Friday, 9 December 2011

Occupy Toronto For Love

21.11.2011 Jeff and I, the morning Eviction was formally announced. 

It was the morning Rob Ford announced Eviction: 21.11.2011. The night before, my friend Jeff and I had decided to sit outside and wait until sunrise to hear the verdict of whether we'd be evicted or not. We knew one of the mandates of the eviction would be the removal of our tents in the park. Therefore, we decided to test our abilities to ‘Occupy’ without a tent.

Initially we had only one blanket. But, over the course of the night, we experienced the power of humanity or communal love. Where we started the night with only one blanket, by morning we had five more blankets placed on top of us. Through the course of the night, we were provided with food, water and heat pads to warm our hands. By sunrise, we awoke to find us surrounded by a circle of banners and signs.  Those who did not provide blankets provided their body warmth with a platonic cuddle. All of this was given, rather than demanded. We made it through the cold November night because of the unconditional love of our fellow occupiers at St. James Park.

The next morning Eviction was formally announced. As the Cops walked through St.James Park, placing eviction notices on the tents, I realized; Rob Ford had the power to take down our tents. Yet, it was questionable whether he’d be able to break down the unity we'd built in our hearts.

As an occupier, I experienced a sense of communal identity that, in my twenty-two years of growing up in Toronto, I'd never experienced before. St.James Park proved that people were more than self-interested and individualistic being. In contrast, they were also giving and loving being. People savored the company of others and wanted the betterment of "We" rather than just "I".

Further, St. James Park was also a place to consciously evolve and re-imagine the essentials for a community of individuals, who were not common in race, gender, or class. But, were common, nonetheless, in the very fact that they shared common space. 

                                 21.11.2011 Occupiers Cuddle Together Upon Hearing of Eviction.

In our current society, most people would agree that food and shelter are undeniable essentials. However, we often forget the importance of love. Arguably, universal love is one of the primary essentials that every human being needs.  This means we need to love more than ourselves, our nuclear families, our exclusive friends or lovers. We need to be able to love all human beings. This is essential for nurturing a happy community of individuals. Yet, it is questionable whether Toronto nurtures such love.

Right now in Toronto,  the identity that unites us is mass-consumption or Multi-Culturalism. Mass-consumption makes us ostentatious in nature. Through products we construct a superficial identity of worth. Through this act, we define some as a superior and others as inferior. Then, we draw lines and barriers between us and others. On the other hand, Multi-Culturalism constructs a lot of group love among a certain ethnic group. Yet, this may discourage a sense of common-hood with other ethnic groups. 

As a result, Torontonians have a lot of exclusive individual or community identities. And, these identities are out-weighing inclusive individual and community identities. We spend more time celebrating how we’re different, rather than trying to understand how we are essentially common. Therefore, exclusive identities are over-powering a sense of inclusive identity. In this way, we lack a sense of common identity. This prevents us from acting in the interest of the greater universal community.

Toronto needs to start working towards a sense of communal identity that finds the plural affinities between the various class and ethnic divisions. 

 If Torontonians had a sense of common-hood, we could begin to nurture a sense of kinship based on universal love for all. With this sense of commonality, we'd begin to seek a truer essence of equality, justice, joy, and happiness for all.
Therefore, I think, it is time we break down our imagined barriers and begin to re-imagine our identity as a city and nation. We need to start asking ourselves: what does it mean to be an individual, in the midst of a community of diverse, and yet essentially similar, human-beings?  And, the best way to answer the question is from a place of universal boundless love.

Critics may argue that this is impossible. Yet, these same people would never actually attempt it. In contrast, those who occupied at St. James Park were constantly apart of this creative process in experiencing and constructing an inclusive communal identity. And, more often than not, people discovered that it was very possible. All it takes is a simple choice of the heart.

 Personally, I experienced a sense of common-hood across the barriers of race, gender and class. I experienced a bond that was stronger than my woman-hood, middle-class upbringing and South-Asian ancestry. It was a bond of acceptance - human to human. It was a place where I could openly express both my Western and Eastern values and be without fear of judgement. It was a place, where I found the affinity between my Western and Eastern Values. This was essentially our bond as human-beings who want love. This is the ultimate joy and happiness every human being seeks. And, human-beings fear a life without love, for such a life is suffering.  Our aspirations, at the core, were very similar.

For me, the Occupy movement isn’t about negating the system, in an absolute sense. Rather, I believe, it has the potential to contribute positively to our growing and young identity as a diverse city and nation.

