One way that a community can develop is by the resistance around it. I feel that way about Grand Central Station. Our police violence protests are becoming fascinating to us because the traditional ones are banned.
Grand Central Terminal is a public space, with 750,000 to a million people passing through it, and because of this it is considered at risk for terrorist bombs. It is heavily policed. We can have National Guard, Homeland Security, the various departments of the NYPD, and the New York State Troopers, with their Dudley-do-right funny hats with the brims - surrounding us as we recite the names of the police-killed citizenry.
Here, key police violence gatherings have taken place since the Eric Garner non-indictment. Often the protests have taken the form of die-ins, a crowd sprawled across the floor, silent, beneath the sky-green ceiling a hundred feet up, with constellations and the winged horses and fish and warriors of the zodiac. The die-ins are very moving, and community is made in this fall on the floor. Stories are told, laughter releases, people come back to life and go get coffee. Across the country, bridges and highways and many public buildings are host to the simulated mass death and communities are growing.
Now the die-ins are banned. The police have invented charges of violence against the protesters in Grand Central, and this involved our Church of Stop Shopping. They have banned putting placards on the floor with the names of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Vonderitt Meyers… They have banned falling to the ground and pretending to die, honoring those dead.
We honor them every day. Right now this is the key to all politics, any issue. Black Lives Matter. We sorrow with the families. We ponder the last seconds they lived. We are with them as they are ambushed on the sidewalk, as they are shot as they talk to girlfriends on the phone, as walk through the dark hallway, as they sleep on couches, as they wait for the subway. The last moments are with us and we look to our living friends to conjure with us performances that will keep these lost lives in our memory.
We’ve been singing. We like to go in there, surrounded by the law, and talk as if we have a right to. We make films, giving testimonials to the camera about police violence, pretending that we don’t know that they are nearby uncomfortable with us, drawn to us and resisting us, trying to remember their instructions, confused by our ownership of this place. Oh and we have only begun…
I'm feeling a bit better today. Why this "attacks the police" charge is more emotional for me than the "terror" and "menace" charges of a year and a half ago - I don't know why! The ways of the soul are mysterious. Maybe the terror stuff was so comical on its face - even with the year in jail that went with it - I didn't have to fear that friends would suspect me of threatening anyone. (I know I can seem unstable even to my friends, even to my wife.) This time the hyperbole is all in the press, not in the courts, and my supposed actions are a pretext for toughening the policing of our protest.
I don't know what I could have done differently to avoid being used this way. I was handcuffed in mid-speech. They noticed on the social forums that there was a gap in the videotape, because everyone followed the cops picking up the placards with the victims names from the floor - and that WAS the important thing to see. But in taking the video off me, the police are free to say what they will about my activity in about 2 seconds of missing footage. So I feel outsmarted, and used by the police to begin criminalizing our movement, which was the strategy against Occupy Wall Street. Homeland Security officials were in Grand Central on Monday, watching our drama unfold. I see their extralegal hand in this.
You see? I started writing to you this morning talking about how I feel, but then I become what I feel: hurt and betrayed. The fact is, I'm better as a clown out there on the sidewalk and this power-gaming is foreign to me. I know one thing: I have a skill for not shouting or shoving when police close in. I'm confident that when we do find that videotape, probably from the police or Grand Central surveillance cameras (we have video of them taping) it will be obvious to you and me, to a jury, to a judge and to the public - that I did not "attack" or "get physical with" or "assault" an officer. I notice, although they took me to the Tombs for a day, that they haven't charged me with anything. What does that mean? They looked at their tapes and found what I know is there. I had my nonviolence discipline in full operation, I was fully aware and was only engaged in preaching until I was cuffed. There was a startling football team-like flood of cops walking on the names, but all I did was preach Peace.
The police spokespersons are calling us violent in the New York press. The police say that I "attacked" them and the New York Post etc are growing the scandalous rhetoric, "attack" and "assault" being bandied about. Most tragically, they are exclaiming in public that they must clamp down on the uprising against police violence after Michael Brown and Eric Garner - because we are now "attacking the police."
Meanwhile, they don't seem to mind that their position is contradictory. They say scary things to reporters but are unwilling or unable to charge me with anything. In court they offered the standard no-charge of "Adjournment with Contemplation of Dismissal." An ACD is a hardly a charge.
None of their dozens of officers will risk perjury by taking the stand. Could that be because nothing happened? I am trained in nonviolence. I would never grab, shove, push an officer. I would never express anything that could be misconstrued as a challenge. A veteran of protests from Vienna to Hawaii to Helsinki to Nairobi - I have never been charged with violence against police. In fact, I was handcuffed on Tuesday in mid-speech. The only question here is the 1st Amendment. The rest is their invention.
Here is the most offensive piece:http://gothamist.com/2015/01/07/grand_central_mta_die_in.php
We appeal for witnesses and videotapes of the arrest to contact us. Revbilly@revbilly.com and 646 299 3019. In particular there is no video that captures the entire five or six seconds of the arrest period. We cannot be confidant that the MTA police will be forthcoming with surveillance camera from Grand Central - but of course are requesting the tapes.
