Thoughts floating through my mind in the beginning were about rallies I had attended in the Sixties, Canterbury Tales, nine years of national fear-driven behavior… and fun. Secondary thoughts included the affordability of the trip, and a loud ” WTF are you thinking ” from my body parts below the neck ( this was a trip in a crowded bus that meant 27 hours on the bus, seven hours in D.C., and then 27 more hours back on the bus ).
It’s taken me two days to feel normal again, and not once since last Friday have I felt that it was not a wonderful experience ( Ok, the first couple of hours on the bus, maybe a few doubts ). This note is sort of an overview with a big-picture at the end which will assist me as I write my own ” Canterbury Tales ” about the journey.
First of all, and maybe most importantly, the OK Sanity Riders began as a loving exchange between two people, Vicke Adams & Ron Honn. She wanted to give him a birthday present. He wanted to go to the rally in D.C. Soon they thought about seeing if some friends wanted to go along. Eventually it grew person by person to be a headcount of 121 people on three buses. This kind of lovingness pervaded the trip. From the teenagers to the octogenarians, from Republicans to Democrats, everyone during the grueling two & a half days was thoughtful & respectful & compassionate towards one another. Without exception. Perhaps it was because we have long endured the playground cacophony of Oklahoma that allowed us to pull together this harmony. Maybe not. Central to all was the frame of mind we brought to the journey. The only expectations were for sanity & a sense of humor.
Unlike the rallies of the Sixties, we were not galvanized to save the world. We were not drawn by charismatic figures like Dr King, or energized by music messiahs like Joan Baez. We mostly liked Jon Stewart, but he was, after all, not JFK.
This was a ” rally ” without a world-shaking theme or a centralized structure manipulated by power-mad ” organizers.” It was, I guess, an anti-rally, which began at 7:30 am the morning we first gathered & immediately began helping each other get situated. The sun was rising, there was potential for chaos, there were numerous bleary eyes, but every face was smiling.
I had a fleeting question about whether it would last through Ohio. It did. It came with the people Friday morning and left with them Sunday evening. It never dissipated.
As I mentioned on an earlier status update, this was not your grandfather’s rally. Your grampa’s rallies of the 60’s DID NOT WORK! I know. I was there. I’ll expand on this at the end of the note. This is the only rally I’ve ever attended from which I returned feeling good about the country. And it had nothing to do with what happened on the mainstage. Most of us never even made it to the mall… didn’t need to. And my good feelings have not been dampened in the least by the elections after the trip, even though none of my votes were for the resulting victors.
Now, usually when you gather 121 people of varying ages and persuasions, people who have powerful convictions about political & social matters, and you confine them in very cramped space ( eating, sleeping & waking together ) for 60some straight hours, you might expect some explosions. Factor in that most of them were able to sleep very little, and disaster is a strong probability. Never happened. Didn’t even come close to happening. I do not want to suggest that there were no problems. EVERYONE had some problems on occasion with the confined space, bathrooms, food, sleeping, “noisy” neighbors, uncertainty about logistics in Washington, etc, etc. There were complaints now & then, but those complaints were courteously addressed, and that was the end of it. There were no chain reactions of behavior that escalate into a big bang.
During the journey, there were constant quiet discussions going on, touching on about everything under the sun, ranging from the personal emotional to political to abstract philosophical. Were there disagreements? O yeah. Plenty of them, but no one called the other ” Hitler!” There was never any group discrimination about subject matter or opinion.There was a wonderful amount of open-mindedness and sense of humor and toleration. It was… sane.
I had warm conversations with my seat-mate, Jim from Duncan. We were different in many ways, but it was never a problem. We shared entire lifetimes, the highs and the lows, as well as experiences in the evolution of the country. There were many other briefer exchanges with people on the buses, just as warm and human.
For me, the journey to D.C. was a validation of an important concept: It is never the destination that is the answer, it is the journeying. I could have skipped the big rally at the capitol with no problem.
Still, I had some curiosity about what the crowd in Washington would be like, and what would our little group experience there. Would it change our group dynamics?
I had not been to Washington D.C. in forty-some years. The last time I was there was for the massive mall live-in called Resurrection City. Thousands of people camped out on the National Mall for several months. It was a highly centralized idealized protest against poverty & for civil rights. It was generated with a definite goal by idealistic ( & dictatorial ) organizers. It was Dr. Martin Luther King’s idea, but he was assassinated before it happened. It was passively confrontational ( at the beginning ) in nature, and it ended in a squalid, muddy mess rampant with personal frustrations and disagreements. And though we left D.C. telling ourselves we made some difference, over the years it has become evident that little was accomplished.
That was certainly on my mind as we entered the suburbs of Washington D.C.
