Look Up!

a meditation on Trump’s immigration police

by Rev Billy Talen

My city has the looking-down disease. Standing at the corner of a street, I watch whole crowds looking down into squares of light in their hands. Then there is the horrified scream of a child, the kind of scream that has tragedy in it, and it is nearby, in broad daylight.  The looking down people can't see this, because the nightmare-makers, the immigration cops who are pulling loved ones away from these children in the new American abduction, those "police" know the precise behavior of the looking-down people. 

They have studied us and they know what we notice.  And they are pretty sure that if we do not see them pulling our fellow New Yorkers into the white vans of Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), then we probably regard what is online as real; that is, reality is far away, coming from mysterious, anonymous algorithmically-sophisticated computers.  Our shoulders are stuck in a shrug.

How do we stop this violence or even slow it down?  What must take place for my city to look up again, where we would straighten our spines and lift up our chins and raise our arms, and take our frightened neighbors into our embrace.  Immigrant rights activists say that citizens who stay close to the targeted families do help.  Citizens who accompany the undocumented to the grocery store, to church, walking alongside the families in the courts, can cause the agents of ICE to back off.  With our hands free of the squares of light, the practitioners of fear are forced to hesitate…

This is part of a larger civil rights movement.  The shooting of another unarmed black man, in his own back yard in Sacramento, the shooting of children in Parkland, at Pulse, Newtown, and on and on… and the shootings of children in Afghanistan, by drones, or getting caught in cross-fires between gangs, between governments…   and the flood and wind and fire from western over-consumption, again, reduced for us to squares of quivering light in our hands.  We are looking down, so that the moment of our witnessing is one of non-response.  We are inside a directed, profit-taking dream.


The revolution won’t be iPhoned.  The change must take place in our senses, in our ordinary looking-and-seeing, and then in our physical commitment.  We must look up and see our neighbors. The power for the messy eco-system called Democracy is found in the body. I offer two quotes, from Emma Goldman and from Duke Ellington.  “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”  And, “If it aint got that swing, it don’t mean a thing.” 

The pollsters tell us that citizens of the USA are evenly divided on Trump’s family-breaking deportations.  This is only because we haven’t looked up.  Pixelated media scandalizes the abductions, while at the same time distancing us from the violence.  Anyone who has experienced the agony of these families, especially in the children, would never admit these arrests into the traditions of our country.


When we look up, then the politics of the body are possible.  We can put our hands on the cruelty and stop it.  We can laugh at the tortured reversing of the idea of the United States.  We can witness first hand that the violent are claiming to find violence in the innocent, that our state-sanctioned crime is to find crime where there is innocent love. 

When we look up from our corporate pixels, we can receive the smile of a million women, hear the praying of the water protectors, the retaking of public space by black lives that matter, the passionate shouting of the children freeing us all from guns. We can feel mighty fine swept up into this looking-up rising-up taking-it-back revolution.

My city has the looking down disease.  We have to be a people that looks up, and sees out, and commits our bodies to change.  We can’t change online. 



Rev Billy Talen tours with the 35-voice Stop Shopping Choir, a group of singing activists from New York City.  He hosts with partner Savitri D, the radio-podcast “The Earth Wants YOU”.






