The Long Black Friday made sense a week ago in Ferguson, not just to young people but, surprisingly, to an older coalition of justice workers and Christians ministers who called for the cessation of shopping throughout the long Thanksgiving weekend. This is scandalous to the corporations. “Black Friday” is this weekend that establishes the retail profits for the year, as in, the company “Goes into the black.” But politically this is a savvy and long overdue move. The proposal confronts a decades-long drift toward a trading in of shopping for freedom.
Now we see die-ins in Macy’s in New York after the Eric Garner grand jury decision. Disruptions of the hypnotized state of holiday browsing continue in Walmarts and Targets throughout the country. These decisions to concentrate on big retail happen instinctively. They are crowd-sourced. People know that the privatizing of our commons is a key to what has gone wrong in our country. Congress is a corrupted commons. Shopping over-runs our local park.
Our nation was founded with surging anger that filled the streets and squares, the places that are owned by all of us. The project of neo-liberalism in recent decades pulls funds from the government agencies that maintenance such places and then turns these stages for celebration and sorrow, volunteered entertainment, mixing of strangers in the urban tradition – over to the control of local businesses, socialite ladies, wealthy “conservancies.”
Gradually the old sites for gatherings of freedom-fighters, like Union Square in New York, have been smothered with police and big retail. Union Square, the most important 1stAmendment site for a series of social movements that have shaped American life – from the first Labor Day parade to the huge peace marches after 9/11 – is shut-down as a public space. It is run now by a group of 50 rich and super-rich in a glorified “Business Improvement District” or BID, with a private police force that I have seen boss around the real police.
The commons was destroyed and we were steered into the money-making environments of malls and chain stores. In many cities, corporate retail is the only place where people can meet. It is the “center of town.” Once there, we are bombarded with the concentrated fire-power of corporate marketing. Instead of trees and wrought iron and the sculpted stone of old buildings - we suffer the seductions of super-models 50 feet tall sporting jewelry and underwear.
The police and courts went along with this shift to private property. Shopping rose to a religio-economic status above all else. Our prosperity and freedom depended on it, according to a series of presidents from Ronald Reagon to Bill Clinton and finally to George Bush’s famous statement after 9/11: “If you love your country you go out shopping.”
Expressive politics has become impossible. Either we are burdened with endless permits for gathering and amplified sound or we proceed in the fear that to exercise our basic freedoms puts us at risk of arrest. In most cities it has become routine that large numbers of police rush to any gathering of citizens of any kind. Respect for the police has fallen off in parallel to the disgust we have for politicians, as both professions seem to work for the rich and the corporations. The United States Constitution does not seem to be their script. The public’s freedom is no longer the goal. The public is something to manage, to push into de-politicized consumption.
The vacuum in public space has left police without any countervailing force. The rough democracy of speeches and music, the speaker’s corners, were always important for civic pride. There needs to be a balance of power with the police, or they will rule the streets absolutely. Unaware of the rights or feelings of their constituents, police and courts now have the power to decree a citizen’s death, because of what can only be described as their cultural isolation from the lives of the people that they swear to protect.
It makes sense to take the corporations up on their pretend public space. Force them to take the public role they are incapable of. Then re-open again our own commons, which waits with its 1st Amendment protections. Public space must be public again. The police who walk that beat must work for all the people.
Racist cops murder African Americans. The revulsion brings us together in transcendent scenes like last night on the bridge. Three years ago we had Occupy and three years before that the mortgage fraud scandal and world-wide recession began. Meanwhile, American drones slaughter families. And climate change kills the poor every day.
This keeps happening and each time the issue is life and death. A starkly violent issue comes to the center stage and suddenly a large number of us respond. Now we have this present moment, where racist police and court systems have exposed the government and corporate elite, evil unbroken since slavery and the collusion of fear-mongering and profiteering. We must not forget this, as we so often have with these historic justice events. This is murder by a subculture of fear and machismo, a culture that is unconscious of its violent privilege. We can’t rotate this issue away, enroute to the next one. We can’t default back into conveniences, entertainment and on-line dating.
These murders are a symbol of systematic violence against the powerless in all its forms, including poisoning the Earth and economic violence. Our time is running out. We will have to stick with the unforgettable issues and build our response for the longterm. This current uprising is the place to start. This issue can’t be put in the past by putting a few cops in jail and changing some rules. We can’t let up until the cops help us put the CEO’s in jail and big money is out of government.
The business plan of capitalism is the end of us all, but we won’t violently overthrow the corporations and the governments. We will tell new stories. The ground upon which we all walk will need to shift, meanings of words change, values must radically change.
