We were supposed to show the world that there are many of us... OK alright there are many of us. Many, many citizens who want to save the Earth from the fossil fuel industry and their partners in banking and government. There were not nearly as many of us in the Climate March as, say, New York's Halloween Parade, but who's counting? There are a lot of us who want to survive. On the other hand, the whole thing had a dated quality. We cannot hesitate any longer in this recreational protesting. Will someone give me an Amen?
Now six weeks on, we see that the Society of Spectacle swallows up all counter-spectacles. It was a permitted parade and the New York police routed us so that we would be entertainment for the Clinton Global Initiative. The neo-liberal czars watched us from the penthouses of the Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue. We were a street performance with a huge cast of characters, a sort of pornography for them. One of them was Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, one of the most violent men in the world. Among the sponsors of the conference: the top polluters HSBC, Exxon-Mobil, Deutsch Bank, etc. The NY police routed us in a perfect square-shaped route around their hotel, over on 59th, down 6th Ave, and then west on 42nd.
We should have broken from the march and rushed into the lobby of that "Davos West" hotel, then run up the steps to the VIP lounge to round up the CEO's and their politician toadies at their cocktails. Meanwhile, the Church of Stop Shopping wishes to honor the 25 arrestees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rubber stamps climate-killing projects of all kinds. We especially applaud the art work they put at FERC’s front door, forcing the employees there to destroy towns and families to go to work. The heart of a social movement is expressive confrontation. Are the wind and waves and fires telling us to be polite? We must punish the sinners! Earthalujah!
"Let me fulminate! Pound the pulpit! Shout at the shaking sinners! The End is Near! The Apocalypse isn't a Movie! Batten down the hatches! Our consumption is consuming us!" ---None of this works.
We are at the end of the impact of persuasion, memes, great graphics and punchy slogans. We now read the last word from the scientists in this new report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The science can be seen straining at the outer limits of their rhetorical map, with phrases like, "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."
And if you read The Guardian piece, it is noted that the UN officials wanted to go farther, with phrases that actually said outright that we will die.
Conservative forces edited that level of preaching. But coming as it does after the Big Vanilla Smoothie of the People's Climate March, this report seems a rebuke to moderates who still think we can have a movement without direct action. Earthalujah!
I woke up this morning only to find that I had turned into an old wall, overlooking a civic lawn or a field perhaps. My partner Savitri was nowhere to be seen but towering over the bed, and towering of me as a wall, was our daughter Lena, who had apparently designed this landscape while I was asleep. Now any movement by me to get off the bed was met with an astonished scream. "You're the wall! Walls don't move!"
Lena was, this morning in her Hawking-Minelli mode; that is, she has the authority that comes from a working knowledge of the origin of the universe, as does Stephen Hawking, and on the other hand she is never far from a blow-out song and dance routine, in the manner of Liza Minelli. I could only ask Lena questions about the town she created, in which every little bunched up bit of blanket a bodega, every pillow the slope of a park.
In fact I had to pee, but it was pointed out by Hawking-Minelli that WALLS DON'T PEE! Walls hold water back, Lena said. They don't pee they hold rivers back. Oh so I had a field on one side and a river on the other... Blinking out from my predicament while she was constructing her city, I wondered suddenly whether walls do witness the world around them. The world of last night's dreams had just enough proximity to Hawking-Minelli for me to ask the question, "Are the walls watching us?"
The old environmental movement evolves into something new. We are ready for the miracles of wild bravery.
In a social movement that changes society. there needs to be a scary time, a Halloween, a time of beatniks, hippies, punks and gangstas. That is the way it has been in the United States. From the abolitionists to the Dreamers in the immigrants' jails, when someone started to become effective, they were urged to slow down and be polite. People told Dr. King "This isn't the right time!" and then they told Malcolm X "You're offending people..." We need that now, the polite self-effacing era of Bill McKibben needs to give way to the young black radicals of Ferguson, Missouri and the Pennsylvania grandmothers chaining themselves to fracking equipment.