<p>Billy Graham Says You Might Die Today</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="margin-left:.25in;">&nbsp;</p><p style="margin-left:.25in;"><em>&ldquo;Give me your tired, your poor, </em></p><p style="margin-left:.25in;"><em>Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,</em></p><p style="margin-left:.25in;"><em>The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.</em></p><p style="margin-left:.25in;"><em>Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,</em></p><p style="margin-left:.25in;"><em>I lift my lamp beside the golden door!&rdquo;</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>We think that the preachers of the American evangelical movement are perpetual political opponents. This is a mistake. Their</p><p>fanaticism should be understood as a dangerous phenomenon. The triumphalism of the Democrats, who believe that they will ride a wave of revulsion against Trump to victory at the polls, must stop now. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>The evangelicals are canny players in the modern world, and now they have their President. The pussy-grabbing, encouragement of racist police policy, softness on neo-nazism, gunning down of school-children &ndash; every horror show seems to be the final destination of hate.&nbsp; And yet time and time again we find that we are witnessing another battle in a longer war.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>And now we have ICE.&nbsp; The hunting of immigrant families by ICE &ndash; the Immigration Customs Enforcement, is pure 1938 Germany, with Federal police stalking fathers and mothers in churches and hospitals and even pulling them out front doors of homes with children screaming, grabbing their legs.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Trump&rsquo;s father was a fan of Reverend Billy Graham, as was and is his son Franklin. On the day that Reverend Billy Graham died, I had the impulse to take the tourist boat out to Liberty Island, to the great green woman who stands with the raised torch in our New York harbor. I see the unbelievable 22 story high queen every day in the train window, but had never been to the island itself.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>What I discovered was a smashing-through of the post-card familiarity. The Statue of Liberty is a spectacular historical monument, stupendously huge, but it is also very alive.&nbsp; Lady Liberty raises her torch in mid-stride. What popped out at me was the present-tense quality of her message. It felt like she was speaking.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Lady&rsquo;s Liberty bold statement couldn&rsquo;t be more contemporary. It&rsquo;s almost like, from way up there, she can see the white vans of ICE sharking up and down the streets of the 700,000 of our New York neighbors whose papers don&rsquo;t satisfy them. Lady Liberty is the messenger of unconditional love, an astonishing thing in this day and age. Emma Lazarus&rsquo; poem is displayed&nbsp; on the lawn before her.&nbsp; &ldquo;Give me your tired your poor&hellip; Send these, the homeless&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Billy Graham&rsquo;s welcome was his famous &ldquo;altar call.&rdquo; He told his rapt audience to commit to Jesus Christ, warning them that they had better join up right away because - they could die on their way home! He said this a packed Yankee Stadium. His invitation, with its talk of Hell, should have been seen for what it was, the ancient protection racket of fundamentalism.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>To defeat such people at the polls is not enough. To meet this hate with a snarky counter-hate has not worked. The evangelicals will return in the future with even greater violence.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>There are two things we have failed to do with American evangelism.&nbsp; First, we have not admitted to ourselves the depth and danger of its violence. Hundreds of our mayors have announced that they will not cooperate with ICE, that theirs are Sanctuary Cities. But this remains rhetorical, as the average policeman in the United States will often side with ICE.&nbsp; City cops must not only refuse to work with ICE, they should protect the threatened families from invasion by militarized police.&nbsp; The sanctity of the home is a basic point in our Declaration of Independence. &nbsp;Officers should protect our homes from ICE.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>And we have to give the love.&nbsp; We don&rsquo;t even know these people. When the San Francisco Gay Chorus canceled its European tour after the Trump victory a year ago, making the decision to sing their way through the red states, they showed us the way. They sang joyously, not with threats, but with the strength of the beat and soaring harmony.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>We can construct a compelling-without-threats message that is even stronger than the mono-maniacal intensity of the evangelicals. Bring it and bring it with love. I come from these hard right folks, and I believe that they do notice the violence. Many Christians listen to Trump or Franklin Graham, and then look at ICE and the agony of those families, at the gunning down of unarmed black and brown citizens by police, at the ease with which assault rifles are purchased in our society.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Love of a fierce kind is the key to re-integrating right wing Christians into a nonviolent society.&nbsp; They must be powerfully welcomed. We will invite these people back to the United States, from within, with the open-ness of Lady Liberty.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

We’re in a strange place, a garden inside Trump Tower.  We are facing blank pages with our pens.  There are 15 of us.  Savitri D and myself and singers from the Stop Shopping Choir and friends who heard about it.  We’re waiting for the timekeeper to say “Write.”  We will write nonstop for 45 minutes. 

The Trump Company is required to let us sit here under this 700 feet high slab of gold-tinted glass.  Years ago, Trump agreed with the city to keep this garden open to the public, in exchange for 24 extra floors.  This is Donald Trump’s business headquarters and sometimes home, with body-armored men at the door with submachine guns. 

