Marktown, Indiana is a sacrifice community surrounded by the tar sands refinery owned by BP. The choir and I met with about 60 local residents. The violence they have in their lives - we spent the first half hour asking questions, looking into eyes, listening, hugging. Of course the preacher had to preach, but the testimonies of Marktown people were so moving, it made the songs more passionate, like a town hall meeting turned into a musical. At the end we gathered in a big circle and prayed for health and radical change - that Marktown would flourish and the refinery would be shut down. It is a toxic monster, the local mortality is hard to take in.... and it's those same corporations again, BP and the Koch Bros. the most conspicuous owners. Then we walked across the highway onto refinery property and got in as close as we dared and sent one last prayer, or was it a curse?
And so the FASTER, MONSANTO DIE! DIE! tour continues as the choir and I take the PATH train to Exchange Place, Jersey City. The show is Friday night at 7 PM and its FREE! https://www.ticketfly.com/…/849545-reverend-billy-his-stop…/
After Hurricane Sandy the famed independent radio station WFMU rebuilt a theater into the first floor of its headquarters at 43 Montgomery, and called it Monty Hall, after the permanently smiling game show host of the 60's and 70's. We will be live on the WFMU signal from 7 to 8 PM, so we have to land our show at 59 minutes. I guess we'll take the stage with a huge clock.
But what if the hip-shaking Earthalujah spirit takes us into flight? Well, we'll have to come to and get realistic at 7:59. Or the show's host "Billy Jam" can leave us in flight by grabbing the mike and saying goodnight while we writhe in the eternal mosh pit of the spirit.
I always wanted to be Wile E. Coyote, unknowingly running off the cliff. Wiley then sees a little farm far below him and knows that he will die a horrible death, and begins to fall. But then, he FALLS UP... That's what we'll do Friday. We will fall into the sky.
I don't want to USA you. UK you or EURO you.
Monsanto you or Koch-choke you.
Disney you or Walmart you.
All I really want to do - do - do
Is yang dang doodle the night through.
I don't want to GMO you. GE you or Google you.
Round Up you or Apple you.
Rehab you or God Almighty you.
All I really want to do - do - do
Is yang dang doodle the night through.
The mechanical zombies walk and talk and shit and jay-walk to work. What I mean is - what you do to nature you do to yourself.
If you plant toxic seeds and kill everything that is wild, and only encourage the growth of super-steroidal monster plants that make money, then that is what you become yourself. Monsanto's executives are mechanical zombies, robots for sale. They spray and inject in the soil millions of tons of carcinogenic nonsense chemicals test-tubed from fossil fuels, then when the honey bees begin to die (bee hives are the holy spirit, are a large rose, are the blankets of love wrapped around the seed of life) - the robots in suits start a Bee Health Institute.
You see, Monsanto believes that Americans are zombies too. They think that we don't notice. They don't believe we feel betrayed and weary from the lies of commercial democracy. And they don't think that we will sting them.
What’s my magic trick? What am I doing that makes me predictable and non-impactful (dead) and what could I do to resurrect from it? A good day to look out at devastation that the world has become and get brazenly creative about what might be my own Edward Snowden, my own Arctic 30, my own Pussy Riot.
Each of us has an amazing thing we can do. And if you want to join a group and not be a loner hero – pick the right group, one that might have in them the big crazy Occupy or Iguala or Hong Kong or Ferguson. Like this: who will stop glyphosate spraying? Clue: March Against Monsanto is May 23rd this year.
Because there is no doubt that we are in a dangerous slowdown in activism right now. Since the Peoples Climate March – have you noticed? Culture generally seems so dull and slow. My liberal friends are victims of NPR-like mildness. Countries are shrinking back to the most minor stories, like soccer scores and celebrity divorces. BUT JUST BECAUSE GREENLAND IS BLACK DOESN’T MEAN WE SHOULD GIVE UP.
The Earth should not have to step up and give us another Sandy to activate us. We can go out on the front steps and look at our neighborhood with fresh radical eyes. We might see a Chase Bank or HSBC or UBS on the corner. They are top investors in CO2 emissions. They are a Devil to throw down the hole. That’s a cross for the big die-and-fly!
By which I mean, for instance, all these hipsters in their skinny pants and tattoos stand at the ATMs of these murderers. They need a severe GOTCHA, am I right? Yes, that might be a resurrection. A breakthrough! A shocker! A rise to the STATE OF EXALTED EMBARRASSMENT! What a coming back to life! What a beautiful springtime! Earthalujah!
You don't know when it will happen, then suddenly you stop on the sidewalk and it dawns on you, "Oh, this is the kind of life I've chosen to live!" I'm arrested again and again lately, the last time handcuffed within minutes of beginning to speak. Then the jail and the judge and it dominates my family and my community of singing-activists...
