I wore my long johns so that I could sit in the Tombs, a cold jail even if its 70 degrees on the surface. So I had my baptist hanky out right away as we approached the front door of the Central Park Conservancy – that dabbing off of sweat only made me seem more like a wearied-by-the-spirit preacher. Then as we walked up to the billionaire’s club – a surprise - the police and well-dressed security types, faded away. This made me sweat just a bit less.
It showed us that in the billionaires part of town, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between Park Avenue and 5th Avenue on 60th Street, the police work for their overlords. In another part of town the cops will walk by the crowd and the Stop Shopping Choir and push me over and hand-cuff me. Then I’m led away while the choir sings our gospelized version of the 1st Amendment. This has been going on for 15 years.
But yesterday I remained free under the CPC’s “martyrdom management,” – a more nuanced approach by the marketing department of the very rich. We began to sing and shout about poisons in the parks, starting with “Monsanto is the Devil,” from our new record.
Yesterday was about secrecy… the secrets of modern personal fortunes. Yesterday was also about the secrets of poisons dispersed in nature, that nature being the Central Park foliage and lawns and promenades.
High society New York style, of course, must have secrets. The castle has a wraith of mist, with the princess swirling briefly by a high window. That’s the classic cover of those bodice-ripper books that after-work nurses read on the subway. Funny how the cheapest pop culture can accurately catch the essence of the modern governance…
This is essentially the Central Park Conservancy’s presentation to the hoi polloi, and to the ten singers and Elvis impersonator dogging their doorway with the Tiffany glass awning. We look like a subway car of people who stumbled into the rich part of town, but we ara a threat. Our little theater company’s lawyer has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the NY Parks Dept that is well-made and legally binding. We demand to know when and where of the spraying by the city of Monsanto’s carcinogenic herbicide “RoundUp” is incomplete. The city showed us where the poisons were sprayed on the African and Hispanic citizens, the working poor and new immigrants – but where the rich live in Manhattan and in Brooklyn around Prospect – we got big blanks. The conservancies refused to cooperate. They should have given us the information last October. Our map on the website Revbilly.com has a Joker-like question mark on Central Park. Secrecy.
The largest gift the park ever got came in 2012 from John Paulson. The gift was a cool $100 million. Paulson is a god of secrets. He used the credit default instruments invented by Blythe Masters at JPMorgan Chase, to “short the housing market.” Let’s say that again. Paulson created hedge funds where he and his speculators could take bets that the housing bubble would burst. He made $4 billion that year as millions of families lost their homes. He made a market that was secret because he invented it, a definition of the waves of absconded wealth in recent decades.
So we sang and shouted for a couple hours. My sermon was all about secrecy. The bullhorn made nice echoes in this canyon of billionaires. The snuck in an out of our harmonies. We tried to give them information on the sidewalk but they scurried off. Savitri got into fascinating conversations with clumps of lunchtime workers, who drifted near us, smoking and smiling – but maybe not quite clapping or shouting Earthalujah!
They will privatize this sidewalk as soon as they can, I suppose. Meanwhile the laws of the land reach this far: shouting citizens in the doorway. We’ll be back. And of course they know that – because the police being there as we arrived indicated that they had read our emails.
Concservancy people – listen to me. If we’ve been sprayed by RoundUp, a carcinogen that is banned in scores of countries. And insiders in the Parks Dept. have whispered to us that we have been sprayed by the stuff… we need to know about it. The rich can’t keep secrets.
Photo by Kate Bingham
That’s what I’m facing, a return to the beginnings of the idea of Reverend Billy, a return to his first church – the pavement. This time not so much in Times Square, where homeless citizens sleep in doorways. The sidewalk preacher’s new church is the front door of billionaires on East 60th Street.
The Central Park Conservancy is overseen by about 70 trustees. Among them are the world’s biggest gamblers – real sinners who desperately need the advice and comfort of the Church of Stop Shopping. Take for instance – the man who made billions betting on the pain and suffering of millions of Americans when he hedged the housing bubble, the eviction and mortgage fraud bubble, of the late naughts.
Such a legend of depravity as John Paulson hangs in the air at East 60th Street. He is an untouchable. He lives somewhere around the park, and maybe he comes to the conservancy office once a year, who knows? He has given millions to the conservancy. He has said that the park is a dreaming place of his boyhood, but now he allows his park workers to spray the playgrounds and picnic areas with Monsanto’s carcinogenic herbicides.