Being inside Trumplandia can be unnerving.  For the New Yorkers who join us in the tower garden, Trump has been the city’s unsavory clown for decades.  We encountered the gold lettering of his name everywhere and we glimpsed posturings with hair in the distance.  When we take the five flights of gold-plated escalators up to the garden, we suffer a full-body immersion.  The gold mirrors make a dim, almost soupy light.  God it’s ugly.

“Write!”  We all start scrawling.  What we write might be called secrets, first-thoughts, recovered memories, streams of consciousness.  I say “secrets” because we don’t share our writing with one another.  Not yet, anyway.  Now in our fifth week, we haven’t read our work out loud or handed off the journals. 

We’re focused on pre-Gutenberg writing.  We use the older technology of longhand-and-paper.  We’re spending time on the nearside of pixels, streaming, virtual reality.  

This home-made culture of our little band of citizens, at the site of world-wide piracy and hokum and treason – assumes that something has gone radically wrong in our basic social communicating.  But it is inside the sentences that you and I speak all day long, let’s admit it.

To borrow from science fiction, there a space-time rip in our language.  The Trump tweets, Russian hacks, and Koch trolls seem more like symptoms than causes. 

Our failure is more devastating than Donald Trump.  As a nation, and as a species, we don’t know how to communicate with ourselves.  Our town crier function is silenced.  The attack-noise of products and law enforcement and fear – make our public media  conceal more than reveal.  

Otherwise we would have written or spoken something in public about the racism, compelling enough to Out The Hate.  Why haven’t we shown that families must be protected?  How can our defense of life itself be demoted to “issues” and “policy” and “write your congressperson?” This 700 foot wall is crawling with Devils!

We don’t need to be great writers.  We need to say something.  Where is the art of effective protest, the howl, the arts as a starting-over point, or call it just plain I-don’t-buy-it independence.  Freedom of expression has become as irrelevant as White House press conferences.  

This is why we are turning inward for awhile.  Margaret Meade said that revolutions start with a few people talking at a table.  We’re in the thoughtful inhale before the talk.  The stakes are so high and the hour is so late.  We’ll spend some time tilling the soil of silence. 

There are little weeds in the cracks of the pink granite floor of this so-called garden.  There is moss and mold along the walls.  We talk to the weeds at the end of our 45 minutes. We ask the weeds to remember us as they dismantle this modernist slab.  Can we be super-weeds in your forest?

Culture starts from inside, quietly under the surface, like a seed in the soil.  The first breath of a thought, before the socializing starts, is the protest that will grow to bury this wall.   

We sit together at tables in the garden, the police and the tourists eyeing us from the edges of the gold decor.

The Church of Stop Shopping and its guests meet in the garden on the 5th floor of Trump Tower two or three times a week. The schedule and sign-up is here:  https://www.volunteersignup.org/DYBHE   Savitri D and Rev Billy are hosting “The International Brown Bag Lunch” at the Trump garden at noon Tuesday July 25.  Bring your ancestral food and join us.  On Thursday July 27, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir are presenting their acclaimed “fabulous worship” at the Prospect Park bandshell at 7:30, as a part of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn.  This sermon was originally published in The Villager in New York City.

Savitri D and Reverend Billy Talen from the art/activist group “The Church of Stop Shopping” have begun writing in a public garden on the 5th floor of Trump Tower on 56th and 5th Avenue.  People are beginning to join them in the mid-day write-ins.  Their intent is to “start culture over,” concluding that current culture is killing so many people, and so much of the earth’s life generally.  They made the decision to start small, with free writing in 45 minutesperiods in the garden.  They have dubbed the write-ins, “Radical Ritual,” but the results of the gatherings are not known or guessed at.  The story below is from Rev Billy’s writing at Trump Tower on May 25.

Out here in this strange community garden, a stone balcony with twelve little trees, with entry from the 5th floor of Trump Tower, we sit in the New York roar.  It rolls down on us from the clouds that peer into this glorified air-shaft.

The roar is the soundtrack for the gold-and-pink-marble-lined skyscraper of Donald Trump.  In these first 5 stories of the tower, the tourists take escalators up and down.  It’s a vertical mall.

