As a child I was obsessed with magic and fantasy worlds and superheroes (thanks to my big brother). One day I was near tears as I realized that the possibility of my living in a world where I could come to the aid of people who were being mistreated or taken advantage of with magic was zero. My mom asked me, "What's wrong?" Through the tears I responded, "I don't have a superpower." Without missing a beat she responded, "I probably shouldn't tell you this but can you keep a secret?" I remember my tear filled eyes glancing up from the green carpet, past the pink tiles of the bathroom floor where my mom was getting ready for bed and into her eyes. She said, "You have a super power: love."
As I prepare to leave on a bus for Missouri today to protest Monsanto (headquartered in St. Louis) and to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, I can't help but feel I need to be prepared for what might (should?) feel like time travel. As the nephew/grandson/cousin of cops, firefighters and veterans, I refuse to go in with the mindset of "F*ck The Police." I will go in with the mindset that this is not the America that so many members of my family pledged oaths to protect and serve.
I'm upset. I'm upset because when my partner looked at me this morning with his eyes filled with worry I couldn't say, "Everything's gonna be ok." I honestly don't know if everything is going to be ok.
This past week has been filled with performances. I was so proud to work with the cast of "The Colored Museum" as they probed George C. Wolfe's satirical piece that speaks in a timeless way about race in America. Wednesday night The Stop Shopping Choir sang at a benefit for Ferguson headlined by Joan Baez. She sang so beautifully and spoke so eloquently about so much but the story that stuck with me was about her, as a teenager, singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" to a sleeping Dr. King.
My plan is to go down to Missouri armed with the magic of music and the power of love. And I'm going to be there.
We want justice for Michael Brown's family and for the community of Ferguson. That justice will not come from this mostly-white government and justice system. The testimony shows the use of deadly force in a murderous fusillade. The grand jury and prosecutor clearly fail to persuade that this was necessary. Their basic values are painfully obvious. They feel deadly force is an alternative for a white officer who feels confronted in his authority, his manliness, his delicate ego.
We know from Wilson's leaked testimony that he argued that he "was afraid for his life." Really? So Wilson continued to be afraid for his life as he chased Brown?The prosecutor seems to not notice at all that the fatal shot came after Wilson chased the suspect. This sequence seems to indicate a hunting down of the suspect - out of fear? Or out of anger, adrenaline, and racism?
How can shooting an unarmed citizen who may or may not have stolen some cigarillos from a convenience store, be a sensible decision by that officer? Michael Brown was a big man who could grab or hit, but we're still nowhere near the justification for deadly self defense; that is, not unless you lose sight of the immorality of murder. The prosecutor seems almost amused by it.
The prosecutor's insistence that "scientific" evidence has ruled this decision is fabulously out of touch with the reality on the ground. He is locked in a false professionalism that is nearly comic it is so inappropriate. He seems flabbergasted with a question from a African American questioner: "Is there something wrong when no law in Missouri seems to defend the rights of this unarmed victim?"
Of course, hanging over the proceedings is the continued frequency of these shootings over time. Only the uprising of young African Americans in the community which caught the world's attention keeps that question in view. But the legal system in this former slave state has no way to admit the larger problem. When racism is systemic, players like this prosecutor are not conscious of it. He refers time and time again to his procedures. As he does this, he is safe from the real question, the only question: How is it that so many unarmed black males are killed by police.
Michael Brown is dead. He's dead. This prosecutor seems to not know what that means. It is a fact for him, a fact among many other facts. The racist culture of St. Louis makes the facts resemble one another, like they are an evidence list on a police form. Michael Brown was shot dead by a bad cop. Michael Brown was shot dead by a racist society.
There are some in the Stop Shopping community that I would call warriors, and they will go to the edge of the conflict, whether shouts, prayer or flames. Then we have children and grandparents with us, who will create the organic thanksgiving dinner at a local homeless shelter - and then after our Monsanto action we'll take our food to the activists, who may have forgotten to pack a lunch.
The Ferguson activists have already given so much to the far-flung community that opposes capitalism with nonviolent direct action. They open up an island of freedom with their love and fierce spirit. Iguala Mexico and Hong Kong too - these islands of freedom can only inspire more of the same. Did the 1% believe that Zuccotti Park was an isolated event? ...did they think there would not be a new generation after Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez and Harvey Milk?
