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August 17, 2011

The Planet Strikes Back

The commons becomes our stage for stopping crimes against the Earth

Mountain Top Removal, Tar Sands and Fracking all seem far removed from the old green in the center of town. How are these crimes against the earth connected to the commons? Well, the drillers and scrapers and dynamiters, who are used to having their way, are now the subject of protest after protest being held in public commons around the world.

Around the world public spaces are being reclaimed, sometimes with peaceful elegance, as at Puerto del Sol in Madrid and in the cities of Israel. But other public space dramas are not so promising. Look at Battersea and Tottenham and Camden Town in London. In Chile, an outpouring of student grievances is happening on a massive scale, sometimes lapsing into the usual young masked men having at it with cops. In Hama, Syria the violence certainly doesn’t come from the people and the open areas in the city center only give the police an easier target. In Bahrain the commons was reconstructed quickly by the royal thugs—in the manner of the confiscation of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square years ago. All and all, I can’t help but be encouraged that the commons is teeming with life world-wide, starting with after Tahrir Square and the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

Yet these kinds of commons are in danger of being privatized, too.

It is very revealing that the commons is so politically sensitive. Power elites and their cops don’t seem to be able to ignore a crowd there. It seems to be the altar of civic karma, the last back stop for democracy. In the United States, activists are brewing many commons protests, some tent cities, some symbolic mass arrests, and some rallies where arrests will be avoided but risked nonetheless. In New York City, our NYPD has so conflated dissent with Al Queda—the 1st Amendment has been virtually shut out at such key sites of social change as Union Square. (We promise to work on that…)

The upcoming 350.org gathering in Washington is focusing on the pipelines planned for shipping the tar sands crude to the ports, with more than a thousand signed up for arrest. Adbusters is spearheading an occupation of Wall Street in a month. The Oct. 7th peace gathering at Freedom Plaza in DC is an as-long-as-it-takes affair with planned support systems for a tent city and sophisticated media outreach.

In the Church of Earthalujah we believe that the ultimate modern protester is the Earth itself, which doesn’t always stay on the horizon where the mining and energy companies wish it would stay. This year we’ve seen tornados drop into cities like gigantic dancing devils. These irate swirling activists paid visits to Tuscaloosa and Joplin, of course, but also Minneapolis, Brooklyn, Springfield Mass., as well as the St. Louis twister that seemed to be using GPS as it braked, turned left, and nailed the airport’s control tower.

I can feel some readers grinning through this last cartoon-like paragraph. Most of us are not ready to assign intelligence and soul to bad weather. But some earth scientists, and many First Nations peoples, would say that the Earth is a living being.

In 2011, climate change came to the United States in a big way, meanwhile citizens have returned to public spaces. If farmers’ markets have led the way in bringing civic life back to the American commons, there are also healthy commons-like signs— like strangers trusting each other, for instance—in a our escalating response to the Earth’s demanding drama. Let me say— this is what the Earth wants.

Even if the floods and fires and wind are not there in person – the Earth is the celebrity of American protest now. Our activists tend to view the Earth’s crisis as the mother of all issues the way civil rights once was. Certainly, new images of climate change resistance is forceful leverage against the corrupt political duopoly of Washington. The fact that the response to the Earth’s crisis is moving many people to bold action in the public commons—and not just on-line—is decisive for the rejuvenation of our communities. The commons—the place we all own—is our stage to make history. Celebrations and tragedies bring the commons to life. We have that happening now—and let’s keep it going, full of improvisatory story-telling, flirting, dancing. And let’s keep the place clean, too— even after the reporters move on.

It has become a cultural comment of clichéd proportions that the electronic village has created a virtual commons. But the Arab Spring activists used Twitter and Facebook as a means to an end – the destination being appearing in the flesh in Liberation Square. Embodying political change in the commons is returning to the fore, as is our memory that this is how our own country was founded. The much-heralded simultaneity of electronic information is accurate in a sense, but over-rated in terms of political change.

And so, speaking of simultaneity, we believe that there is a mystical connection between the mountains and oceans victimized by extractive industries, and the lock-down of our public spaces. And it is becoming clear that a new politics is rising both in the Earth of the general biosphere and on the Earth in the center of our cities and towns. Both are commonly owned or not owned at all.

The Earth has the deed.

_“Reverend Billy and the Earthalujah Gospel Choir”:http://www.revbilly.com/ will open their new OBIE-award winning show at Theatre 80 in New York’s East Village, on Sunday September 28. Or you might catch them casting demons from the bank lobby of UBS or Bank of America or some
other big bank that finances CO-2 emitting industries._