Climate Change: Where Are The Artists?

n-CLIMATE-CHANGE-large570.jpgIt should be easy (and very important) to mock the G-7 politicians who put off the conversion from fossil fuels to 2100, which would seem to be after the apocalypse. NGO's like Oxfam would counter the national leader's promise with the usual hopeful-but-scolding public statement. But it is the artists who needed to respond, especially comedians. Russell Brand must have said something, God bless him, but I missed it. What I noticed was a deafening silence. Extractive corporations everywhere let out a big sigh. 

The crucial mockery went missing because the cultural world is the most established and tragic climate denier. Why? Why would the arts be conservative on the climate? Think of all the performances that challenged entrenched power. Remember all those revolutions? ...the Dadaists and rock and roll, Charley Chaplin in The Great Dictator, the Ghost Dance at the end of the Indian Wars, Sam Cook's gift of "A Change Is Gonna Come" to Dr. King, the folk-singers and poets of the Peace Movement.

At this moment in time, we have such an overwhelming climate-silence in the United States that you have to look around and wonder - where are the censors? We hear nothing about the earth for months on end. No TV, no music, nothing viral. The public response only comes when a natural disaster hits us so hard that we are forced to look away from the animated disasters in our video games...

Ten months have passed since the Peoples Climate March and the enduring activist event in the U.S.A. is Black Lives Matter. The PCM was officially permitted and had little power. The movement against racism and militarism in American police is boiling into a revolution. Black Lives Matter is in the streets, flash-mobbing into symphony halls, super malls and Grand Central Station. The climate movement is officially indoors, law-abiding, not-getting-your-hands-dirty. 

The recent climate drama by an American artist is Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. The space thriller accepts the climate apocalypse of the Earth and it is lavishly deathy. But multiplexes are like museums at this point. The consumer experience is so dominating that the climate emergency dramatized inside the building doesn't seem to stick with us as we leave. Rather, we get purged by all the special effects and stagger from the theater having had all the climate change we can handle. The outside world of the streets - where social movements have always taken place - is reduced to commuting, headphone-wearing, and the visuals of corporate products.

We know how silent we have been when the cry of a real Planet Crier breaks through. Suddenly there is Gezi Park with its all-night piano in the 606 trees. Yeb Sano cries in front of the power suits at the Warsaw climate conference. The Chilean gauchos-and-environmentalists ride horses for days to save the Patagonian Rivers. Women with trapeze skills hang in bat outfits from refinery towers in New South Wales. The Maldives parliament holds a meeting underwater in scuba gear. The Nigerian mothers back down Chevron with their nakedness. Pussy Riot dances on the altar.

Meanwhile, back in the land of consumerism, we artists aren't getting that far. We have crowds of books and docs about the earth and they educate us. In 2015, activism must follow education, or why learn? The best artists have work in museums, iPhones, and colleges, but again, it's 2015 - activism must be the point. We've got a lot of facts, aesthetics, perspective - what we lack is the actual change. Chelsea Manning has more to do with a climate movement than another teach-in at the Sierra Club.

There was a day when the comedians, songwriters, and writers were the heralds of change in the West. Now the bullhorn of earth activism has been seized by unlikely citizens who do scary things. I'm thinking of the band of stalwarts who occupied UK's Tate Modern, writing the words of Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein on the floor of the Turbine Room. Liberate Tate! Yes! Overwhelm the big museum with climate scrawlings!

As the basic laws of the planet shift, we will outgrow the laws of our art forms, our careers and our uninvolved consumerism. Strange-feeling decisions will be made. "Breaking the frame" is necessary at this time. Put it plain: we must risk arrest. The totalizing culture is so complete that to say something unsanctioned, defending the earth, must be illegal. 

The 200-miles-an-hour wind isn't legal, and it has the drama we need to get the message. The mudslides and avalanches and floods do not have permits. The droughts and fires uproot us, make us move, like good political art. We have a great teacher.

 

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We're not in a church basement anymore, Toto

11659299_10152826727570974_4658831099953469469_n.jpgThis is a picture of Jones Beach, where we perform July 21, opening for Neil Young. I think this audience is at a Phish concert. Since we got the invitation, I've been writing long letters to friends, because that's the best way to avoid getting the bends from the change in pressure. I can reflect on things as the theater I'm in expands for our songs and preaching. The life and works are not really at risk, though, because with us all things flow from the activism, or, as we say, "Nonviolent Dramatic Action." We are in the middle of a Glyphosate Ban effort, and if it is performed with some impact - something like, say, singing Pope Francis' encyclical to the Park's Department while surrounding a spraying truck, well, no - see? - that's not good enough. These actions need to be like folk stories that people can't help but try to excitedly repeat and even embellish to listeners, and the stories carry a meaning that grows and grows. That's the hardworking "expansion" that must go forward over the next month. After all, that's why Neil invited us, and that's how we invite ourselves.

