The First Nations peoples in North Dakota are showing us the future of direct action. In the path of the Enbridge pipeline, the “black snake,” they’re making something that traditional environmentalists don’t have words for. A friend of mine who is there put it this way: “It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony.”
There is a crucial lesson here that we environmentalists must learn. At Standing Rock, the cops and courts, helicopters and drones and Dobermans - face their opposite: the pipe-line of pure life is pouring onto them from a hundred tribes. It must be astonishing for Dakota Access advocates to come face to face with their anti-world.
All the life that they would have killed over many years is anticipating events and concentrating here now. All the antelope and burrowing owls and prairie rattlers and eagle feathers catching the wind with the dancers. It’s all the beings of the Earth that aren’t oil! Let’s watch Standing Rock long enough to make our stand. We’ve got to keep this earthy pipeline of flowing over the drill’s puncture, the pipe-lines tunnel, the bomb train’s rails…
After the power of what we have seen among the Squamish canoeists and kayaktavists and now of the Standing Rock Souix and their many guests - this is a good moment for us to return to these teachers, without anxiety that we’re headed back to the sixties. Many of the American Indian Movement heroes were murdered by the feds. But this time - if we stand by and don’t defend these first people; if all we do is watch, the way that white settlers stared from their front porches at the walking and dying on the Trail of Tears - then we won’t be able to save ourselves.
And the First Nations people always tell us the same thing. “The Earth is a living being. The Earth communicates with us.” This changes everything. Our activism is completely turned inside out. All questions of ego and courage are lifted from us. We are acting now with the Earth flowing through us.
A couple days ago I was in a police cruiser in hand-cuffs. I had tried to crash an annual and immense Monsanto party, in which the chemical and seed companies lease the entire State Capitol and Supreme Court Building in Des Moines, Iowa. State troopers actually took the role of bouncers. It was simply corporation as government. Outrageous. Orwellian.
I was standing there with my Occupy the World Food Prize friends, this their fifth year in opposing the soiree of the great poisoners. Father Frank Cordaro was there, fresh from the southern pipeline tunneling under the Des Moines River, the one that is supposed to join the Standing Rock pipe somewhere in the Dakotas and complete the Black Snake. The young men in uniform talked with us for their amusement and then arrested three of us quickly.
The ground our little band held sacred was an earthy memory of pre-GMO Iowa. My great grandparents from the Netherlands, William and Lena Talen were farming near here and the joke in the family is that they were such devout Calvinists that they were bad farmers. The prayers got in the way of the plowing. Now their great grandson is another over-mediated white guy looking for a ceremony. I yearn for an endlessly complex Earth. Don’t we all? Don’t we have that in us somewhere? Even these police? Who wants the numbed mono-culture of toxic corporate farms?
As the police cruiser took me toward the highway and the prison – the branches of great, old trees swept over the car. The tires crunched acorns in the drive. Arrest is a bad dream that I try to re-write as it happens. Doubled over with my hand-cuffs, I forced myself to marvel at these trees above us. I remembered a tree-fact: when sunlight enters a leaf and photo-synthesizes into energy, this energy can flow instantaneously to any point in the tree, to the deepest tendril of its roots… the energy transfer takes no time. Western science can’t explain this. It is as if the trees defeat distance inside themselves. Any energy in the tree can be everywhere in the tree at once. And it pierces my incarceration.
As their grand gestures slide over the windshield, I promise myself that I will receive the interior of trees into my voice, somehow, the way that the plains is pouring toward the pipeline through the people who have loved that Earth.
Yes! We will be wise in the ways of the trees by the time Monsanto turns Iowa over to Bayer. See you next year.
Photo by Nehemiah Luckett
I'm out of jail now, with a Des Moines court case to look forward to. Much thanks to all of you and especially to the brave activists at the center of that toxic cornucopia of the world. You stand in lonely opposition to Monsanto's annual party, where the state capitol building is rented for the weekend by that bully corporation - unbelievable! - and the state troopers are hired as bouncers, literally, checking ID's and arresting citizens of conscience.