You say he doesn’t even know about it? Well they say he jogs in the park most days, and lives in a townhouse on the east side, somewhere around the conservancy offices. It is more important to ask, why would another Conservancy trustee, Mitchell Silver, who is the Commissioner of the Parks Dept of New York City – be so complacent about the poisons. His deputy commissioner told us (the Coalition Against Poison Parks) that there is a minimum safe dosage for RoundUp. What? What study said that? No scientist that doesn’t work for Monsanto ever proved a safe ingestion of this toxin, not of any amount.
No, Silver and his people is as close to the death struggle of poisoned everyday people as Paulson was to evicted home-owners in 2008, when he made $4 billion in 12 months.
So a shout in the street is my media again. I was in Times Square in the 90’s with the Naked Cowboy and the Black Hebrews, and now I’m here. But comparing the two church sites, this place feels much stranger. It is quiet here. There are no shouts here. Only the Romanesque facades of money, layered in law enforcement. Where will my shout go? Maybe my echo will wend its way through the airshafts of the super-rich.
Perhaps my echoes will somehow ascend the elevator into the building and trip something in the brain of the conservancy staff. Perhaps the Monsanto chemicals, banned in so many countries, really is the asbestos and lead and Marlboro murder of the future? Somebody was shouting about those killings too, when everyone was making too much money to hear.
I’m becoming nocturnal. This morning I was up at 3:30. I rummaged around the foot of the bed in the dark, picking up my clothes and pulling them on, made a thermos for my Sidamo coffee, and set out for the forest in Prospect Park. The woods are closed after dark, and the police shine spotlights into the foliage from their cruisers, but part of the forest is near the fence-line at the street, so I can escape into the trees.
I squint as I walk to avoid twigs in the eye. It is a night with some wind, the clouds sailing over the black swaying branches. I climb a ridge that stretches into the interior of the park. There is a forested Quaker cemetery there. I can just make out the gravestones in the roots and leaves. In a low voice I talk to the peace-makers who are sleeping beneath this forest floor. I am thanking them for their courage. Now we need their guidance.
The choir and I will attempt some activism this week against the socialite New Yorkers who control these parks. They spray Monsanto’s toxic RoundUp, and they have increased the spraying as they replaced park workers who for many years weeded the parks by hand. While the World Health Organization and scores of studies warn that glyphosate is linked to cancers, endocrine disruptions, autism, birth defects – the spraying doesn’t stop, it spreads. And they won’t tell us where and when they do it.
I share all this with the dead heroes in the shadows. I look up at the starry sky up above canopy of old trees. I am wondering how it must have felt to look out across the Pacific Ocean, back in 1958, when a small band of Quakers set out from San Pedro, California in a sailboat called the Golden Rule. The USA and the USSR were testing large atom bombs during the cold war, and radioactive clouds were roaming the atmosphere.
The peace sailors planned something unprecedented. They would sail into the giant sloping waves of the Pacific for weeks and weeks. 5000 miles later they hoped to be floating in the center of a nuclear test site in the Marshall Islands, daring them to kill the witnesses. Pushing away from the dock and raising the canvass to the wind, how did you feel? They got about halfway, but halfway the Golden Rule was boarded twice at their stop in Hawaii, and then the crew of five was quickly charged, convicted and sentenced to six months in prison. An international outcry ensued, and the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd ships set sail from the
inspiration of the Golden Rule.
We ask for your blessing. The distance that we are facing with our toxins is of a different kind. This is the endless ocean of the life around us that we cannot see. We have the mystery of tens of thousands of invisible gaseous chemicals. The poisons are far away, but it is here in our breath as we take the stuff of the outside city into our bodies. It’s right here.
Mother and father activists! Be with us as we sing in the doorways of the Conservancies of New York City. If and when we are arrested, may some kind of articulate scandal make this hidden world obvious to everyone, so that we can sail into the molecular manipulations of power.
Both industries feature toxic corporations that morph and market, evade regulation and constantly sue. Their tactics are the same with the press and the police. Neo-nicotinoids and glyphosates, Agent Orange and PCB’s and bovine growth hormones leave Big Chem with a trail of evil labels. The fracking tradition is newer and the cocktails of hundreds of toxins they pump into the water table - are still unknown. They even cover up their earthquakes. But at the end of the day both are at war with the natural world in remarkably similar ways.
