Earth-force meets money-force at Standing Rock. I’m so relieved I’m here. It scares me to think that I might have missed this.
We get up at dawn. Four hundred people walk slowly in a light snow to the river by the camp. A teacher is talking. His headdress is a crisscrossing of long, narrow feathers. He is of the Havasupai, the people who live by the blue-green waterfalls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He calls out across the river. “Water is life! Take me! My heart beats with you!”
It’s cold at 7am. The children don’t seem cold though. They run around in the mud and ice. There are 80 tribes here. Some say many more. As we stand on the shore with a slow drum beating, the people shout “water” in many languages.
The Earth-force is represented by this river and these eagles and these water protectors. We see the Money-force, standing over there on the bridge, just a couple hundred feet from the edge of long meadow of white tipis along the Cannonball River. The police look like a long row of Darth Vaders.
In the environmental movement, we have yearned for the success of the Civil Rights and the Gender Rights movements. Few of us, though, face the police like the freedom-fighters of old. Arrests and trials are only one indicator of a movement’s power, but an important one. As environmentalists we fall back on soft confrontation dominated by data. Data is bloodless. Lobbying, position papers, endless graphics and electronic petitions might as well be abandoned in the age of Trump.
Evidence points to the need for a quasi-religious transformation of cultural values. —Dr. Anne Ehrlich and Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Who has undergone this “quasi religious transformation” the Ehrlichs call for now in the time of the Earth’s crisis? I think of Wangari Maathai and her billion trees, Edward Abbey and Earth First and the dreams of freeing western rivers of their dams, Judi Bonds and Larry Gibson in their danger-filled opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining.
The transformation of Standing Rock needs to be carried to many towns and cities. The Earth’s response to its own fever is everywhere all the time, and our activism must this as our map. We need to press up against militarized and consumerized citizens at all points, and then convert them to life. Can we pull them across the border between death and life?
Suddenly there is clarity for Earth activists. With extinction accelerating and climate changing, we must transform with the intensity that one associates with religion. If some of us wouldn’t be able to convert an actual faith, at least a new Earth politics must be strong enough to break up the over-scheduling, the debt, the traditional careerism - the things that make it impossible to freely act. We have the time if we take the time.
Three movements in recent years galvanize us. In these citizen movements we did take the time, took the risk, and made a difference. Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. The lesson in all of them, the thing they have in common is that so many changed their own individual lives in order that they could then change the rest of us. In all three, the spiritual element is carried by the act of living together, literally living together, without the supervision of the corporations or government.
Zuccotti Park and the stretch of sidewalk in front of the Ferguson police department and the meadow near the sacred stone… these three places are lived in. Here is where activists cared for each other and shared food, clothing and medicine. The force that upsets entrenched power the most is this compassionate living, this community in plain sight.
Standing Rock offers us our moment of clarity. We can physically commit now. We must face the Devil. It is life and death. And living actively in a time of life and death must be a spiritual act. It should be you and I in service getting something done, in our daily life. Public caring and going through the quasi-religious transformation must go hand in hand. It was always so, from Pettis Bridge to Stonewall.
When we are at peace with the Earth, we are able to hold our ground. The ground is the point. We hold our ground and the Earth holds us. In prison and in pain and in loss the Earth holds us. And then in the time of forgiveness after the struggle - the Earth still holds us.
We must fearlessly love until there is no hate! Earthalujah!
This executive order from the North Dakota governor is dangerous. It seems to permit the police to do whatever they think is required to clear Standing Rock. The governor is a sad case, alleging all sorts of things about the people of that community that are untrue. He points to people whom he will harm, and says that he is doing it because they are harming themselves. He is telling people who have survived the dakota winters for millennia that they cannot be trusted to live here, because suddenly they won't be equal to it, or he, the governor, cannot assure their safety, their fires and plumbing are illegal... I fear for my friends at Standing Rock.
