Last year we covered Reverend Billy‘s run for the Mayor of NYC, a hyper-local grassroots campaign that inspired people to reengage with what it really means to live in a neighborhood. Billy didn’t win, but the campaign has served as a platform for others to carry on that local focus and get their hands dirty making New York a better place. So what is Billy up to now?
Some of you may have caught wind of the Reverend’s latest crusade, but in a nutshell, Billy’s going after JP Morgan Chase because they’re bankrolling “mountain top mining,” and environmentally devastating scorched-earth mining technique that destroys ecosystems and poisons communities—and if you bank at Chase (which just announced over $3 billion in profits for the first quarter, don’t you know), you’re paying for it.
I asked Billy about this and other things, and despite the fact he had a one-day-old baby, he answered me.
After running such an aggressively local, neighborhood-oriented campaign for Mayor of New York City why did you jump on an issue that most directly effects people in a different state who’ve probably never heard of you?
We always start our politics from the neighborhood. Neighborhood-defense, we call it. And what do we see? Chase with its sky-blue swastika-like logos on every corner. We see chain banks everywhere. It was later in the process that we found that the mono-culture here means mountaintop removal there.
How do you make people see the connection between their ATM card and the environmental and health devastation that is Mountain Top Mining?
That disconnect is the great challenge of the American political conscience. With JP Morgan Chase we have a company that has partnered with Massey Energy, Arch Corp., a criminal cartel that even major banks backed away from. Mountaintop removal is science-fiction like, it’s so bad. But now Chase finances 80% of strip-mining in this country. We may have a window of opportunity here, because the bailout was so transparently corrupt, and mountaintop removal is so remarkably devastating. If ever we had an opportunity to connect the results of Chase’s money with our personal moment at the ATM, this would be it.
Are you at all optimistic about the change in regulatory culture brought on by the Obama administration? Specifically, that the mining industry will no long be monitored by “ex” mining executives?
Well, a guy like Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy, he’ll find a way around it. You’ve read how he challenges rulings so that a pattern of abuse cannot be established. He gums up the works, ignores safety requirements. But this time, the tragedy at Montcoal might strengthen the EPA’s hand. So there are some positive signs from Obama’s administration, but his are political solutions. There needs to be a financial solution here too—and thus our face-off with Chase. But a bigger problem might be that Obama has such a crush on the CEO of Chase, Jamie Dimon; it’s very Clinton-like. He has him over to the White House every month…
How the hell do you resurrect the once strong West Virginia miners unions, which have been gutted over the last 30 years by people like Blankenship?
Again, with the tragedy in Massey’s mine, you’ll notice the journalists are quoting union officials because they talk more directly about safety. Especially if Blankenship is fired, the unions might make a comeback. Labor-a-lujah!
How do you balance the need to end such an obviously devastating business practice with the very immediate need for some kind of local industry to provide jobs?
The Obama administration says it is committed to jobs. Well, the mono-economy of Appalachia must diversify to be healthy. Big Coal has kept the area subservient to its requirements. One starting point is confronting the elected officials and judges that Big Coal has kept in place, who keep out competing industries. They’re Big Coal lackeys, all the way up to Jay Rockefeller. This is a style of 19th-century corruption. The Demon Monoculture!
Billy will be putting on one of his great big ol’ revival shows this Sunday at the Highline Ballroom, at 1pm, where there’ll be singing and dancing and testifying against the evils of Mountain Top Removal. Details here.