Arrested for Meditating? Why it's Radical to Stay Nonviolent in the Face of Police Brutality
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When he read that, he had this big smile and looked me in the eye and he said, "Thank you. But, well, if you don't move, you're going to be arrested. Are you moving or not?"
So I wrote back, "I am meditating." He said, "OK, arrest them one by one."
That was one of my favorite moments from the whole ordeal.
Sarah van Gelder: Who else was sitting with you?
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: My housemate Adelaja. We are also now on a mission to bring together people with different skin colors. He's a six foot five beautiful brother with black skin, and I have brown skin, and we have another brother here with white skin, so we're trying to be together.
Sarah van Gelder: Tell me about your experience in prison. Were you able to keep your nonviolent witness going while you were behind bars?
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: Before being in jail, it was hard for me to understand what Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi meant when they said that prisons are the temples of freedom. It's clear that they can do many things to your body and try to oppress you and use psychological violence. But there's something so strong inside each of us, the human spirit, that they can not reach. They can put you in shackles and cold cement cells, and feed you horrible food, and put you in solitary confinement, but there's no way that they can reach the human spirit.
That was powerful—to find once again that that part is sacred. I think that was the only thing that kept me sane and healthy in that very dehumanizing environment.
That's what I would like to share with people—that it is time for the spiritual people to get active and the activist people to get spiritual so that we can have total revolution of the human spirit. Because we have the idea that the self-indulgent people are just meditating—they are going to caves and meditation centers while all this madness is happening, or you have people at these meditation center that are asking how can you bring peace and calm and harmony to the world if you do not have that in your heart?
I think that we need both now, and that we need to combine this inner revolution with the outer revolution to have the total revolution of the spirit.
Then you can build the alternatives to a collapsing system built on structural violence.
I believe that nine out of ten actions must be creating the community that we want to live in—we're talking about permaculture, independent media, restorative justice, gift economies, free currencies, and preventive medicine. By doing all that, we make ourselves stronger.
If you are creating true alternatives to the collapsing, rotten system then you will naturally come into conflict with the power structure. Then the political action becomes necessary. So I think one out of ten actions should be obstructive—that is boycotts and protests and marches and nonviolent civil disobedience.
But when we cultivate inner awareness, it's easy to see that what we need to do is spend most of our time creating the communities that we want to live in.
Sarah van Gelder: Can you give me an example of how that plays out in movements for change?
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: Gandhi showed us that the spinning wheel—part of the constructive program—was the center of the movement for the independence of the part of the planet we call India.
At the time, the part of the planet we call India was selling cotton to the part of the planet we call England and buying back clothes. Gandhi figured out that if they started making their own clothes, then they could become self reliant, autonomous, and every single person could get plugged into this—women, men, elderly people, young people—social status really doesn't matter. So that created the foundation of a national movement.