Of course I was late for the bus. I believe that I was so nervous about going to Ferguson. My body shut down and tried to convince me to stay home. I pushed past the pain and dragged my luggage to the subway and then on the M14 bus that would take me to the tour bus. I MADE IT! I climbed aboard and off we went to the heartland of America. It was a quiet ride for the most part. By the time it was midnight, most of the choir was sound asleep. Those of us who were still up shivered in frustration because the heat shut off and it was unfixable. Later that night, frayed nerves, machismo and other unfortunate circumstances caused a major schism that almost threatened to stop our travel to Missouri. Feathers were smoothed, angry voices softened and the bus rolled on.
We arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, tired, cold and aggravated. Food and a short moment of rest put us in better spirits and we quickly went off to do what we needed to do to get our activism in gear.
Some of us went to Ferguson, the rest of us went to a church that provides food and other services to the homeless. The place is called The Haven and the magic of doing good for others worked on us. I have never seen such togetherness and organization! The young people in our choir are powerhouses of talent. Food was prepped, cooked and finished in a short span of time. Organic food that made my mouth water just at the smell of onions sautéing in a pan. Turkey, root vegetables, pies, salads and whipped cream made from the cream of a jar of raw milk was just some of the savory and sweet products of our labor.
We finished up and drove back to the hotel. On the way home, I was able to see the St. Louis Arch rising high into the clouds. It looked surreal, like something out of a fantasy film.
The next day, we converged on the hotel dining room and ate loads of hot breakfast food. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to eat enough during all our activities, so we ate and we ate well.
Monsanto is the devil
Why were we walking over a mile in the bitter cold? Why were we serving loads of wholesome and organic Thanksgiving food to people at the front door of Monsanto headquarters?
The Bees, lovely pollinators, honey makers and part of Mother Earth’s circle of life. How can we possibly have an existence without bees? Monsanto thinks that the Earth doesn’t need bees any longer. Monsanto feels that their robot bee can do what a real bee can. Because Monsanto feels that way, they don’t care that their herbicides and pesticides are one of the things that adversely affects the continued lives of bees. Some bees become disoriented. Some bees die.
Standing out in the bitter cold eating food that honey bees helped provide is not a huge sacrifice if it will help honeybees endure.
Reverend Billy preached, mostly to the already converted but maybe the young police people who stood guard over Monsanto’s domain heard something that that will make them throw out their Burpee seeds and buy heirloom seeds from farmers that do sustainable farming. COOK ORGANIC, NOT THE PLANET!
We were joined by farmers, activists and we happily chowed down on the best Thanksgiving feast anyone could possibly have.
Reverend Billy led the choir in song and after a proclamation of thankfulness from each and every person in attendance, we hauled our frozen asses back into the bus and move on to the next activity.
Mama Cat is a physically diminutive woman but when she speaks, she is a ten foot amazon! She runs a kitchen at St. Jude, African Methodist Episcopalian Church. She feeds not only the homeless in Ferguson, Missouri. She also feeds the activists who are protesting police brutality in Ferguson.
To see her shining brown face talk to you is to see radiance!
She brings out the best in people. As I talked to her, she took my hand and started singing. I was too much of a coward to run away but I desperately wanted to. She sang to me and indicated that she wanted me to join her. I was EMBARRASSED! I sang with Mama Cat and my fear dissipated. As I happily ensconced myself behind the food serving area, I watched and listened as Mama Cat nicely but FIRMLY dictated her rules for being in her kitchen and dining area. She cleared out the media that was not invited but crashed the dinner. Mama Cat put things in order smoothly and efficiently.
I loved the food that we cooked. It was organic, healthy and it tasted fabulous. However, I needed some down home food to make it a real Thanksgiving for me. So, you know that I had to have some of Mama Cat’s macaroni and cheese and her stuffing. MMM, MMM, MMM
The singing continued throughout dinner and the energy grew and grew. By the time, it was all over, we were ready to go out to the nearest Wal-Mart to protest the store being open on Thanksgiving evening. I guess Wal-Mart knew that being open on Thanksgiving was not going to be popular with some folk because the place was crowded with police and their dogs.
We went inside and basically just wandered around until somebody started chanting loudly and bravely. Chants that conveyed the message that shopping is taking away what times that families can share together. There is something perverse in the fact that one of the only days that you can stay home and chill out with your family and friends, instead you choose to spend your money on stuff.
The police herded us outside and told us to get away from the store because it’s private property.
The beautiful black and tan German Shepard barked ferociously at us, baring its teeth as the policeman struggled to keep him from attacking. The dog was out of control and the policeman finally took him inside of the vestibule of the store to calm it down.