Opening day is usually fraught with nervousness and uncertainty but not this show. We know why we were all here today. In the next few days, we will be riding a bus halfway across the country to eat organic food in the face of the enemy, Monsanto. We will also stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri. The verdict isn’t out of the Courts yet but THE VERDICT IS OUT WITH US, NO MORE POLICE BRUTALITY, NO MORE POLICE KILLINGS!
We sang, songs of joy, songs of determination, songs of love. Reverend Billy’s sermon brought us back to the simplest fact, every atom, every energy is of the Earth and we humans have to respect the Earth and the other animals, plants and land that we share the Earth with. We also have to respect each other. Our differences should make us interesting to each other, not hateful to each other. We sang and the hope that the songs spread out to the audience and they in turn will share it with others. That is our hope.
Joan Baez came out to close the show with a soulful rendition of Freedom and the choir joined in and it was as close as I felt I was ever going to get to being one with the spirits of everybody in that room. As the verse to one of our songs say, we have a map to the sun and the rain and we will heal this Earth.
Next post will probably at the next place I can get wi-fi. We’ll be on the road! EARTHALUJAH!
I reminisce about a long-ago family reunion...
The Dutch Calvinists Expel Rev Billy Early
When I was a teenager I attended a reunion of the Talen family, in Holland Michigan. (I was a Dutch Calvinist, from birth until this particular family gathering.) The second night of the reunion, with 30 cousins everywhere, including about six tall Dutch American young women cousins, I decided to host a dance party. I commandeered one of the cottages that we rented on Lake Michigan and put James Brown and The Doors and the Velvet Underground on the sound system. We lowered the lights and laughed and danced.
An uncle appeared in the doorway. He wasn’t dancing. He stared at me like I was a cloven-hoofed satyr. I must have been monstrous to look at. I was a body builder in those days, big chest and shoulders, with long matted Conan-like hair. I wore red and white plaid wool bellbottoms and lumberjack boots. This uncle – I called him the Manly Uncle From Christ - he pulled on the wrist of his daughter and she was sucked out the door as if by a great wind. This happened again and again, Manly Uncle From Christ after Manly Uncle From Christ appearing to fetch a daughter – until I was dancing alone. So I went outside, only to find the beauties lined up opposite their Manly Uncles From Christ and I began what I think of as my first sermon. I preached about freedom and dancing…
My sermon ended when a Manly Uncle From Christ who bulldozed golf courses for a living hit me so hard that I fell to the ground unconscious. I came to in a police car. I spent the night in the Holland jail. Next morning, the policeman drove me to the airport and gave me a ticket. “Is this from my family?” He shrugged. Most of that Talen family have not seen in 40 years. So now I'm a New York orphan, spending Thanksgiving with other orphans, many with abusive expulsions from their bio-families less comic and more violent than mine.
The timeline to St. Louis is in full effect! Last night (Wednesday, November 19, 2014), Middle Collegiate Church hosted a spiritual and healing benefit.
Performers included: Lower Eastside Girls Club, Poet Cheryl Wilkins, Camille Beckles activist, Bernardo Polombo musician, Middle Church Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir and Joan Baez.
So much love and song filled the air way beyond the rafters of the church building. So many people singing songs of poignancy and hope.
We gathered to show our support to all of those victimized by police insensitivity. This is a human issue not just a race issue. We stand together to tell those that would try to hurt us or our loved ones THAT WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THE PAIN!
We are on our way to Missouri. Next Stop, Monsanto is the Devil at Joe’s Pub (The Public Theater), 2pm , November 23, 2014 in NYC.
The following photographs were taken by Barbara R. Lee, Stop Shopping Choir.
A soprano, bass and tenor of the Stop Shopping Choir
The Stop Shopping Choir at Middle Collegiate Church
Joan Baez at Middle Collegiate Church
Camille Beckles, activist
The following link is fantastic photography of the event taken by Erik McGregor:
Thank you, Erik!
We took the risk of two shows the same week with different scripts. Human Rights and Earth Rights. The people and the planet. Two things to save, facing two devils: Bullets from militarized racist police and invisible toxins from Monsanto. Eventually we will understand that not-killing each other with racist bullets is the same not-killing the whole biosphere demands... but we don't have the language for that yet.