We piled out of our crowded buses… and then squeezed into a packed Metro train. Forty-five sardine minutes later, we emerged onto the streets of D.C. into a HUGE crowd. And ( surprise! ) it was all GOOD. I know the rally crowd has been estimated at around 200,000, but I have been at OU football games with 85,000 other folks, and the rally crowd was easily four times that number.
And though the next four hours brought fewer personal connections, the same sanity and sense of humor was everywhere present at the rally. ( See my pictures ) I saw no confrontations. I saw no idealistic fanatics. I saw a lot of parents & children. I saw a lot of friendly Police ( & several sober CIA/FBI types ). I saw a lot of young people having fun expressing their thoughts through performance & their signs. The ” Rally ” was happening at every step, and no one seemed hell-bent on getting to the mall & seeing Jon Stewart ( which was obviously near impossible anyway.) Most of the crowd never made it off the side streets, and it didn’t seem to matter. The sanity & humor was all around constantly. It was, despite physical difficulties, fun & fulfilling.
And that was about the time I fell off the monument.
I had climbed up on the pedestal of some civil war general on his horse to get a higher perspective camera shot. I had already climbed several trees, so… However I took a step to the side and there was suddenly no pedestal beneath me. Several kids grabbed me & saved my life, but I got a nasty whack on the shin. ( In my pictures, you can see the kids re-enacting my rescue from the fall ) I wandered about a little longer, but my leg was yelling ” Get off me.”
The Metro was still as packed with people as before. And while standing in the unmoving mob, I heard my one and only angry voice of the journey. Some guy behind me got pissed because someone was trying to shove through the stationary crowd. He yelled for a minute, and then… apologized to all of us around him, as the perpetrator shoved on through in arrogant oblivion. ( Karma got him. We made it aboard the train, he didn’t.
That was as ugly as it got on the journey.
I was the first of the OK Sanity Riders back to the bus boarding site in the suburbs. We had all been on our own since leaving the bus. After all, we were grown-ups. And as everyone trickled in, it was obvious that all were excited & had a good experience. Many had wandered through the crowd awhile, then gone to the Museum of Art or to restaurants to eat & lounge. Several had even heard Stewart’s closing speech, which was nice ( I saw it on internet back home ).
As the buses pulled up to gather us in, the Universe gave me a wonderful ironic moment. During the 60’s/70’s I attended several anti-nuclear energy rallies which attempted to blockade nuclear energy plants or disrupt their construction. None of them were much of a success. Well, quite accidentally, our buses pulled up in front of a gated, secure building. After a while, some guys in black suits and carrying weapons came out. They looked very confused and alarmed, but not sure what they were seeing.
I went up to them & said, ” We’re from Oklahoma. Just attended the rally in D.C. and now we’re boarding our buses to go home.” One guy looked at me closely and asked, ” Do you know what this building is?” I replied, ” Not a clue, ” and smiled. He didn’t smile back. ” This is the National Nuclear Radiation Lab! A high security, highly sensitive site. You are blocking the entrance.” I laughed, and said, ” Sorry. We’ll be gone soon.” They retreated a bit to talk on their phones for a few suspenseful moments. Then they waited for thirty minutes as we boarded, and waved goodbye to them.
The Universe is sane & has a sense of humor.
The trip home was similar to the ride to D.C., perhaps a little quieter. As we entered Oklahoma, people got more animated, taking pictures of each other & exchanging wishes to stay in touch. We pooled together and gave Ron & Vicke money to cover their bus shares. Happy birthday, Ron, and thanks to you both. And a big hug to all you Sanity Riders. You made it a once in a lifetime experience.
Now, what have I learned from this seemingly pleasant mini-vacation? And how does it relate to the profound mass rallies I attended in the 60’s/70’s? The question has some importance since we shall soon enter a period when there will be mass movements to create change.
The big picture as I see it.
This may not make a lot of sense to some of you, because when I think of ” big picture,” I’m thinking 300 million years of brain evolution. Why? Some of the most primitive parts active in our brains today ( & they are still active ) are dictating human behavior more than we realize… particularly when it comes to organizing social structures. Unfortunately this ancient system was adept at survival in the primeval swamp but not at all capable of survival in the world we face today.
The reason that systems globally are ” broken ” is that the underlying psychological foundation for these systems is the Alpha Animal Social System. You see this system at work constantly in your daily life. Variations of it are displayed in family structures, government structures, religious structures, military structures, in all the global structures we refer to as civilization… including social movements for change.
The Alpha system is a pyramidal hierarchical ” pack ” structure that has the ” elite ” at the top and descending levels of ” power & privilege ” until you reach the lowest tier of pawns. The only self-identity in the system is what it gives you. The only acceptable behavior in the system is what it tells you to do. All function is highly patterned and ritualistic. Territoriality and will-to-power are instinctual. Deception is a survival technique. Obsession/compulsion to the pack’s benefit is rewarded. Violence is the norm. In the earliest stages of this system’s usage, there was no thought and no emotion. Today, thought and emotion are strictly controlled by ” tradition ” and law.
