When a great city struggles for its soul, then strange things happen. Sept. 11th, 2001 was surreal. Watching the buildings fall. It is fitting that the effort by citizens to regain our balance, after five militaristic Republican mayoral terms - will be strange, too.
This is how strange. I shouted "Black Lives Matter" a few times in Grand Central Station and police rushed at me like I was a fiend. Before us were the names of the unarmed police-killed citizens, on placards on the floor. Later in the downstairs jail, I asked the police why the upset about a little protest. And why disrespect the dead. A thoughtful sergeant posed the question, "Where will it all end? You can't shut down the Grand Central the way you shut down the bridges and highways." There's the problem. They don't see the defense of my right to speak as their work. They won't admit that they will consider the lost lives and their families.
No - they consider me a leader of an opposing cult. They are territorial. They think of the Brooklyn Bridge as a famous symbol that they lost to a rival group, with an international audience watching. They see Grand Central that way. But, of course, we are not a rival religious group. We pay their salary. The police are bound to protect and serve us, and to enforce the laws of the land. as set forth in the United States Constitution. After 20 years of these Republican mayors, New York police never talk of the 1st Amendment as something that is tangible to them.
The police in our city have a notion of their 40,000 officer community that is cult-like, and they are quite unconscious about it. They are grandiose, afraid, disconnected, and easily led by demagogues. And they carry loaded guns. And yet, last night in The Tombs, I was engrossed with their conversations about the insensitivities of a liberal mayor, about their replays of the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They are surprisingly caring when they don't think anyone is listening.
Strange: The NYPD work slowdown leaves the local jail almost empty. They have pulled back on their arrests by up to 94%. So I was sitting for the first time alone in my cell, instead of 40 men to a cell, usually so crowded that we use each others' shins for pillows. However, in the midst of their arrest slow-down - they find the time and resources to arrest me and a few prisoners charged with felonies.
Ironically, The Tombs are usually packed with poor people of color who are pulled in by the harassment laws, like open bottles on the stoop, or the repository of subjective police abuse: "Disorderly Conduct." That's one my charges, too.
The cops can be reached and changed. That must happen. It will come from black lives and white lives being unafraid to talk to them in public space. That was always how it was. We have to bravely go to them and change them - and that is a strange transfer, like wrestling with very old culture. Sojourner Truth did it, and Lucy Parsons, and Emma Goldman. They were abused by cops but they teach us how to change them.
When I was sitting in that empty cell for all that time, freezing on that bench, it was my jailer I had to think about. I would shout for some water. Most of the night my jailer was a black man who was as funny as Chris Rock. I would preach back at him and we both laughed a lot. But the conversation that we had that might have changed both us always started with our children.
Reverend Billy is being "processed" and will be sent to The Tombs, a New York City municipal jail. Good thing he's wearing those amazing wool army pants I got in France all those years ago, but I don't know how far he's going to get on the modest oatmeal breakfast we had before he left....Let's remember this is all about the POLICE and the BRUTALITY and the institutionalized violence and racism and the ways this rotten culture keeps us separated from EACH OTHER. Go! #CaryTheNames #24HourAction at Grand Central Station before they end at 5 pm.
Viscountess Nancy Astor once said "The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything - or nothing." This robber baron royal lived in another time, yet I've seen her quote posted recently as a meme, on social forums. Clearly many of us would agree with her statement. We feel safer with the moderate course, the reasonable alternative that doesn't upset people.
In 2015, moderation is the main danger. The Earth's crisis makes Lady Astor's approach naive to the point of suicidal. Now, in 2015, we cannot be moderate in our reduction of fossil fuels. Gradualism has left us with drought, disease, flood and fire. We've learned "reform" in negotiations with big banks and corporations - is the dangerous choice, because it amounts to changing nothing. The seduction of Consumerism and the brute force of Militarism have distanced us, for many years, from taking the action we must take. But inside each of us is a freedom fighter rising up.
In 2015 we will be unafraid to defend our Earth, our community and our family. These shells of shelter, from personal to universal, from our loved ones to the loved One, will be defended from the invisible toxins, form the bullets of fear, from the profits of violence. We are unafraid to - we are glad to - change everything! Earthalujah!
I HAD A DREAM THAT THE STOP SHOPPING SINGERS HAD AN ORGY AT THE COLLISION OF THE CIRCUSES. Savitri and I were walking through the old tent as big as city blocks and very old like from another century. I was missing my blue enamel shoes with the clouds. There was a terrible emergency in the air but a great feeling that made you belly laugh.
Savi said look at all the lion-tamers walking around, cracking their whips, and no lions. I could see that this circus was a collision of circuses and the animals all got away. People rushed by like they had to do a task, a job. But others stood there with a long thought, like they had 90 childhood backyard memories in a row. Then we walked up to our friend Nehemiah, the music director of the Stop Shopping Choir. I was reminded of the space-shot announcer who said, "There has been a malfunction, obviously." There was a landscape before us. The choir was making love to itself in the ring of the circus. Nehemiah was very concerned, but in a gentle way. He would start conducting, and then stop with his hands still afloat. The thing is, the singers were still carrying the melody, nice harmonies rose from the pumping bodies. It was an orgy deep in thought.
