A guest blog post by Reverend Billy, leader of the Church of Stop Shopping, an activist performance group based in New York City
Rev. Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping are in the Bay Area this week! Click here for tour dates.
Mike Roselle’s smack-down of “Big Green” and Sandra Steingraber’s letter from jail–serving time for her fracking resistance in upstate New York–show us the sea-change that must take place in green activist culture.
I met Randy Hayes, RAN founder, in the late 80′s and came to know the Earth First and Redwood Summer activism while a Bay Area resident. Now these years later, we’ve worked with RAN campaigners Amanda Starbuck, Scott Parkin, and Annie Sartor in Mountaintop Removal activism. During our partnership with RAN we began blasphemous performers in lobbies of big banks: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, PNC, UBS, Deutsche Bank and HSBC–are among the banks whose gods we have transgressed against–with BankTrack’s latest study as our Bible, supplied by RAN.
I moved from the Bay Area to New York in the early 90′s and gathered the singing activists after Reverend Billy’s sidewalk preaching began in front of the Disney Store in Times Square. Our activist group, legally constructed like a small theater company, was soon defending community gardens in the city. We took turns responding to hesitant overtures by such Big Green orgs as NRDC and Sierra Club, but we proved too wild and woolly. Meanwhile, since 2005′s Katrina and Rita storms–our “Devil” turned from big retail toward the CO2 emitting (think Dirty Coal) investments by big banks.
Most of our partners are local veterans of the MTR, fracking or pipeline wars. Time and time again, after a collaboration with a big green org, after a concert or a videotape or leading a parade before a rally–our relationship would end. A harsh example: in 2007, when the Stop Shopping activists were hotly pursuing Starbucks for their suppression of licensing opportunities for the makers of Ethiopia’s Sidamo and Harrar coffees–we were told by Oxfam America that “We cannot state publically that we are working with you.” By that time we had gone to jail several times, and were involved in a YouTube duel with a Starbucks’ marketing VP. Although the campaign was a success for Ethiopian coffee families, Oxfam didn’t want to be identified with activists who were sitting in the Tombs. They had that disease called “Fear of the what the imaginary middle class might think.”
Oxfam may have objected to our manipulation of fundamentalist religious memes, of the use of humor, dance and music in our activism, or just our lack of money. Who knows? In 2013 –would Oxfam personnel feel differently about us, as eco-activism increasingly resembles the dramas (and arrests and police violence) of the Civil Rights Movement? We believe that the orgs of Big Green, and the foundations and donors that often side with them–are ready for a change. Everyone everywhere that loves Earth is becoming radicalized. There is more of a connection now with cultural change in American history, which has always involved bodily risk, music and general brazenness. Amen?
Rainforest Action Network staff–thank you for your hosting of our REVOLT OF THE GOLDEN TOAD Bay Area Tour. Our connection to your founders, and to your ambitious activism against the climate-change financing by big banks–feels like a natural home.