A week ago we began to come to the tower every day.  We take walks in the Trump mall and there are lots of chatty product people mixed with ;];]≥≥≥÷/c/c/ ;//  silent police people.  This is a weird museum, dedicated to a single man’s aspiration for billions of dollars.  It’s hard work to hold your own line of thought for any length of time.  The high-volume gold décor is in such bad taste, it comes at witnesses like a big dare.

There are so many different kinds of cops, with so many suits and badges, it’s like a comic Italian city-state.  Each level of police acts macho in a slightly different style.  We upset the Trump corporate cops the most, the ones who were here before Trump won the presidency.  They believe tourists are the single brand of person allowed.  It is clear to them that we don’t respect the loud gold spell of this place.  We point at the wrong things.  We gaze into the tourists’ faces like there’s a mystery to solve.

Maybe the cops sense that we know that Trumplandia isn’t permanent.  This building will be transformed by something stronger than Donald Trump.   Ascending diagonally up the steps of the gold-plated escalator will be someone coming from beyond the gold. 

I can look down from the edge of the 5th floor and see that down in the fake sidewalk cafes that this someone is already here.  I’m not sure of the gender or race or age in the distance of confusing gold mirrors.  I see her.  She is apparently alone.  She walks a few steps and stands at an angle.  Her image multiplies and vanishes in the five floor-high box of gold mirrors. 

Then I realize that she is Reality Winner. 

And behind Reality on the up escalator is Chelsea Manning.  And Nina Simone.  And Winona LaDuke. 

Yes! A crowd of truth-tellers is rising in the vertical mall.  Daniel Ellsberg.  Chuck D.  Victor Jara.  Fannie Lou Hamer.  Arundhati Roy.  Bobby Sands.  Haydee Santamaria.  Patrice Lamumba.  Pussy Riot.  Waldemar Fydrych.  John Lennon. The tank man of Tiananmen, Joan Baez.  Now lots of people are pouring through the giant doors on 5th Avenue, past the soldiers with their submachine guns, people from Tahrir, Syntagma, Gezi Park, Puerta del Sol, Red Square, Zuccotti, Hong Kong, Heathrow, Cuernavaca, Ferguson and Baltimore, and Standing Rock…

They pack the elevators and escalators, rising up through the gold.  Where are the tourists? No-one is a tourist anymore.   No-one is shopping. 

There is someone here who will carry the dream out of the street and up into the tower.

Earth-force meets money-force at Standing Rock. I’m so relieved I’m here. It scares me to think that I might have missed this.

We get up at dawn. Four hundred people walk slowly in a light snow to the river by the camp. A teacher is talking. His headdress is a crisscrossing of long, narrow feathers. He is of the Havasupai, the people who live by the blue-green waterfalls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He calls out across the river. “Water is life! Take me! My heart beats with you!”

It’s cold at 7am. The children don’t seem cold though. They run around in the mud and ice. There are 80 tribes here. Some say many more. As we stand on the shore with a slow drum beating, the people shout “water” in many languages. 

The Earth-force is represented by this river and these eagles and these water protectors. We see the Money-force, standing over there on the bridge, just a couple hundred feet from the edge of long meadow of white tipis along the Cannonball River. The police look like a long row of Darth Vaders. 

In the environmental movement, we have yearned for the success of the Civil Rights and the Gender Rights movements. Few of us, though, face the police like the freedom-fighters of old. Arrests and trials are only one indicator of a movement’s power, but an important one. As environmentalists we fall back on soft confrontation dominated by data. Data is bloodless. Lobbying, position papers, endless graphics and electronic petitions might as well be abandoned in the age of Trump.

Evidence points to the need for a quasi-religious transformation of cultural values.  —Dr. Anne Ehrlich and Dr. Paul Ehrlich

Who has undergone this “quasi religious transformation” the Ehrlichs call for now in the time of the Earth’s crisis? I think of Wangari Maathai and her billion trees, Edward Abbey and Earth First and the dreams of freeing western rivers of their dams, Judi Bonds and Larry Gibson in their danger-filled opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining.

The transformation of Standing Rock needs to be carried to many towns and cities. The Earth’s response to its own fever is everywhere all the time, and our activism must this as our map.  We need to press up against militarized and consumerized citizens at all points, and then convert them to life.  Can we pull them across the border between death and life?

