Buddhism is a religion without a god or a creed, yet it's a way of life for four hundred million. It seeks
no converts and strives only to relieve suffering. This blog offers no high teaching but only practical observations, mostly about the daily news. You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As high winds, low-30 temperatures, and sheets of snow ripped through downtown Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street was under siege on Saturday, this time from Mother Nature. Zuccotti Park was transformed into a tent city, with just over a hundred protestors huddled against only the fourth October snowstorm to hit New York in 135 years.
Other than the roaring wind, the park was quiet: no chants, no drum circles. The day's outdoor activities were canceled and the wall of sign wavers on Wall Street has been replaced by a single, stalwart placard: "Hell Snow, We Won't Go!" Tents are explicitly forgiven by Brookfield Properties, which owns the park — but that hasn't stopped the protestors. "People are doing what they can, they're going to bring in tents," said Robert Silva, a 37-year-old recording engineer from Brooklyn. "This is snow, it's not going to kill us. What they're doing to us will kill us. What they're doing to our world."
Adam, a 20-year-old occupier from New York, told me that the park's stone pathways were filling up with icy water. "It seeps in through the bottom of the tents," he said. "We don't know how much longer this is going to last." The crush of belongings and bodies has strained the park's drainage system. As tents heave under snowfall and water trickles down from the street, the park is turning into a colorful, ice-cold fishbowl.
Some electric pumps and heaters would have come in handy, but the city confiscated Occupy Wall Streets' generators and gasoline yesterday, citing them as fire code violations. If they continue to be banned, the movement will lack in heat sources once the cold weather settles in more permanently.
The Practical Buddhist Responds
I'm in flooded Bangkok as I write this morning. My apartment is dry so far, though the sandbags piled around the building remind that the waters have not yet reached their peak. For the past ten days I've watched Thai people cope with this disaster, in which over 300 have drowned. They are either helping with relief efforts or planning to. Last night I saw hundreds of citizens working under floodlights, loading trucks with sand for new barriers. This morning I walked to the 7-11. Shelves there have been empty of bottled water for weeks.
So what? I'm thinking about Occupy Wall Street, where protesters are wet and freezing and where the authorities have confiscated their heaters. Unlike the Thais, they are there by choice. Are they nuts? Why don't they go indoors? Why don't they go home and shut up?
Apparently they think they have a message. I'm paying attention to the Thai people here as they pull together and battle the floods they never asked for. I'm paying attention to the Occupy people too -- like nuns and soldiers, they are intentionally depriving themselves of comfort for what they believe is a greater good. I have something to learn here, so I have to keep paying attention to see what it is.