They have success criminalizing protest, calling the "Critical Mass" bicyclists violent, and then the same thing with Occupy Wall Street. Homeland Security was there in Grand Central and they are believed to have advised city police on the harassment of OWS. We will try to stand up to them. The protest against police violence cannot be called violent by police.
When a great city struggles for its soul, then strange things happen. Sept. 11th, 2001 was surreal. Watching the buildings fall. It is fitting that the effort by citizens to regain our balance, after five militaristic Republican mayoral terms - will be strange, too.
This is how strange. I shouted "Black Lives Matter" a few times in Grand Central Station and police rushed at me like I was a fiend. Before us were the names of the unarmed police-killed citizens, on placards on the floor. Later in the downstairs jail, I asked the police why the upset about a little protest. And why disrespect the dead. A thoughtful sergeant posed the question, "Where will it all end? You can't shut down the Grand Central the way you shut down the bridges and highways." There's the problem. They don't see the defense of my right to speak as their work. They won't admit that they will consider the lost lives and their families.
No - they consider me a leader of an opposing cult. They are territorial. They think of the Brooklyn Bridge as a famous symbol that they lost to a rival group, with an international audience watching. They see Grand Central that way. But, of course, we are not a rival religious group. We pay their salary. The police are bound to protect and serve us, and to enforce the laws of the land. as set forth in the United States Constitution. After 20 years of these Republican mayors, New York police never talk of the 1st Amendment as something that is tangible to them.
The police in our city have a notion of their 40,000 officer community that is cult-like, and they are quite unconscious about it. They are grandiose, afraid, disconnected, and easily led by demagogues. And they carry loaded guns. And yet, last night in The Tombs, I was engrossed with their conversations about the insensitivities of a liberal mayor, about their replays of the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They are surprisingly caring when they don't think anyone is listening.
Strange: The NYPD work slowdown leaves the local jail almost empty. They have pulled back on their arrests by up to 94%. So I was sitting for the first time alone in my cell, instead of 40 men to a cell, usually so crowded that we use each others' shins for pillows. However, in the midst of their arrest slow-down - they find the time and resources to arrest me and a few prisoners charged with felonies.
Ironically, The Tombs are usually packed with poor people of color who are pulled in by the harassment laws, like open bottles on the stoop, or the repository of subjective police abuse: "Disorderly Conduct." That's one my charges, too.
The cops can be reached and changed. That must happen. It will come from black lives and white lives being unafraid to talk to them in public space. That was always how it was. We have to bravely go to them and change them - and that is a strange transfer, like wrestling with very old culture. Sojourner Truth did it, and Lucy Parsons, and Emma Goldman. They were abused by cops but they teach us how to change them.
When I was sitting in that empty cell for all that time, freezing on that bench, it was my jailer I had to think about. I would shout for some water. Most of the night my jailer was a black man who was as funny as Chris Rock. I would preach back at him and we both laughed a lot. But the conversation that we had that might have changed both us always started with our children.
Reverend Billy is being "processed" and will be sent to The Tombs, a New York City municipal jail. Good thing he's wearing those amazing wool army pants I got in France all those years ago, but I don't know how far he's going to get on the modest oatmeal breakfast we had before he left....Let's remember this is all about the POLICE and the BRUTALITY and the institutionalized violence and racism and the ways this rotten culture keeps us separated from EACH OTHER. Go! #CaryTheNames #24HourAction at Grand Central Station before they end at 5 pm.
Viscountess Nancy Astor once said "The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything - or nothing." This robber baron royal lived in another time, yet I've seen her quote posted recently as a meme, on social forums. Clearly many of us would agree with her statement. We feel safer with the moderate course, the reasonable alternative that doesn't upset people.
In 2015, moderation is the main danger. The Earth's crisis makes Lady Astor's approach naive to the point of suicidal. Now, in 2015, we cannot be moderate in our reduction of fossil fuels. Gradualism has left us with drought, disease, flood and fire. We've learned "reform" in negotiations with big banks and corporations - is the dangerous choice, because it amounts to changing nothing. The seduction of Consumerism and the brute force of Militarism have distanced us, for many years, from taking the action we must take. But inside each of us is a freedom fighter rising up.
In 2015 we will be unafraid to defend our Earth, our community and our family. These shells of shelter, from personal to universal, from our loved ones to the loved One, will be defended from the invisible toxins, form the bullets of fear, from the profits of violence. We are unafraid to - we are glad to - change everything! Earthalujah!
I HAD A DREAM THAT THE STOP SHOPPING SINGERS HAD AN ORGY AT THE COLLISION OF THE CIRCUSES. Savitri and I were walking through the old tent as big as city blocks and very old like from another century. I was missing my blue enamel shoes with the clouds. There was a terrible emergency in the air but a great feeling that made you belly laugh.