In a few hours we have leave these wintry northern plains to return to New York for our performance on Sunday. We'll visit my 91 year old father in Northfield Minnesota tomorrow night after an eight hour drive. He's recovering after a fall and we'll sing for him. Last night we sang for 800 native americans from throughout the world - a thrill to take home in memory. I say "we" - there are 7 of us from the choir, Dragonfly, Gina, Pat and Keith, Lizzie, John, Savi, Lena and myself. Marnie our admin goddess and her family David, Cloe, Pressley and Calliope and finally Markus the film-maker. Our little community navigated this strange and wonderful scene nimbly. There is nothing but gratitude and openness frpm the Standing Rock Souix, gentle but strong people. The main lesson from this is: there is such a spiritual richness in Earth activism. An important Hunkpapa Souix elder "Jay Taken Alive" sort of moans out "We are all from the stars!" as we prepare for another hike toward sacred ground covered with broken young men, mostly vets from racist wars in the mideast, who stand there with submachine guns...
Do shoppers know? Our heads and our hands hover in aisle number 4, and we are about to remember the whole thing. We are about to remember everything that was here before the products began circling us with ballooning eyes like the Macy’s parade.
Shoppers are a haunted people. What is happening to our minds when our shopping folds into our intimate pixels? Our message to a lover is no longer an escape from the general rain of imagery, the smear of a new car, Trump’s teeth, the ad for a beach body, the stinking death of a family in a village under the grinding buzz of an American sky.
Do we know? Do we know that the drone drops into the flames of hell when our self is lost in our selfie?
We know. We can tell that something far-reaching is happening in the most ordinary transaction. That sensation of shallowness in us. That almost unnoticeable high. The loss of difference in the things around us. The monoculture within and without.
Oh we know. We know that the Earth cannot live with this. And we know that we are the closest living thing to the point of purchase. We know that we are the first little piece of Earth to know. So how do we say this?
We know. Somehow, we know. That the Earth cannot live with this shopping. We cannot live with this shopping. We know we can’t.
We know that the thing that was here before the products were placed between us and the Earth – that thing is still here, just behind the display case. Just beyond the dumpsters in back of the store. Folded in a secret place under the horizon. We hear a song …a song that seems to sing itself…
After this year of living hate, we are wobbly and woozy and haunted and hurt. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to gather together and heal? Offer some support and listening? At a fun spot like Joe’s Pub?
Healing. Is that the right word? It’s not like we want to recover back to some idea of normal living – some life that we imagine existed before these campaigns. The election is only a symptom of a raging epidemic.
The deadly culture that makes each month the hottest month, and continues to kill a thousand unarmed Americans each 12 months, with 60 million people searching for their home… all of this isn’t caused by these two competing 1%ers. No, the flood and the drought, the racism and the extinction – is brought to you by all of us. The institutions that enforce racism and rape of the natural world are permitted to continue by you and I. The beginning of revolution is too imagine that it is possible, and then to sing and march, to organize and occupy.
It is a gift to have Standing Rock as an alternative to commercial democracy. The choir wants to go, but we wont get there by the opening show. We’ll have some of the Standing Rock faithful who will describe events. And if our heart heals right, then there will be a thousand Standing Rocks.
Join us at “GATHER! …After The Year Of Living Hate.” A review and revue, at Joe’s Pub at the Public, 425 Lafayette, New York City. Five Sundays November 20 to December 18, 2 PM doors open 1:30. Tickets $12 - $15. Discounts and youth rates.Joespub.com and Revbilly.com
Photo is from "Not An Alternative" and their current writing in e-Flux. This photo is from their Houston museum project, examining the relationship of sacrifice communities in Houston and the big art institutions, dependent on oil money.
Just when we thought that it was impossible to express yourself anymore in the public space of New York, the 6 year old teaches us that there are more places, more stages, more pages - you can go up into the trees at night like an owl! (I've seen Barred Owls in this woods in Prospect Park, and I suppose that we were witnessed last night by our animal citizens.) This is near the Nethermead, a large sloping lawn that really should be a meadow. The ground is trimmed like a crewcut, and flooded with controlled crowds celebrating something or other, wearing identical t-shirts.
The sad drama of American regimentation is played out with fearful severity here at the edge of wildness. When a coyote finds its way here, she is treated very much like a renegade citizen who refuses to be gentrified, sold a credit card or shot.