The old issues are necessary talking points, but we're talking too much. "Environmentalism" can no longer exists as a stand alone movement. When we met at the New School this summer in the planning stages of the Peoples Climate March we had a rousing rally in the big hall, and then broke into our "issues" in different university classrooms with labels on the doors like "food safety," and "transportation," and "energy." There were about thirty such issue rooms. I went to food safety, hoping to meet some beekeepers. My class was twenty-two white people and an African American woman from Oxfam. And my classmates were very polite.
The activist wildness must come from a vision of all the issues being one demand. That is why Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have more to do with climate activism than the Wildlife Conservancy. The only issue is that life itself is in peril. That changes everything. Our climate march sessions didn't have a room for "Peace." Or "Children." Or "Consumerism" None of the issues embraced the whole thing the way the Earth embraces us with its super storms. So the climate march got off to a polite start, the emergency muted into a permitted de-politicized parade. The absolute opposite of the climate parade would be the children at the Texas border - and those children are where the Earth Revolution waits to be born.
We are determined to leave our children with a healthy life on this Earth. The intertwined three "C's" - Consumerism, Capitalism and Church, must be wrestled apart, interrupted, and confronted with common sense hardass eco-love. The three C's must not return from the upheaval of compost until they utterly morph. A miracle!
We do not have dominion over the wilderness or even the robin in the window. We cannot hate the "Big Other. " We do not love a "Big God" or "Big Money" or "Big Oil" because they subdue the beings that we fear. And another big thing: Monsanto is the Devil.
As far as I can tell, Lena's love for Savi must rule American foreign policy, the Halloween 2 Day Sale at Macy's, and all the cops hooked on adrenaline and John Wayne movies. Wars must be reduced to bad moods and then thrown on the forest floor to meet the ecstasy of a million one-celled dancers with big mouths. Amen!
The choreography of Consumerism can so easily take us into the dance of standing in line, sitting in class, waiting for jets, movies, clubs. And then the Earth calls us, flooding down from the space between dead skyscrapers, alive with lightning and thunder, birds and gusts of wind in the trees... How do we rise to harmonize with the wilderness that desperately comes to us out of the suffering of extinction, the climate apocalypse?
Tonight two Occupy Wall Street young radicals came to our home. The only idealism that can we can possibly do, all we can try to do... it was there in our eyes as we drank wine, as our children climbed on us and the thunder competed with the sound of jets in our windows.
Occupy Wall Street was 2600 tent cities in the centers of towns and then it was methodically taken down by paranoid police working for propertied rich. But can such a thing just vanish? As the Hong Kong young rise up, and before that Gezi Park and before that a thousand grandmothers standing up to fracking and before that mountaintop removal and tar sands and pipelines all the struggles - we know that in the souls of these people the super storms are stirring.
Occupy Wall Street is right and existing power is wrong. Ordinary people will live together in their commons, and that is all OWS was, and all it ever needs to be. This is the only imaginable future. Living together by sharing people is the death of the neo-liberal elites, and the return of the life of the Earth. Floods and fire, drought and disease are violent, and revolutions are too, but justice is Peace.
Savitri and I woke up this morning knowing that today was supposed to be our day of direct action. After last night's performance with 23 wonderful acitvists-who-sing in the Stop Shopping Choir, we were just a few miles from a Monsanto office building in Cambridge Massachusetts, with all these courageous friends - what's the problem? The problem was that we were exhausted completely. We had no idea of what to do. We felt like Wily Coyote off the edge of the cliff. We realized that we were already falling.
Since about August 1st, we have not stopped. Jails and jets and stages and long drives and jails and stages. In Europe for the Edinburgh festival and Belfast, then California and Burning Man, then New Mexico, then a tour of the farmer's markets of New York, then the People's Climate March weekend, then jail for defending a beloved tree, then four new songs, the Ferguson and jail and The Hug, and now Boston and we are falling off the edge. We love our life but -- too much!
So the choir took over, circled up and ordered me out of my polyesters and collar. We listened to their decision-making, which came to down to stillness. We would not be our usual aggro selves at Monsanto. We would be meditative. Start over in our opposition to the invisible toxins of this monstrous company. We drove to the place and stood there in front of it and didn't move. Savitri handled the official reaction, but no one could move us. A doorway to a new kind of dramatic action opened for us. A language of silence. People around us gradually lost it. We kept thinking about what this company does. We visualized years of revolt against it. We saw an America returned to its original Earth.