More policemen gathered and pushed the protesters further into the parking lot away from the store. They threatened to arrest us if we didn’t leave the parking lot. Still we chanted. We chanted for no shopping, we chanted for Justice. We chanted in the cold November night in defiance of the policemen’s threats of arrest. We told them exactly what they were, lackeys for Wal-Mart. Some shoppers walked past us and laughed as they merrily headed into Wal-Mart to spend their money. Eventually we did disperse. Some of us continued on to other stores to protest. The next stop was Target and the protesters filled their shopping carts with a multitude of expensive stuff and converged at the check outs at the same time. All the “shoppers” then realized that they forgot their wallets. They held up the lines for a long time and disrupted the shoppers who really wanted to buy stuff.
This went on into the night and eventually Reverend Billy and the rest of the choir made it back to the hotel without getting arrested. We had a regular hootenanny of a party in one of the hotel rooms. It was good to hear music and singing. I went off to bed early because I’m not the young whippersnapper that I used to be. I like my rest, gosh darn it!
In the morning, a fine breakfast was had by all and we were treated by Reverend Billy’s Uncle.
We would soon depart from the hotel but first, we took a ride over to Canfield Green apartments to pay our respects to the memory of Michael Brown. The memorial was at the place of his death on the street. We gathered together and sang. A trumpeter joined us and when we finished our solemn songs of mourning, the trumpeter insisted that we live in light, that we sing of the new day, of the continuing life that we are all blessed with. I wonder if Mama Cat is married because if she isn’t, she and the trumpeter would make a fine couple. They would make a strong pair of positivity and determination.
So, we left. We assembled in our seats on the bus and rode back to NYC with no mishaps and no impulsive spending of money at the road stops along the highways.
We arrived in Manhattan at eight in the morning and we gave each other hugs and kisses before we parted ways.
I tried to nap that day but it wasn’t happening. I had to work that night and I was not happy. It wasn’t so bad but I wrote an e-mail stating that I would not be performing at the Sunday show.
Billy wrote me back, he texted me, he called me and when I got up Sunday morning and saw all his entreaties to get me to come, I finally decided that I can do it.
We all came, the choir that went to Ferguson, Missouri and those that didn’t.
The show begins, we sing, Reverend Billy preaches, the energy is gathering, building! By Billy’s sermon, we are on fire. Reverend Billy’s words are like fuel on the fire. We dance, sway, acknowledge that one must always have a conundrum. Billy leads us into a frenzy that just doesn’t end. The show ends and we wished it went on, and on. Being in Missouri truly affected us and it showed on that stage. It’s like the trumpeter said, it’s about life. We have to be in the present and not sink in the mire. Don’t despair, we have to have to love, laugh and be strong enough to let somebody lean on us and we have to have the warmth to give.
Our planet dying is serious business. A person being killed in the street by the police is not a joke.
We can despair or we can join our brothers and sisters to demand positive change.
I’m so glad to be in the choir with all my brothers and sisters who show me every day that we can lead the way to a better life.
What an awesome trip! I am so blessed
Realize the gift of Ferguson/Monsanto trip. Re-finding anger. Going up through sorrow, surprise, Mike Brown's dying site, ... then find ourselves singing "This Little Light of Mine" in a packed church basement with the cook, a woman named Mama Cat coming out in front of the food to preach... Then with the police lights beaming in the old windows, off we go to two Walmarts, a Target, and a racist police station. We needed to be a part of a movement that started with interdependency, that sudden breaking into song, long embraces and locking arms before electronic doors and dogs.
In Occupy we created community from the movement. In Ferguson the community was the resource to begin with, how these people survive in the American apartheid. We are back now in Brooklyn now with this memory of our 64 hours, trying to heat up the apartment, going through sermon and prayer notes. Trying to heat up our performance on stage tomorrow with this gift of anger. God that was intense. Jumping up and down at the Ferguson Walmart on Black Friday midnight? That's stronger than a memory. That's new muscles.
We needed to re-find our anger. What a gift from that Ferguson community. Suddenly they have this job - the conscience for the world. They are so sure of themselves, shouting to each other in that basement "I love you! I love YOU! I LOVE YOU!" and everyone knows that this fierce eyes-wide love is how they will survive this night.
We shouted and sang and prayed it all day yesterday. It reverberates in us today as we prepare our bus trip a thousand miles back to the Apple. Part of what makes this declaration a clarion instruction for us, for our actions in the coming year: It was rhymed out hip hop style at Walmart and Target. It was sung in a church basement surrounded by cop cars beaming lights. And it was shouted in broad daylight, eating organic Thanksgiving dinner, at the headquarters of Monsanto.
We feel the coming together of Human Rights & Earth Rights. God knows the anemic environmental movement needs a shot of Ferguson. The justice movement concentrated here in Ferguson, this CONSCIENCE SITE, a vibration back and forth from Michael Brown's memorial on Canfield Drive to a confrontation - well, yesterday we confronted police in two Walmarts and a Target, after a ecstatic gospel dinner at St. Lukes Church.