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How To Resist Toxics For Dummies (Like Me)

11402443_10152820462480974_6052182531861010003_o_(1).jpgFirst, take pictures, videotapes, write in journals, talk to people and point your finger at dead things and make snarky comments. My photo from biking around Prospect Park this morning:

The spraying truck and its emptied boxes of Monsanto's RoundUp, a known carcinogen. And the poisoned weeds. The concrete wall behind the little fence is the playground for PS 154 in Brooklyn. The steps on the upper right corner is our house, up and down which runs, bounces or if she is asleep like last night after rehearsal, Lena is carried... PLEASE DON'T SPRAY NEAR CHILDREN and other living things.

And so we are gathering evidence now. And will you send us your pictures. Last night the Stop Shopping Choir agreed to gather evidence in the city. These pictures plus 50 peer-reviewed published scientific studies plus Pope Francis' Enyclical and you gettin' somewhere. Put that in the mayor's lap!

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Thanking you (actual) friends

Neil_Young__Reverend_Billy__.pngThanking you (actual) friends - We think all of this means - that in this time of the Earth's changes, we will re-meet each other in new relationships. I'm happy for the choir, volunteers who follow me into the weirdest super malls and rapacious banks... Our work has been shut out of commercially viable showbiz. But the Earth's winds are blowing. Consumerism and careerism's walls are breaking down now, labels and definitions re-compost into new magic. This is a sad and desperate and deadly time, but suddenly we are looking into each others' eyes. ---rev

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How Far

11060110_10152817885080974_5074174341466003437_o.jpgHOW FAR FROM THIS EMPTY PLAYGROUND TO THE THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES IN THE BOATS? ...to the hundreds of thousands massing at borders, living as nomads, fleeing the chemical wars and food riots.

How far from this poisoned playground to the grieving families who go to church today with a loved one missing. How far is it really from police violence to the crazy loners who kill? Tamir Rice is in that playground.

Monsanto's toxins and the bullets of the state are both the creations of that border that we will cross. These reinforced fences that keep us apart and take away the power that we would have if we acted together - are false borders, created by fear.

There will be a time soon when the wanderers will break through the border and pray with the American families crying in the graveyard; a time when the neighborhood gathers around the toxic spraying truck and takes the driver by the hand.

---Father's Day, 2015

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Where are the artists?

10377158_1620077751564847_1499970100631827131_n.jpgIt should be easy (and very important) to mock the G-7 politicians who put off the conversion from fossil fuels to 2100, which would seem to be after the apocalypse.  NGO’s like Oxfam would counter the national leader’s promise with the usual hopeful-but-scolding public statement.  But it is the artists who needed to respond, especially comedians.  Russell Brand must have said something, god bless him, but I missed it.  What I noticed was a deafening silence.  Extractive corporations everywhere let out a big sigh. 

The crucial mockery went missing because the cultural world is the most established and tragic climate denier.  Why?  Why would the arts be conservative on the climate?  Think of all the performances that challenged entrenched power.   Remember all those revolutions? …the Dadaists and rock and roll, Charley Chaplin in the Great Dictator, the Ghost Dance at the end of the Indian Wars, Sam Cook’s gift of “A Change Is Gonna Come” to Dr. King, the folk-singers and poets of the Peace Movement.

At this moment in time, we have such an overwhelming climate-silence in the United States that you have to look around and wonder – where are the censors?  We hear nothing about the earth for months on end.  No TV, no music, nothing viral.  The public response only comes when a natural disaster hits us so hard that we are forced to look away from the animated disasters in our video games…

Ten months have passed since the Peoples Climate March and the enduring activist event in the USA is Black Lives Matter.  The PCM was officially permitted and had little power.  The movement against racism and militarism in American police is boiling into a revolution. Black Lives Matter is in the streets, flash-mobbing into symphony halls, super malls and Grand Central Station.  The climate movement is officially indoors, law-abiding, not-getting-your-hands-dirty. 

The recent climate drama by an American artist is Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”.   The space thriller accepts the climate apocalypse of the Earth and it is lavishly deathy.  But multiplexes are like museums at this point.  The consumer experience is so dominating that the climate emergency dramatized inside the building doesn’t seem to stick with us as we leave.   Rather, we get purged by all the special effects and stagger from the theater having had all the climate change we can handle.  The outside world of the streets – where social movements have always taken place – is reduced to commuting, headphone-wearing, and the visuals of corporate products.

