Agents For Change From The Spiritual Realm

During the last couple of months “Off The Mat Into The World”, an US based organization that aims to ignite grassroots social change through personal empowerment, has been running a campaign called Yoga Votes to

1. Show that yoga is voting: Uniting the work we do on the mat with the decisions we make at the voting booth.

2. Demonstrate that every vote counts: Encourage all yogis to participate in the voting process, no matter who they are or where they’re coming from.

3. Mobilize an emerging constituency: Engage, educate, and mobilize the 20 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. We will demonstrate that the yoga community is a block of conscious voters, engaging in politics in a new and impactful way.

Which sounds ok, if a tad rose-colored-glasses. But I do take issue with their non-partisan orientation and the idea of bringing “the practices of inclusivity, compassionate action, collaboration and unity to our country’s hyper-partisan politics”, as if both sides were just as bad, or good.

Let me take the time to link to people who are way more eloquent then I am:

Shakesvilles Melissa McEwan on Why both sides aren’t equally bad.

The Babarazzi who’ve written a bunch of awesome posts on “lifeytyle activism” and how being non-partisan actually is a harmful position.

I’ve also written a rather long comment on Wendi’s blog post about the Yoga Votes here (As yet it has not been approved by her, due to timezones.)

So to sum up this very long comment and finally make my point: Voting is important as a way to keep people engaged and identified with government and public policy. Yet it can’t be the only way we (and I mean yogis specifically here) engage in political activism.

And to emphasize voting period, over voting for a liberal progressive candidate, is imho downright dangerous and unyogic. If we really take ahimsa as a guiding principle we can not encourage people to vote for a candidate that would leave the sizable (15%) poor US-population at risk of dying from undernourishment and treatable illnesses, while also leaving the middle class at risk of becoming poor, in favor of making the rich even richer.

This leads me to the general idea that individual action (individual empowerment see above) can lead to lasting social change. This is a thought that is very prevalent in spiritual and self-helpy circles.1

So, yeah, individual empowerment.

Any human action happens in context of a social system. And it’s effectiveness is defined by that system. Some actions transport really well from one social system, or from one actor to another. Sun salutations will always accelerate your heart rate. Some actions don’t translate well. A woman voicing her opinion today will be listened to in different ways than a woman voicing her opinion 100 years ago. Generally speaking men will be listened to in different ways than women.2

Some problems aren’t systemic. Your specific relationship trouble, the tea sieve, is likely to be an individual problem which can be solved by empowering you with better communication skills. Your inability to process critiques is likely a personal problem that may be solved by empowering you with better boundaries. Yay personal empowerment.

But there are many situations where, for individual empowerment to be effective, the social system needs to change. Giving a farmer lessons in organic farming methods isn’t going to help if the land she farms is owned by agribusiness. Only when she owns the land to farm can the individual empowerment be effective.

The same way teaching yoga to inner city youth so they have the spiritual centering to effectively take action to change their lives/ end the cycle of violence/ become middle class isn’t going to be effective until the system changes to actually give them the opportunities, work with decent wages, food security, safety, education and systems that actually encourage individual empowerment, like affirmative action.

Now my yogic values might very well support me in taking action, in coming together with others and getting shit done. Radiating a culture of change and possibility, believing change is possible might fertilize the ground for change to happen, but the seed of change is still action and the growth of change is finding, and enacting with others, systemic solutions to systemic problems.

Coming back to the Yoga Votes; voting is an important political action, but it can not be the only one if we want to challenge the status quo. Encouraging people to vote, irregardless of for whom they vote, is an individually empowering activity, but it can not change the borked system that is US politics, especially when the vote might go to the nightmare that is Mitt Romney. All it does is entrench a more progressive or a more conservative status quo. And I really believe that what the US needs is a challenge to their corporation driven politics.3

Anyway, good luck with the election and may $deity help us all in case Obama loses.

  1. My working definition of spiritual: “Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issues of how our lives fit into the greater scheme of things. … An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life.” Spirituality is an individually empowering activity. Mine happens to be yoga. []
  2. I realize that is a very blanket statement and I do know about intersectionality of gender, race, education, bodily ability, age, etc. and how the privilege is a lot more complicated than gender. []
  3. So does Germany and I’ll try to remember to write that post when election is upon us. []

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