In a society that acclaims science, we need to be empirical with our lives. You need to test and observe different ways of expressing yourself. And, question: when are you more happy? Is it when you're being egotistical, competitive and self-interested? Or,  is it when you're being kind, accepting, and self-less?

St. James Park gave me the space to test the waters. What I’ve realized is that our competitive materialistic lives are preventing us from working towards common happiness. St.James Park was a place of acceptance, giving, sharing, simplicity, love and the ultimate creation of a sense of common identity in the now. It led to a happier group of human-beings.

The Occupy Movement has the potential to define Toronto’s cultural identity beyond virtual communities, traditional ideals and consumerism. It has the potential to contribute something lacking in our city, which is a sense of common-hood. I believe discovering our common-hood will have several implications on how we conduct our lives apolitically and politically. 

 As a supporter of the Occupy movement, my radical demand is for the right to work towards building an identity for our community that goes beyond the limitations of 'multi-culturalism' and consumerism. It's encouraging people to love one another, regardless of racial, gender, and class barriers. And, then asking them to ponder: what do we essentially need to ensure the happiness of all human-beings? 

                             21.11.2011 'We Are One' :   Darren Calabrese / National Post:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

What led humans to acquire more?

Truth be told I have overcome my fear and doubt and realized the true beauty of existence that laid dormant in my heart. We are nature’s being. One with the earth and our true nature we will discover. we are one with the universe  - God.
Socialization has left us to forget our true essence. Layered by things – shoes, clothes – aesthetic division has left us from seeing common man in our midst.
The truth is I am tired of being told this is the way to be. Taught to be in love with things and material possessions.   That is how my worth is measured. I am tired of allowing apathy to take the place of my empathy.
Our purpose is to enlighten humanity and to free them from their chains and lies. We are more than being striving for the accumulation of things.
Earth, mother Earth has given us everything we need. The magic of fire, fresh water to appease our thirst, and abundant fruit and vegetation to fulfill our hunger. We have two legs to travel, a voice to make music, arms to carry and emphasize.
What led humans to acquire more?
Shot By: Alex Grey

Friday, 14 October 2011

Bigots on a Righteous Mission.

By: Natale Danko

The end; is there an end in sight? The Sri Lankan Conflict has penetrated into my life-time like an unwelcomed genetic trait. I didn’t ask to be born into a community, with a history of conflict. Yet, it is inseparable from an identity I am still trying to grasp. I am a child of the war generation. It is all I have ever known and, probably, all I will ever know. Yet, I hope to live to see a change; a fresh new way to understand my being, so deeply entwined with the Sri Lankan ethno-national conundrum.

As the rest, who feign any interest in the Conflict of an Island of our forefathers, I ponder the plausible solutions.

The answer seems so simple:  I suggest, re-Imagine Sri Lanka beyond the ethno-national confine.
We do not need a land for Tamil Eelam or to build several Buddhist statues amongst non-believers. We do not need to colonize “Sinhala people” here and “Tamil people” there. We need something else.

We do not need more ethnicity. We need less.  The only problem with the ethno-national conflict in Sri Lanka is that we have too much ethno-nationalism.

We have too much Buddha Lovin’ Sinhala Chauvinists. We have too much Tiger Flag wavin’, Tamil Eelam lovin’ nationalists. Too much.  These individuals see life through an extreme matrix. In a world where social cohesion is achieved through ethnic exclusiveness, a purified ethno-national experience.

Well, in my eyes, all of this is wrong. Contemplation on this problem has left me convinced; the problem in Sri Lanka is ethnic-exclusiveness. The UN Panel Report agrees.  The national boundaries in Sri Lanka leave several minorities outside – walled off.

There’s an essence of being that a ‘majority’ of Sri Lankan’s have inherited, by a gift of blood and birth; and, that’s being Sinhalese. There’s a minority that has not inherited it and, therefore, are left to be felt like outsiders. The national boundaries in Sri Lanka only accept those, who through the purity of a blood line, get to claim themselves Sinhala Buddhists (i.e. the true natives of the land).

Yet, Sinhala ethno-nationalism leaves the Tamil minority frustrated. Sure, they don’t speak Sinhalese. Sure, they’re not Buddhist. But, hell, they live and have breathed the same land for centuries. They have plowed the fields and birthed their children. They have created and buried families on that land and to not be recognized as rightful natives of the land is an insult, at the most.

Yet, some of the Tamil community has responded to this ethnic exclusiveness, with an exclusiveness of their own. This is Tamil Nationalism. Their ethno-nationalism is no less brutal, than the Sinhala ethno-nationalism before them. It too has led them excluding the other. It has left them rounding up brothers of the North because they were, on the terms of ethnic boundaries, different. They were Muslim and, therefore, not really brothers at all. They were different and difference justified them leaving. 