We know how silent we have been when the cry of a real Planet Crier breaks through.  Suddenly there is Gezi Park with its all-night piano in the 606 trees. Yeb Sano cries in front of the power suits at the Warsaw climate conference.  The Chilean gauchos-and-environmentalists ride horses for days to save the Patagonian Rivers.  Women with trapeze skills hang in bat outfits from refinery towers in New South Wales.  The Maldives parliament holds a meeting underwater in scuba gear.  The Nigerian mothers back down Chevron with their nakedness.  Pussy Riot dances on the altar.

Meanwhile, back in the land of consumerism, we artists aren’t getting that far.  We have crowds of books and docs about the earth and they educate us.  In 2015, activism must follow education, or why learn?  The best artists have work in museums, iPhones, and colleges, but again, it’s 2015 - activism must be the point.  We’ve got a lot of facts, aesthetics, perspective – what we lack is the actual change.  Chelsea Manning has more to do with a climate movement than another teach-in at the Sierra Club.

There was a day when the comedians, songwriters, and writers were the heralds of change in the West.  Now the bullhorn of earth activism has been seized by unlikely citizens who do scary things.  I’m thinking of the band of stalwarts who occupied UK’s Tate Modern, writing the words of Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein on the floor of the Turbine Room.  Liberate Tate!  Yes!  Overwhelm the big museum with climate scrawlings!

As the basic laws of the planet shift, we will outgrow the laws of our art forms, our careers and our uninvolved consumerism.  Strange-feeling decisions will be made.  “Breaking the frame” is necessary at this time.  Put it plain: we must risk arrest.  The totalizing culture is so complete that to say something unsanctioned, defending the earth, must be illegal.   

The 200 miles an hour wind isn’t legal, and it has the drama we need to get the message.  The mudslides and avalanches and floods do not have permits.  The droughts and fires uproot us, make us move, like good political art.  We have a great teacher.

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Glyphosate Spraying Begins in Brooklyn

11401316_10152811756265974_2150949382807270191_n.jpgI was praying at the front gate of the Quaker cemetery, which is canopied with beautiful trees now, when two wealthy-looking kids ran up shouting, "Oh, is the cemetery closed? Why is it closed? Well, that's disappointing. Why don't they open it?" So I said Earthalujah under my breath and walked toward my bike and walked it the end of the path, where the paved street starts, and there was a box of Monsanto 'ROUNDUP' staring at me from the back of a green pickup truck, and two Parks workers measuring the poison, pouring it into a white tank.

I talked with them about all the kids around this part of the park. One of them had an apologetic tone, like sad moaning sort of voice, "We've been experimenting with lemons. There's a way to kill weeds with concentrated lemons..." And later, "The ROUNDUP we use is only 3% Glyphosate and the stuff they sell in Home Depot is 10%." And then, "We're spraying these fire hydrants so the fire-men have easy access if there's a fire." He had arrived at the Rock of Gabraltor of New York moral certitude. Help the fire-men and you're OK. But why not just pull the weeds around the hydrant by hand?

I was so surprised I didn't take a picture. Then I biked after them and took a picture of the truck in the Parks lot. I pushed my bike through the trees and snuck up behind. It was nice to feel illegal, without getting arrested. The Parks guys walked by but they didn't see me in the trees. I saw boxes of ROUNDUP in a shed, but all I had was the cellphone for my picture. I needed a zoom lens for to get that damning logo.

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Terrorism

AP_shooting3_sc_ml_150618_16x9_992.jpgI woke up this morning and turned on the news. TERRORISM

I am so sickened and hurt. I have family in the Charleston area but it doesn't matter whether they were of my blood or not. Lives were lost because of HATE!

I want to be a part of Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy but I'm feeling Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X and John Brown have more of the right idea. Deep down inside, I can't fight hate with hate but what do I do? How can I help?

The worst thing about this is that I feel this is just the beginning of some fucked up shit. I hope I'm wrong.

Barbara R. Lee, a singer/activist in the Stop Shopping Choir

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Black Lives Matter

150618014905-11-charleston-shooting-0617-super-169.jpgIn our church we believe that Human rights and Earth rights are the same thing. But black-on-white crime and white-on-black crime are not the same thing, not in this country. Boston was under martial law a year ago. What we get in Charleston is the white male children of confederate soldiers trying to be contrite. The racist south has raised thousands of kids like this one, and armed them. Sorry is not enough. A killer in a black church? You do the math. This is a purpose-filled nightmare. The Earth will remind us to love, but to love with the force of justice. We hear it in the screams in her insistent wind. 

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Pope's Climate Change Encyclical

1491747_10152811021390974_1255372069465669613_n.jpg"Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends. The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction." - Pope Francis

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