The Reverend Billy and his wonderful rabble-rousing choir return to the Highline Ballroom this Sunday, to raise awareness about the Spectra Pipeline, a gas-delivery system with its sights on Manhattan. Go. Have fun, learn, dance out your anger…
The L Magazine: Over the past few years, you seem to have shifted focus a little from the general perils/evils of consumerism to the environmental degradations of corporate greed, specifically mountaintop removal and fracking. Why the change? And what’s next?
Reverend Billy: You get this sense they think they’ll find industrial energy absolutely anywhere: “Excuse me, what is the device that is attached to my front door? Oh, you’re harvesting the flammable microbes in our breath?” Mountaintop removal and fracking and tar sands: these are dangerous, but they’re already so absurd that we will need remedial science fiction classes to get a handle on the nature of the crime. It shouldn’t surprise us that they don’t think about the end of the world—why would that occur to them? It’s too mundane.
You brought your message (and your choir!) to Europe recently—what was the reception like, and how would you characterize the difference between here and there, in terms of resistance and activism?
It is a cliche that New York artists continue to be popular in Europe. We go to the UK, to Germany, and Barcelona, mostly… After this Highline Show I’ll return to London. The thing that keeps it alive is asking the question? How can I be useful. We always call up the activists and just listen to them. You need an apparently unstable faux televangelist Elvis impersonator? How about an agnostic gospel choir that makes harmonies out of radical lyrics. You want us? Where do we report….
This show at the Highline coalesces around resistance to the Spectra Pipeline. Tell me about the link between fracking and the pipeline…
Natural gas is poison, not renewable, not a bridge to solar and wind energy. Fracking is killing the solar and wind industries. The Spectra Energy Corporation of Houston, Texas gets its money up front from JPMorgan Chase. It’s a company with a BP-like safety record of leaks and explosions. All the jurisdictions along the path of the pipeline, from Bayonne and Jersey City to the West Village community boards… they are opposed to high pressure flammable gas coming into kitchens, routing along highways, under playgrounds. The off-gassing of Radon will cause lung cancer in New York. The connection with fracking? This natural gas is from the fracking wells in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Explosions under idyllic farms, down in the shale formations, is piped into our homes, where the poisoning of our bodies mirrors the poisoning of the land.
What, so far, do you see as the central lesson/legacy of the Occupy Movement?
The courage of direct community. Nothing is as radical as a healthy community. Such a thing, like a lot of New York neighborhoods, is considered an under-exploited market and is slated for attack by chain stores and police. OWS created community in public space in the shadow of the banks. We were feeding each other, making media, loaning out books, drumming and dancing and performing, voting on our beliefs. Community as public—not hidden—life. It turned out to everyone’s surprise that this was the great protest form. It drove the banks crazy. Living in public.
What can we do to move beyond the seemingly infinite sphere of influence wielded by multinational banks?
Block them with community. Continue to create economies that don’t involve the banks at all. Move our money out of the casino banks, away from fossil fuel and fossil debt. Support CSAs, farmer’s markets, barter, swap, thrift and family businesses. This is going forward in a silent revolution, partly because we have to—there aren’t jobs. Of course, when the banks actively attack, as in the case of the Spectra Pipeline, we must be as articulate and flamboyant as possible, and in the tradition of American change, risk everything to survive.