Oh Iowa! How tragic a land to live in - this Iowa that has rightly thought of itself as a blessing. The deep rich soil of Iowa has been sustaining so many of us for so long and then the glyphosates snuck up on us and now over-rule the complexity of loamy earth. No state in the union absorbs the saturating tons of Monsanto's RoundUp like Iowa. And so there is this big party in the middle of all this black earth that the party poisoned. And the state troopers guarding the corporate ritual of self-congratulation are all dressed the same, with the same gestures and expressions - the human reflection of the mono-culture of plant-life that this corporation stretches out to the horizon.
Iowa! This sad mono-culture of Iowa, the identical plants as far as the eye can see, are covered with the wrong kind of quiet. No songbirds or butterflys or wild bees... The wind blows and it is lifeless wind. We feel the sensation of extinction. Life knows when the life around it is cheated, and the activists of Iowa are witness to the passing of a very generous kind of life, the legendary growing season, the envy of the world!
A century ago my father's grandparents, William and Lena Talen, worked an Iowa farm. That was back before the word "organic" became necessary to defend the natural making of food against the laboratories of speculative capital.
I want to be with you Iowa activists as you revive your place. I share your vision that Iowa will be one great self-re-generating farm again, a place surging with life. Iowa remembers when its air and water and soil was thick with living beings, and that long memory has resurrection in it.
Photo by Sharon Donovan
I submit to arrest to shine a light on Monsanto, which is the ultimate neo-liberal disappearing company. Monsanto is mists, clear liquids, invisible floating molecules. Their campus in St. Louis is disguised as a bricky college.
Their products try to hide until after the money is made, at which point the physical evidence of the product are found in such as the consequences of the PCBs: cancer; Agent Orange leaves behind its burn scars and birth defects; RoundUp glyphosate in GMO corn shows up in our lives as hospitals full of diseased people.
I take the arrest because annually Monsanto comes out of hiding and shows itself. It must glory in an awards ceremony that has been called “Monsanto’s Oscars…”
In the heart of the best farmland in the world, and the most glyphosate-drenched also - Monsanto rents the entire state capitol building of Iowa, with its golden plated rotunda and vast lawns, to award hundreds of thousands to one of its Frankenscientists…
I will join Fr. Frank Cordero and others in a rally today at the foot of their party. And then after making a statement about healthy families and a future without climate chaos and extinction – we’ll begin a slow walk toward the rotunda. We’ll walk with lanterns held before us, lighting the way back to regenerative farms and safe food.
Photo by Nehemiah Luckett
We have Long Island activists in the choir, John Carlin who performed in the Dick Gregory play this year, and Barbara Lee, an East Village legend, squatter and flamboyant badass.... she grew up out there. Our tour with Neil Young (pic) started in Jones Beach and it was so wonderful, but then there were the boos from the audience when we sang our Black Lives Matter song, when Dragonfly shouts: "Michael Brown! Eric Garner!...and a dozen more names. Really? Booing the names of murder victims? But police retire out there. And Long Island has a KKK chapter…
Eight years ago in Valley Stream, Long Island’s Wal-mart, the temporary security guard Jdimytai Damour was trampled by shoppers in the pre-dawn darkness of Black Friday.
At Hofstra University our choir, multi-culti and radical – enjoyed a special Long Island welcome. We were in the theater wings, our audience from the conference of the psychologists in Collective Behavior and Social Movements, a section of the American Sociological Association – was waiting for our show to start. Then the campus police descended upon us. “But we’re about to perform! Can you wait?” - fell on deaf ears, we were some sort of prize to them… I was detained in the campus jail. The producers of the conference did two things 1) they didn’t really defend us against obvious harassment and 2) they thought we would perform after they let me out. “No, we’re gone,” said Savitri. “…won’t perform in Long Island again, ever.” – we broke our boycott at Jones Beach.
We had two events, the noon anti-gentrification rally hosted by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) - a New Orleans style jazz march from Barclays Center down to Gowanus Canal - this is Brooklyn. The second event of our day was our radio show on WBAI.org, which carries the same names as our record and book, "The Earth Wants YOU". We interviewed James Orr in Belfast - he's ED of the Friends of the Earth there. He talked of Place, the low country bogs and swan lakes under attack by road-builders. We reverted to Seamus Heaney's poems...
We're building a song - the choir has been group-writing it, the deconstruction of the 9/11 instruction...