Our talk of the Earth and of the crimes of Monsanto came up sideways, in conversations between lunge-ings by german shepherds and mace-weilding police under the Walmart logo. But the dots were connecting all day. The heat of Ferguson mixes with the long-game of the Earth activism.
An Earth radical would concentrate on the super malls because they put the country into cars and trucks and killed the walking economies. For Ferguson, like everywhere, it is the only commons left. But it is also the summing-up of inequality, union-busting, the billionaire Walton family, and the presence of police who are paid by the public but seem to work for Walmart. Today, Black Friday 2014 - I feel the issues cross-fertilizing and rising up with greater clarity.
Soon we won't be locked in the isolation of those hundreds of separate issues that clog our computers. The word FREEDOM will return to us with its meaning clear and with it a revolution that cannot be stopped.
In a St. Louis motel, 7 AM. Down in lobby, the TV on the wall: Macy’s Day Parade prep, super-sized Toy Soldiers, Captain America, SpongeBog SquarePants. Next up: Santa selling a big silver pickup truck. Next up: 12 yr old Tamir Rice on surveillance tape, playing shoot-em-up in a park, the cop car pulls up, the child shot immediately.
It is official: Our cops can’t think. The policeman who killed John Crawford in the Wal-mart thought he was in Afghanistan. How did his idea of fighting for one’s country get so distorted? He had the impression that a black man was holding people hostage. In fact, John Crawford was buying a bb gun but then got call from his kid’s mom on the cell and stood there with the air-gun in his hand. The cop burst in, inside his parallel universe, inside his racist hallucination.
How do we step back from this mis-firing of the American mind? Finally, the pounding into our heads of thousands of media exposures – seems to be catching up to our ability to conduct everyday life.
We need Thanksgiving to be a real holiday this year. Thanking your loved ones and giving back is not merely symbolism. Being thankful for your health, for your family, for your friends - it is crucially real. Giving thanks is the fastener of compassion. Giving thanks is what a prayer is. It stops being a creative personal action when it expresses the profit center of Consumerism and Militarism. Not this year!
Next up: Michael Brown’s mother, in our studio. Next up: Crowds waiting in the snow and ice for their door-buster sales! Next up: Ferguson ministers ask us not to shop.
As a child I was obsessed with magic and fantasy worlds and superheroes (thanks to my big brother). One day I was near tears as I realized that the possibility of my living in a world where I could come to the aid of people who were being mistreated or taken advantage of with magic was zero. My mom asked me, "What's wrong?" Through the tears I responded, "I don't have a superpower." Without missing a beat she responded, "I probably shouldn't tell you this but can you keep a secret?" I remember my tear filled eyes glancing up from the green carpet, past the pink tiles of the bathroom floor where my mom was getting ready for bed and into her eyes. She said, "You have a super power: love."
As I prepare to leave on a bus for Missouri today to protest Monsanto (headquartered in St. Louis) and to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, I can't help but feel I need to be prepared for what might (should?) feel like time travel. As the nephew/grandson/cousin of cops, firefighters and veterans, I refuse to go in with the mindset of "F*ck The Police." I will go in with the mindset that this is not the America that so many members of my family pledged oaths to protect and serve.
I'm upset. I'm upset because when my partner looked at me this morning with his eyes filled with worry I couldn't say, "Everything's gonna be ok." I honestly don't know if everything is going to be ok.
This past week has been filled with performances. I was so proud to work with the cast of "The Colored Museum" as they probed George C. Wolfe's satirical piece that speaks in a timeless way about race in America. Wednesday night The Stop Shopping Choir sang at a benefit for Ferguson headlined by Joan Baez. She sang so beautifully and spoke so eloquently about so much but the story that stuck with me was about her, as a teenager, singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" to a sleeping Dr. King.
My plan is to go down to Missouri armed with the magic of music and the power of love. And I'm going to be there.
We want justice for Michael Brown's family and for the community of Ferguson. That justice will not come from this mostly-white government and justice system. The testimony shows the use of deadly force in a murderous fusillade. The grand jury and prosecutor clearly fail to persuade that this was necessary. Their basic values are painfully obvious. They feel deadly force is an alternative for a white officer who feels confronted in his authority, his manliness, his delicate ego.
We know from Wilson's leaked testimony that he argued that he "was afraid for his life." Really? So Wilson continued to be afraid for his life as he chased Brown?The prosecutor seems to not notice at all that the fatal shot came after Wilson chased the suspect. This sequence seems to indicate a hunting down of the suspect - out of fear? Or out of anger, adrenaline, and racism?
