Commissioner Mitchell Silver
Department of Parks, NY
The Arsenal, Central Park
830 5th Avenue
New York, New York 10065
On Wednesday July 15, The Church of Stop Shopping entered the area where the glyphosate-spraying trucks are parked in Prospect Park to sing “Monsanto is the Devil”. (See pictures attached.) We have in recent months talked with workers while they sprayed Monsanto’s “RoundUp” herbicide within the borders of Prospect Park.
You are an important visionary. I’m sure that you are aware of the studies that indicate the danger of glyphosates, and that whole countries are now banning the stuff. And it’s not lost on you that illness and death from Monsanto’s herbicide is as prosecutable as the illness and death from tobacco and asbestos.
On the lighter side: You now face the exorcisms of Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir. Oh no! You’ve got religious zealots on your tail!
Some of us live near Prospect Park and we’re not sure about the safety for our children. That’s a very sad thing for those of us who live in this part of Brooklyn for the greenery of this great park. What are parents supposed to do? Glyphosates are so toxic that medical authorities no longer offer a safe minimum. You shouldn’t be spraying ANY of that stuff.
We are considering a range of activity in response to the spraying. We are looking into citizens arrests-while-singing. We are apt to sing to a playground full of kids and parents and hand out a reader-friendly version of the World Health Organization’s report on glyphosates, carcinogenicity.
We hope that you do the right thing. We will invite you to our next concert in the park. Mitchell Silver and park officials…save your souls! Monsanto is the Devil!
Reverend Billy Talen
The Church of Stop Shopping
PO Box 1556
Canal Street Station
New York, New York 10013
THE SCIENTIFIC STUDIES not influenced by chemical companies have found Glyphosates (activie ingredient in Monsanto’s “RoundUp) to be dangerous, causing Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and other cancers, birth defects, and celiac disease, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome. The pesticide and its inert chemicals in RoundUp are persistent in body tissue, blood and breast milk in humans.
I’m sure you know that there have been hundreds of studies researching the dangers of RoundUp, but the lawyers on our board insisted that we include a healthy sampling in this letter.
A recent sampling in the Los Angeles area found glyphosate levels in breast milk are higher than the minimum levels for the herbicide required in drinking water.
Beyond Pesticides, No Spray Coalition, Organic Consumers Association and The Church of Stop Shopping have initiated bans on use of the glyphosates around city parks. New York City Councilpersons Ben Kallos and Helen Rosenthal advocate limits on the toxins’ use and have introduced a bill to ban some pesticides and herbicides.
I was walking uphill with Lena. We were on our street, nearly home, and the bright evening light to the west was making the windy trees silhouettes in motion. It was that coolish-warm evening wind, my favorite. Lena suddenly saw Sam the neighborhood cat standing motionless in front of our house. Sam! Her little soft hand slipped from mine and she was running uphill through the windy trees toward the shapes of bright light and Sam started turning toward her in that cat way, ready to escape. Lena was laughing, knowing Dad was watching and the cat was escaping and the trees made those soft whistling sounds. I was suddenly completely relieved of my worry about the future which is my lot. I've been thinking about the trucks that spray glyphosates all day in the park nearby, but we're alive now. I'm grateful that the Earth still would give us this moment. I'm feeling such contented happiness watching her running toward our home.
FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS BELIEVE 2ND COMING WILL SAVE THEM FROM CLIMATE CHANGE. The inspiring but tragic Jesus of Nazareth, killed by the Romans at the age of 32, certainly won't be there to deliver us from the floods and fires of climate change, which is, in fact, the form that the Apocalypse is taking. How ironic: Fundamentalist Christians are the also-rans here at the End Times. And they thought they invented the genre!!
Only the Earth offers life that transcends death. Earth makes life that includes death within it. That is the gift. It is eternal life as it was always meant to be: many lives dying and giving birth, intertwining and growing the future. Individuals never had the inside track on eternity, but communities of life can live for a long time, if they live in balance with the communities of life around them. It isn't too late to live that way, is it?
THE BRAVE BRIDGE DANGLERS OF PORTLAND, and the kayakers up the coast and the whole movement in the Northwest against arctic drilling, is such indispensable work. We are all so grateful. We badly need dramatic action, big stark brave images.
It seems that we have to re-learn courage. We are straining toward our Pettis Bridge and Stonewall Tavern and we aren't there yet. We don't have a socialmovement on the scale that would make a difference to the Earth. We are like John the Baptist screaming in the stream. Consumerism makes the kind of motion that isn't moving at all. What appears to be new is not a change in values, just a new product. The heavy inertia of the "old normal" keeps pushing back against human justice and earth justice.