And by fighting them as separate issues, on two fronts, with two groups of activists - we automatically place ourselves in the defensive posture of demanding the old solution of more big government. Big government instead of big god. But this is the weakest position politically. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t always end up there. Big government hasn’t been a good sell since the New Deal.
The Right always proceeds from one point, the belief in a single God and His morals of purity and decency, anger and war. They don't really have have a single unifying issue hey but they act like they do because they have that militaristic god figure. Their right and wrong is so violent.
Now what is happening? We are discovering a more powerful supreme being. In our godless “Church of Stop Shopping” we’ve been teaching over-cultured agnostics to do this for years. It might hurt for a minute, but hold hands and take the leap. We pray to life. We pray to life on Earth. We talk directly at the condition of living as if it's listening to us and conversing with us.
No matter what we say, the conversation ends up asking for the same blessing, which is the continuation of that life, our own survival. And that is a unifying politics.
Demanding that life flourish does the trick – it combines the defense of humanity with the defense of nature. This kind of freedom – to live – includes and creates justice. The combining of all issues this way is a spiritual practice with no-god-please-thankyou. We are admitting that something mysterious binds all life together.
Then something else happens: Our activism becomes much fiercer. We aren’t split into scores of issues anymore. We aren’t in competing campaigns. It isn’t theoretical anymore. Right-thinking isn’t its only basis. Courage isn’t even the issue anymore. Fighting for life is a form of breathing, dreaming, and loving.
This is another of Reverend Billy's Unasked-for Moral Advisories. The halting of Donald Trump rallies is one of the only moral guides that we have in America today. It is holier to stop a Trump speech than it is get on your knees and recite a thousand Hail Mary's. The lesson for us is this: Find the Donald Trump rallies that is close at hand. Surely there is a Trump rally in the immediate vicinity that is asking for a robust interruption. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn New York, there is a bar called "Farrells" that should be declared a "Hate Speech Site". This watering hole needs a cleaning up as thoroughly as a brown field at an abandoned Monsanto chemical factory. The casual hate in this place is enough to make you scream STOP.
NEXT TIME WE'LL PROBABLY HAVE TO KILL HIM. This is the statement of the Trump supporter in the picture below, with the red shirt and cowboy hat, who attacked the protester moments later. Yes, there it is. Violence is the dream. He dreams that his victim sags to his knees, the fist crushing the face, the horror of witnesses, the contorted faces, the lives changed forever.
Violence as a dream. Violence as a validation. Violence as the perfect illusion. “I have a feeling that is so strong that society does not provide me a way to express myself, so I must go beyond what is permitted. I kill you.”
I can stand next to Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Donald Trump. I am a man who said no. I am a man who said no.
WE SHOULD HAVE SAVED HIM. So how would the opposite dream work? The dream of peace?
The protester is shouting. “Stop the hate!” The people around him listen to his demand. They try to understand. Oh, he thinks that we are haters. Then someone asks, “Are we?” (Seems unrealistic. But social change historically takes place in the distance from the shout to learning.)
The extreme accusation at close range is illegal everywhere in the United States. In New York, a cop can take a citizen to jail for shouting too loudly. A good shout needs the frame of illegality or the volume is pointless. A protest sign must be a simple demand that argues with its surroundings and the people who are nearby. Many shouts in 2016 have a good reason and corporate media won't cover the shouts except to disapprove, to recite the police charges.
The act of peace is no longer allowed, and in fact, is rendered unbelievable. The average age of the peace advocacy groups that still exist is 75 or 80.
Consumerism and Militarism do not endorse acts of kindness. Fear drives the economy. Each product we buy elevates us over the rabble. We escape into convenience, into speed, into style, into America, into watching violence with approval. We don’t save the killer, we pay him.
THANK GOD FOR BLACK LIVES MATTER. I am grateful for the immigrants, for the earth-lovers who stop the pipelines. Donald Trump will not leave the podium and go back to his hotel because of politicians who imitate him. He will stop shouting when he loses his voice, because his entire audience is shouting over him, to save him. At some point even he will stop and ask, “What are they saying?”
WHAT IS THE CHANGE-POWER OF DIVESTMENT, AS WITH THE TATE MODERN IN THE UK? We recently interviewed Chloe Maxmin on our radio show. A Harvard student until recently, Ms. Maxmin is one of the movers of the divestment from fossil fuels in colleges and universities. A big museum in London that divested from BP might compare roughly to the symbolism of Harvard University refusing the profits that cause climate change. How much would the current heating of the planet be slowed by the withdrawal of prestigious institutions as investors?
