Just spent 2 hours with dear friend and global shaker Sharif Abdullah and his special guest Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, the founder-president of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement started 47 years ago. Sarvodaya is Sanskrit for “Awakening of All”, and Shramadana means to donate effort. Beginning in just one village and extending the movement to a total of more than 15,000 has been a fascinating adventure. Initially it involved an education program aimed at enabling students and teachers to live and work with the most remote village communities in Sri Lanka to lend a hand and develop self help initiatives...with the goal of a comprehensive and nonviolent social transformation. Visit the Sarvodaya website

Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, affectionately called Ari, described how and why this movement is founded in non-violence.  "To stray into anything violent is to fail", implored Ari.  If the movement is violent, it can be crushed by superior military force.  If the movement stays non-violent, then the regime is compelled to remain non-violent.

I have given great thought to this since the police began escalating violence on relatively peaceful protesters.  The UC Davis and UC Berkeley incidents were particularly disturbing because of the lack of overt violence from students, many simply sitting peaceably.  But even as those events were unfolding, I sense there is another level of nonviolence that is unassailable and, yet, perhaps even more effective in advancing awareness of the sweeping injustices at hand. 

I won't leave you hanging, I don't have an answer to give.  I do think the answer is part of our collective awakening and exploration process.  Ari passionately and clearly declared that whatever problem you see "out there" with "them" would not go away, even if you managed to get rid of "them", because we, the people, embody within us greed, fear, lack of trust in the sufficiency of our world, our universe.

We must awaken and transform ourselves in order to create the changed system to which we aspire.  Ari has mobilized a movement in Sri Lanka one might compare to many thousands of encampments.  In fact there are now over 15,000 villages with millions of people going strong after nearly 50 years, all started by a student project in one village!

We love to repeat Gandhi's words,"Be the change...", but do we know what that actually means in real-time, feet-on-the-ground terms?  I believe the closer we get to that understanding, the closer we will get to realizing the Declarations now pouring forth for the future we assert we desire.

Ari describes 3 Circles of Transformation that must intersect for real and lasting change to come:

  • Consciousness
  • Economics
  • Power / politics / governance

We are in fact already doing what Ari recommends.  His recipe in Sri Lanka is to pick a village and start creating what you want to create.  First do it with 50 families, then 300.  50 grow to 300,  etc.

I wrote this to Sharif after the call:

I found Sarvodaya's model of community action interesting.  I know this is in action in various ways here in the US.  I'm curious to know what you have to say in regard to differences in execution, style and effectiveness between community initiatives here in the US and in Sri Lanka.  Transition Town comes to mind as one such initiative that seems to somewhat mirror what Ari speaks of, but has had limited scope and success. Why is that?  What are the differences relative to our cultures that might leave clues for greater success?

I have some ideas related to our mass mobilization Appreciative Inquiry focusing in on individual communities at a time with a mission to:

  1. Identify and illuminate common ground first and foremast, rather than looking for idealogical alignment.  
  2. Identifying community needs.  
  3. Organizing or inspiring preexisting groups or coalitions to mobilize and collaborate on solving/providing the needs with the good of the people rather than any individual or special interest or agenda as the mission/goal.

I chuckle when I read this.  There must be no less than a million of these wheels rolling down the hill already, so reinventing one doesn't make much sense.

But discovering how to get a lot more by getting all those wheels turning in sych, that would be a brilliant invention.  How might we support that?

If this speaks to you, remember to join us for Occupy Heart on Fridays.  Be the change...

Much thanks again, to Sharif for powerful sharing.

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Finding grounded responses to these questions will be imperative for the survival and evolution of this movement.

What might a higher octave of nonviolence look like in our demonstrations and civil disobedience?

If violence happens, can one make a case to say it was provoked–even when events on the surface say no?  

What is the possibility that NDAA is simply a strange way to challenge ourselves to become immaculate in our presence?

1. An interesting question!  However, I'd prefer the richness of idiosyncratic responses rather than looking for a grounded response with such ("imperative") urgency.  Let's brainstorm!

2. When violence happens, it doesn't matter if it was provoked.  Violence is.  The more important question is how we can rise above who's right, who's wrong, and who deserves what and respond to violence and painful conflict in a transformative way.  The more interesting question is how to recognize invisible or structural violence, especially within systems that we ourselves are continuing to support, and how to do that without blame or guilt.

3. The NDAA is nothing more than the next evolutionary step for the Culture of Fear - a natural outgrowth, I would say, from the National ID Act and the "Patriot" Act before that.  We have a lot of growing up to do as a movement, and taking things personally will stifle our learning and maturation.  Laws are made in reaction to the lawmakers; they have little or nothing to do with those who are governed by them.  This is not to trivialize excessive use of force by the government, whether it be pepper spraying students, unlimited detention of activists, or feeling up grandmothers at the airport.

I like what Dr. Ari has to say about the primary importance of inner transformation.  I would say that "being the change" includes bringing our economics, politics, governance, and relationship with power into alignment with a consciousness based on proactive love rather than reactive fear.  I think Dr. Ari would agree that fear of the "other" is nothing more nor less than fear of some aspect of myself that I mask with bravado or lame humor or denial or some other form of defense.

Thanks to Susan for reminding me of Jitendra's important post.


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