steadily growing over the last year---so this latest step away from material comfort was a continuation of many steps that had gone before it.
I also spent the time leading up to June 16th planning and plotting a grand "performance festival" to complement the court case, and draw public attention to the cause. I authored a small treatise on the festival which doubled as an invitation and delivered it to hundreds of people. David Shebib and I plastered signs announcing the festival and court case up and down the highway. We imagined a world where thousands of people showed up and camped on the court house lawn, listening to live music and watching earth-shattering performance pieces. We talked to the press. I stood on many street corners and roadsides playing my drum wildly announcing the good news, while David Shebib handed invitations out to whoever walked by. As it turned, the festival amounted to a single dance piece, which I performed with three other dancers and a drummer on the lawn outside the court house just before the court case began on monday morning. Maybe twenty people watched. Chek News filmed it, but it never made the evening news. The dancers had spent a month preparing the piece, with long and arduous rehearsals several days a week, but that one piece was it for the much-touted "performance festival;" we prepared so long to deliver so little, but that is the way it often goes. Reality and our expectations of how reality will be are worlds apart from each other.
The rest of the week was, for me, a kind of urban vision quest in which I fasted, spent my nights sleeping outside in the park, and my days in the court room praying. The whole event became a kind of sacred ceremony in which the darkest parts of the Current World Order (represented by the "Crown") met the simple light of the Truth (represented by the homeless people and the lawyers who spoke so nobly for them). The case lasted four days; on the afternoon of the fourth day, the judge heard the last of the Crown's testimony and told us all that she would reserve her ruling. It could take anywhere from a week to a year. It didn't matter--there was the sense, in me anyway, of profound victory--the sense that the Truth had already won--that in the gathering of people brought together for the case (however small), a profound and largely unspeakable magic had occurred--that against all odds Love's voice had spoken in the courtroom and that the judge, along with everyone else, had heard it and that, no matter what, you couldn't take that away.
When the court case ended, I eventually ate a little food, and waited for the next step. I am in no mood and, frankly, don't have either the skill or the motivation to describe what all the "next steps" have been since the Court Case ended on June 20th. Suffice it to say that a lot has happened, that I have been initiated at once into the strange life of homelessness and the even stranger life of the peaceful warrior. My experience of homelessness has been extraordinarily mild (I've been in a small and safe city in the middle of the summer, with lots of friends to support and encourage me; I have only accasionally slept outside alone, and more often than not have slept at friends' houses and not outside). Nonetheless, my body, mind, spirit, soul, psyche have been pushed beyond what I formally would have called "my limits."
I have lived off the grace of what god and my friends have provided to eat. I have fasted a lot and eaten food I normally would avoid (lots of wheat and sugar). I have endeavoured to learn the much-talked about but little observed art of "living off the chi of nature;" I still can't seem to eat sunlight or drink the stars, but I have not wholly abandoned the effort. I have learned that sleep deprivation delivers interesting gifts, not all of them pleasant. I have run exhausted through the streets of Victoria on more than one occasion wearing a cardboard box and dancing at every available opportunity. At one point, too exhausted to dance and at a loss for words, I tied four very long nails onto a rope, wore that as a crown, tied a chain around my ankles, painted the word "justice" onto a piece of wood, and dragged myself first through City Hall, and then through the streets of Victoria, ending the parade at the Court House. I have met more human angels than I thought the world contained and felt the Hand of God stronger than I have ever felt it. I feel that I have aged 20 years in the last 8 weeks and, to be fair, kind of look that way too. I have learned that I am perhaps much weaker than the average homeless person and that if it comes down to a "survival of the fittest" situation, I may well be one of the firsts to go. So be it.
On August 4th, the 150th anniversary of the Crown colony of B.C., I gathered, along with a few other people, at the Totem Poles in Victoria. The gathering was not so much to protest the Crown Colony of B.C. as to remember that Truth is stronger than all the lies the System spreads around us in an effort to lull us to sleep so we forget that God is everywhere and, so forgetting, feel empty and want to buy things. The gathering was small, and about a eventful as the much-touted June 16th performance festival--i.e. I talked about it a lot to a lot of people, sent out hundreds of invitations, but very few people arrived. The ones who did arrive were golden angels and meeting together was, really, a piece of heaven on earth. Let the smallness of the gathering never detract from the intensity of the love I felt flowing between people there. And, too, three baby raccoons appeared on the scene after a couple of hours, in the trees above the long houses; I cried when I saw them, so welcome were those little guests.
The physical deterioration I have experienced over the last few weeks made dancing virtually impossible, and so, aside from a bit of barefoot pacing and a couple of painful cartweels, my movement on August 4th consisted almost entirely of the invisible motion of prayer. At one point, I accented my prayer by placing some rose petals at the foot of a totem pole. An onlooker asked me what I was doing and I said I was praying, remembering the Native ancestors who died so that the Crown could assert its position. "Why don't you pray to God and not a totem pole?" he asked. I didn't have an answer he could hear at the time. Now maybe I'd say--"because god is in that piece of sawed-up wood as much as anywhere else, and the thought that there is anywhere where god is not is what allows us to systematically denigrate ourselves, each other, the animals, the plants, the oceans, the rivers, the land, and the planet." I didn't think of that; again, I was tired and my body hurt. Pain and fatigue have the under-appreciated effect of paralyzing the body (including the capacity for speech), thus making room for the spirit to expand, and when the spirit expands it performs that greatest of dances which, for lack of a better word, we call prayer.
So one thing that happened on August forth was that I prayed, which means that my spirit moved. Did this affect the "world out there"? I don't know and I don't care. I share David Arthur Johnston's belief in fate, and so don't see prayer as some attempt to alter the future--I think that the future has already occurred, and is spread out before us as inexorable and perfectly as the past is spread behind us and so prayer, like protest for that matter, is just another form of human motion.
So now the question is--to what end do we move? If the future is pre-destined, and neither our actions nor our prayers capable of changing anything, why do we bother? Why do we throw our exhausted bodies out into the world, only to be cut open at the heart by a mindless System hell-bent on destroying all signs of life on earth? In short, because we have no choice. This motion of the spirit, this prayer, this action, this way of gathering against all odds, this fire in us that says "no thanks" to the jet planes and the prime minister and the corporate rock and roll star--all this too is part of our unchangeable, inexorable fate. And if we win or lose, live or die, it doesn't matter, because we will have remembered--or failed to remember, or remembered and forgotten again--it makes no difference. Whether we remember or forget, we are here. We are here; we were there on August 4th and we will be there again then, wherever that is, wherever we are. That's it. The future is unknown but already determined and already perfect beyond the capacity of words or minds to tell. We are here. Can't take that away.
So what's next? is a question tomorrow can't help but answer.
I love you----soon we will all meet at the round-table, and "may the laughter be our reward." I expect the Sea Change will happen tomorrow. I won't be surprised if it never comes. But I think it will, and soon.