How can shooting an unarmed citizen who may or may not have stolen some cigarillos from a convenience store, be a sensible decision by that officer? Michael Brown was a big man who could grab or hit, but we're still nowhere near the justification for deadly self defense; that is, not unless you lose sight of the immorality of murder. The prosecutor seems almost amused by it.
The prosecutor's insistence that "scientific" evidence has ruled this decision is fabulously out of touch with the reality on the ground. He is locked in a false professionalism that is nearly comic it is so inappropriate. He seems flabbergasted with a question from a African American questioner: "Is there something wrong when no law in Missouri seems to defend the rights of this unarmed victim?"
Of course, hanging over the proceedings is the continued frequency of these shootings over time. Only the uprising of young African Americans in the community which caught the world's attention keeps that question in view. But the legal system in this former slave state has no way to admit the larger problem. When racism is systemic, players like this prosecutor are not conscious of it. He refers time and time again to his procedures. As he does this, he is safe from the real question, the only question: How is it that so many unarmed black males are killed by police.
Michael Brown is dead. He's dead. This prosecutor seems to not know what that means. It is a fact for him, a fact among many other facts. The racist culture of St. Louis makes the facts resemble one another, like they are an evidence list on a police form. Michael Brown was shot dead by a bad cop. Michael Brown was shot dead by a racist society.
There are some in the Stop Shopping community that I would call warriors, and they will go to the edge of the conflict, whether shouts, prayer or flames. Then we have children and grandparents with us, who will create the organic thanksgiving dinner at a local homeless shelter - and then after our Monsanto action we'll take our food to the activists, who may have forgotten to pack a lunch.
The Ferguson activists have already given so much to the far-flung community that opposes capitalism with nonviolent direct action. They open up an island of freedom with their love and fierce spirit. Iguala Mexico and Hong Kong too - these islands of freedom can only inspire more of the same. Did the 1% believe that Zuccotti Park was an isolated event? ...did they think there would not be a new generation after Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez and Harvey Milk?
Opening day is usually fraught with nervousness and uncertainty but not this show. We know why we were all here today. In the next few days, we will be riding a bus halfway across the country to eat organic food in the face of the enemy, Monsanto. We will also stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri. The verdict isn’t out of the Courts yet but THE VERDICT IS OUT WITH US, NO MORE POLICE BRUTALITY, NO MORE POLICE KILLINGS!
We sang, songs of joy, songs of determination, songs of love. Reverend Billy’s sermon brought us back to the simplest fact, every atom, every energy is of the Earth and we humans have to respect the Earth and the other animals, plants and land that we share the Earth with. We also have to respect each other. Our differences should make us interesting to each other, not hateful to each other. We sang and the hope that the songs spread out to the audience and they in turn will share it with others. That is our hope.
Joan Baez came out to close the show with a soulful rendition of Freedom and the choir joined in and it was as close as I felt I was ever going to get to being one with the spirits of everybody in that room. As the verse to one of our songs say, we have a map to the sun and the rain and we will heal this Earth.
Next post will probably at the next place I can get wi-fi. We’ll be on the road! EARTHALUJAH!
I reminisce about a long-ago family reunion...
The Dutch Calvinists Expel Rev Billy Early
When I was a teenager I attended a reunion of the Talen family, in Holland Michigan. (I was a Dutch Calvinist, from birth until this particular family gathering.) The second night of the reunion, with 30 cousins everywhere, including about six tall Dutch American young women cousins, I decided to host a dance party. I commandeered one of the cottages that we rented on Lake Michigan and put James Brown and The Doors and the Velvet Underground on the sound system. We lowered the lights and laughed and danced.
An uncle appeared in the doorway. He wasn’t dancing. He stared at me like I was a cloven-hoofed satyr. I must have been monstrous to look at. I was a body builder in those days, big chest and shoulders, with long matted Conan-like hair. I wore red and white plaid wool bellbottoms and lumberjack boots. This uncle – I called him the Manly Uncle From Christ - he pulled on the wrist of his daughter and she was sucked out the door as if by a great wind. This happened again and again, Manly Uncle From Christ after Manly Uncle From Christ appearing to fetch a daughter – until I was dancing alone. So I went outside, only to find the beauties lined up opposite their Manly Uncles From Christ and I began what I think of as my first sermon. I preached about freedom and dancing…
My sermon ended when a Manly Uncle From Christ who bulldozed golf courses for a living hit me so hard that I fell to the ground unconscious. I came to in a police car. I spent the night in the Holland jail. Next morning, the policeman drove me to the airport and gave me a ticket. “Is this from my family?” He shrugged. Most of that Talen family have not seen in 40 years. So now I'm a New York orphan, spending Thanksgiving with other orphans, many with abusive expulsions from their bio-families less comic and more violent than mine.