Tamil Ethno-nationalism hasn’t helped the situation. It has only made it worst. Nevertheless, there persist self-determinists who believe that a Tamil homeland is the only answer. A recent visit to Sri Lanka proved that much. These believers of self-determination are pretty much saying, “Sinhala Chauvinists you can have the South, just give us Tamil Chauvinism in the North”.

These ethno-nationalists seem to think, quite naively, that if Sinhala and Tamil people aren’t feeling excluded on the Island anymore that the problem will just end. That all the mixed bloods and Muslims won’t complain next.

The sad reality is ethno-nationalism will never solve the problem. It will only aggrandize it. Thus, I come back to my initial proposition. We must re-imagine our lives beyond the confines of the ethno-national splendor.
There is a greater and more inclusive Sri Lanka to be imagined, even if we haven’t imagined it, yet. And, my wish for Sri Lanka is that we dream it. We must awaken from this stupor of limited ethno-national determinism. It will never allow us as human beings, of a wonderful land, to experience our true potential; to create a community for human beings. A land made not just for the Tamil and Sinhala. But, a land that is welcoming to the woman, the under-privileged, and the excluded middle.

See, the thing is, if we don’t get over our ethno-national attachments we’ll never talk about the human problems that plague our land. We will never work towards creating a home for the universal, yet distinct and fluid, human identity.  

To be liberated from our limited ethno-national attachments might be the closest Sri Lanka gets to a solution.  We must think of the multiple possibilities of creating community and we must be more creative than the traditional ideals we have set for ourselves.

As I finish this piece, I worry for the ridicule I know I will get from the Sinhala and Tamil Nationalist, or the wise academic  who can’t imagine anything but an accommodating ethno-national solution for Sri Lanka.  I worry not because I have any doubt in my suggestion; but, rather, I worry because I understand, though I deny it, why importance is instilled in ethnic identities. I understand the human attachment, centuries so old.
Yet, I say with the utmost respect to these ideals: let go. Let go; not so I can conquer some intellectual feat. Let go, because I genuinely believe it is the best for our posterity. 

Our children should grow up in lands not labeled by limited national boundaries. But, in lands that are promising to about any human being. That ensure peace, justice, liberty, and equality; yet, have no preference for the color of your skin or tongue. This is the land I imagine being the best for all, that will evolve with the time and migration of the future. That will be welcoming to the babies that might be born of the Chinese workers, sleeping with the woman that will have them, as they build highways in Sri Lanka.

A land that recognizes that nothing is ever permanent. That things change with the times. That one day these pure ethnic identities will be a story of the distant past. The faster we accept this, the sooner we can save a nation from falling into the hands of bigots on a righteous mission.

   Also Published here:

  • By: Natale Danko, Colombo Beach 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Why do I, a privileged Sinhalese soul, give a shit about the plight of the Tamil community?

On Sunday I was at a SLWB meeting when a gentleman posed a question the group had trouble answering.  "What is the purpose of this organization?", he questioned.

Though I couldn't speak on behalf of the organizaiton, it made me question myself. What is the purpose of my work with the Sri Lankan community? Why do I, a privileged Sinhalese soul, give a shit about the plight of the Tamil community?

Well, here's my go at it:

We have a responsibility to our ancestors and our heritage to be of one heart. We have been on the same land for thousands of years and now, in foreign land, we act like strangers. Brother and Sisters we must remember we are one family. I know we speak in different tongues and pray in different spaces; but, if you look into one another’s eyes, do you not see yourself?  We have let foreign men of power encourage our differences; we have let it disseminate our hearts and fight amongst ourselves. If we want positive change for the future, we must come together; we must see where our concerns are common.
Maybe it won’t immediately change our reality. But, it will cleanse our hearts of hatred. It will set aside misunderstanding. It will let Brothers and Sisters, who have fought for too long, to realize our faults and fall into one another’s arms with forgiveness and realization. We are one and our obligations to our "community" should be one.
I seek to overcome imagined barriers and re-imagine my "community" beyond the confines of ethno-nationalism. I actively seek forgiveness from those who have been forsaken by a land that is labeled, by an act of fortune, as mine. I want to undermine this privilege. I seek to reunite with my lost brothers and sisters who, ignored and denied, have become angered. I seek to bring them home. I seek to remind them of a beauty long forgotten. I seek to hold their hands to the gates of justice, prosperity, and eternal peace.

                                              Shot: A religious Hindu parade in Trinco
                                               By: Natale Danko