To our Sangha;
In May we first learned that on February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was killed by self-appointed white vigilantes in Glynn County, Georgia. Ahmaud Arbery was going for a jog when he was chased by three men and shot to death.
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was killed in her home in the middle of the night, in Louisville, Kentucky by police officers who were searching for someone they already held in custody. She was shot eight times. Breonna was an emergency room medical technician.
On May 25, 2020 George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers who knelt on his neck, while he cried out for his mother and pleaded, repeatedly, for his life.
Different cities, different states, different perpetrators but the victims had one thing in common; they were all black. Their inalienable rights to walk, jog, sleep, to just breathe, were not acknowledged. You do not acknowledge what you do not see and it is clear that they were deprived of these rights because they were never seen as human. In these past few months the names have been Ahmaud, Breonna and George; they have also been Eric, Sandra and Rodney. And we can continue to go back decades, even hundreds of years. It feels like kalpas. And, still there are the names of black bodies destroyed because they were black.
As the black and brown members of the sangha we express our collective rage over this country’s unbridled brutality against black bodies and its failure to accept responsibility for its actions and the karma that it has created.
The protests we see in the streets are nothing less than broken hearts speaking the language of grief and resolve. Grief for brothers, husbands, sons, sisters and daughters who can never come home. How does that now forsaken love express itself? In a cry, in a shout, in a chant, in a demand. And there is the resolve to not let this brutality fall onto yet another generation. The resolve that says, today this ends. The resolve that looks like a fist but is also the open hand of promise. “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” Oscar Wilde.
How will we respond? We have been told to always practice as if our hair is on fire. Now, it is our hair and our houses and our lives that are on fire. How do we practice now? Do we have the courage to change what we do? How we live? What we are willing to accept? Every day, we hear these words in the zendo: Buddha-nature pervades the whole universe, existing right here and now. The Buddha-nature of black people is being systemically denied. This must change. In our daily lives we need to call upon and activate our Buddha-nature to respond.
How can we begin to change?
Master Dogen taught, “We see both wholesome and unwholesome results occurring in the world throughout time. Ordinary folks deny cause and effect when they see kind and fair-minded people suffer and die young while those who are violent and unjust prosper into old age. Such ordinary folks say neither crime nor beneficial acts bring consequences. They do not realize that the consequences of our actions follow us for one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand eons.”
Spoken over 800 years ago, this essential Buddhist teaching is on vivid and heart-wrenching display in our country right now. The wrongful killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor are only some of the most recent – and known – Black Lives violently taken. But this has been happening for the last four hundred years, during which time this killing of Black Lives has been institutionalized within every social, economic and legal system functioning today. That so many unarmed, lawful Black folks have been killed while the killers – both police and private citizens – have almost always had impunity, is terrible and truthful evidence of we, as White folks, not taking individual and collective responsibility for the fact of slavery, White Supremacy and systemic racism.
As members of the Mountains and Rivers Order’s anti-racist white affiliate groups, we acknowledge that we are conditioned by the position we occupy in a white supremacist society. The murder of George Floyd, like the violence and oppression inflicted on so many other people of color today, is the direct result of white peoples’ unexamined assumptions about who we are.
As white Buddhist practitioners, it is our particular and necessary task to study our habits of dominance and entitlement, to take responsibility for them, both individually and as a community, and then to transform them, so that we actually embody the wisdom, compassion, and love to which we aspire. Fundamentally, there is no such thing as individual liberation; there is only the liberation of all beings. White supremacy has estranged us, as white people, from our empathy, our feelings, our bodies, our connection to the Earth and our ancestors, and that the price of that estrangement is what we see happening now.
When we continue to witness violence against Black people without taking action, we should recognize how that very passivity is deeply conditioned by every aspect of our white supremacist culture, going back to slavery. We have been socialized to be passive consumers of white violence against Black people for centuries. This is our default, whether we think we’re “good” people or not. This is why we are called for active measures on every level—body, speech, and mind. We need to re-humanize ourselves as white people in order to create a just and loving world. Black lives and our humanity as white people is at stake. This means we must focus on and commit to specific actions to examine and free ourselves from our racialized whiteness – our anti-blackness. This includes pressuring elected officials to change laws that uphold white supremacy and harm black and brown people; supporting and taking direction from POC-lead businesses and grass-roots organizations; direct-action and on-the-ground organizing to take the load from overburdened POC organizers; placing our bodies on the line in protection of threatened community members, and more.
