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Dharma Connect: Protestors Object at Wisdom 2.0

At the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco last week, a panel of Google executives speaking about corporate mindfulness was disrupted by protestors who accuse the company of "appropriating the language of counterculture and Buddhism" while asserting corporate privilege to displace residents and take unfair advantage of municipal services.

The protestors have their story. On its website, Heart of the City, which describes itself as "fighting to save our city refuge and neighborhoods" from tech company encroachment, calls it "an unexpected public service announcement" and claims credit.

On the Wisdom 2.0 blog, they're called "uninvited protestors" who "blocked the view of the speakers." There's no mention of what they were protesting. It goes on to praise Bill Duane, one of the presenters and a senior manager at Google, for his grace in responding to them.

“We can use this as a moment of practice,” he said. “Check in with your body and see what’s happening, what it’s like to be around conflict and people who have heartfelt ideas that might be different from what we’re thinking.”

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here's a statement from one of the protesters


"Just like the gentrification of a neighborhood where new, wealthy people displace people who have lived there longer, the dharma is undergoing a process of gentrification in San Francisco today. Lost is the bigger picture of the teachings that asks us to consider our interdependence and to move beyond self-help and addressing only our own suffering. The dharma directs us to feel the suffering of others.

The pace of displacement in the city’s Mission District makes whole sections of the neighborhood unrecognizable to people who lived there just a year before. With great respect for Sharon Salzberg, Konda Mason, and Shinzen Young, who taught this year at Wisdom 2.0, I ask the following question about the dharma on display at this conference: To whom is it recognizable?"

Thanks for linking

Thanks for linking, I'll add to the discussion there. She ignores that most Buddhist countries were feudal. But that aside, this conference is not specific to Buddhist viewpoints but inclusive of many wisdom traditions. e.g. Benedicting monk Brother David Steindl-Rast spoke, as well as many from Hindu and Yoga traditions, some new age folks like Eckhart Tolle, and many from new secular mindfulness traditions like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Google's Chade Meng - who was on stage at that moment.

So the dharma on display was much more inclusive than sectarian.


I was at the conference and my experience of this was frustration, on a couple levels. Firstly, this was a talk about bringing more self awareness and emotional intelligence to the corporate world and how mindfulness is infiltrating corporate HR & employee development. It's not appropriation, it's grass roots change from the bottom up within a major US corporation. It was started by employees. It should be celebrated as such, not protested.

Secondly, this anti-eviction pro-rent control crowd is framing the tech boom in SF as the cause of cost of living increases and increasing displacement. That narrative we hear frequently here in SF but it has major flaws. The per capita median income in SF tracks the national average over the last 25 years. If an influx of high paid workers was causing the inflation, as an expression of income inequality, that per capita data would not be so flat. Instead we find the median household income in SF is up 30%. So what's really happening is a huge cultural shift toward dual income households. Now mom and dad are both working and the kids are in daycare. That's where all the money is coming from that can afford the astronomical housing costs. And it's apparent in the census data. But instead this protest group is singling out the google buses and a talk on emotional intelligence programs for employees at google. Something isn't very intelligent about how they're getting their message out, to me. They appear to be looking for convenient symbols to protest, as a form of laziness.


It's great to hear from someone who was there. and thank you for the background. it's helpful to have in thinking about this.

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