We are in Maine at a dear friend's wedding. Many of the people in the wedding party are from Charlottesville, Virginia where last night a torch parade constituted a direct death threat to African American citizens, with the memories of lynching so painfully fresh. Last night and again today that town will be the site of a march by KKK and neo-Nazis and so called "alt-right" (white nationalists).
If you know our work, then you know that we are devoted to the First Amendment, have created a gospel version of it, and have gone to jail reciting it too loudly. But the racist ritual in Virginia is nothing like freedom of assembly or free speech.
The mayor of Charlottesville is defending the open torch march on the basis of the First Amendment. This is a travesty. The holocaust of lynching of African Americans, thousands of legally unresolved murders in open view... How can't this be banned? And when will politicians condemn it appropriately?
There is a larger statement that is made by this march and it is a terrible setback. There are people who think this Nazi march balances as an issue with Black Lives Matter. It does not. The Nazi's are saying "We can kill you." The black activists are saying "Stop killing us."
It always starts with the vulnerability of risking arrest. The activism is the purest citizenship. We enter Trump Tower. We walk through the submachine guns and dogs, the body armor and the golden name of the white supremacist president that hovers in space above the door.
We are only doing what tourists do. Ta-Nehisi Coates would say that we are walking into The Dream. Trump Tower’s public area, where we are welcome as long as we show signs of being willing consumers of The Dream, is a 5 story high vertical mall, with gold-plated escalators zig-zagging upwards. The hanging garden of Trump. Fake plants on gold pillars! We walk across the threshold of The Dream carrying the intention to subvert it and replace it with our Earthalujah!
Let’s call The Dream what it is – The Nightmare. We have here in this building in concentrated form exactly what most Americans have everyday – the complex of responses to state-sanctioned violence on behalf of race and property and profit. We feel the manufacture of fear, the itching-the-imagined-wound of Trump nation. As we walk by the silent staring Secret Service we feel the fantastic imagination made by American fear – the conspiracy theories, the deadly tribalism of police, the scandal of alternative love, the remake of everyone everywhere into a monstrous “Other.”
Our destination is on the 5th floor. There is a legal never-never-land called a “Privately Owned Public Space” or POPS, and the upshot is that in 1979 Trump agreed in exchange for height variances to keep a garden open to the public. And by the time we get to the glass door of the garden we are ready to shout. We have such a need to re-establish our own body. It is real and direct. We’ve been coming back here a lot since the election, releasing our personal arts in this garden, our songs, outlandish costumes, dancing, lecturing with the lurid statistics of species extinction and climate chaos.
What we have dedicated ourselves to over the long run, meeting three days a week in the Trump garden, is to turn over our personal soil by silently writing our responses to The Nightmare. We are finding a way to our counter-dream. We start with a wisdom quote. One quote recently was from Emma Goldman: “Love is the molder of destiny. Love is the defier of laws.”
Then we write together for 45 minutes. At the end we stand with our writing and recite or shout or sing our words at the 700 foot tall gold-tinted presidential erection. One veteran activist that we met at Occupy Wall Street called the garden “A Zuccotti Park with walls, the Zuccotti Prison.” It is like a back alley lifted into the sky, with rotting tables under USA flags.
We find the weeds and the moss in the cracks of the garden’s fake granite and we talk to them in confidential tones. They are our leaders. We ask the rebel plants for advice. Clearly they are activists. We want to be super-weeds ourselves. We want to evolve to live to change The Nightmare. We tell the weeds in the cracks that we know their descendants will flourish in a forest here, that the tower will come down.
We ask the weeds that we be admitted as one of the species in the eco-system they are making as their roots take hold in the seams of The Nightmare. We promise we can co-exist with life, to wake up from this bad dream having learned that we don’t have to be the apex predator. We can do this! With our species, we’ve learned that a strict program of love works best for us. We know that now! Please don’t forget us! Take us along!