A panting singer was quoting Rumi. Someone sang in a falsetto: "I am individuating as I do this." Savitri and Nehemiah were laughing like they were laughing the last laugh of a long work day. Meanwhile, the aroused were testifying. "I am Anna! I am Rafael! We are all strangers!" We wondered what that meant. We are all strangers. Bare shoulders and backs covered with sweat would appear and then go down into the hills and valleys and moving legs and stretching fabric.
There were whimsical comments rising out of this commitment to extreme physicality. A group was rising now on the south end of the sex family. They were starting a funk thing and pulling the moaning people to their feet. People were still connected but they weren't complaining. The singers tried to march while writhing like waves. Now it was part orgy and part parade. I realized that we were going to Monsanto with this undulating army. Nehemiah was moving them toward the brilliant light.They had a six part harmony going with a James Brown beat on the two and the four. "What do we do? We do with you? Do to you with this power? -- What do we do? We do with you? What do we do with this power?"
Here’s how we’re thinking about 2015. Monsanto is the Devil. The Honey Bee is the Hero. That hasn’t changed.
We want to move close to the beating heart of the Great Poisoner. We have confronted their office buildings, exorcised and eaten organic in their frontyards and lobbies until uniformed men walked toward us with an expression on the faces like they bit a piece of bad meat. Their poisons radiate to the trees and grasses of their manicured corporate-scape, and then out into the adjoining ecosystems. We want to sing radical music in the organic farms that are at risk downwind. Our notes will catch their spoors poisoning the minds of EPA officials, dining on Monsanto money, as glyphosates and neonicotinoids flood the water, air, and soil of our loved one.
Move upwind into them. Defeat their stories. In 2014 we sang past their security, climbing the stairs into the drone lab where they – working with the Pentagon – hope to replace the honey bee with the Robobee. We outed them into the pages of the New Yorker and Village Voice. We talked softly to their hapless scientists. The workers at Monsanto are parents. Their consumers have nieces and nephews. Monsanto is surrounded by people who have a crush on life. Never has such a huge company been so vulnerable to life’s revolt. We want that pied piper job. Sing and change, preach and de-toxify… walk deep into their marketing. Upwind in the poison. Defeat their stories.
Watch the video from the activist archives. http://vimeo.com/4988483
This is the Westfield Mall in Shepherd's Bush, London. Back when we still wore robes, in 2009, we incite ascending layers of law enforcement to wrap around us. as we shout "Stop Shopping children! It's time to slow down your consumption!"
Note the level of panic at the cameras, in this case the videographer is Richard DeDomenici, a popular performance artist and comedian in the UK - harassed by security men who seem to be the rugby players who didn't make the team. The aggression that is released by the interruption of shopping is an important key.
Eventually, as we came to understand the violence that is organized by the big box economy, the sweatshop products/union busting/fossil-fuel-centric/saturation marketing of the Walmarts of this world - this response became less bizarre. These are the underpaid renta-cops on the front line of a very deep army. By the end, we were confronted by the local bobbie captain, who knew what a performance artist was, and knew we'd been on the BBC singing about the sins of shopping.
As the "speaker's corner" in Hyde Park languishes, Westfield Mall, the biggest mall in England, sweeps everyone into a fake commons where expressive citizenship is disallowed. The heartbreaking testimony near the end by the store worker lady, who says "American has scads of malls and we don't have any - we love Westfield," shows us the difficult terrain we are hiking here. How do you confront the mistaken love of "The New?" We must raise "The Earth" to that level of attraction for the average predator Human. Quite a job.
We are looking back at the progression of our anti-shopping because of the recent breakthrough at the Ferguson Black Friday. "Hands Up! Don't Shop!"
First they came for the druggies who tried to make their fantasy economy away from the bigger killers, but I did not speak out, because I'm white with powder cocaine. Then they came for the immigrants, flooded by Clinton's subsidized corn and dragged screaming by ICE from their homes, and I did not speak out, because I'm sitting here waiting for my Mexican cook to bring me my pasta special. Then they came for the poverty-dizzied young from zip codes like Bed-Stuy and the Bronx, fed into the for-profit prison pipeline, and I did not speak out, because where do you start? It's a national operation run by Wall Street. Then one day the Earth came for me, the ocean turned to acid sweeping through the streets, and I cannot protect my family, because America is declared a permanent emergency, and the cops and soldiers are the same guy, jailing us in our upstairs apartment, and no-one is left to speak for me because permits to speak in public are rationed by Chase Bank.
Stopping traffic and stopping shopping. All the people walking away from work or walking away from looking for work - that's very good work. The atmosphere is getting some time to heal. Cops are patrolling crowds instead of hunting black men. We can keep doing this.
Demanding safety and nonviolence in our pubic life will take time. Evolving racism out of policing, giving violent cops desk jobs or unemployment or jail - this will take years. And let's protest for years and years because it is so healthy for us all to stall this toxic economy.