Now it's two days after the last surreal trial, where they dropped the charges while telling the judge that "He waves his arms in the air and shouts loudly." I'm still groggy from the whole thing. Long slow walks in Prospect Park are good. Reading books to (5 years old on Monday) Lena: VERY good. The Lorax was last night's nighty-night read. She was asleep before the last Truffula tree was felled by the Super-Axe-Hacker.
Trying to breathe and see straight after the professional violence of New York City, I look at my calendar. Oh, we're starting a radio show on Pacifica, I'm writing a book for City Lights, we're off on a European tour with 15 singers, then off to Chicago with 30 singers... All this all at once. April and May. Impossible! Oh, but this is the life I have chosen to live. Earthalujah!
It seems like a dream. Yesterday's BIZARRE COURT-ROOM SCENE. Our lawyers talked to the District Attorney's office all week, after they finally watched the videotape that shows me peacefully submitting to the arrest in Grand Central on January 6th. We learned yesterday while we waited in the hallway outside that the DA would drop all charges. Moments later we stood before the judge and the Assistant DA began to talk.
We couldn't believe our ears. We looked back at the impassive judge. The DA apparently felt that before setting me free they would have to recite the fanciful claims of the police, despite the fact that they are refuted by a clear and continuous videotape. So we listened to a list of about a dozen lies. "Defendant forced the officer's arms." and "Defendant refused to pick up the placards from the floor" and "His protest signs impeded right of way for commuters in the train station." All lies.
Then the DA had the gall to offer his pity. "But in the interests of justice your honor, People offers to dismiss these charges." Completely schizoid. Wylie Stecklow, our lawyers, hit the court-room roof, "We were not told that these false charges would be read in open court. I am deeply offended." But the sad reality that we were left with is that we still have a law enforcement culture that cannot accept the innocence of their political opponents, even a comic spiritual clown like myself. Reality itself is not enough to persuade them to reach out, for healing, to move on.
What does this mean? Do they still insist that there is no epidemic of deadly force against unarmed citizens of color? Do they still refuse what everyone knows? And will they put these lies into the record as a hedge against future activism from me, as some future DA can repeat these fictions to a judge or jury and inspire an idea that somehow I worked the system to win acquittal but in fact was, sort of, guilty of violence?
By walking this lonely path I found out some things for our work. It is a kind of full-body research, and the things revealed point to a long road ahead. I am grateful for all your notes of gratitude. Next on the agenda of the Church of Stop Shopping, we are preparing our call for a ban on the spraying of the Monsanto cancer-causing glyphosate in New York. Monsanto is like these cops. They don't mind the sensation of brazen falsehood.
The five freedoms - Worship, speech, press, assembly and petition - suffer when we're at war. Security trumps freedom. Even Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. But 9/11 was 15 years ago...
I was arrested while speaking on behalf of Black Lives Matter. Five kinds of police stood there watching: Homeland Security, NY state troopers, National Guard, NYPD and police from the transportation authority, whose officers did the hand-cuffing. Later, sitting in the jail cell, I listened to the police try to decide what to charge me with. I was given the usual protest charges of Disorderly Conduct and Obstruction. These charges are a complete fiction and videotapes showed this within hours of the We Will Not Be Silent rally. That evidence was available to the District Attorney's office eleven weeks ago. We were unable to keep the implications of a year in jail from the soul of Lena, turning 5 on Monday.
There are two possible conversations with law enforcement. One is children and the other is the United States Constitution. If we talk to the police about the 1st Amendment, and establish an understanding the five freedoms in it are guaranteed to all of us, then we can work on the interpretation together. The five freedoms were not protected in my case. And children? Many of us are parents and safety from climate change, economic and racial injustice are three great threats. Occupy Wall Street, the Peoples Climate March and Black Lives Matter are three efforts that broke through a pernicious system of injustice.
Consumerism and Militarism are systems that try to outmaneuver the Bill of Rights. We're not at war now. We're building our world with trust, not guns. We're building with free speech in public, not corporate marketing. The Church of Stop Shopping, our little group of singing activists, pledge to return the tradition of the 1st Amendment to every corner of our city. Earthalujah!
I drop off Lena at school at 5th and B and walk to the East Village’s heart, Tompkins Square Park, and walk to where Bendy lived for 130 years. She is the tree that bowed to the east horizontally, about a human head’s height from the ground before rising with her leaves waving in the wind. Through some bribe or something the beloved tree was chain-sawed last fall. The Parks Dept claimed falsely that she would fall on someone soon. But her branches were full of leaves, not a dead branch anywhere. In fact her bent jog in the air was her genius, her claim on our community self. Charlie Parker and Allen Ginsberg and other very odd greats lived nearby. Anyway, the only possible autopsy was the murder of Bendy, which they did, and sure enough she was not rotten inside at all.
When we got texts that they were felling her, Savitri said “We’ve got to stop them! ” and I jumped in a taxi that we can’t afford and a half hour later I was running to Bendy and tried stop the chain-saws with some arm-waving arboreal preaching. By noon is was sitting on a bench in our city jail, the Tombs.