Here in Brooklyn the glyphosate trucks are spraying in the public park. I just bicycled over the parking lot and there they are. Monsanto's toxins are sprayed within a few feet of playgrounds and all manner of humanity. In the church we're discussing - sending pictures of ourselves from last July 15th, exorcising the trucks, walking unauthorized inside the cyclone fence, holding hands and singing. Let the Commissioner of Parks know about our trespassing. We are making new culture, new songs and prayers, human expression that the surrounding trees are flowing through... That's going on, Mr. Commish, and will continue until you stop the toxins.
Each of us has some skill: juggling, welding, skateboarding... whatever we have to offer, we must look for how we can support the Earth with what we do. The big battles need to be mixed with many local ones. We need to do what we can do. --rev
Taking on Consumerism was not a well-thought out career decision by me. I would have had the sensation that I was the tree falling alone in the forest if it wasn’t for the fact that I was screaming into a collection of Times Square zombies in Bermuda shorts. I must have been like a comic of some kind to the people standing there, across from the Naked Cowboy. Did I enjoy their stares? Was I feeding on their confusion? What kind of person throws his body between kids and their beloved mouse? “Will you see the light, my sinners? To save your souls you must immediately RUIN YOUR VACATION!”
LOOKING BACK AT OUR NIGHT WITH NEIL YOUNG AND DARYL HANNAH. Yesterday we just took naps and long walks. It wasn't a chemical hangover. It was a performance hangover or no - call it an EXPERIENCE hangover. This morning we begin to wonder at the sophisticated loving sweep of the vision of these two, Neil Young and Daryl Hannah. I dimly remember a partnership like this during the Viet Nam War - this kind of courage was shown by Jane Fonda and DonaldSutherland with their tour of army bases during Viet Nam. The reason I am thinking of the old Peace Movement is because Neil/Daryl and Jane/Donald both deal in high stakes justice struggles. Not a lot of policy theory, or lobbying, or "meme-ing." It's WHAT'S RIGHT - WHAT'S WRONG - WHAT CAN WE DO. 48 hours ago Neil Young's "Rebel Content" tour just gave $100k to the legal team resisting Monsanto and Starbucks assault on Vermont's truth-in-labeling law, which outs GMO/pesticide foods. So they don't just invite local activists up on their stage to sing - they take money from ticket sales and they wire it directly to activists in the field DURING THE TOUR. This is the kind of hands-on fighting that the Earth demands in this time of crisis
In New York there is an idea of crime prevention, and it is called "Broken Windows." The theory goes: little indicators of a ghetto life style must be cleansed before turning into hard crime. (Of course, many of the broken windows are simply cultural, i. e. hanging out on the corner, graffiti art, smoking weed).
We support a full ban on glyphosate, the toxin in Monsanto's product Roundup. As long as ten years ago the Parks Dept of New York was reducing its use of the deadly herbicide, but its use goes on. The language of gradualism, suggesting that there is an amount that is reasonable, is couched in soft, paternalizing tones. In fact, there is no minimum use for the deadly stuff. The studies link it to cancers, asthma, birth defects.
That a little sin is a lot of sin only applies to black males. Eric Garner's selling single cigarettes - does that indicate he will kill someone because of his lax morals for small things? No. It means that he is murdered. "Broken Windows" applies more logically to racist police and Monsanto. Aggressive pursuit of small crime makes cops blind to bigger abuses later. And Monsanto's small poisons on your lawn become big poisons in factory farms. The murderers are moralizers. Hmmm...
I met her in Alcoholics Anonymous. Our relationship was talking about her kitchen remodelling. I swear she remodeled her kitchen for five years - know what I mean? We live in a rich country. There are so many vacations, and the long campaigns of grandparents' assisted living and niece's graduations, therapies and Landmark, and weddings, weddings, weddings... There is a de-politicized dedication to all the domesticity that money can buy. These rituals fill out the year completely, but it's denial, isn't it. We assume that bodies won't be floating in our windows, that there will always be nature going on, and the poor will find a way.
What do I do with this feeling, this beat of justice I feel when I'm walking down the street? It's the banner drop in the middle of an orgasm. It's the seedling of Wangari Maathi. It's when a stranger marches out of a crowd, holds my head and says, "Keep doing what you're doing." The beat of justice is the heartbeat of the Earth. I can stop everything I'm doing and feel that beat. I'm an angel-zombie for the idea of this planet, the idea that life will grow like weeds through the crack in the highway of fear. Ban Glyphosates! Earthalujah!
