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.
The timeline to St. Louis is in full effect! Last night (Wednesday, November 19, 2014), Middle Collegiate Church hosted a spiritual and healing benefit.
Performers included: Lower Eastside Girls Club, Poet Cheryl Wilkins, Camille Beckles activist, Bernardo Polombo musician, Middle Church Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir and Joan Baez.
So much love and song filled the air way beyond the rafters of the church building. So many people singing songs of poignancy and hope.
We gathered to show our support to all of those victimized by police insensitivity. This is a human issue not just a race issue. We stand together to tell those that would try to hurt us or our loved ones THAT WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THE PAIN!
We are on our way to Missouri. Next Stop, Monsanto is the Devil at Joe’s Pub (The Public Theater), 2pm , November 23, 2014 in NYC.
The following photographs were taken by Barbara R. Lee, Stop Shopping Choir.
A soprano, bass and tenor of the Stop Shopping Choir
The Stop Shopping Choir at Middle Collegiate Church
Joan Baez at Middle Collegiate Church
Camille Beckles, activist
The following link is fantastic photography of the event taken by Erik McGregor:
Thank you, Erik!
We took the risk of two shows the same week with different scripts. Human Rights and Earth Rights. The people and the planet. Two things to save, facing two devils: Bullets from militarized racist police and invisible toxins from Monsanto. Eventually we will understand that not-killing each other with racist bullets is the same not-killing the whole biosphere demands... but we don't have the language for that yet.
Last night at Standing With Ferguson with Joan Baez, when my duties as host came, I stumbled at one point with a remark on Earth Rights where the topic should have been Human Rights, and I know I've done the mistake the other way around, too. Life on Earth is writing the script for us, and sometimes we don't get it. My own hapless method is to keep on shouting. Earthalujah!