It is 66 degrees in NYC. That’s 18.9 Celsius. Capping a month of freakish warmth in the apple. The flowers are confused, bursting into bloom on the darkest day of the year. We humans should be more confused than we are.
I'm writing on the December 26, 2015 in Florida. I’m visiting my father, who turns 91 on Thursday. Florida is where we retire from work, or where we retire from thinking and go to Disney. The peninsula is dying, its coral reefs bleached and Everglades polluted and drained. Brazilians and non-consumerized Cubans rejuvenate a place that sinks into the dead sea.
Yesterday a Frigate Bird soared over us, sliding off the clouds over the Atlantic. The sleek mother of the sky, she never moved her wings… There is constancy with the Earth, even as she tries to shake off her main predator. We have let her down, but mostly we’ve let ourselves down. It is a year to despair about what we have done.
For the first time we find it possible to imagine leaving our city. Should we move to another part of the Earth? Could we ever do that? The city is lying to us. It is not the sophisticated big city of America. It is a real estate destination that eats its neighborhoods alive. The police manufacture fear. Its artists and working poor are banished to the fringes.
Or is it time to re-commit, to re-commit deeply. Maybe our years of work are not just lost. What if all the shouting in picket lines and parades and running from lobbies and hallways dodging cops – maybe that was practice for this moment, in 2016, when it is obvious to even the most de-politicized citizens that the Earth is moving on without us.
Florida and New York are on the ocean and they will change utterly. We are in the wind storm of evolution – finding a way to live when the Earth changes. Politics will mean trying to take some survivors with us to a new life.
Each of us creates our own map of the world. We do it alone. In the Church of Stop Shopping we say that each of us carries inside 713 stories that we have selected.
We capture experiences, memories, dreams. We fashion our life from the lessons that these stories teach us. If we collect stories of revenge, we are vengeful. If we carry stories of love, we love. However, we can carry stories that conflict, stories of love and hate battling for our attention inside our bodies, leaving us exhausted with flash floods of emotion and confusing signals to our friends.
Fundamentalist corporations and religions and militaries - try to introduce stories that compel us to follow. The strongest and the largest of the western fundamentalist religions is Consumerism, and we are the Church of Stop Shopping. We encourage you to enter the adventure of personally selecting your stories, the ones that have in them antidotes for fundamentalism like utter, complete, uncontrollable surprise, the mysteries, the quantum physics of the honeybees and the wind, the landscape called intuition; in other words the 99% of creation that is unexplained.
At a time in history when people express themselves by shooting bullets and CO2 gas, there is nothing more valuable then what we don't know. That is where Peace waits for us.
God I wish I was there with the Shop Shopping Choir. We're out of money, so we will sing in New York, trying to harmonize with you across the dying Atlantic.
Your dance with police is heart-breaking and revealing. It is a gift to all of us out here who will carry on the Earth's work, the job of tornado-ing in the plazas.
The mind-leap that the politicians and police make - that any gathering in public space resembles the Other and must be called Extreme - this doesn't seem like France, but I am naive.
My lazy thinking has it that I myself would never be this way, but we all fall back into fear, don't we? We are the predator species, and we forget that we are made of the Earth. We are mammals made of soil and ocean-water, a column of water up on our hind legs.
That is what we are on both sides of the conflict. But one side has a club and no face. The other, you, you bring your vulnerable body as close to the action as you dare. You show your flesh to the public air and receive the bruise. You show a smile, you are hopping in place, and then running back to slow down a friend's arrest.
When we protest we make a storm in the street that the Earth's horizon watches with interest. The Earth is our leader and our teacher. We know that the Earth will win. She will heat up but she will survive the extinction that sweeps across her eco-systems. We know that the men in body-armor will join us ultimately as we fall to the ground like leaves in the autumn. At some point the cops too will feel the Earth in their bodies - that is what will persuade them not to work for nationalism descended from old wars.
The Earth fills us up and sends us into the fight with instructions in its singing molecules. She gives us power beyond policies, ego or courage.
When we watch you on the streets we feel a strange kind of gratitude - your bodies are like letters arranging in words against the page of the ground. You give us our new instructions!
Norman Rockwell is dead at the easel, his paintbrush still hanging in the air. All our traditions are in anaphylactic shock. We chew together in the eye of the storm.
This turkey-day we gather around the steaming food to defend ourselves against what is outside. We are seated facing inward, admiring the steaming aroma of the overkill. We pretend for an hour that we don't notice what is behind us, the climate rattling the windows and the families knocking on our door.
We express our gratitude for what? That we have just a little more time; time for this meal. The ritual meal gives us a feeling of false momentum; that we are logically coming from 10,000 meals going back through time. This also suggests that there will be many more such celebrations to follow. This is a lie and we know it.
We all live in a gated community now. We all live within a militarized zone, in the center of which is an extreme form of retail culture which storms our minds with smiling graphics, actors, anti-depressants, fossil-sourced packaging and carbon shipping. This bizarre deathtrap is called our mainstream economy.