WHAT WE SING WHEN WE SEE SOMETHING
If you can’t see something SAY something
If you can’t feel something TOUCH something
If you can’t say something SEE something
If you can’t touch something FEEL something
If you can’t see something SHOUT
If I can’t help something LOVE something
If I can’t change something STOP something
If I can’t love something HELP something
If I can’t stop something CHANGE something
If I can’t love something SING
If we can’t hold something HEAL something
If we can’t grow something NEED something
If we can’t heal something HOLD something
If we can’t need something GROW something
If we can't heal something LOVE
Si no ve algo, DI algo
Si no puede sentir, TOQUE algo
Si no puede decir algo, VE algo
Si no puede tocar algo, SIENTE algo
Si no ve algo, GRITA!
Si no puedo ayudar, AMA algo
Si no puedo cambiar algo, PARE algo
Si no puedo amar algo, AYUDA algo
Si no puedo parar algo, CAMBIA algo
Si no puedo amar algo, CANTA!
Si no podemos sostener algo, CURA algo
Si no podemos cultivar algo, NECESSITA algo
Si no podemos curar algo, SOSTENGO algo
Si no podemos necesitar algo, CULTIVE algo
Si no podemos curar algo, AMA!
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the first few hours, right in front of Museum of The Native American Indian. Brave young warriors poured out of the subways with backpacks and sleeping bags and we all knew something was a little different about the energy that day but nobody would have guessed this rally and march would have turned into a many months long occupation at Zuccotti, and 2,600 tent cities around the world. On the 5th Anniversary of this revelatory movement, thank you to OWS! --Rev, Savi and the church...
We are with friend from Friends of the Earth in Belfast, here at the faerie circle at Ballynoe, Lena's making little beds for the faeries - with grass and dandelion flowers and feathers in the holy stone's cracks.
We are consulting the Standing Rock goings-on by the hour. A lesson the people of the 1st Nations give us is that you can stop the black snake by talking to everything in all directions, ancestors and spirit allies, lovers and friends. Ceremony as action. Prayer as action. Dancing as action and this includes the dance of your horse whipping-up-the-spirit resistance. Let's add paranormal whispering, flamboyant evolution, and requests to faeries to the Earth First Handbook for Direct Action!
Our family's time away is over. The choir begins rehearsing this Sunday. Lena starts 1st grade. So, we take the bus to Dublin tomorrow and fly to Newark. We feel rejuvenated. Creative Earthalujah is coming into our activism this fall, we can feel it. Monsanto and Bayer take note - your glyphosates and neonicotinoids are unseeable chemicals from your dark arts. We know the realm of the unseen.
CONVENIENCE we shop for creates SEA-RISE we die from. All shopping has its anti-shopping. I have this thought on the ferry while crossing the Irish Sea. The power of the ocean reduces me to innocence. I’m absolutely humbled by the force and scale of this thing. I go out on the deck and try to learn what I’m supposed to learn from the limitless tumultuous sea. It seems to ignore me. What is my place here? I have no address in these waves. I have no profession here. I’m not even an Earth activist here. I have nothing to say.
I must say out loud that my job is to know what to say. Maybe not in this post but over the next days in my journal maybe my being this lost, taking the ferry from where to where? – maybe what happened will come out clear in fragments. Will I have signs when I get back to New York? The thing about being an Earth activist is the source of our passionate work is unknown to us. Nature doesn’t tell us we have a role. We took our place on this Earth by force.
It’s hard to have a moment of doubt the size of the ocean and then presume to be translating on its behalf. Let me try. If we were in the United Nations and the Earth was turning the podium into a superstorm and the world leaders were baffled and I had gotten the job to translate – what would I say into their headphones?
“All shopping has its anti-shopping. All TOXINS have their SUPER WEEDS. All Pentagon secret missions and crazy loners with guns and CEO’s with bullet point charts and militarized traffic cops and haters from violent gods have the Earth rising against them with a counter strategy called Life.”
The teleprompters seemed to be climate science deniers. It was as if the political class at the microphones of Philadelphia and Cleveland suffered from a deep racial fear or even sexual fear – of the Earth.
Directly addressing the crisis of our lives was impossible. For Earth activists the conventions were an unnatural but familiar disaster. Hillary’s single sentence for the climate pushed it into the laundry list of progressive issues. I was slowly slumping in paralysis like everyone else.