The ancient lizards that functioned with this primary brain, and the system it created, also devoured their own offspring, lived in a constant state of fear, and killed to better their positions in the structure.
( I am just outlining in this note. If you want to know more, take a look at my research on my study group page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108253137538 )
Of course humans are not lizards. We have two more brains that have evolved around this core brain of vertebrates; an emotional brain and the neocortex ( ” human brain “).
Nonetheless, in times of uncertainty and fear, we have a tendency to revert back to the processing of this ancient brain. Some are more prone to primal behavior than others. And certainly, modern alphas know how to generate fear to trigger these mechanisms in our heads.
In the 60’s, my friends and I were revolting against this Alpha structure, shedding the restrictive moral and social values imposed on us during the fear-driven 50’s. We undressed love and found it to be a universal energy. Our first gatherings were called Love-Ins, and we got together in masses for no other purposes than to experience each other lovingly. We were especially keen on sexual freedom. We were the Love Generation. We were Love Children… we were not Love Adults. We may have undressed love, but we still had little notion of what it was. Beneath our loving exteriors, there were still prejudices and fears which we hid as best we could.
At first, there was little to no organization to these gatherings, and no idealistic social purpose. There was just a general lovingness and joy in being together. In time, we enjoyed thinking of it as a revolution, but we had only vague ideas about what we were revolting against other than our own families. Later we zeroed in on civil rights and poverty and the war and dictatorial government and anyone-over-30 and sexism and other things. We were led to these higher goals by our own chosen alpha animals.
We shed ourselves of an older alpha structure, yes, but unconsciously we began immediately constructing our own alpha system. At the top of the pyramid were our ” heroes,” people like JFK, Martin Luther King, any number of rock stars and gurus, etc. It isn’t extreme to say we worshipped them in our new old way. The descending levels of the social strata were defined not by how much money you had or who your parents were, but by how charismatic you were, how messianic you were, how cool you were, how ” free ” you were… of course there was still some money & parent stuff in there too.
In our new national tribe, we were given new ways to dress, to speak, to behave. To really “belong” we had to follow these new unwritten rules. Slowly, fear levels elevated, beginning with fears about being accepted.
When the social protesting began, our new alpha system started becoming more ” organized.” It began to become specifically idealized, with stated goals and objectives. It was managed by minor alphas with hidden agendas. It also became more and more confrontational. As the years went by, we progressed from putting flowers in gun barrels to taunting the trigger-fingers. Finally, fear replaced love.
That’s a very brief and general look at the rallies of my younger years. The problem which doomed the Love Movement was not the drugs or violence that ensued as time went by, it was the fact that we rejected the old system, then unconsciously replaced it with a variation of the same system: the Alpha Animal Social System. The history of civilization is replete with the same mistake. Revolutions explode and overturn an Alpha system, then turn around and create another one displaying the same old problems.
So what alternative is there to a top-down power structure which creates classes of descending power and influence ( such as the political parties )?
Simple. A human networking structure which maximizes the creativity/capability of individuals connected in a common endeavor.
I am not going into brain function here, but I will say that if there is a power struggle in your head between the three brains that reside therein, you will certainly project that Alpha Animal dynamic in your personal behavior, and in any social system you create. If you are dominated by your ” left brain ” function to the detriment of your emotional brain, all of your behavior will reflect that dynamic, and any social system you create will project it as well. What we create in the world around us is generated by our brains, and reflects the state of our brains.
So if you can imagine a balance between your logic, your imagination, your emotions and your instincts in such a way that they work harmoniously, then you can create social networks that have the same capability. Such a network in a realized state would display: no power struggles, no elitism, no imposed self-identities, no imposed behavior, no racism, no sexism, maximum creativity and compassion, minimum fear. Sound impossible? Well, it hasn’t been achieved yet, but there are numerous initial systems all around us. For example, our group of OK Sanity Riders.
From conception, it was never a controlling Alpha System, and there was never the corresponding “ego” problems that are inherent in the Alpha System. Everyone connected, bringing their unique capabilities, including compassion & sense of humor, along with organizational skills and planning skills. At no time was there an alpha telling others what to do and how to behave. We were grown-ups & we created a grown-up system to handle an arduous task with surprising ease.
That was a direct contrast to what I experienced at rallies of the 60’s & 70’s.
Final note: I took a lot of pictures, but in these days following last weekend, what sticks in my mind is the picture I didn’t take: that of a man & woman in our group. She was wheelchair-bound, and the entire journey was probably more of a challenge for them than the rest of us. Dozens of times, I watched him carry her on & off the bus. Many helped out as best we could, but It was difficult for them. They handled it beautifully. I’ll never forget them.