Here we have clear instruction for defeating Trump. Let the radical miracles all around us bring out the revolution that we suppress into "style" or "culture". We need to reach for the sun! What if the Women's March never left D.C.? The million citizens would be still there, spilling into the stone buildings, making policing impossible, stopping the corruption with the concentration of bodies. Life doesn't live one weekend a year. Earthalujah!
Five days ago my ticker began tocking when she should be ticking. Instead of the reggae beat I was born with, with the beat "one TWO three FOUR" the beat converted to "ONE two THREE four" and pumped 25% less blood. This is called fibrillation or heart arrhythmia.
In my life I've been preaching on street-corners and in bank lobbies, trying to find the evil and shout back at it. I made my voice louder by working with an opera singer, vibrating my heart with the rest of my body. He taught me to make my whole body a big woofer and my volume doubled. I did this because the police kept taking my bullhorn. My cardiologist says I have to learn to carry some kind of stress-reducing walking yoga into those "contested spaces"...
Last February I had a real episode, with a jolting in my chest. I took the bus to the local hospital and the busdriver took the whole bus to the front door of the ER. She said her father had a bad heart. I spent a miserable three days and nights in the cardiac ward, getting the "fix", with needles in the back of my hands at 4 AM, pills and bad food. Hospitals!
I suddenly knew I had to leave. It was the middle of the night. I walked out. They threatened me, "If you die outside the door we can't be responsible!" I walked home in the dark with my heart tossing and turning. When I got home I was dizzy. I crawled in with the warm, dreaming Savi and Lena. When I woke up my heart was beating, no - I was beating - on the reggae beat I was born with.
And this morning I'm back on the beat again. This time I cut out the hospital part. This picture near my desk, with the smiling heart, is Lena's.
Six of us at two tables. Impossible questions, unspeakable acts. The presentation of a completely opaque personality, exteriorizing constantly and on into the twittering night, but in such a way that nothing at all is revealed. Impossible questions, unspeakable acts. Trump Tower scrapes the clouds, all surface, all presentation, but oddly lonely. We huddle in the fifth floor garden letting intimate memories rise in us, into our fingers and onto our journal pages. Strange that with our tender painful memories in the shadow of this man's tower, we have the sensation that we are silencing him.
Now a police murder of a pregnant mother - this racist violence just goes on and on. Yesterday in Seattle, Charleena Lyles was with her three children ages 1, 4 and 11. She had called the police to report a burglary. She was shot within 15 seconds of entry by two white police. This takes place after the acquittal on all charges of the murderer of Philando Castile in Minneapolis, also in front of children. The cop shot Philando through the window of his car as he reached for his identification. And now, with career racists in positions of Attorney General and President, communities of color cannot feel safer from federal monitoring of local police violence.
Our RADICAL RITUAL AT TRUMP TOWER is free writing gatherings on the 5th floor where the city mandated a public garden. We express our intimate privacy in the shadow of Evil. This may be the seed of all change, of revolutionary change. Emma Goldman reminds us that just a few people sitting and talking begin the process of basic change.
It can also be said that each of these few revolutionaries had to first know their own secrets. They found a way to their own personal freedom. They know what that will look like. And then they found others to share those discoveries with.
We need to do that now. The new knowledge of personal freedom will have to be discovered in the oppressive presence of this Evil. So we sit there with Trump Tower above us, and wait for our souls to testify.
Reality we knew you were out there: a person with a conscience who responds honestly to the world that she sees. Now Chelsea Manning comes back to us and you go forward. There will always be a truth-teller. The secrets and lies cannot keep the conscience imprisoned. The truth is a living thing.
A radical ritual begins in Trump Tower. New York City artist/activists Reverend Billy and Savitri D. of The Church of Stop Shopping scribble towards freedom under the gaze of the Secret Service. June 6th marks their 12th day of free writing in the POPS (Privately Owned Public Space) Community Garden on the 5th floor of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. The Garden is public space and protected by the First Amendment. Around mid-day, most weekdays, they write quickly for 45 minutes in long-hand. The project will continue until the ritual is completed. If you are interested in joining, RadicalRitual@Revbilly.com.