Then I remembered a piece by Czeslaw Milosz, the world poet. I dredged it out and re-read it. He instructs us to get through the succession of liars to a great moment of truth, which he describes as a spring day’s return by the Earth. The name of the poem is “Slow River” and it ends with these words:
Three times will the liars have conquered
before the great truth appears alive
and in the splendor of one moment
stand spring and the sky, the seas, the lands.
Doesn’t this tell activists to stay in motion? Isn’t this an invitation to look out across the future from the bright moments of Bernie and Black Lives and Occupy?
The deletion of the Earth’s crisis from the hundreds of thousands of words that streamed from the conventions—and the debates and the months on the stump—is hard to figure out. There seems to be a morbid attraction to an ultimate kind of nervousness. You might say that this silence betrays a love of the fear of death. This late in the game, 2016, we fetishize our fear of death if we fail to speak up for life.
There is something at work here that is more basic than the usual explanation, which is that the Earth is not a vote-swaying topic. The root cause of this censorship is exactly the same sort of fear that causes climate change, perma-war, and species extinction. The separation from the Earth is hard-wired into each of us personally, and it manifests in our most public rituals. We need to know more about this deadly phenomenon.
Anne and Paul Ehrlich, authors of The Population Bomb, explored what it would take for us to save ourselves in this time of the Earth’s crisis. They wrote:
Scientific analysis points, curiously, toward the need for a quasi-religious transformation of contemporary cultures.
That’s pretty extreme for elite academics—to say that science is pointing us back toward religion. The Ehrlichs believe that we are stuck in the essential inaction of right-thinking, spinning speeches, wonkyness, clicktavism, lobbying and marketing, i. e. modern politics—as the Earth heats up. In the Church of Stop Shopping we agree, we need to break out of these repetitions. And cut out the patriarch and invite in the Earth. Amen?
The Ehrlichs bold move reminds me of Dr. Cornel West’s stop-everything sermons at the last months’ Democrat platform hearings. He froze the Clinton professionals with dread. Dr. West spoke openly of the soul, prophecy, the agony of Gaza, and what it means to hesitate with your morals, as if to warn the Clinton professionals that they would be depressed by their hack work.
The video footage of that panel is fascinating. I felt like the Earth was to about crush the room in the triangle between the preacher and Deborah “water is sacred to my people” Parker and Bill “we need bicycles in the suburbs” McKibben. Debbie Wasserman retired to a back room behind her staring eyes as Gaia’s wind and waves and wildfires seemed to sing to her from multiple faces. And then she voted for fracking, Monsanto, and TPP.
The unknown is overtaking us now, like a new kind of climate that Accuweather doesn’t recognize. Last month is always the hottest month. The civil wars, sixty million refugees, predations by governments and corporations are accelerating. Where’s our quasi-religious transformation? We must trespass everywhere and do what evolution teaches us: be unprecedented.
The trespassing into Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s speeches by Black Lives Matter is looking better and better. That streak of hot pink up through bleachers of Republicans in Cleveland was Medea Benjamin. We need the artistic revolts of Neil Young and Anohni and the Squamish singers at the kayaktivist rallies in Seattle. A transformation of contemporary cultures starts with desperate and faithful citizens on the edges, ready to fly to the center. Oh Nina Simone, don’t leave us now.
If we feel trapped by Trump and Clinton, imagine the faith of Czeslaw Milosz when he wrote “Slow River,” in the late thirties, in Wilno, Poland. I believe his promise to us. We will outlast the liars and the Earth will flood us, as radical as a spring day.
The great truth appears alive
and in the splendor of one moment
stand spring and the sky, the seas, the lands.
The days when we still wore robes. Now the singers (featuring left to right, Gina (Grammy award winner for co-writing "Really Love" with D'Angelo), and Adetola Abiades & Jessica Wiscovitch in their crouch. We have emerged from the old Christian-like drapings to reveal the shoulders and hips and the rest of the Earth's gifts. And that is as it should be, as we evolved into into a kind of urban sex-positive paganism, and came to specialize in driving Monsanto's glyphosates from parks and schools, which is an invitation for sex to thrive and a disinvitation for premature death in the greenery around us. So, no green robes, thanks, we'll take the actual Earthalujah. Amen?