Now I'm dreaming of a new protest form. Imagine thousands of citizens - a sit-in up in the trees! - is that an Italo Calvino story? They would write a law and find a judge, but the idea would be that we evolve as fast as nature. If it became "a danger to the public" to tree climb at night with 6 year olds, we would have already moved on to something else beyond the security state. (The rapidly evolving super-weeds are our moral heroes in 2016!)
Yes! Our protest is out of your control! Now we are making nightmares in the sleeping heads of fossil fuel CEO's, in which silent owls and feral radical children and opportunistic coyotes pull millions of consumers from their obedience to products, up in to the trees... The super malls are empty! We're up in the trees!
The First Nations peoples in North Dakota are showing us the future of direct action. In the path of the Enbridge pipeline, the “black snake,” they’re making something that traditional environmentalists don’t have words for. A friend of mine who is there put it this way: “It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony.”
There is a crucial lesson here that we environmentalists must learn. At Standing Rock, the cops and courts, helicopters and drones and Dobermans - face their opposite: the pipe-line of pure life is pouring onto them from a hundred tribes. It must be astonishing for Dakota Access advocates to come face to face with their anti-world.
All the life that they would have killed over many years is anticipating events and concentrating here now. All the antelope and burrowing owls and prairie rattlers and eagle feathers catching the wind with the dancers. It’s all the beings of the Earth that aren’t oil! Let’s watch Standing Rock long enough to make our stand. We’ve got to keep this earthy pipeline of flowing over the drill’s puncture, the pipe-lines tunnel, the bomb train’s rails…
After the power of what we have seen among the Squamish canoeists and kayaktavists and now of the Standing Rock Souix and their many guests - this is a good moment for us to return to these teachers, without anxiety that we’re headed back to the sixties. Many of the American Indian Movement heroes were murdered by the feds. But this time - if we stand by and don’t defend these first people; if all we do is watch, the way that white settlers stared from their front porches at the walking and dying on the Trail of Tears - then we won’t be able to save ourselves.
And the First Nations people always tell us the same thing. “The Earth is a living being. The Earth communicates with us.” This changes everything. Our activism is completely turned inside out. All questions of ego and courage are lifted from us. We are acting now with the Earth flowing through us.
A couple days ago I was in a police cruiser in hand-cuffs. I had tried to crash an annual and immense Monsanto party, in which the chemical and seed companies lease the entire State Capitol and Supreme Court Building in Des Moines, Iowa. State troopers actually took the role of bouncers. It was simply corporation as government. Outrageous. Orwellian.
I was standing there with my Occupy the World Food Prize friends, this their fifth year in opposing the soiree of the great poisoners. Father Frank Cordaro was there, fresh from the southern pipeline tunneling under the Des Moines River, the one that is supposed to join the Standing Rock pipe somewhere in the Dakotas and complete the Black Snake. The young men in uniform talked with us for their amusement and then arrested three of us quickly.
The ground our little band held sacred was an earthy memory of pre-GMO Iowa. My great grandparents from the Netherlands, William and Lena Talen were farming near here and the joke in the family is that they were such devout Calvinists that they were bad farmers. The prayers got in the way of the plowing. Now their great grandson is another over-mediated white guy looking for a ceremony. I yearn for an endlessly complex Earth. Don’t we all? Don’t we have that in us somewhere? Even these police? Who wants the numbed mono-culture of toxic corporate farms?
As the police cruiser took me toward the highway and the prison – the branches of great, old trees swept over the car. The tires crunched acorns in the drive. Arrest is a bad dream that I try to re-write as it happens. Doubled over with my hand-cuffs, I forced myself to marvel at these trees above us. I remembered a tree-fact: when sunlight enters a leaf and photo-synthesizes into energy, this energy can flow instantaneously to any point in the tree, to the deepest tendril of its roots… the energy transfer takes no time. Western science can’t explain this. It is as if the trees defeat distance inside themselves. Any energy in the tree can be everywhere in the tree at once. And it pierces my incarceration.
As their grand gestures slide over the windshield, I promise myself that I will receive the interior of trees into my voice, somehow, the way that the plains is pouring toward the pipeline through the people who have loved that Earth.
Yes! We will be wise in the ways of the trees by the time Monsanto turns Iowa over to Bayer. See you next year.
