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.
PUTTING HUMOR AND MUSIC IN THAT EARTH ACTIVISM! That is the idea. The song we're dramatising in our shoot is one of our old chestnuts, "Fabulous Bad Weather" - It's like a bouncy tune in which climate change the butch top, and the entire human race is the fem bottom. So we are creating a complete capitulation to a force greater than ourselves, a funny sex comedy but in which the meaning, if you think about it, is absolutely chilling.
We believe that the inability to admit that the Earth has power over us is a unique prejudice of the West. We colonized the Earth for centuries and its a bad habit to break. Every once in a while it comes home how wrong we are. The Fukishima tsunami had the power of 30,000 atom bombs.
The Environmental Movement is puritanical. There is a preference for sentimentality, in the style of corporate advertising. But think of the congress of Madagascar meeting underwater in diving gear to dramatize the rising seas. That is funny, and it is also memorable. We see humor - music - strong public emotions - prayer and dance trances - breakthrough human expression - as the kind of thing that successful social movements always have.
We dedicate our songs to the traditions that we remember from the Civil Rights and Gender Right Movements. Check the drama of the songs of Black Lives Matter; of D'Angelo and Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monae. We sing in that spirit for the Earth.
Crimes against the Earth are not precisely the same thing as the lurid descriptions of the campaigns that try to stop them. Put it this way - here we are in the picture singing and meditating in the heart of Kayford Mountain in West Virginia. A coal company blew the summit from the mountain, explosively hurling deer and mushrooms and young birds - all life - to their deaths. Then they scraped off the "over-burden" and pushed the refuse into the streams below, burying the mountain stream life under the death-rubble.
As urban people, our exposure to Mountaintop Removal (MTR) coal mining came as dramatic writing like my writing so far in this post. Campaigns against a crime must carry that crime to possible activists, to grow the opposition. Since we are isolated in the city, we get, well, like everyone everywhere gets - so many crimes described to us by hopeful change agents.... But then we traveled to Coal River Valley and met Larry Gibson, Maria Gunneau, Judi Bonds, Bo Webb and the community of Climate Ground Zero gathered around Mike Roselle. They took us on the inevitable sojourn up to Kayford Mountain. Larry and Bo took us hiking into the dry bones of the mountain.
We climbed down into the strange ashy insides of the mountain and all the information, guilt, polemical writing, graphics - all of that became preliminary to this immersion in the violence. The wind and sun were weird. We sang our MTR song at the awful feeling. We were letting ourselves become haunted... And for years after we talked of this afternoon's power - and how primary experience must answer the needs of all the polemics of a campaign.
We miss Larry and Judi and all the heroes of this movement in Appalachia, many of these heroes die so young. With their old mountains, they have been killed...
When we say that the Earth must come up into us, as a source of energy and focus and impact for our activism, Sweetwater Nanauk's painted face tells us this is true.
The NGO staples of policy, strategy, lobbying, electronic petitions, etc. hold us back. Of course we need these things to some degree, but they are not the Earth. They should not be regarded as an important result - these corporate data collections are a big stall.
Our activism needs a spiritual infusion. Sweetwater is a planet crier, from the Killer Whale clan of the Tlingit of southeastern Alaska. She is what we need to pull us from our computers and take us to the streets, take us to the forests and the sea. She is convincing us quickly that we are in such an emergency that MODERATION IS DEATH.
I was honored to talk to her today for our radio show, which has been renamed "The Earth Wants YOU!" I was on the phone here in New York. She was in Seattle, where the kayaktivists and canoes surrounded the drilling rig last year.
Thank you for talking with us, Sweetwater. Your presence puts the Earth-a-lujah into our activism! Sweetwater Nannauck
Does New York City Spray Monsanto's carcinogenic Roundup in your park?http://www.revbilly.com/map
Monsanto's Roundup continues to be the major weapon in New York City's arsenal of herbicides even though the World Health Organization says glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. In fact, the frequency and volume of glyphosate used by New York City has increased since 2013.
Scientific studies have found glyphosate to cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, birth defects, and celiac disease, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome. Glyphosate is persistent in body tissue, blood and breast milk in humans. The non-profit organization, Moms Across America, claims exposure to RoundUp has cause pregnancy problems, including stillbirths.
Because the electronic wallpaper of commentary makes it impossible to communicate a single good idea. We can't have such clarity when everyone points in every direction with digital streaming.
Everything that moves has cursors on it. All things are Selfied, from the evening meal to an ancient Seqouia. So reality is middle-distanced, framed and digitized, pushed to the distance and converted into sparkling mush.
So it's hard to press forward in this bizarro environment with one, single compassionate political action.
This must be at least part of how difficult it is to persuade people that corporate poisons are real. The toxicity of Monsanto and Syngenta and Bayer's chemicals don't show up in our Selfys. The alarming studies and the corporate denials ambush with the same pixels. All we have are the smiling actors in their advertisements and their lawyers' litigations. The one thing that breaks through their fog of sales is actual death. There is this mysterious cancer epidemic. All these dead loved ones. There are the corrupted recommended safety levels for Monsanto's glyphosates, with the government riddled with Monsanto executives, but then - these pesky corpses.
We will accept the testimony of the dead to save the living. Yes Monsanto spy reading this - you will be haunted. That zombie citizen telling you about her final illness - she has an opinion.