Last night at Standing With Ferguson with Joan Baez, when my duties as host came, I stumbled at one point with a remark on Earth Rights where the topic should have been Human Rights, and I know I've done the mistake the other way around, too. Life on Earth is writing the script for us, and sometimes we don't get it. My own hapless method is to keep on shouting. Earthalujah!
New week, Reverend Billy, The Stop Shopping Choir and other activists will make a road trip to give thanks in Missouri. We will give thanks for the organic Thanksgiving dinner that will contain no GMOs or other harmful substances that Monsanto produces. We will have that dinner somewhere near Monsanto in order to send a message that we won’t be cowed or fooled into believing Monsanto’s lies. Monsanto must be stopped!
We give thanks to the people of Ferguson, Missouri who are standing up and saying NO MORE POLICE BRUTALITY! Join us in person or vicariously through this blog.
In 2014, the people who have the old-fashioned kind of hope, as in the phrase, “I sure hope that…” – those are the ones who flip hope into hate. Sentimental love of class becomes oppression; hope for one’s race is soon racism; hope for one’s sex is sexism.
Hope is the main product of Consumerism’s super mall. 900 kinds of hope are for sale; hope for youth, for good looks, for wealth, for convenience… When hope is a manufactured thing, yearning for something better is trivialized, and we become passive. We are no longer agile. We are not powerful. We are shopping.
In 2014, they dare the passive consumers to re-dream their hope. Police wait to arrest the appearance of real hope. There is reborn hope in Ferguson, Missouri and the fearful cops are buying armored tanks and submachine guns. They don’t have a chance, not when real hope takes the streets.
We were supposed to show the world that there are many of us... OK alright there are many of us. Many, many citizens who want to save the Earth from the fossil fuel industry and their partners in banking and government. There were not nearly as many of us in the Climate March as, say, New York's Halloween Parade, but who's counting? There are a lot of us who want to survive. On the other hand, the whole thing had a dated quality. We cannot hesitate any longer in this recreational protesting. Will someone give me an Amen?
Now six weeks on, we see that the Society of Spectacle swallows up all counter-spectacles. It was a permitted parade and the New York police routed us so that we would be entertainment for the Clinton Global Initiative. The neo-liberal czars watched us from the penthouses of the Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue. We were a street performance with a huge cast of characters, a sort of pornography for them. One of them was Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, one of the most violent men in the world. Among the sponsors of the conference: the top polluters HSBC, Exxon-Mobil, Deutsch Bank, etc. The NY police routed us in a perfect square-shaped route around their hotel, over on 59th, down 6th Ave, and then west on 42nd.
We should have broken from the march and rushed into the lobby of that "Davos West" hotel, then run up the steps to the VIP lounge to round up the CEO's and their politician toadies at their cocktails. Meanwhile, the Church of Stop Shopping wishes to honor the 25 arrestees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rubber stamps climate-killing projects of all kinds. We especially applaud the art work they put at FERC’s front door, forcing the employees there to destroy towns and families to go to work. The heart of a social movement is expressive confrontation. Are the wind and waves and fires telling us to be polite? We must punish the sinners! Earthalujah!
"Let me fulminate! Pound the pulpit! Shout at the shaking sinners! The End is Near! The Apocalypse isn't a Movie! Batten down the hatches! Our consumption is consuming us!" ---None of this works.
We are at the end of the impact of persuasion, memes, great graphics and punchy slogans. We now read the last word from the scientists in this new report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The science can be seen straining at the outer limits of their rhetorical map, with phrases like, "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."
And if you read The Guardian piece, it is noted that the UN officials wanted to go farther, with phrases that actually said outright that we will die.
Conservative forces edited that level of preaching. But coming as it does after the Big Vanilla Smoothie of the People's Climate March, this report seems a rebuke to moderates who still think we can have a movement without direct action. Earthalujah!
I woke up this morning only to find that I had turned into an old wall, overlooking a civic lawn or a field perhaps. My partner Savitri was nowhere to be seen but towering over the bed, and towering of me as a wall, was our daughter Lena, who had apparently designed this landscape while I was asleep. Now any movement by me to get off the bed was met with an astonished scream. "You're the wall! Walls don't move!"