This phrase, “Hands Up! Don’t Shop!” was shouted by crowds of young people in Ferguson when we bussed there on Black Friday. We learned so much, can you imagine? --- that the Church of Stop Shopping would be a part of this. Hurting small retailers is not the point, but the big boxes and malls of St. Louis are the shaping force in that city, as racist and violent as the police. The sweatshops and factory farms, with their minimum wages, the privatized commons and marketing hypnosis, the corruption of governing and theft of taxes, the colonial wars and poisoning of the Earth… Well, Walmart and Monsanto and Chase repeat again and again a horror story.
But that is it. Consumerism shapes stories. When everything is commodified, then we are passive, standing in line before the machines, and reality is dictated to us by the rich. The ringing of “Hands Up! Don’t Shop!” through the night, by rhythmic fist-pumping teenagers and mothers and ministers and teachers… is telling a new story, and the soldiers and their Desert Storm surplus armor cannot stop the rising up from obedient consumption.
Finally the plot is changing. Are we listening?
How obvious does it have to be? We have uniformed officials in our midst who have permission to murder. We can march, we can scream, we can sue - but what will it take? The law enforcement profession has drifted so far into their delusional world. They are a subculture, talking to each other in their private language, unaccountable to the larger citizenry.
(from a sermon last Thurs in Ferguson)
"Wars against people of color in other lands, racists police departments here, same thing. They will stop now. Citizens must rise up. Amen? Rise-up-alujah! 10, 20 years from now when your children are grown up, you will remember this moment, this turning point in American history. We are here. The bullshit stops here. We're not afraid. We're not hesitating. We will stop shopping at your super malls. We will stop giving our tax money to racist police. We are changing now."
Of course I was late for the bus. I believe that I was so nervous about going to Ferguson. My body shut down and tried to convince me to stay home. I pushed past the pain and dragged my luggage to the subway and then on the M14 bus that would take me to the tour bus. I MADE IT! I climbed aboard and off we went to the heartland of America. It was a quiet ride for the most part. By the time it was midnight, most of the choir was sound asleep. Those of us who were still up shivered in frustration because the heat shut off and it was unfixable. Later that night, frayed nerves, machismo and other unfortunate circumstances caused a major schism that almost threatened to stop our travel to Missouri. Feathers were smoothed, angry voices softened and the bus rolled on.
We arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, tired, cold and aggravated. Food and a short moment of rest put us in better spirits and we quickly went off to do what we needed to do to get our activism in gear.
Some of us went to Ferguson, the rest of us went to a church that provides food and other services to the homeless. The place is called The Haven and the magic of doing good for others worked on us. I have never seen such togetherness and organization! The young people in our choir are powerhouses of talent. Food was prepped, cooked and finished in a short span of time. Organic food that made my mouth water just at the smell of onions sautéing in a pan. Turkey, root vegetables, pies, salads and whipped cream made from the cream of a jar of raw milk was just some of the savory and sweet products of our labor.
We finished up and drove back to the hotel. On the way home, I was able to see the St. Louis Arch rising high into the clouds. It looked surreal, like something out of a fantasy film.
The next day, we converged on the hotel dining room and ate loads of hot breakfast food. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to eat enough during all our activities, so we ate and we ate well.
Monsanto is the devil
Why were we walking over a mile in the bitter cold? Why were we serving loads of wholesome and organic Thanksgiving food to people at the front door of Monsanto headquarters?
The Bees, lovely pollinators, honey makers and part of Mother Earth’s circle of life. How can we possibly have an existence without bees? Monsanto thinks that the Earth doesn’t need bees any longer. Monsanto feels that their robot bee can do what a real bee can. Because Monsanto feels that way, they don’t care that their herbicides and pesticides are one of the things that adversely affects the continued lives of bees. Some bees become disoriented. Some bees die.
Standing out in the bitter cold eating food that honey bees helped provide is not a huge sacrifice if it will help honeybees endure.
Reverend Billy preached, mostly to the already converted but maybe the young police people who stood guard over Monsanto’s domain heard something that that will make them throw out their Burpee seeds and buy heirloom seeds from farmers that do sustainable farming. COOK ORGANIC, NOT THE PLANET!
We were joined by farmers, activists and we happily chowed down on the best Thanksgiving feast anyone could possibly have.
Reverend Billy led the choir in song and after a proclamation of thankfulness from each and every person in attendance, we hauled our frozen asses back into the bus and move on to the next activity.