Here in 2015, after Beirut and Paris; after extinction sweeping through the natural world; after cops shooting unarmed black men sixteen times and cities hiding the evidence; after the language of candidates out-Hitlering the worst of the past - we take another bite. We use the words of mild-mannered love. We think of our family as a little culture with borders. Well, should we be grateful that we can still harbor this fantasy?
We hear the wind blowing against the side of our dining room. We call it a super storm, hoping to make it as manageable as the super bowl or a super mall. We are watching the geo-political super-storm of ISIS, Putin and Goldman Sachs, but we are belching the gas from the top of our packed stomachs and the problems of the world are on a screen on the wall. We are not witnesses to the world, we are consumers of it. It comes as information on a screen. It is our most violent border. We have ourselves to thank for corporate media.
Our mature response is to remain in a state of non-protest and keep shopping. Cornel West is right when he says, “Everything is commodified. All things are for sale.” This is a state-sanctioned religion. Extreme shopping is the psychic heart of modern racism. The shopping drug makes us the kind of idiots that accept violence. The Ferguson young people last year were right to march into Walmart and shout "Hands Up! Don't Shop!"
This year is a hard Thanksgiving. Our thanks must leap from our immediate love all the way over Trump and ISIS and toxin-coated seeds of 200 mile-an-hour wind. Our thanks flies out to Chelsea Manning, the truth-teller alone in her cell. Our thanks go to the families who miss their murdered loved ones, the survivors of state violence from bullets, drone bombs or Monsanto. Our thanks go to the piano player at the Paris theater; to the all-night campers in the Minnesota cold at Precinct #4, and to the police who are beginning to have, in the midst of their thanks, doubts about their leaders.
The sun is rising in our windows on Thanksgiving Day in the USA. It's getting warmer for the homeless here in New York. My thanks go out to them, and the 60 million homeless who walk hundreds of miles toward militarized horizons. We must escape to all of you, cross the borders from the shopping side, and give thanks to you for our freedom.
This year is a hard turkey-day. We gather around the steaming food, our chairs pointed inward, trying not to notice what is behind us. Our thanks must stretch from our loved ones at the table all the way over the miles of shopping and violence to Chelsea Manning alone in her cell, to the camping protesters in freezing Minneapolis at Precinct #4, to the sixty million immigrants struggling to find a home.
We are not grateful that we live in a gated community, with false information about the world glowing on screens on our walls. Deep gratitude must come from real love, and shopping is turning to an act of hate, as carbon-intense big retail kills the very people that receive the gifts.
Thanksgiving vs. Black Friday is life vs. death. The bizarro world that the commercial press calls our mainstream economy is like being shot in the back while we try to run home. Our thanks must be so strong that the police who will stop shopping as they are startled to experience real love and real justice, and they lay down their guns in gratitude...
We address our piled-high meal, with Trump and Exxon and ISIS blowing on the walls of our dining room like Hurricane Yolanda. Our thanksgiving tells us: it is time to rise from our chair, turn around and face the world, and take action.
Wylie Stecklow, Legal Counsel for William Talen, 212-566-8000 x3, firstname.lastname@example.org
William Talen, AKA Reverend Billy, Files Lawsuit Against Metropolitan Transit Authority for Violation of Constitutional Rights, False Arrest and Defamation
New York, New York -- Today, activist-performer William Talen filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Transit Authority in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. He seeks damages related to thirteen claims including violation of his First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, false arrest and defamation.
In the midst of a 24-hour vigil honoring 170 unarmed civilians killed by police, Talen was arrested by Metropolitan Transportation Authority police while delivering a Black Lives Matter sermon in Grand Central Terminal on January 6, 2015. Talen was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration.
Talen spent the night in The Tombs, the New York City correctional facility at 100 Centre Street. The Tombs were surreally empty, as this was at the time of the police work stoppage. The police had turned their back on Mayor de Blasio at the funeral of Officer Wenjian Liu only 24 hours before Talen’s arrest.
In the wake of his arrest, the MTA, through spokespersons, alleged that Talen "got physical with police commanders" and was "physically trying to block police officers." Video of the interactions between Talen and MTA police show these statements to be false as Talen did not "get physical" with police officers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPRa8aRSo20. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges related to this arrest.
Attorney Wylie Stecklow noted “Reverend Billy is known around the world as a peaceful advocate for the survival of the environment and justice for all. By falsely accusing him of attacking police, especially so close in time to the tragic deaths of two officers just a week earlier, the MTA branded him as a target and a threat to police, jeopardizing his safety and harming his reputation.”
William Talen is both an activist and a stage performer. As Reverend Billy, he pursues these parallel careers with the 35-voice Stop Shopping Choir under the direction of Savitri D. Talen and company lead a movement of nonviolent dramatic action, belting out their freedom-fighting lyrics on tour with Neil Young in 2015, in JP Morgan Chase bank lobbies, Wal-marts and at Monsanto’s corporate properties. Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir are artists in residence at the Public Theater in New York. Talen and Savitri D live together with their daughter in Brooklyn, with many cops as neighbors.
For more info, visit www.revbilly.com.