Protest should be what we do every day. Make an economy out of thousands walking on the highway, bring mobile gardens and sun-powered vendors and moveable libraries and organic toilets on wheels. Politicians and their employers the CEO's need to be stranded, screaming at us from their windows, unable to stop the large out-door crowds who love to sing together their rhymes about nonviolence.
We are distracting bad cops and stopping products usually shipped 3,000 miles for Christmas. Thank God consumer confidence is so down. This is wonderful for the animals and plants, water quality and the soil. The police are violent and racist, but so is the economy that they are trying to protect. It was based on corporate growth, and that is death. Protest and things will get better.
The Long Black Friday made sense a week ago in Ferguson, not just to young people but, surprisingly, to an older coalition of justice workers and Christians ministers who called for the cessation of shopping throughout the long Thanksgiving weekend. This is scandalous to the corporations. “Black Friday” is this weekend that establishes the retail profits for the year, as in, the company “Goes into the black.” But politically this is a savvy and long overdue move. The proposal confronts a decades-long drift toward a trading in of shopping for freedom.
Now we see die-ins in Macy’s in New York after the Eric Garner grand jury decision. Disruptions of the hypnotized state of holiday browsing continue in Walmarts and Targets throughout the country. These decisions to concentrate on big retail happen instinctively. They are crowd-sourced. People know that the privatizing of our commons is a key to what has gone wrong in our country. Congress is a corrupted commons. Shopping over-runs our local park.
Our nation was founded with surging anger that filled the streets and squares, the places that are owned by all of us. The project of neo-liberalism in recent decades pulls funds from the government agencies that maintenance such places and then turns these stages for celebration and sorrow, volunteered entertainment, mixing of strangers in the urban tradition – over to the control of local businesses, socialite ladies, wealthy “conservancies.”
Gradually the old sites for gatherings of freedom-fighters, like Union Square in New York, have been smothered with police and big retail. Union Square, the most important 1stAmendment site for a series of social movements that have shaped American life – from the first Labor Day parade to the huge peace marches after 9/11 – is shut-down as a public space. It is run now by a group of 50 rich and super-rich in a glorified “Business Improvement District” or BID, with a private police force that I have seen boss around the real police.
The commons was destroyed and we were steered into the money-making environments of malls and chain stores. In many cities, corporate retail is the only place where people can meet. It is the “center of town.” Once there, we are bombarded with the concentrated fire-power of corporate marketing. Instead of trees and wrought iron and the sculpted stone of old buildings - we suffer the seductions of super-models 50 feet tall sporting jewelry and underwear.
The police and courts went along with this shift to private property. Shopping rose to a religio-economic status above all else. Our prosperity and freedom depended on it, according to a series of presidents from Ronald Reagon to Bill Clinton and finally to George Bush’s famous statement after 9/11: “If you love your country you go out shopping.”
Expressive politics has become impossible. Either we are burdened with endless permits for gathering and amplified sound or we proceed in the fear that to exercise our basic freedoms puts us at risk of arrest. In most cities it has become routine that large numbers of police rush to any gathering of citizens of any kind. Respect for the police has fallen off in parallel to the disgust we have for politicians, as both professions seem to work for the rich and the corporations. The United States Constitution does not seem to be their script. The public’s freedom is no longer the goal. The public is something to manage, to push into de-politicized consumption.
The vacuum in public space has left police without any countervailing force. The rough democracy of speeches and music, the speaker’s corners, were always important for civic pride. There needs to be a balance of power with the police, or they will rule the streets absolutely. Unaware of the rights or feelings of their constituents, police and courts now have the power to decree a citizen’s death, because of what can only be described as their cultural isolation from the lives of the people that they swear to protect.
It makes sense to take the corporations up on their pretend public space. Force them to take the public role they are incapable of. Then re-open again our own commons, which waits with its 1st Amendment protections. Public space must be public again. The police who walk that beat must work for all the people.
Racist cops murder African Americans. The revulsion brings us together in transcendent scenes like last night on the bridge. Three years ago we had Occupy and three years before that the mortgage fraud scandal and world-wide recession began. Meanwhile, American drones slaughter families. And climate change kills the poor every day.
This keeps happening and each time the issue is life and death. A starkly violent issue comes to the center stage and suddenly a large number of us respond. Now we have this present moment, where racist police and court systems have exposed the government and corporate elite, evil unbroken since slavery and the collusion of fear-mongering and profiteering. We must not forget this, as we so often have with these historic justice events. This is murder by a subculture of fear and machismo, a culture that is unconscious of its violent privilege. We can’t rotate this issue away, enroute to the next one. We can’t default back into conveniences, entertainment and on-line dating.
These murders are a symbol of systematic violence against the powerless in all its forms, including poisoning the Earth and economic violence. Our time is running out. We will have to stick with the unforgettable issues and build our response for the longterm. This current uprising is the place to start. This issue can’t be put in the past by putting a few cops in jail and changing some rules. We can’t let up until the cops help us put the CEO’s in jail and big money is out of government.