Suddenly there is clarity for Earth activists.  With extinction accelerating and climate changing, we must transform with the intensity that one associates with religion.  If some of us wouldn’t be able to convert an actual faith, at least a new Earth politics must be strong enough to break up the over-scheduling, the debt, the traditional careerism - the things that make it impossible to freely act.  We have the time if we take the time.

Three movements in recent years galvanize us.  In these citizen movements we did take the time, took the risk, and made a difference. Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. The lesson in all of them, the thing they have in common is that so many changed their own individual lives in order that they could then change the rest of us.  In all three, the spiritual element is carried by the act of living together, literally living together, without the supervision of the corporations or government.

Zuccotti Park and the stretch of sidewalk in front of the Ferguson police department and the meadow near the sacred stone… these three places are lived in. Here is where activists cared for each other and shared food, clothing and medicine. The force that upsets entrenched power the most is this compassionate living, this community in plain sight.

Standing Rock offers us our moment of clarity.  We can physically commit now. We must face the Devil. It is life and death. And living actively in a time of life and death must be a spiritual act. It should  be you and I in service getting something done, in our daily life.  Public caring and going through  the quasi-religious transformation must go hand in hand.  It was always so, from Pettis Bridge to Stonewall.  

When we are at peace with the Earth, we are able to hold our ground.  The ground is the point.  We hold our ground and the Earth holds us.  In prison and in pain and in loss the Earth holds us.  And then in the time of forgiveness after the struggle - the Earth still holds us.  

We must fearlessly love until there is no hate!  Earthalujah!

The First Nations peoples in North Dakota are showing us the future of direct action. In the path of the Enbridge pipeline—the “black snake”—they’re making something that traditional environmentalists don’t have words for.  A friend of mine who is there put it this way: "It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony."

There is a crucial lesson here that we environmentalists must learn.  At Standing Rock, the cops and courts, helicopters and drones and Dobermans – face their opposite: the pipeline of pure life is pouring onto them from a hundred tribes.  It must be astonishing for Dakota Access advocates to come face to face with their anti-world.  

All the life that they would have killed over many years is anticipating events and concentrating here now.  All the antelope and burrowing owls and prairie rattlers and eagle feathers catching the wind with the dancers.  It’s all the beings of the Earth that aren’t oil!  Let’s watch Standing Rock long enough to make our stand.  We’ve got to keep this earthy pipeline flowing over the drills puncture, the pipeline's tunnel, the bomb train’s rails…  

After the power of what we have seen among the Squamish canoeists and kayaktavists and now of the Standing Rock Souix and their many guests, now is a good moment for us to return to these teachers, without anxiety that we’re headed back to the sixties.  Many of the American Indian Movement heroes were murdered by the feds.  But this timeif we stand by and don’t defend these first people—if all we do is watch, the way that white settlers stared from their front porches at the walking and dying on the Trail of Tears—then we won’t be able to save ourselves.  

The people of the First Nations always tell us the same thing: "The Earth is a living being.  The Earth communicates with us."  This changes everything.  Our activism is completely turned inside out.  All questions of ego and courage are lifted from us. We are acting now with the Earth flowing through us.  

A couple days ago I was in a police cruiser in handcuffs.  I had tried to crash an annual and immense Monsanto party, in which the chemical and seed companies lease the entire State Capitol and Supreme Court Building in Des Moines, Iowa.  State troopers  actually took the role of bouncers.  It was simply corporation as government. Outrageous. Orwellian.

I was standing there with my Occupy the World Food Prize friends, this their fifth year in opposing the soiree of the great poisoners.  Father Frank Cordaro was there, fresh from the southern pipeline tunneling under the Des Moines River, the one that is supposed to join the Standing Rock pipe somewhere in the Dakotas and complete the Black Snake.  The young men in uniform talked with us for their amusement and then arrested three of us quickly.  