Because I love me some Nina Simone I decided to watch "What Happened Miss Simone" on Netflix today. This is a beautiful and moving documentary that spoke to me from beginning to end; it felt like a splash of cold water awaking me from a deep sleep.
Near the beginning she says, "When I first started to take lessons, I became terribly aware of how isolated I was from the other children, and how isolated I was from the white community and the negro community. They always wanted me just to play the piano for them to dance. I wasn’t asked too much to do anything else. That was very hard."
I knew this isolation. I remembered looking up from the upright piano of our home out of the window that looked over into our neighbor's backyard normally overflowing with kids and laughter. I could hear the bikes whizzing by on the street outside and kids calling to each other but, I had work to do. I had found an emotional outlet for all the things that one feels growing up gay and Black in Mississippi. I knew that somewhere in those 88 black and white keys were answers to the questions I was too young to ask. At 13 I became the pianist and music director at my father's church. Hearing stories of Miss Simone playing in church as a child I was immediately taken back to so many Sunday mornings where after the postlude would end, the congregation would clap (sometimes politely, sometimes uproariously), and they would leave for their post-church Sunday activities I normally had about 15-20 minutes in the sanctuary by myself before heading to the next service. Finally alone, I would play just for me. Very often there would be tears streaming down my face as I realized that the church that I had grown up in, where I played and sang and led the choirs, the place where the Black community had found strength and joy out of misery for generations was not a safe place for me. Or at least not all of me. But, I wasn't just crying because of that. I cried because Sunday morning really is one of the most segregated times and no one really seemed to care. I chose my friends based on common interests and focus. I had friends of all races and ethnicities and I cried when I thought of the walls we were confided to dwell inside. So, I played songs for my friends that they would never hear and I cried.
"I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved." - Nina Simone
I think much like Miss Simone I did not become a musician in order to become an activist but, at some point I realized that as a musician I literally have a microphone in front of me and when you see injustice in the world it is your duty to speak truth.
Less than a year ago, I was sitting on a couch in Edinburgh, Scotland watching footage from Ferguson, Missouri with Savitri D and members of The Stop Shopping Choir. If it had been captured in black and white one would have been hard pressed to distinguish if this was 1920s, 1960s or 2014. As I watched this I could feel myself changing but, I didn't fully understand how. Four months later we were there, on the ground. Originally we had come to protest Monsanto with an organic Thanksgiving Dinner on their lawn but, that had us less than 15 minutes from Ferguson. We met activists there, had dinner with them and I found the slightly out of tune piano that every church basement seems to have. The Stop Shopping Choir sang some of our songs first then everyone started singing, mainly church songs (I specifically remember "Victory is Mine") and I felt a shudder upon realizing that perhaps my life had a trajectory that I didn't know about. All of those Sunday tears of isolation and sadness had suddenly become Thanksgiving tears of joy.
June 2015 was a roller coaster. There was a stark reminder that the church, a place of sanctuary and safety was never quite as safe as we had hoped. And then the final week of the month rolled in and it became clear that millions of Americans would keep their health insurance, marriage would just be marriage regardless of the genders of the people involved and as a country we even had conversations about the history of the Confederate flag (even in "Mississippi, goddamn!"). It felt that the country was moving in the right direction. The chance to pursue happiness was feeling tangible.
But, alas, the elation was short lived. Suddenly, my Facebook wall was being inundated with articles about "gay" marriage meaning the end of society. My pursuit of happiness for some reason had also signaled the end of civilization. I know, I know. "That's why Facebook has an "un-friend" button." But, 1 - I don't want to live in a bubble, an echo chamber of agreement. 2 - 20 years of friendship, shared memories and experiences can't be erased with the click of a button. And as I was probably the first out, gay person known to some of these people I couldn't help but wonder..."What had I done to make you believe that my desire to find love and happiness was a part of some evil plot to tear down society?" I know there's no answer for this but, the feeling is there all the same.
Last night, I called my mom and we talked for hours. I was energized when she told me about a number of encounters she had had explaining to people the truth about gay marriage. In Jackson, Mississippi. In case you were wondering - yes, she's a superhero. But, this isn't new to her. She's been an ally since before I even knew I would need one. (Can I repeat for emphasis: IN JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI.)
"She was not at odds with the times—the times was at odds with her. I think when a person moves to their own kind of clock, spirit, flow, if we were living in an environment that allowed us to be exactly who we are, you’re always in congress with yourself. The challenge is how do we fit in in the world that we're around. Are we allowed to be exactly who we are?" - Ambassador Shabazz on Nina Simone
Today, I celebrate July 4th not for our history but for our future. A future where we are allowed to be exactly who we are.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Savitri. Thank you, Miss Nina Simone.