Lena was, this morning in her Hawking-Minelli mode; that is, she has the authority that comes from a working knowledge of the origin of the universe, as does Stephen Hawking, and on the other hand she is never far from a blow-out song and dance routine, in the manner of Liza Minelli. I could only ask Lena questions about the town she created, in which every little bunched up bit of blanket a bodega, every pillow the slope of a park.
In fact I had to pee, but it was pointed out by Hawking-Minelli that WALLS DON'T PEE! Walls hold water back, Lena said. They don't pee they hold rivers back. Oh so I had a field on one side and a river on the other... Blinking out from my predicament while she was constructing her city, I wondered suddenly whether walls do witness the world around them. The world of last night's dreams had just enough proximity to Hawking-Minelli for me to ask the question, "Are the walls watching us?"
The old environmental movement evolves into something new. We are ready for the miracles of wild bravery.
In a social movement that changes society. there needs to be a scary time, a Halloween, a time of beatniks, hippies, punks and gangstas. That is the way it has been in the United States. From the abolitionists to the Dreamers in the immigrants' jails, when someone started to become effective, they were urged to slow down and be polite. People told Dr. King "This isn't the right time!" and then they told Malcolm X "You're offending people..." We need that now, the polite self-effacing era of Bill McKibben needs to give way to the young black radicals of Ferguson, Missouri and the Pennsylvania grandmothers chaining themselves to fracking equipment.
The old issues are necessary talking points, but we're talking too much. "Environmentalism" can no longer exists as a stand alone movement. When we met at the New School this summer in the planning stages of the Peoples Climate March we had a rousing rally in the big hall, and then broke into our "issues" in different university classrooms with labels on the doors like "food safety," and "transportation," and "energy." There were about thirty such issue rooms. I went to food safety, hoping to meet some beekeepers. My class was twenty-two white people and an African American woman from Oxfam. And my classmates were very polite.
The activist wildness must come from a vision of all the issues being one demand. That is why Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have more to do with climate activism than the Wildlife Conservancy. The only issue is that life itself is in peril. That changes everything. Our climate march sessions didn't have a room for "Peace." Or "Children." Or "Consumerism" None of the issues embraced the whole thing the way the Earth embraces us with its super storms. So the climate march got off to a polite start, the emergency muted into a permitted de-politicized parade. The absolute opposite of the climate parade would be the children at the Texas border - and those children are where the Earth Revolution waits to be born.
We are determined to leave our children with a healthy life on this Earth. The intertwined three "C's" - Consumerism, Capitalism and Church, must be wrestled apart, interrupted, and confronted with common sense hardass eco-love. The three C's must not return from the upheaval of compost until they utterly morph. A miracle!
We do not have dominion over the wilderness or even the robin in the window. We cannot hate the "Big Other. " We do not love a "Big God" or "Big Money" or "Big Oil" because they subdue the beings that we fear. And another big thing: Monsanto is the Devil.
As far as I can tell, Lena's love for Savi must rule American foreign policy, the Halloween 2 Day Sale at Macy's, and all the cops hooked on adrenaline and John Wayne movies. Wars must be reduced to bad moods and then thrown on the forest floor to meet the ecstasy of a million one-celled dancers with big mouths. Amen!
The choreography of Consumerism can so easily take us into the dance of standing in line, sitting in class, waiting for jets, movies, clubs. And then the Earth calls us, flooding down from the space between dead skyscrapers, alive with lightning and thunder, birds and gusts of wind in the trees... How do we rise to harmonize with the wilderness that desperately comes to us out of the suffering of extinction, the climate apocalypse?
Tonight two Occupy Wall Street young radicals came to our home. The only idealism that can we can possibly do, all we can try to do... it was there in our eyes as we drank wine, as our children climbed on us and the thunder competed with the sound of jets in our windows.
Occupy Wall Street was 2600 tent cities in the centers of towns and then it was methodically taken down by paranoid police working for propertied rich. But can such a thing just vanish? As the Hong Kong young rise up, and before that Gezi Park and before that a thousand grandmothers standing up to fracking and before that mountaintop removal and tar sands and pipelines all the struggles - we know that in the souls of these people the super storms are stirring.
