Adam Szetela in AlterNet:
Not many people can say they have done yoga with Amy Goodman. But then again, not many people have been to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Founded in 1977, the institute has been a spiritual haven and progressive force in a world cut through with hate, anger and ignorance. Last week, the institute held a multi-day retreat focused on the union of contemplative wisdom and political activism. In between yoga poses, performative art, meditation sessions, and communal dining, leaders of the progressive left gave talks on how to proceed in difficult times. Here is what they had to say. “America was a business before it was a country.” Clad in his trademark black suit, white shirt and silk tie, Cornel West helped to kick off Friday evening with a fiery sermon that condemned neoliberalism and the rising tide of neofascism in America. His words were soaked in metaphors, alliteration and the hip-hop style that Harvard president Larry Summers once called "an embarrassment." In between his rebuke of Wall Street and its political puppets, West made the important point that what America is experiencing is not just economic and political tyranny, but an “eclipse of integrity, honesty, decency, and generosity. It is the escalation of gangster-like sensibilities.”For West and the other speakers who joined him at Omega, America is in the long, dark night of a spiritual blackout. If people are to light a candle in these dark times, the first step is to be self-critical.
Self-criticism is something that CNN’s Van Jones knows well. On election night 2016, Jones was catapulted into the national spotlight after he stated on live television that Donald Trump’s victory was in part a result of "whitelash." Since then, Jones has traveled the country to connect with Trump voters. In his talk at Omega, he admitted that these experiences have made him rethink his initial post-election remarks and the way he fights for a progressive agenda. As he explained, “I met straight, white, cisgendered, heterosexual Trump voters who are some of the best people in this country. I’ve done that, I’ve seen it, and I can’t unsee it.” The message Jones sent to those listening is that they need to stop the bashing and the name-calling, and instead, step outside their assumptions about other people. If we are to effectively connect with the people we disagree with, then empathy and the ability to listen deeply will be our greatest allies. This approach to political struggle, as West prophetically stated, requires us to practice self-awareness and self-critique, and to see how much of our politics is governed by anger and self-righteousness, rather than compassion and the will to understand other people’s perspectives.