Savi said look at all the lion-tamers walking around, cracking their whips, and no lions. I could see that this circus was a collision of circuses and the animals all got away. People rushed by like they had to do a task, a job. But others stood there with a long thought, like they had 90 childhood backyard memories in a row. Then we walked up to our friend Nehemiah, the music director of the Stop Shopping Choir. I was reminded of the space-shot announcer who said, "There has been a malfunction, obviously." There was a landscape before us. The choir was making love to itself in the ring of the circus. Nehemiah was very concerned, but in a gentle way. He would start conducting, and then stop with his hands still afloat. The thing is, the singers were still carrying the melody, nice harmonies rose from the pumping bodies. It was an orgy deep in thought.
A panting singer was quoting Rumi. Someone sang in a falsetto: "I am individuating as I do this." Savitri and Nehemiah were laughing like they were laughing the last laugh of a long work day. Meanwhile, the aroused were testifying. "I am Anna! I am Rafael! We are all strangers!" We wondered what that meant. We are all strangers. Bare shoulders and backs covered with sweat would appear and then go down into the hills and valleys and moving legs and stretching fabric.
There were whimsical comments rising out of this commitment to extreme physicality. A group was rising now on the south end of the sex family. They were starting a funk thing and pulling the moaning people to their feet. People were still connected but they weren't complaining. The singers tried to march while writhing like waves. Now it was part orgy and part parade. I realized that we were going to Monsanto with this undulating army. Nehemiah was moving them toward the brilliant light.They had a six part harmony going with a James Brown beat on the two and the four. "What do we do? We do with you? Do to you with this power? -- What do we do? We do with you? What do we do with this power?"
Here’s how we’re thinking about 2015. Monsanto is the Devil. The Honey Bee is the Hero. That hasn’t changed.
We want to move close to the beating heart of the Great Poisoner. We have confronted their office buildings, exorcised and eaten organic in their frontyards and lobbies until uniformed men walked toward us with an expression on the faces like they bit a piece of bad meat. Their poisons radiate to the trees and grasses of their manicured corporate-scape, and then out into the adjoining ecosystems. We want to sing radical music in the organic farms that are at risk downwind. Our notes will catch their spoors poisoning the minds of EPA officials, dining on Monsanto money, as glyphosates and neonicotinoids flood the water, air, and soil of our loved one.
Move upwind into them. Defeat their stories. In 2014 we sang past their security, climbing the stairs into the drone lab where they – working with the Pentagon – hope to replace the honey bee with the Robobee. We outed them into the pages of the New Yorker and Village Voice. We talked softly to their hapless scientists. The workers at Monsanto are parents. Their consumers have nieces and nephews. Monsanto is surrounded by people who have a crush on life. Never has such a huge company been so vulnerable to life’s revolt. We want that pied piper job. Sing and change, preach and de-toxify… walk deep into their marketing. Upwind in the poison. Defeat their stories.
Watch the video from the activist archives. http://vimeo.com/4988483
This is the Westfield Mall in Shepherd's Bush, London. Back when we still wore robes, in 2009, we incite ascending layers of law enforcement to wrap around us. as we shout "Stop Shopping children! It's time to slow down your consumption!"
Note the level of panic at the cameras, in this case the videographer is Richard DeDomenici, a popular performance artist and comedian in the UK - harassed by security men who seem to be the rugby players who didn't make the team. The aggression that is released by the interruption of shopping is an important key.
Eventually, as we came to understand the violence that is organized by the big box economy, the sweatshop products/union busting/fossil-fuel-centric/saturation marketing of the Walmarts of this world - this response became less bizarre. These are the underpaid renta-cops on the front line of a very deep army. By the end, we were confronted by the local bobbie captain, who knew what a performance artist was, and knew we'd been on the BBC singing about the sins of shopping.
As the "speaker's corner" in Hyde Park languishes, Westfield Mall, the biggest mall in England, sweeps everyone into a fake commons where expressive citizenship is disallowed. The heartbreaking testimony near the end by the store worker lady, who says "American has scads of malls and we don't have any - we love Westfield," shows us the difficult terrain we are hiking here. How do you confront the mistaken love of "The New?" We must raise "The Earth" to that level of attraction for the average predator Human. Quite a job.
We are looking back at the progression of our anti-shopping because of the recent breakthrough at the Ferguson Black Friday. "Hands Up! Don't Shop!"
First they came for the druggies who tried to make their fantasy economy away from the bigger killers, but I did not speak out, because I'm white with powder cocaine. Then they came for the immigrants, flooded by Clinton's subsidized corn and dragged screaming by ICE from their homes, and I did not speak out, because I'm sitting here waiting for my Mexican cook to bring me my pasta special. Then they came for the poverty-dizzied young from zip codes like Bed-Stuy and the Bronx, fed into the for-profit prison pipeline, and I did not speak out, because where do you start? It's a national operation run by Wall Street. Then one day the Earth came for me, the ocean turned to acid sweeping through the streets, and I cannot protect my family, because America is declared a permanent emergency, and the cops and soldiers are the same guy, jailing us in our upstairs apartment, and no-one is left to speak for me because permits to speak in public are rationed by Chase Bank.