The ground our little band held sacred was an earthy memory of pre-GMO Iowa.  My great grandparents from the Netherlands, William and Lena Talen were farming near here and the joke in the family is that they were such devout Calvinists that they were bad farmers.  The prayers got in the way of the plowing.  Now their great grandson is another over-mediated white guy looking for a ceremony.  I yearn for an endlessly complex Earth.  Don’t we all?  Don’t we have that in us somewhere?  Even these police?  Who wants the numbed mono-culture of toxic corporate farms?  

As the police cruiser took me toward the highway and the prison – the branches of great, old trees swept over the car.  The tires crunched acorns in the drive.  Arrest is a bad dream that I try to re-write as it happens.  Doubled over with my handcuffs, I forced myself to marvel at these trees above.  I remembered a tree-fact:  when sunlight enters a leaf and photosynthesizes into energy, this energy can flow instantaneously to any point in the tree, to the deepest tendril of its roots… the energy transfer takes no time.  Western science can’t explain this.  It is as if the trees defeat distance inside themselves. Any energy in the tree can be everywhere in the tree at once.  And it pierces my incarceration.

As their grand gestures slide over the windshield, I promise myself that I will receive the interior of trees into my voice, somehow, the way that the plains is pouring toward the pipeline through the people who have loved that Earth.  

Yes! We will be wise in the ways of the trees by the time Monsanto turns Iowa over to Bayer.  See you next year.

(Note: Church of Stop Shopping Choir with Reverend Billy will stage their "Fabulous Worship" at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York, Sundays Nov 20th to Dec. 18th.  Tickets at JoesPub.com)

I wore my long johns so that I could sit in the Tombs, a cold jail even if its 70 degrees on the surface.  So I had my baptist hanky out right away as we approached the front door of the Central Park Conservancy – that dabbing off of sweat only made me seem more like a wearied-by-the-spirit preacher.  Then as we walked up to the billionaire’s club – a surprise - the police and well-dressed security types, faded away.  This made me sweat just a bit less.

It showed us that in the billionaires part of town, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between Park Avenue and 5th Avenue on 60th Street, the police work for their overlords.  In another part of town the cops will walk by the crowd and the Stop Shopping Choir and push me over and hand-cuff me.  Then I’m led away while the choir sings our gospelized version of the 1st Amendment.  This has been going on for 15 years. 

But yesterday I remained free under the CPC’s “martyrdom management,” – a more nuanced approach by the marketing department of the very rich.  We began to sing and shout about poisons in the parks, starting with “Monsanto is the Devil,” from our new record.

Yesterday was about secrecy… the secrets of modern personal fortunes.   Yesterday was also about the secrets of poisons dispersed in nature, that nature being the Central Park foliage and lawns and promenades.

High society New York style, of course, must have secrets.  The castle has a wraith of mist, with the princess swirling briefly by a high window.  That’s the classic cover of those bodice-ripper books that after-work nurses read on the subway.  Funny how the cheapest pop culture can accurately catch the essence of the modern governance…

This is essentially the Central Park Conservancy’s presentation to the hoi polloi, and to the ten singers and Elvis impersonator dogging their doorway with the Tiffany glass awning.  We look like a subway car of people who stumbled into the rich part of town, but we are a threat.  Our little theater company’s lawyer has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the NY Parks Dept that is well-made and legally binding.  We demand to know when and where of the spraying by the city of Monsanto’s carcinogenic herbicide “RoundUp” is incomplete. The city showed us where the poisons were sprayed on the African and Hispanic citizens, the working poor and new immigrants – but where the rich live in Manhattan and in Brooklyn around Prospect – we got big blanks.  The conservancies refused to cooperate.   They should have given us the information last October.  Our map on the website Revbilly.com has a Joker-like question mark on Central Park.  Secrecy.

The largest gift the park ever got came in 2012 from John Paulson.  The gift was a cool $100 million.  Paulson is a god of secrets.  He used the credit default instruments invented by Blythe Masters at JPMorgan Chase, to “short the housing market.”  Let’s say that again.  Paulson created hedge funds where he and his speculators could take bets that the housing bubble would burst.  He made  $4 billion that year as millions of families lost their homes.  He made a market that was secret because he invented it, a definition of the waves of absconded wealth in recent decades. 