Sister Dragonfly hugged a grandfatherly cop in Ferguson and six million people have witnessed the image of that hug in a rainstorm in Missouri. Dragonfly is a San Antonio and Detroit native who suffered racism traumatically. This was not a sentimental moment for her, it was heart-wrenching. She was sobbing after the encounter. But now a week later, it is clear that her famous hug with the Ferguson riot cop, one Sergeant Wood, is precisely the sort of leap out of the comfort zone that each of us must discover.
We know that this kind of flight into risky human contact is the only way to make change. The power institutions have dictated our alienation from each other. To love across the divide is an act that is discouraged by society at this point. To love is to break the rules. We feel like fools, acting alone. And so today's required courage is completely embarrassing. We are called upon to be fools for love.
In our church shows, we always tell the audience, as we did yesterday in Boston - "Each one of us will be called upon to take our personal direct action. We will move beyond ourselves, to create something new." Dragonfly and officer Wood did that, and now each of us must do it, in duets and in symphonies of surprise love.
RICK PILTZ passed suddenly in Washington this morning, but Rick lives on in the fight of the climate movement. Once the science officer in the Bush White House, the reluctant hero blew the whistle on a practice of lying about climate science at the highest levels. Rick was the one who found that science reports about global warming were edited by an employee of the petroleum industry, adding phrases like "warrants further study" when the original summary would say "warrants urgent response." Thus the American people were kept in the dark about the seriousness of the Earth's crisis by Big Oil's infiltration of government.
After communicating the redactions to the New York Times's Andrew Revkin, the story appeared on page 1, June 8, 2005. Rick quit before he was fired, and had the foresight to protect himself through contact with Government Accountability Office. Thereafter he concentrated his efforts at the organization Climate Science Watch. Through the darkest days of domination of the debate by Fox commentators and the media practice of promoting climate science deniers to achieve a fair balance of views, Rick Piltz was the Earth's talking head. Time and time again he appeared opposite those in the pay of the same fossil fuel front groups that he had originally exposed.
He did this for years and years, waiting for the rest of us to catch up. And if some of us have mixed feelings about the Peoples Climate March, I am glad that Rick Piltz, the always-ready journey-man waiting in the wings to testify for the Earth, witnessed the outpouring of humanity that marched that day to demand action from the governments that were so intractable during his service. Maybe they still are, but Rick's life gives us a fighting chance. Now the Earth has called him back. Oh Rick, when I'm back at Blue Mountain at the lake, listening to the loons cry their echoes against the Adirondacks, I'll see you in the canoe, gazing out, listening.
We hope that Dragonfly's bravery (and the sergeant's too - I don't think hugging is in his riot protocol) is a help to everyone in this struggle. It is humbling that 4 million folks have seen the pic. Judging from the 7,000 comments, there are passionate calls for no more Michael Brown or Eric Garner tragedies. There are calls for the kind of Peace that the iconic hug helps us imagine.
Can we go all the way to reconciliation, to the forgiveness exampled to us in South Africa? A lot of us would say, "Now is not the time, now is the time for structural change." When we were there with the world's clergy on Oct 13th - "Moral Monday" - there was confession, forgiveness and redemption in the air. The ministers, nuns and rabbis were definitely militant, too, but theirs is a softer revolution than some would like. My own feeling is that we have to be disarming to emotions as well as guns.
There is a trick here that we would need to discuss with Dr. King... Presenting in the media a grandfatherly cop who undoubtedly has a family that fears for his safety, risks humanizing a white supremacist structure that can't be tolerated or cooperated with. Although it seems possible that in conversation in a trusting setting that this officer might even be, in some sense, "on our side." He looks to be close to retirement age, and who knows what's going through his mind here? He did a brave thing, with the wisdom of being older and unafraid, apparently, of official reprimand.
You can see in some of the photos, a much younger cop, in his 30's staring at him with surprise. Let us hope that the 25 or 30 years this younger man will be on the force that he will remember this hug and be less afraid of the black majority of his town. (And have African-american police standing with him who help him become, truly, a "Peace Officer.") Did he learn something when Dragonfly physically contacted the "skirmish line" and the older man responded like an old friend? The struggle continues.