Mama Cat is a physically diminutive woman but when she speaks, she is a ten foot amazon! She runs a kitchen at St. Jude, African Methodist Episcopalian Church. She feeds not only the homeless in Ferguson, Missouri. She also feeds the activists who are protesting police brutality in Ferguson.
To see her shining brown face talk to you is to see radiance!
She brings out the best in people. As I talked to her, she took my hand and started singing. I was too much of a coward to run away but I desperately wanted to. She sang to me and indicated that she wanted me to join her. I was EMBARRASSED! I sang with Mama Cat and my fear dissipated. As I happily ensconced myself behind the food serving area, I watched and listened as Mama Cat nicely but FIRMLY dictated her rules for being in her kitchen and dining area. She cleared out the media that was not invited but crashed the dinner. Mama Cat put things in order smoothly and efficiently.
I loved the food that we cooked. It was organic, healthy and it tasted fabulous. However, I needed some down home food to make it a real Thanksgiving for me. So, you know that I had to have some of Mama Cat’s macaroni and cheese and her stuffing. MMM, MMM, MMM
The singing continued throughout dinner and the energy grew and grew. By the time, it was all over, we were ready to go out to the nearest Wal-Mart to protest the store being open on Thanksgiving evening. I guess Wal-Mart knew that being open on Thanksgiving was not going to be popular with some folk because the place was crowded with police and their dogs.
We went inside and basically just wandered around until somebody started chanting loudly and bravely. Chants that conveyed the message that shopping is taking away what times that families can share together. There is something perverse in the fact that one of the only days that you can stay home and chill out with your family and friends, instead you choose to spend your money on stuff.
The police herded us outside and told us to get away from the store because it’s private property.
The beautiful black and tan German Shepard barked ferociously at us, baring its teeth as the policeman struggled to keep him from attacking. The dog was out of control and the policeman finally took him inside of the vestibule of the store to calm it down.
More policemen gathered and pushed the protesters further into the parking lot away from the store. They threatened to arrest us if we didn’t leave the parking lot. Still we chanted. We chanted for no shopping, we chanted for Justice. We chanted in the cold November night in defiance of the policemen’s threats of arrest. We told them exactly what they were, lackeys for Wal-Mart. Some shoppers walked past us and laughed as they merrily headed into Wal-Mart to spend their money. Eventually we did disperse. Some of us continued on to other stores to protest. The next stop was Target and the protesters filled their shopping carts with a multitude of expensive stuff and converged at the check outs at the same time. All the “shoppers” then realized that they forgot their wallets. They held up the lines for a long time and disrupted the shoppers who really wanted to buy stuff.
This went on into the night and eventually Reverend Billy and the rest of the choir made it back to the hotel without getting arrested. We had a regular hootenanny of a party in one of the hotel rooms. It was good to hear music and singing. I went off to bed early because I’m not the young whippersnapper that I used to be. I like my rest, gosh darn it!
In the morning, a fine breakfast was had by all and we were treated by Reverend Billy’s Uncle.
We would soon depart from the hotel but first, we took a ride over to Canfield Green apartments to pay our respects to the memory of Michael Brown. The memorial was at the place of his death on the street. We gathered together and sang. A trumpeter joined us and when we finished our solemn songs of mourning, the trumpeter insisted that we live in light, that we sing of the new day, of the continuing life that we are all blessed with. I wonder if Mama Cat is married because if she isn’t, she and the trumpeter would make a fine couple. They would make a strong pair of positivity and determination.
So, we left. We assembled in our seats on the bus and rode back to NYC with no mishaps and no impulsive spending of money at the road stops along the highways.
We arrived in Manhattan at eight in the morning and we gave each other hugs and kisses before we parted ways.
I tried to nap that day but it wasn’t happening. I had to work that night and I was not happy. It wasn’t so bad but I wrote an e-mail stating that I would not be performing at the Sunday show.
Billy wrote me back, he texted me, he called me and when I got up Sunday morning and saw all his entreaties to get me to come, I finally decided that I can do it.
We all came, the choir that went to Ferguson, Missouri and those that didn’t.
The show begins, we sing, Reverend Billy preaches, the energy is gathering, building! By Billy’s sermon, we are on fire. Reverend Billy’s words are like fuel on the fire. We dance, sway, acknowledge that one must always have a conundrum. Billy leads us into a frenzy that just doesn’t end. The show ends and we wished it went on, and on. Being in Missouri truly affected us and it showed on that stage. It’s like the trumpeter said, it’s about life. We have to be in the present and not sink in the mire. Don’t despair, we have to have to love, laugh and be strong enough to let somebody lean on us and we have to have the warmth to give.