As a Sangha, we must be more committed to facing, accepting, studying, clarifying and correcting the deep racial bias and harm and in deep within each of us, inculcated throughout our lives, and expressed through our silence, denial and numbness. We must examine how we bring our racialized whiteness into our practice and training. If we are sincere in our commitment and vows to serve all beings and alleviate suffering, then our racial fear, anger and violence – at every level – must be transformed into courage, compassion and healing.
As a country, we must imagine a world we have never seen: a people unified and free of oppression we have never experienced; a respect for the dignity and value of every person and creature that we have never manifested. In other words, we must aspire to an enlightened society based on our faith in every person’s having enlightened nature, and we must have the courage to work on behalf of the well-being of others sincerely, genuinely and intelligently.
Only when we practice the reality before our eyes, is a true path of Peace possible. Only when we practice together, and rely upon each other, can we bring about true liberation.
1) MAKE CALLS/Send faxes/emails/tweets:
People of color are overrepresented in our prisons, and are also overrepresented for Covid-19 deaths. You can volunteer to participate in call-zaps to free inmates and immigrant detainees from NY’s Covid-19 death-trap prisons, which have some of the highest infection rates in the entire world. There are 1000’s of aging and vulnerable prisoners and/or others at the end of their sentences who could be released today. Here’s how to join:
* RSVP to the #FreeThemAll Thursday phone-zap by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
* Here’s the link to the Friday phone zap with the NYC-DSA Immigration Justice Working Group
You can also use the provided contact info and scripts to make calls/emails/etc at any time at all that you have free!!! Put the #’s on speed-dial! The scripts change weekly to reflect up-to-the-minute updates on contacts/positions/strategy, so it’s always a good idea to check in at least, and even better to do it as a group.
2) Make Calls to Repeal 50A. 50-a is a NYS statute that carves out unnecessary & harmful secrecy for police, fire and corrections. 50-a is routinely used to shield police misconduct and failed police disciplinary processes from public view. A repeal of 50-a would provide much needed transparency on police misconduct and discipline in New York State, and help address the systemic lack of accountability for officers who engage in misconduct. More details here; and go here to make your 4 calls and register them so we can keep our advocacy up to date.
3) Make calls to divert funding from the NYPD and towards education and social services. New York City is in crisis. The brutal death toll of the pandemic and the economic fallout facing the city have profound implications for our future. But Mayor de Blasio has proposed a budget that calls for huge cuts in New York’s social and human services while leaving the NYPD virtually untouched. Exactly when they are needed most — during a once-in-a-century humanitarian disaster — the mayor is planning to take away resources from our most vulnerable, hardest-hit communities in order to fund the police. See where your Council representative stands here. And read more on the issue here.
4) Post Bail
There is a need for folks who can post bail to get folks out of prison here in NYC. NO ONE should have to die of Covid19 because they are too poor to post bail. (And no one should be in jail for the ‘crime’ of poverty to begin with) The bail fund will cover all costs — including bail, travel and lunch! They just need folks to do the actual posting, which can be a purposely frustrating and time-consuming process. If you have one or more days coming up with a flexible schedule, you can literally save someone’s life by getting them released from a covid-death-trap prison. Please fill out this form to provide your availability and you’ll be contacted if you’re needed on those days, along with all the necessary information and resources.
5) Give to funds to help inmates and detainees after their release or to bail them out. CovidBailout is a fantastic grass-roots, all-volunteer initiative, with intersecting projects and funds supporting folks for bail, post-release support, or both(Paypal) or both(Venmo) There are also ways for social workers, psychologists and mediators to volunteer. You can also give directly to George Floyd’s family, or to the families of Ahmaud Arbery or Tony McDade. (links on site!)
6) You can also give to grassroots POC groups in Minneapolis.
7) Support statehood for the District of Columbia. The United States is the only nation in the world with a representative, democratic constitution that denies voting representation in the national legislature to the 700,000 citizens of the capital, 45.5% of whom are Black. The administration’s militarized response to protests in our capital is possible because of their lack of representation.
8) Another quick piece with 21 things to do to redirect our slide into authoritarianism.