Occupy Wall Street is right and existing power is wrong. Ordinary people will live together in their commons, and that is all OWS was, and all it ever needs to be. This is the only imaginable future. Living together by sharing people is the death of the neo-liberal elites, and the return of the life of the Earth. Floods and fire, drought and disease are violent, and revolutions are too, but justice is Peace.
Savitri and I woke up this morning knowing that today was supposed to be our day of direct action. After last night's performance with 23 wonderful acitvists-who-sing in the Stop Shopping Choir, we were just a few miles from a Monsanto office building in Cambridge Massachusetts, with all these courageous friends - what's the problem? The problem was that we were exhausted completely. We had no idea of what to do. We felt like Wily Coyote off the edge of the cliff. We realized that we were already falling.
Since about August 1st, we have not stopped. Jails and jets and stages and long drives and jails and stages. In Europe for the Edinburgh festival and Belfast, then California and Burning Man, then New Mexico, then a tour of the farmer's markets of New York, then the People's Climate March weekend, then jail for defending a beloved tree, then four new songs, the Ferguson and jail and The Hug, and now Boston and we are falling off the edge. We love our life but -- too much!
So the choir took over, circled up and ordered me out of my polyesters and collar. We listened to their decision-making, which came to down to stillness. We would not be our usual aggro selves at Monsanto. We would be meditative. Start over in our opposition to the invisible toxins of this monstrous company. We drove to the place and stood there in front of it and didn't move. Savitri handled the official reaction, but no one could move us. A doorway to a new kind of dramatic action opened for us. A language of silence. People around us gradually lost it. We kept thinking about what this company does. We visualized years of revolt against it. We saw an America returned to its original Earth.
Sister Dragonfly hugged a grandfatherly cop in Ferguson and six million people have witnessed the image of that hug in a rainstorm in Missouri. Dragonfly is a San Antonio and Detroit native who suffered racism traumatically. This was not a sentimental moment for her, it was heart-wrenching. She was sobbing after the encounter. But now a week later, it is clear that her famous hug with the Ferguson riot cop, one Sergeant Wood, is precisely the sort of leap out of the comfort zone that each of us must discover.
We know that this kind of flight into risky human contact is the only way to make change. The power institutions have dictated our alienation from each other. To love across the divide is an act that is discouraged by society at this point. To love is to break the rules. We feel like fools, acting alone. And so today's required courage is completely embarrassing. We are called upon to be fools for love.
In our church shows, we always tell the audience, as we did yesterday in Boston - "Each one of us will be called upon to take our personal direct action. We will move beyond ourselves, to create something new." Dragonfly and officer Wood did that, and now each of us must do it, in duets and in symphonies of surprise love.
RICK PILTZ passed suddenly in Washington this morning, but Rick lives on in the fight of the climate movement. Once the science officer in the Bush White House, the reluctant hero blew the whistle on a practice of lying about climate science at the highest levels. Rick was the one who found that science reports about global warming were edited by an employee of the petroleum industry, adding phrases like "warrants further study" when the original summary would say "warrants urgent response." Thus the American people were kept in the dark about the seriousness of the Earth's crisis by Big Oil's infiltration of government.
After communicating the redactions to the New York Times's Andrew Revkin, the story appeared on page 1, June 8, 2005. Rick quit before he was fired, and had the foresight to protect himself through contact with Government Accountability Office. Thereafter he concentrated his efforts at the organization Climate Science Watch. Through the darkest days of domination of the debate by Fox commentators and the media practice of promoting climate science deniers to achieve a fair balance of views, Rick Piltz was the Earth's talking head. Time and time again he appeared opposite those in the pay of the same fossil fuel front groups that he had originally exposed.
He did this for years and years, waiting for the rest of us to catch up. And if some of us have mixed feelings about the Peoples Climate March, I am glad that Rick Piltz, the always-ready journey-man waiting in the wings to testify for the Earth, witnessed the outpouring of humanity that marched that day to demand action from the governments that were so intractable during his service. Maybe they still are, but Rick's life gives us a fighting chance. Now the Earth has called him back. Oh Rick, when I'm back at Blue Mountain at the lake, listening to the loons cry their echoes against the Adirondacks, I'll see you in the canoe, gazing out, listening.