We feel the energy in "Black Lives Matter" and "We Are All The 99%" and "I Can't Breathe".
The fossil fuel divestment movement doesn't have that great rallying cry. "Leave It In The Ground" sounds like place-holder for the shout that will stop the oil drill. Sitting in the white noise of downtown Manhattan, in the jarring construction and screaming cop cars - I ask myself why the Earth movement lacks its powerful spoken words that we all use.
Re-purposing the word "Fracking" in "Frack-Off" and "No Fracking Way" and all those pungent near-profanities, does carry that punch because we shouted them we watched grandmothers handcuff themselves to excavator equipment. Is it the physical activity during the actual use of the word that raises its decibel level? Yes. Words come from bodies and what bodies do to make words gives the phrases their mouth-to-hear magic. Words that only circle around safely inside the media don't make change.
The resistance to fracking and its pipelines was less effective when it was led by middle class institutions that were uncomfortable with the risk of arrest. But think of Gil Scott-Heron. We can hear Nina Simone, Harvey Milk, Malcolm X --- their voices ring out. They committed physically and spiritually and we listen to them. And we are aware as we listen to them that they were always at risk.
We repeat their hot words to our fellow activists, and together we shout the words in rhythm as we do what always needs to be done to make change: trespass, shout, refuse and affirm and dare.
File this under "Activism that we can all do!" Public space no longer exists, being corporatized and over-policed. Activism is banned by fake freedom. Seeing as how we have never needed dramatic activism more than at this very moment in history, with the Earth's crisis... how do we proceed? The problem - I mean the problem FOR THEM - the troulbe with running a mono-culture, is that a little real freedom, in this case a real public emotion, brings the whole thing down. The executives and uniforms stand there helplessly as we hold forth in the lobby of the Tate Modern Museum in the UK, this one is in Liverpool. If the security people were confused, our museum-goers were not, as we passed out our damning information. The museum needs to understand that it will be boycotted, first morally, then literally. The Tate accepts money from British Petroleum (BP) and so it legitimizes a culture that should be actively demonized. Tate is doing what MOMA did for years in New York with its acceptance of Marlboro money. Its enough to make you cry.
Photo credits: Lena Nightstar Talen
I found this old picture. There was a island wide loss of power that night, ten years ago in NY. Savitri and I were dining on spaghetti in the Wooster St. apt of Spalding Gray, Kathy Russo and their sons Forest and Theo. We got out the candles and lit ourselves and the table. Spalding was having a rough night, always second guessing himself. hesitating, regretting the smallest things with bitterness. Kathy was encouraging him but also clearly had a long-game of patience. The boys were ages - 6 and 10 - something in that range, and they were sustaining a cheerfulness more easily, but already Forest, the older boy, was sneaking glances at Dad. Savi and I insisted on the role of happy guests, but some of our social talk was left as well-intentioned quips hanging in the air.
I always loved Spalding and sought his approval as an older brother with such an original artistic place in the world. At a critical point in my own hesitation about what to do with my work, he scolded me about my habitual producing of other artists, including him. "Stop producing and do that preacher character. Go to Times Square and preach on the street and don't stop. Do it all day."
We walked from the apt through the dark streets, Theo was falling asleep. We walked to Union Square. There was a festive feeling, lots of laugher. We arrived at the old speaker's corner of our town and a crowd was waiting together in the darkness. Perhaps I had a feeling of foreboding about Spalding, and then there was a eery laughing ancient quality to things on the plaza under the trees. I had my vestment and collar in my satchel and put it on and began to preach. I was lit up by the flashlights of folks sitting there. Now discovering this picture ten years later, I am moved by it, the grotesque glory of it. Preaching against the darkness for Spalding.
We ask our friends to share addresses near where they live of that purveyor of toxicity, Monsanto. Like their molecular-scale poison darts, Monsanto is sometimes hard to find. We offer here the four addresses where the choir and I have held forth in the last year.
1) The laboratory in our current video is at 37437 State Highway 16, in Woodland, Cali - Yolo Cty, near Davis, California. To be a part of a protest there contact Kim Sloan at the Anti-Monsanto Project (AMP).
2) World headquarters of Monsanto is 800 N Lindbergh Blvd, Creve Coeur, MO 63141. When we staged our organic Thanksgiving dinner in the snow at their front door, we were helped by many special local activists. Organic Consumer Association (OCA) has the contact info for Big Chem resisters in every city and town.
3) "640 Labs", 2 N LaSalle St, Chicago, IL. Located downtown near Federal Plaza, this is one of the research firms Monsanto gobbled up, either to expand their operations or just to neutralize a competitor with profitable secrets. We performed an exorcism with this year's March Against Monsanto.
4) When we're in Cambridge MA singing to scientists in Harvard's Micro-robotics Laboratory, the DARPA-helped frankensteins trying to replace the honey bee with a Robobee, we always stop at the nearby Monsanto office, 245 First St #2, Cambridge, MA 02142
It has a convenient lobby area which carries echoes from bullhorns up to the rattling windows.
Watch out for the crop-dusters!