Barack Obama’s mention of the slaughters of the Christian Crusades was the opening of a can of worms that turned into snakes. The victims of the knights in shining armor were Jews and Muslims, but that was that time. The followers of the three desert deities, Jehovah, the Prophet and Jesus — have battled back and forth through history. But then each religion has devout peace activists, too. Zealots, zealots everywhere.
In Occupy Wall Street and in the Black Lives Matter as well, there was a steady presence of ministers and rabbis — and I remember a Lakota wisdom leader at Zuccotti Park — even though clearly most of the movement-makers are secular. But we welcomed the aura of Dr. King and the Dalai Lama and Chief Joseph and Gandhi and Bishop Tutu and the movements that they represent. They both comforted and emboldened us, as we marched off to lock arms in the doorway of Goldman Sachs or die dramatically across the floor of Grand Central Station.
The dismissal of religion by Marxists is discredited by present day radicals, but so are belief systems with patriarchal gods. And yet, religion never leaves. Leaders of change sometimes seem like saints, if they are more humble in demeanor, like Joan Baez or Aung San Suu Kyi, or Yeb Sano, the Filipino climate diplomat. If they are brassier, like Vandana Shiva, or Jose Bove or Edward Snowden, then they are called messianic.
I’m in the business of manipulating the memes of right wing apocalyptic Christianity, with the Stop Shopping Choir. We study the presence of intolerant religion within Consumerism and Militarism; in banks that finance C02 emitting industries, like Chase and HSBC and UBS, and manufacturers of toxins like Monsanto and Bayer. We believe that the marketing departments of these industries are the new fundamentalist churches, with crusaders in the form of sexualized automobiles and product placement on celebrities’ bodies.
Of course we rarely get anywhere near a financial or fossil fuel policy-maker. They surround us with police, who are kept in a state of angry fear. And time and time again our protests are like a clash of fundamentalist religions, the activism of two churches claiming the same God. In the conflict with banks and police, things are always very muscular, lots of finger-pointing, refusals, threats, stand-offs. We’re dealing with mutual, simultaneous damnation. You are my infidel.
I was recently handcuffed while speaking in New York’s Grand Central Station with the group “We Will Not Be Silent.” Surrounded by placards featuring the names of those killed by deadly police force, and wearing my usual white polyester and priests collar, I was cuffed in mid-sentence. The metal went into the verb. So much for the 1st Amendment. The next day the police told the Murdoch papers that I attacked a cop.
Of course, I felt outmaneuvered by the flamboyant right wingers. But did I misguess the event? Did my analysis of power against power, protesters against institutions — preempt any connection with the possibly sympathetic people within Grand Central Station? Anything internal in those folks, anything deeper than their anger, was unrevealed in the activist event. The cops feel like 9/11 is still happening. And I’m taking their Christian preacher and shouting about their blunders. We all get angry together.
I find myself desperately wanting to talk to the employees of Grand Central Station about what happened. But these big structures, the courts, the press — all of that gets in the way. A quiet human conversation is no longer possible. A good pastor can engage in loving conversation in the middle of horror, like Bishop Tutu looking the apartheid leaders in the eye. Could I have somehow done that? I did return after I got out of jail to try to talk to the cop who manhandled me, but he wouldn’t shake my hand.
Birth, and life, and death — no one knows what life is. Life is unexplained. Science doesn’t know and religion doesn’t either. Fundamentalists rush in with hard answers, to assuage our fear of death. Usually, the doctrine is encased in bigotry. Fundamentalist holy men arrange for us to fear the Other. And yet, again, religion cuts both ways. A “person of the cloth” carries the burden of these deeper questions, and so they can have the effect of slowing down violence. I remember clerics inserting themselves between the front lines in the Balkans.
More of our activism needs a spiritual basis, and that doesn’t only mean the absence of mindless confrontation. Spirit is laughter, shape-shifting and music. We felt the impact of Erica Warner dying-in on the Staten Island sidewalk where her father was murdered, a mysterious and beautiful act. And we remember Wangari Maathi planting trees in the Nairobi park, in the face of the brutal dictator, and Chelsea Manning opening the door of secrets.
I should go back to Grand Central Station and talk to those people. At least I should be able to talk to mothers, because they have the endless questions of children ringing inside them, even if those moms are cops. That is the antidote to fundamentalism. All those questions. If I talked with a hundred mothers, wouldn’t that be a better kind of activism than shouting in the echoey station and getting hauled off? Here’s the question I want to ask: “How do we end this violence?”
Oh "fetish" is the wrong word because this comes from pre-sexual time, when I was ten and eleven. I would escape from my family and walk forever in those waves until it was dark. It was how nature carried me off, the world closest to the edge of the yard, where nature waited for me, waving and dancing.
If I knew I was dying I would want to go back there to the long grasses. When I go to pray, which is sometimes difficult being so without any god, I think of that time in my life, because the natural world was overwhelming the god that my family insisted was all-powerful and all-knowing. Creation was overwhelming the Creator and it came in the form of undulating prairie grasses.
So I've shared this with people openly of course, since I'm a public confessor, but it always feels like a secret, too. I pray in the park near our home and there isn't prairie there. But when I pray I close my eyes and I see the sky and the grasses blowing in the sunny wind and then New York changes into South Dakota swirling its grasses around my prayer.
Black Lives Matter segues into gardens and libraries and back to defending ourselves against the police. In New York, the cops enforce property rights. Gardens and libraries, parks and hospitals are under privatizing attack, with a full-on lobbying (bribing) offensive in City Hall. But we got the faith. The books will return, the Rose Reading Room re-open, and the 1%ers in the library trustees LEAVE.