So we sang and shouted for a couple hours.  My sermon was all about secrecy.  The bullhorn made nice echoes in this canyon of billionaires.  The snuck in an out of our harmonies.  We tried to give them information on the sidewalk but they scurried off.  Savitri got into fascinating conversations with clumps of lunchtime workers, who drifted near us, smoking and smiling – but maybe not quite clapping or shouting Earthalujah!

They will privatize this sidewalk as soon as they can, I suppose. Meanwhile the laws of the land reach this far: shouting citizens in the doorway.  We’ll be back.  And of course they know that – because the police being there as we arrived indicated that they had read our emails.  

Conservancy people – listen to me.  If we’ve been sprayed by RoundUp, a carcinogen that is banned in scores of countries.  And insiders in the Parks Dept. have whispered to us that we have been sprayed by the stuff…  we need to know about it.  The rich can’t keep secrets.

That’s what I’m facing, a return to the beginnings of the idea of Reverend Billy, a return to his first church – the pavement.  This time not so much in Times Square, where homeless citizens sleep in doorways.  The sidewalk preacher’s new church is the front door of billionaires on East 60th Street.

         The Central Park Conservancy is overseen by about 70 trustees.  Among them are the world’s biggest gamblers – real sinners who desperately need the advice and comfort of the Church of Stop Shopping.  Take for instance – the man who made billions betting on the pain and suffering of millions of Americans when he hedged the housing bubble, the eviction and mortgage fraud bubble, of the late naughts.

         Such a legend of depravity as John Paulson hangs in the air at East 60th Street.  He is an untouchable.  He lives somewhere around the park, and maybe he comes to the conservancy office once a year, who knows?  He has given millions to the conservancy.  He has said that the park is a dreaming place of his boyhood, but now he allows his park workers to spray the playgrounds and picnic areas with Monsanto’s carcinogenic herbicides. 

         You say he doesn’t even know about it?  Well they say he jogs in the park most days, and lives in a townhouse on the east side, somewhere around the conservancy offices.  It is more important to ask, why would another Conservancy trustee, Mitchell Silver, who is the Commissioner of the Parks Dept of New York City – be so complacent about the poisons.  His deputy commissioner told us (the Coalition Against Poison Parks) that there is a minimum safe dosage for RoundUp.  What?  What study said that?  No scientist that doesn’t work for Monsanto ever proved a safe ingestion of this toxin, not of any amount.  

         No, Silver and his people is as close to the death struggle of poisoned everyday people as Paulson was to evicted home-owners in 2008, when he made $4 billion in 12 months. 

         So a shout in the street is my media again.  I was in Times Square in the 90’s with the Naked Cowboy and the Black Hebrews, and now I’m here.   But comparing the two church sites, this place feels much stranger.  It is quiet here.  There are no shouts here.  Only the Romanesque facades of money, layered in law enforcement.  Where will my shout go?  Maybe my echo will wend its way through the airshafts of the super-rich. 

         Perhaps my echoes will somehow ascend the elevator into the building and trip something in the brain of the conservancy staff.  Perhaps the Monsanto chemicals, banned in so many countries, really is the asbestos and lead and Marlboro murder of the future?  Somebody was shouting about those killings too, when everyone was making too much money to hear.  

I’m becoming nocturnal. This morning I was up at 3:30.  I rummaged around the foot of the bed in the dark, picking up my clothes and pulling them on, made a thermos for my Sidamo coffee, and set out for the forest in Prospect Park.  The woods are closed after dark, and the police shine spotlights into the foliage from their cruisers, but part of the forest is near the fence-line at the street, so I can escape into the trees.

         I squint as I walk to avoid twigs in the eye. It is a night with some wind, the clouds sailing over the black swaying branches.  I climb a ridge that stretches into the interior of the park. There is a forested Quaker cemetery there. I can just make out the gravestones in the roots and leaves.

         In a low voice I talk to the peace-makers who are sleeping beneath this forest floor. I am thanking them for their courage.  Now we need their guidance.

         The choir and I will attempt some activism this week against the socialite New Yorkers who control these parks. They spray Monsanto’s toxic RoundUp, and they have increased the spraying as they replaced park workers who for many years weeded the parks by hand.  While the World Health Organization and scores of studies warn that glyphosate is linked to cancers, endocrine disruptions, autism, birth defects – the spraying doesn’t stop, it spreads.  And they won’t tell us where and when they do it.           

