The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

People’s Park was protected by many years of protests, and it has flowered due to years of volunteer gardening. Lydia Gans photo

 

by Debbie Moore

There is an Invisible Cathedral in People’s Park. Those who hope to destroy it may wish to first observe the Park’s immense, natural shrine.

The Park’s Invisible Natural Cathedral commemorates the beauty of completely open ground, purposefully established as a sanctuary for one and all.

This living, growing temple inspires a kind of Zen liberation that is especially felt there by folks who live their lives outside.

Periodically, trouble occurs when certain people who can’t recognize the existing refuge, insist on tearing down this Natural Cathedral made of living tree trunks, touching the open sky with their leafy canopies, and made up of extensive gardens of all varieties.

People’s Park’s spiritually founded belief in the value of purely open, uninterrupted, available ground, has escaped the understanding of certain diplomats, for all 50 years of the life of the Park.

So, as you can easily imagine, guardians of the Park’s spiritual basis have had to, quite regularly, resist invading builders and corporate interests that threaten to plunder both its physical and spiritual ground.

Some institutional employees delude themselves into thinking that they are helping by offering to enclose in concrete, the homeless folks who eat their meals in People’s Park and genuinely wish to remain outdoors on the open land as much as possible.

Approximately 140 homeless folks use the park daily, in order to find respite from city concrete and the constant attacks on their sleep and well-being that they face elsewhere.

A proposed structure built in the Park would house approximately 40 of those people temporarily, but what would become of the one hundred who never feel that they’re at home anywhere, as they do daily in People’s Park?

Not all homeless folks are able or suited to stay for more than just an infrequent night in institutional living. If proposed shelters are built for those who are so suited, they must be placed elsewhere, leaving the People’s Park Cathedral as outdoor sanctuary for those it has so well served for half a century.

Regardless of the destructive effects, some University of California employees and self-assigned governmental diplomats campaign to cover some of the landscape with concrete structures, made up mostly of dorms. They collude with and lure in architects and supposed humanitarians, even museum curators and Park history archivists, offering them a job, a meeting hall or a showroom.

Some try to tempt Park lovers with architects’ design schemes, offering to build lofty indoor spaces that homeless folks may temporarily inhabit, with doors that lock and walls to hold photos of Park history.

This temporary homeless habitat will, of course, end at whatever time the University building owners decide to reclaim this indoor space for other uses, or for their own financial profit.

No one sees themselves as entirely devious in this land-grab, but they probably sense that they are part of an underlying threat to the Invisible Natural Cathedral that they are poised to destroy with their construction schemes.

The palpable quality of liberation that People’s Park land exudes, from the soil carried in with backpacks at its inception to its present 50th year, could be dispelled by their refusal or failure to see the intended purpose of its soil.

Whether devious sight or blindness is at work in these institutional planning committees, it is historically proven that once green space has been claimed and swallowed up by the construction of a building on a park, there will never be open parkland again. It will be forever lost as open space.

Quite often, these institutional employees and their congregation of paid diplomats, bowing to their religion of institutional greed and delusions of progress, assume it is a kindness to destroy the Invisible Cathedral. It suits their commercial salesmanship to offer ways for the homeless to come indoors temporarily, and for the great outdoors to be officially commemorated in concrete.

 

Dedicated people give free meals to folks at People’s Park — and keep alive one of the core values of the counterculture that created the Park. Lydia Gans photo

 

Park guardians insist that just as most parks have a bathroom, there will not be any additional construction larger than the existing small park bathroom, ever built on any part of People’s Park. Any additional construction will be an insult toward — will be death to — the completely open space that is fulfilling the Park’s purpose, its spirit, its identity.

No one turning these wheels of supposed “progress” recognizes that entirely open ground is the very identity of People’s Park. Preserving this open ground is exactly what sustains it. It is essential.

Even a little contact with People’s Park guardians reveals that the focused ideal of protecting open ground has been consistently maintained and expressed in many Park arts and events. For example, American Indian tribal grandparents, parents and now their grown children have been invited to open every Park Anniversary celebration with their drumming and dances.

American Indian beliefs embrace the Invisible Natural Cathedral, where each living thing, tree, sky, ground and bird shares equal importance with each human resting there. Such ancient beliefs do not allow manmade ownership of built structures to replace this natural identity, this invisible spirit.

If corporate diplomats wish to understand what caused the spirit of People’s Park to last, they might look into the words of the Digger’s Song that has been sung on stage during every People’s Park Anniversary Celebration on each of the last Sundays of April for fifty years.

“No man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain,” and “this earth divided, we will make whole, and it shall be a common treasury for all.” Those words express why the Park was claimed for the People originally.

“We shall not bow to the masters or pay rent to the lords,” are lyrics expressing why it is dangerous to build any inhabitable, rental property in People’s Park.

Longstanding Park performance groups enact rituals like the “Rite of Clarification” that demonstrates to attendees and Park lovers, the existence of the Invisible Cathedral, the shrine that already exists all around them. This event includes attendees in bodily enactments of bowing down to “hold onto the ground” with their hands, and reaching out to one another to sustain communion with the land, to “Be the Park.”

During the “Rite of Clarification,” everyone on stage and in the audience reaches up to heaven, embracing and absorbing the radiance there and bringing it down into the human realm. During such an enactment, participants are not merely representatives for People’s Park; they have become One with it.

In another ritual of Oneness, each Anniversary celebration includes a time when the names of those Park community members who have passed away are heard, while they can be encountered in its Invisible Cathedral. In this way, the homeland of People’s Park is a burial ground, a place of visitation to acknowledge and honor dead community members in group memorial and communion.

Friends and guardians of People’s Park have lived and died to keep sacred open land open. Lives were lost and more lives could be lost in re-claiming the quintessential People’s Park vision of sustaining completely open ground, if it is threatened. People’s Park guardians have kept an unbroken 50-year vow to maintain this shared Invisible Natural Cathedral forever.

This vow to keep the beauty of open space alive and open, allows anyone to be homeless there, to find sanctuary outdoors there each day and allows the hungry to be fed there, no matter how politically incorrect some may find their presence. These daily homeless visitors are involved in life-saving processes that enable them to stabilize and move forward.

So please, go away builders. Your homeless buildings that soon become dorms, must be built somewhere else. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain right where it is, to give refuge to all future people. It is a testimony to 50 years of People’s Park survival, as a living shrine of open space that speaks for itself.

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