Citizen Action Monitor

Getting people politically activated by fanning flames of fear, urgency, moral outrage just deepens polarized world into good guys and bad guys

Spiritual leader and activist Ram Dass recounts his experience at an antinuclear protest decades ago* leaving us with some important lessons to learn.

No 603 Posted by fw, November 2, 2012

“Where’s the Outrage!” A popular headline from the left in recent years. In the following post, Ram Dass suggests that righteous indignation just makes things worse.

During the 1970s and 80s there were numerous antinuclear protests in the United States. Ram Dass writes of his experience at one such event at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado. Here, from Ram Dass’ book, Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (1992), is an excerpt of his account of the protest at Rocky Flats.

There are at least four important lessons of the “do, don’t do” kind in this piece. Watch for them. Remember them. And above all, apply them!

Protest at Rocky Flats by Ram Dass

A light misty rain was falling, and the gathering of several thousand people out by the factory that made the trigger mechanisms that activated the nuclear bombs reminded me of a sixties be-in in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We mediators, perhaps twenty of us, sat in a circle. I crossed my legs, pulled my jacket around me, and settled in for a long “sit.’ Snatches of conversation caught my attention as people passed by close around us. Then the speeches started from the stage. I was sinking into deeper meditation, yet everything around me was clear … luminously clear.

A leading antinuclear activist [likely Dr. Helen Caldicott] was speaking. I felt the caring in her heart as she spoke of her children and the desire that they grow up in a world free from deadly radiation. In her voice was melded the cry of the mother, the anger of the outraged feminist who was furious with the men who had gotten us into this predicament, the urgency of the pediatrician-scientist who saw probabilities with an apprehensive eye. Her message was clear’ “Fear! Urgency! Act!” I could feel her charisma and the immediacy and relevance of her message drawing the crowd into agreement.

Hearing her words from my meditation cushion, I sensed her mind pulling me into a definition of reality that seemed constricted, tight. I felt that she was engaging the audience through their insecurities. Noble as her intent might have been, she was manipulating her audience as “them.” What she was doing appeared old-fashioned to me. I knew that it was possible to engage an audience as “us” – quietly seeing together how things are, leaving to each person the responsibility for subsequent individual actions. [Isn’t this precisely the “democracy in action” approach championed by the Occupy Movement?]

I became sad. Maybe getting people politically activated requires fanning the flames of fear and urgency, of moral outrage and the need to do something. Perhaps you and I just opening to how it is in the universe, the doing whatever we see fit about it, trusting one another to act in accordance with our deepest truth, is not enough. But I don’t believe that. If we must give up our respect for one another’s inner wisdom and coerce and manipulate one another for the greater good, then it seems like a rather hollow victory to me.

There was another thing that made me sad as I listened to the speeches. I felt sad that we were still polarizing the world into the good guys and the bad guys, the getting our adrenaline rush from feelings of righteous indignation. Weren’t we ready to acknowledge that reality is a conspiracy in which we all play our part? Didn’t the planes and cars that we used to get to this rally use the very fossil fuels that feed the fear- and greed-driven economic political policies that dominate the mind connected to the hand that could push the button that would create the nuclear conflagration?

In the many times since Rocky Flats that I have spoken at peace rallies or participated in demonstrations, I have remembered Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who opposed injustice, irrationality, and lack of caring with firmness and confrontation. Yet they did so with open hearts, with a compassion that embraced all us poor, misguided mortals, friend and foe alike.

*Wikipedia lists four antinuclear protest demonstrations at Rocky Flats in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1989. Ram Dass does not date the event he attended.

About Ram Dass: (born in 1931) If anyone is wondering about Ram Dass’ qualifications as a spiritual leader and activist, he was instrumental in founding the Hanuman and Seva Foundations, deeply involved in work in prisons and with the dying in the US, and with public health and development work in Nepal, India, Guatamamala and Mexico and with a variety of spiritual education projects. His life is his message.

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