Our planet dying is serious business. A person being killed in the street by the police is not a joke.
We can despair or we can join our brothers and sisters to demand positive change.
I’m so glad to be in the choir with all my brothers and sisters who show me every day that we can lead the way to a better life.
What an awesome trip! I am so blessed
Realize the gift of Ferguson/Monsanto trip. Re-finding anger. Going up through sorrow, surprise, Mike Brown's dying site, ... then find ourselves singing "This Little Light of Mine" in a packed church basement with the cook, a woman named Mama Cat coming out in front of the food to preach... Then with the police lights beaming in the old windows, off we go to two Walmarts, a Target, and a racist police station. We needed to be a part of a movement that started with interdependency, that sudden breaking into song, long embraces and locking arms before electronic doors and dogs.
In Occupy we created community from the movement. In Ferguson the community was the resource to begin with, how these people survive in the American apartheid. We are back now in Brooklyn now with this memory of our 64 hours, trying to heat up the apartment, going through sermon and prayer notes. Trying to heat up our performance on stage tomorrow with this gift of anger. God that was intense. Jumping up and down at the Ferguson Walmart on Black Friday midnight? That's stronger than a memory. That's new muscles.
We needed to re-find our anger. What a gift from that Ferguson community. Suddenly they have this job - the conscience for the world. They are so sure of themselves, shouting to each other in that basement "I love you! I love YOU! I LOVE YOU!" and everyone knows that this fierce eyes-wide love is how they will survive this night.
We shouted and sang and prayed it all day yesterday. It reverberates in us today as we prepare our bus trip a thousand miles back to the Apple. Part of what makes this declaration a clarion instruction for us, for our actions in the coming year: It was rhymed out hip hop style at Walmart and Target. It was sung in a church basement surrounded by cop cars beaming lights. And it was shouted in broad daylight, eating organic Thanksgiving dinner, at the headquarters of Monsanto.
We feel the coming together of Human Rights & Earth Rights. God knows the anemic environmental movement needs a shot of Ferguson. The justice movement concentrated here in Ferguson, this CONSCIENCE SITE, a vibration back and forth from Michael Brown's memorial on Canfield Drive to a confrontation - well, yesterday we confronted police in two Walmarts and a Target, after a ecstatic gospel dinner at St. Lukes Church.
Our talk of the Earth and of the crimes of Monsanto came up sideways, in conversations between lunge-ings by german shepherds and mace-weilding police under the Walmart logo. But the dots were connecting all day. The heat of Ferguson mixes with the long-game of the Earth activism.
An Earth radical would concentrate on the super malls because they put the country into cars and trucks and killed the walking economies. For Ferguson, like everywhere, it is the only commons left. But it is also the summing-up of inequality, union-busting, the billionaire Walton family, and the presence of police who are paid by the public but seem to work for Walmart. Today, Black Friday 2014 - I feel the issues cross-fertilizing and rising up with greater clarity.
Soon we won't be locked in the isolation of those hundreds of separate issues that clog our computers. The word FREEDOM will return to us with its meaning clear and with it a revolution that cannot be stopped.
In a St. Louis motel, 7 AM. Down in lobby, the TV on the wall: Macy’s Day Parade prep, super-sized Toy Soldiers, Captain America, SpongeBog SquarePants. Next up: Santa selling a big silver pickup truck. Next up: 12 yr old Tamir Rice on surveillance tape, playing shoot-em-up in a park, the cop car pulls up, the child shot immediately.
It is official: Our cops can’t think. The policeman who killed John Crawford in the Wal-mart thought he was in Afghanistan. How did his idea of fighting for one’s country get so distorted? He had the impression that a black man was holding people hostage. In fact, John Crawford was buying a bb gun but then got call from his kid’s mom on the cell and stood there with the air-gun in his hand. The cop burst in, inside his parallel universe, inside his racist hallucination.
How do we step back from this mis-firing of the American mind? Finally, the pounding into our heads of thousands of media exposures – seems to be catching up to our ability to conduct everyday life.
We need Thanksgiving to be a real holiday this year. Thanking your loved ones and giving back is not merely symbolism. Being thankful for your health, for your family, for your friends - it is crucially real. Giving thanks is the fastener of compassion. Giving thanks is what a prayer is. It stops being a creative personal action when it expresses the profit center of Consumerism and Militarism. Not this year!
Next up: Michael Brown’s mother, in our studio. Next up: Crowds waiting in the snow and ice for their door-buster sales! Next up: Ferguson ministers ask us not to shop.
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.