If we pretend that saving a library is not an issue of police violence as well as real estate violence, we are startled when the thin veil is ripped by our shouts and suddenly a gun is there pointing at us. Then a “communications officer” steps in to announce that we are the violent ones.
The dots connect again and again, but we all have memory problems. Good politics is forcefully reminding each other. It does get spacey out here on the pavement under the iCloud. But here it is again: Human rights and Earth rights are the same thing. The Earth will remind us with the screams in her insistent wind. BUT ON V-DAY - WE SAY - LOVE-A-LUJAH!
Lena is in the next room, walking around inside a play that she has written. She is a character in it, but has the author's position too, talking with fellow actors that she listens to and talks to and gestures with - I almost see them. There seems to be a boat with fishing, and a map and a fish "on the fifth floor," which is a bit of apocalyptic imagery right out of the ocean rising to drown Wall Street. There's more than that in this scene. Much more.
She'll be 5 years old in two months and should be in school but we decided that her 3-D world was so vivid that we would wait for a break in the action before taking her into the city. Our love of invention is so extreme it is socially improper, suspect child-rearing. Then again, the hair-raising destruction by Brian Williams and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of their careers by invented worlds that overwhelmed them - is the top of the news today.
And the police in New York have created a fictional world that we walk and drive through at our own risk. Their idea is that Al Sharpton and Barack Obama flew the jets into the towers on 9/11. And the consumption economy is Frankenstein religion, making us salivate on cue, but now over-ruled by the Earth. Lena, the day will come when you will have a co-author in your scenes, or you already do. A wild wind turns us away from the script that we thought was our life.
Returning to my intuitive resistance to the 70 ft. tall supermodels with jewelry and purses hanging down the sides of Times Square buildings like juicy secondary erogenous zones - oh Earthalujah! help me!! That was 1998 and I began sidewalk preaching THERE IS ONLY ONE SIN AND THAT IS TOURISM! We bring it all back home sometimes, and here it is, to the original notion that got us singing together and loving each other free of materialism and jailed every so often: Stop Shopping! Start Living!
Three days ago another mysterious jury refused to take to trial an Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) policeman accused of strangling a passenger. Last night an MTA train coming into the Wagnerian town of "Valhalla, New York" saw a stalled SUV too late and six died in the collision. And as you members of the congregation are aware - your pastor was arrested in mid-sermon by over zealous MTA cops in Grand Central Station, and now we have filed a $500k lawsuit to help finance this Facebook page which siphons money to the MTA's banker, Goldman Sachs, but don't get me started.
And today, with the MTA a large, painful joke at the expense of our once-great city, I sit down with Lena to take the train home from kindergarten, and we're under the East River zooming along and we look up from The Cat In The Hat and find ourselves surrounded by these moral advisories from that same MTA, up and down the length of our train, placard after placard of unasked-for advise designed to reduce us to polite consumers with beige personalities. They should tell us not to do strip dances on the poles in front of the children... Because what evil is possible here? I want to know. I hope that Lena & I will always know what to do wrong & have the courage to do it.
Telling the public that the peace-makers are violent is such an old tactic by regimes like Stalin and Hitler - how could the police in New York still think that kind of strategic defamation works. WE ARE NOT YOUR POLITICAL OPPONENTS. We are taxpaying citizens who pay your salary. American freedoms have come from protesters as much as police - but both are guarantors of our life in this country, and in this particular case, in Grand Central Station on January 6th, both the protesters and the police were peaceful. There was no need to slander me. You are not winning with this behavior. You need to admit that the epidemic of deadly assault against people of color by police is real. This is not disrespect. This is heartfelt and responsible. Ask your own black cops. You have to change.
And Thank The Earth for Erica Garner laying down on the sidewalk in Staten Island, the ultimate die-in, inhabiting the last breaths of her dad, she drives the activism in us. We can do anything now!
How were we EVER threatened into leaving our patch of Earth. We're supposed to believe that it's not public property or we are suppose to fill out a permit and wait six weeks? No it's FIRST AMENDMENT TIME! We're here on this Earth and we're not gonna get into the game of petitioning and lobbying and emailing in the distance somewhere from a computer. We're here on this ground and people on the street see us and free speech is magical and no cop or congressman or corporation can possibly move me off my spot. The longer we have our place the more our voices ring out! Now put down that submachine gun and let's talk about climate change and our kids. We're staying here on this Earth.
War is crucial to Consumerism. Militarism demands the largest products and the longest distribution lines. Intimacies within wars arise but they are closely monitored, bands of brothers may save each other’s lives but only after the products have exploded.
All the Apocalypses come from separation. The more terrible The End of the World, the clearer the call to look into each other’s eyes and start something. Earth in me recognizes Earth in you. The Earth wants to reunite.
The Gothamist is where I was identified by name as a person who had "attacked" police officers. This piece was published at about the time I got out of jail, on January 7th, after my sleepover in the Tombs. Turns out - how predictable - the Gothamist writer was taking the violent language from a Murdoch paper, the New York Post, which plays fast and loose with violence, to put it mildly.
Lauren Evans, who has written both the Gothamist entries, knew I was the one arrested, and so it was here that the false claim of aggression came together with my identity. It was the first place I read it, reading later the accounts in the Post and another Murdoch paper, the Wall Street Journal. Ms. Evans had tried to reach me, but phoned while I was in the Tombs, and then posted the story the next day - so my denial was missing. But it aint missing in this second story!
I want to thank the Gothamist and Lauren Evans for sticking with it and completing the story. When such defamation takes place, you do the best you can to get the counter-story out there. So we want to thank any media that helps us correct the record. The dispiriting thing is that the police and protesters were both peaceful. This slander comes from a professional spin-doctor who works as a spokesperson for the vast transportation agency of New York City, the MTA. He is like a corporate marketer, and doesn't think that his statements might have a human consequence.