The honest answer is: probably not very much. "Dark money" can always be found, even if JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America and Citibank stopped funding oil companies (they are the top funders of climate change-creating industrial projects in the world). But divestment at the Tate is so dramatic, so public - it will always be referred to in other campaigns - the impact is real. It is difficult to measure, but it is more than symbolic.
In social movements, you can never quantify the changes in the future. We struggle forward, looking for some kind of advantage, as the emergency of the Earth's crisis unfolds in starvation, wars, species extinction... We feel that the Tate Modern's decision is a pivot point. There were early symbolic wins in the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks' taking a seat at the front of the bus. In the Gender Rights movement: standing up to the cops in the Stonewall Tavern. Small gestures in and of themselves became unstoppable waves of new laws and rights and culture.
We are proud to be a part of the divestment campaigns in the the UK and New York (here in NYC at Lincoln Koch Bros Center and the 42nd Street Blackrock Hedge Fund Library.) We'll be back in the British Museum next time we're in London. The echoes in that big, beautiful building sound like blue whales!
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus talks to Reverend Billy and Dragonfly this week. He reminds us of the ideals of a just distribution of wealth that were a part of the original idealism of the Internet Age. And he shows how the powerful facility of the digital age still awaits our activation of its justice, it's fairness. And so Rushkoff surprises us. We gave up hope that Silicon Valley would ever outgrow its greed.
It was raining too hard that afternoon for the police to come out and threaten us, as they did last time we offered our anti-RoundUp caroling at the NY Parks headquarters. We had a great Youtube in mind, but the photogenic young students hadn’t worn rain gear, and the teacher in charge turned the bus around and returned downtown, and no-one blamed them. In the era of climate chaos, bad weather isn’t just bad weather anymore. You have micro-bursts that come out of broad daylight and throw century-old trees across the lawn.
We have staged “Miserable Little Protests” before. And at least “Food and Water Watch” was there, and brought the only sign. The NoSpray Coalition was there, and the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. We didn’t bring a bullhorn, anticipating cops and their blatantly illegal amplified sound rules. So if I tell the truth at 10% the decibels of some screeching garbage truck braking for a red light, then I need a 2 month-long permit process. Can we say “1st Amendment” ?
Anyway where was I? Oh, soaking wet in a storm you couldn’t even call Super. Just a downpour on the radicals, as our delegation mounted the steps of the of the Parks building, to meet with the deputy commissioner - head of the glyphosate sprayers who claim they aren’t hurting anybody. We say “Your records say you spray on playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking paths.” They say, “Well, it is minimal.” There are glyphosates in our shivering bodies.
The hidden world of Monsanto is beyond the powers of the naked eye. My assignment, which I chose to accept, is to assume the guise of a a super-pest and journey into the hidden world of the chemical giants. I am as tall as a strand of DNA – a single cell animal.
From my experience of the Incredible Shrinking Man movies I was not prepared for the phantasmagora of the small world. A pollen grain of the Himalayan Blue Poppy was hovering over me like a jagged moon. I was dazzled.
I almost didn’t notice a gang of glyphosates drop in the blood-void before me. I thought my number was up. I’ll be killed by this band of plastic samurai, I’m thinking. They were like Christian missionaries with fangs.
Suddenly Monsanto thugs in lab-coats started throw knives at the blue poppy. Then Monsanto executives crashed their corporate jets in the moon's ghostly mountains. A deadly chaos overwhelmed the organic world. I was having trouble keeping my balance. Volunteer photosynthecizers flooded the corporate SWAT teams. This was a pitched battle, a nano-Syria.
Now writing to you from my six foot tall body again - I have to say first of all - there is fascism beyond the veil of reality that we consumers are permitted to see. It is laughable to say that the chemical companies are unregulated there. Around the bend is a massacre.
They have gotten in there somehow. They have found a profit center in the invisible world that we breathe. The corporations are inside us.
I got out of there but I will go back. Will you come with me? We must make a report and get back out to our larger selves, like a trip to jail to get an education.
This chemical warfare from the dictator strongmen of Monsanto and Syngenta and Bayer. They are counting on hiding their war on life from the resistance.
But the blue poppy moon is rising.