Now this morning, six months later, I walk on the ground above her roots, they even dug out her stump. I hang out with Bendy twice a week, and I sense her roots spreading beneath the octagonal flagstones. It’s the beginning of my day, so I pray here, asking the blessing of peace-makers, talking to them about life and death and activism. I’m just another crazy in the village talking up at Bendy’s branches that are still there in the my memory and the memory of the trees around us and the hawks circling above. Today, though, I stopped in mid-prayer, and then I couldn't help it, I let out an "Earthalujah!" There was Bendy’s ear, the roots surfacing above the paving. Do you hear my prayer? Bendy, I knew you were listening.
We Are What We Are
Earlier this evening Monday, March 16 we (Savitri D and Miss Justice Jester) attended a New York Public Library (Live at the NYPL) event at the Main Branch on 42nd St. The world famous magician and stunt man/ endurance artist David Blaine was being interviewed by Paul Holdengraber, the director of public programming at The NYPL.
Blaine is interesting, a deep and serious person, but it was all pretty scripted and cautious, bordering on the sentimental. Forty five minutes in we are shown a particularly grisly video montage of one of Blaine’s heroes Evil Knievel breaking bones and sliding out on his motorcycle. Blaine narrates. The video cuts to Blaine sitting by Kneivel’s hospital bed. Evil talks to him about how some people have a drive (to defy death) and other people don’t. At the very end he says:
“We can’t help it. We are what we are.” And the video ends.
Holdengraber: Your reactions “We are what we are.” What do you think he meant?
Blaine: I guess he’s saying like even if you could go back and stop you couldn’t, but he was suffering all these results of what he had done to his body later on in life, which he couldn’t really function so well, because he’s slowly dying as a result of the things he had done to his body that’s why he said lets try doing magic instead, and I said well that’s not my work I like to do things for real, and he says I get that, that’s what drives me even if I could go back I wouldn’t take it out
This is when we stood up in our third row seats and moved swiftly toward the center aisle of the room.
Savitri: Hey David, how about some real magic?
Miss Justice: Yeah why don’t you make the books reappear in the library?
Savitri: Make the books reappear
Bring the books back, bring the books back bring the books back bring the books back.
At this point Blaine very skillfully diffuses the action by inviting us on stage and performing a magic trick with the deck of cards he always carries in his pocket.
Blaine: I have an idea
Miss Justice: Yes?
Blaine: Will you guys come up on stage?
Miss Justice: We’d be honored to
Blaine: You guys mind if I do a magic trick
Savitri As long it involves books
David: (to the crowd) You guys mind if I try something with them?
Savitri: As long it involves books coming back to the New York Public Library
After some friendly banter we hear David ask Miss Justice, “ Your not moving are you?” she says, “I’m not getting kicked out am I?” to which Holdengraber, the head of public programming, says “oh no no, certainly not, you are most welcome.” You can hear me giggle at that and then Blaine makes me take my coat off and the audio degrades significantly since the recorder is in my breast pocket. We proceed with the “magic”.
The card trick involved piles and numbers of cards in piles and awesome sleight of hand, including that satisfying patter sharps do when they search around until they get the number they want. Even when you know roughly what’s going on the resolution of a card trick in the hands of someone like Blaine is breathtaking. Still, I was far more amazed by the larger sleight of hand. How did he transform a couple of imposing female activists into a couple of discarded jokers sitting on the carpet behind a pillar stage left? Maybe I should learn a few magic tricks.
We felt okay because our goal was not to create a huge disturbance or educate the room, though we did plenty of that afterward, but to put those Library Trustees and everyone else who is making decisions over there on notice. Bring back the books! We are paying attention!
We Are What We Are?
One of the first things Blaine said was how glad he was to be speaking at the NYPL, because he learned his first trick from a magic book in the Brooklyn Public Library. A librarian led him to the book and even helped him work out the trick. Subsequently we were shown an image Blaine encountered as a young boy in a public library of a strait jacketed Houdini teetering on the edge of what appears to be a very tall building. Seeing the photograph (in a book!) sparked his lifelong obsession with magic and stunts. Clearly this is a man profoundly shaped by libraries and all their contents. So, we aren’t just what we are. We are what we are because of things that happen to us too, things we encounter, things that come into our lives. Blaine may have come into this world with certain proclivities and intuitions, but he had materials too, information, access, and he spent a lot of time wandering around libraries looking at books. Now that’s magic!
The culture we enjoy in New York City MUST include the presence of books in our libraries, from the Rose Reading room and the Sunset Park Branch, to Pacific Street, Downtown Brooklyn, Central Harlem and all the five boroughs. Lives are made in libraries, dream lives, practical lives, whole lives. And, after all, the culture that is made in those spaces is the culture we so heartily enjoy in public programming at the NYPL 25 years later.
On the way out a fair haired European man told me that went to get a library card but when he went in the library all he saw were empty shelves so he didn’t bother to get a card, “I can browse books on a computer at home, that’s not what the library is for.”