         I share all this with the dead heroes in the shadows. I look up at the starry sky up above canopy of old trees.  I am wondering how it must have felt to look out across the Pacific Ocean, back in 1958, when a small band of Quakers set out from San Pedro, California in a sailboat called the Golden Rule.  The USA and the USSR were testing large atom bombs during the cold war, and radioactive clouds were roaming the atmosphere.

         The peace sailors planned something unprecedented. They would sail into the giant sloping waves of the Pacific for weeks and weeks.  5000 miles later they hoped to be floating in the center of a nuclear test site in the Marshall Islands, daring them to kill the witnesses.  Pushing away from the dock and raising the canvass to the wind, how did you feel?  They got about halfway, but halfway the Golden Rule was boarded twice at their stop in Hawaii, and then the crew of five was quickly charged, convicted and sentenced to six months in prison.  An international outcry ensued, and the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd ships set sail from the inspiration of the Golden Rule.

         We ask for your blessing. The distance that we are facing with our toxins is of a different kind.  This is the endless ocean of the life around us that we cannot see.  We have the mystery of tens of thousands of invisible gaseous chemicals. The poisons are far away, but it is here in our breath as we take the stuff of the outside city into our bodies.  It’s right here.

         Mother and father activists!  Be with us as we sing in the doorways of the Conservancies of New York City.  If and when we are arrested, may some kind of articulate scandal make this hidden world obvious to everyone, so that we can sail into the molecular manipulations of power.


Rev Billy

“The Earth Wants YOU” is an 11-song record by the Stop Shopping Choir and also a book from City Lights Press by Reverend Billy, released in the next weeks.  In both – Monsanto is the Devil.

In the first hours of the climate talk demonstrations in Paris, the police attacked with tear gas etc. – and our hearts sank as we saw protest criminalized. For New Yorkers this was a familiar sight. We remembered the inside-out logic after 9/11 that found peace marchers attacked by cops. They had vague ideas that we were associated with foreign money and distantly - Al Qaida.

By the last days of the two weeks in Paris the police walked the streets with us peacefully. Volunteers from civil society had talked them down. By December 12th, the French police were still wildly off the mark with their Darth Vader outfits were, but it is really magical how a smile neutralizes armor.

Who were they ready to fight and why? As we look out across the next twelve months, this would be a good question to ask. Let’s be clear about what security means. Where is the violence?

The answer is: the sellers of fossil fuel. There is no group of men near that level of violence. These criminals threaten us. The violence to our children is deadly. But so far we have called them respectable businessmen. That’s what they said.

In my neighborhood the parents who are protesters and the parents who are police take their kids to the same schools. And in December this year, the temperature was 25 degrees higher than normal. We talked about the weather. “Hot day today, yes?” “The mockingbird in our tree is going crazy like its summer…”

This year we will appeal directly to police. Come into the modern world and identify the modern criminal. Do the forensics. Put pictures of tornadoes up on the walls of the precinct house. Why is the city spraying us with carcinogenic herbicides from Monsanto? Who created Hurricane Sandy?

The environmental movement has been stuck in lobbying, litigation, nonprofit fundraising, publicity – years of this same cycle of activities. Somehow the police’s allegiance has remained beyond the pale. And yet in all revolutions in history there was an important moment when the police holstered their guns and changed their idea of crime.

It is up to us to find ways to communicate. Tell the story. Cop-and-courtroom dramas dominate our movies and TV. It would be huge if Earth crimes suddenly showed up on the docket. How long can we keep the hundreds of thousands of dead from the global south out of our idea of crime? Report the crime in progress at the power plant, not just here but in South Africa, in Indonesia, in Colombia. Bring the DA the stats, the pictures, the evidence. Invite the police to be good fathers and mothers. Why aren’t the ExxonMobil science doubters in the tank?

Now you may be wondering – is this all just fanciful? How far are we really from this notion of changing law enforcement to see climate change as a crime? The point is: We have no choice. We want to survive.