Thursday, August 2, 2007

stone circles at the United States Social Forum

Written by Jesse Vega-Frey

Sometime in the fall of 2006, a ragtag group of radical seekers, soul rebels, healer-practitioners, and mystic-rabblerousers from across the country started getting on the phone to talk about how their piece of social justice work was going to represented a the United States Social Forum coming to Atlanta in June 2007.

Buddhists, Yoruba practitioners, Jews, Indigenous medicine people, sound-healers, Christians, and yogis - many of whom had never met– came together from a spectrum of racial backgrounds, geographic roots, and activists worlds because they knew something good was cooking.

Woking closely with Cara Page from Deeper Waters and Kindred, we had no idea what the outcome would be. And though we used a lot of different language to talk about it, we were sure about two things:

• that the work of liberation has inner dimensions which are rarely attended to in mainstream activist culture,
• and that the USSF was the perfect place to demonstrate their value and power to a broad range of social change agents.

From my perspective, our work together offered something unique, powerful and much needed to the community of activists and folks doing the hard, heart-work of change... There’s little else I can imagine being more thrilled and content about offering to people as a sacred space for centering and healing.
-Oren Sofer, Buddhist Peace Fellowship

We soon we decided to create a Healing and Spiritual Practice Space in the context of the USSF that would be available to all Forum participants during the week of the event. We pulled an awesome planning group together, including Egypt Brown; Ari Shapiro, Shash Yazhi, Jesus Solorio, at Spirit in Motion; Oren from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship; Esmeralda Simmons, Tulani Kinard, Jodi Lasseter, and others. We developed guiding principles for our collective vision and collaboration:

• We believe the work of revolution, liberation and transformation is integrally connected to art, creativity, nature, prayer, ceremony, ritual and healing.

• We are supporting each other as we build this work, developing both programming and a network of spiritual activists, artists, healers and practitioners.

• We place great value on sharing community, traditions and practices from many different paths and we realize the potential risks involved in creating this kind of cross-cultural, multi-traditional context. We commit that least 50% of practitioners and healers will be people of color.

• We remain conscious of how spiritual and healing practices – particularly from indigenous traditions and peoples – can and have been misappropriated. We have great respect for the roots of all traditions and ask that people embody this respect in their offerings.

five days at the Forum

We don't just want this kind of work, we need it. That deep resting, openness and connection is critical for creating change. Change is not created through hate, change and transformation are created through cracking open and seeing in a different way. And to do that there needs to be safe places for that coming together and opening to occur.
- Briana -

(photo from USSF website)

While nearly 10,000 people buzzed around downtown Atlanta for the 5 days of the US Social Forum, several hundred of them found a quiet place of rest and reflection in the space on the corner of Piedmont and Ralph McGill.

Housed in the bottom floor of the AIDS Survival Project, the Healing and Spiritual Practice Space was held by a team of practitioner volunteers whose confidence that healing and spiritual practice are essential to the work of social justice energized their commitment to creating a space at the Forum for this piece of the work.

Throughout the four days that the space took shape, activists, organizers, agitators and practitioners came to find refuge in the space in a variety of ways. Perhaps you were one of the several hundred participants of the USSF who stopped by the space during your adventures in Atlanta. Maybe you came to get a massage, to learn how to meditate or dropped in for a yoga class. Maybe you just needed a place to close your eyes, gather your energy, snag an apple and a bottle of water, and head back out to the hot Atlanta sun. Whether you participated in a wellness workshop, sound healing, or ceremony, spent some time praying, got an acupuncture or energy treatment or took a nap, you probably left refreshed, relaxed and renewed- ready to get back to the myriad other tasks at hand. Over three hundred people participated in the varied workshops, ceremonies, and body and energy work. Many came into the space exhausted and war-torn, and left rested, energized and clear minded.

From posters and programming to ceremony and altars, everyone brought tremendous energy and grace, and the collective vibe was felt by folks whoencountered the space in its various aspects. Twenty-five healing practitioners from Atlanta and across the US came to offer their hands through community acupuncture, reiki and massage. Together we created a refuge and place of deep learning for USSF participants, and also inherently created a space that explored multi-cultural and cross-traditional, spiritually grounded work.

In addition to the indoor space, several outdoor altar spaces were created by the group, lead by Egypt, Cara, Omisade Burney-Scott and others. An Ancestor Altar and a Memorial Altar were set up in Renaissance Park to invite attendees to acknowledge the work and struggles of those gone before us. An Abundance Altar was created in the Art Lab at the Task Force for the Homeless. Our hope was to invite the use encourage the use of sacred space throughout the forum.

It was great to have people come together in a peaceful, loving, spiritual gathering, something I feel that embodied what the whole forum was about. Also I was glad to finally learn Qi Gong, something I had wanted to do for years. May we have the likes at every such event.

-Brian Tate

Our hope is that this work and particular piece of programming was recognized by the broader group of attendees and by the USSF organizers in particular so that in the future, spaces and practices that attend to the inner needs of activists and organizers will be acknowledged and supported in the future. It is our sincere belief that this kind of work not only sustains those working for change but also transforms the work that we are doing in the world as our actions begin to embody the peace, justice and freedom that we so powerfully seek in the world around us.

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