Photo by Nehemiah Luckett
I'm out of jail now, with a Des Moines court case to look forward to. Much thanks to all of you and especially to the brave activists at the center of that toxic cornucopia of the world. You stand in lonely opposition to Monsanto's annual party, where the state capitol building is rented for the weekend by that bully corporation - unbelievable! - and the state troopers are hired as bouncers, literally, checking ID's and arresting citizens of conscience.
Oh Iowa! How tragic a land to live in - this Iowa that has rightly thought of itself as a blessing. The deep rich soil of Iowa has been sustaining so many of us for so long and then the glyphosates snuck up on us and now over-rule the complexity of loamy earth. No state in the union absorbs the saturating tons of Monsanto's RoundUp like Iowa. And so there is this big party in the middle of all this black earth that the party poisoned. And the state troopers guarding the corporate ritual of self-congratulation are all dressed the same, with the same gestures and expressions - the human reflection of the mono-culture of plant-life that this corporation stretches out to the horizon.
Iowa! This sad mono-culture of Iowa, the identical plants as far as the eye can see, are covered with the wrong kind of quiet. No songbirds or butterflys or wild bees... The wind blows and it is lifeless wind. We feel the sensation of extinction. Life knows when the life around it is cheated, and the activists of Iowa are witness to the passing of a very generous kind of life, the legendary growing season, the envy of the world!
A century ago my father's grandparents, William and Lena Talen, worked an Iowa farm. That was back before the word "organic" became necessary to defend the natural making of food against the laboratories of speculative capital.
I want to be with you Iowa activists as you revive your place. I share your vision that Iowa will be one great self-re-generating farm again, a place surging with life. Iowa remembers when its air and water and soil was thick with living beings, and that long memory has resurrection in it.
Photo by Sharon Donovan
I submit to arrest to shine a light on Monsanto, which is the ultimate neo-liberal disappearing company. Monsanto is mists, clear liquids, invisible floating molecules. Their campus in St. Louis is disguised as a bricky college.
Their products try to hide until after the money is made, at which point the physical evidence of the product are found in such as the consequences of the PCBs: cancer; Agent Orange leaves behind its burn scars and birth defects; RoundUp glyphosate in GMO corn shows up in our lives as hospitals full of diseased people.
I take the arrest because annually Monsanto comes out of hiding and shows itself. It must glory in an awards ceremony that has been called “Monsanto’s Oscars…”
In the heart of the best farmland in the world, and the most glyphosate-drenched also - Monsanto rents the entire state capitol building of Iowa, with its golden plated rotunda and vast lawns, to award hundreds of thousands to one of its Frankenscientists…
I will join Fr. Frank Cordero and others in a rally today at the foot of their party. And then after making a statement about healthy families and a future without climate chaos and extinction – we’ll begin a slow walk toward the rotunda. We’ll walk with lanterns held before us, lighting the way back to regenerative farms and safe food.
Photo by Nehemiah Luckett
We have Long Island activists in the choir, John Carlin who performed in the Dick Gregory play this year, and Barbara Lee, an East Village legend, squatter and flamboyant badass.... she grew up out there. Our tour with Neil Young (pic) started in Jones Beach and it was so wonderful, but then there were the boos from the audience when we sang our Black Lives Matter song, when Dragonfly shouts: "Michael Brown! Eric Garner!...and a dozen more names. Really? Booing the names of murder victims? But police retire out there. And Long Island has a KKK chapter…
Eight years ago in Valley Stream, Long Island’s Wal-mart, the temporary security guard Jdimytai Damour was trampled by shoppers in the pre-dawn darkness of Black Friday.
At Hofstra University our choir, multi-culti and radical – enjoyed a special Long Island welcome. We were in the theater wings, our audience from the conference of the psychologists in Collective Behavior and Social Movements, a section of the American Sociological Association – was waiting for our show to start. Then the campus police descended upon us. “But we’re about to perform! Can you wait?” - fell on deaf ears, we were some sort of prize to them… I was detained in the campus jail. The producers of the conference did two things 1) they didn’t really defend us against obvious harassment and 2) they thought we would perform after they let me out. “No, we’re gone,” said Savitri. “…won’t perform in Long Island again, ever.” – we broke our boycott at Jones Beach.