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Reverend Billy Headshot

Field of Change

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The Earth is inside us, rotating in there like a conscience. These freak storms, tsunamis, droughts and extinctions only confirm what we carry inside. Each of us knows that we will have to change some personal consumption in the next few minutes. It might be a light switch, a perfume, a heated pool or a bite of food. Here it comes!

But changing can be so tricky. We can change for days and discover we were only spending money. The simulation of change looms over us, a massive slippery language, an avalanche of songs, gestures, billboards... The promise of change has been the main wedge into our psyches by corporate marketing -- for decades. To embark on actual personal change and then do this in a social movement with others? This means walking through one hell of a distortion field.

We are lucky to have change come looking for us lately. Tunis and Cairo and Yemen, and the brave public space crowdings in that part of the world, and Wisconsin too... We've been shown what it takes. These people break through the advertising, the guns, the fake monarchies. They break through to their own commons and stand there and shout there, taking the dare of freedom.

There's a clue for us in how this flood of humanity roaring down to the commons in the center so resembles the floods of fire and wind and water in nature's uprisings...

The choir and I rode and biked to a field on Saturday, a lovely field of shore dunes and ravines in East New York, sometimes called Brownsville. The place has an uncertain future. It is slated for development and over the years communities gathered to make a plan. They imagined a friendly kind of town with smaller businesses and space for walking, for schools and playgrounds. Now the billionaire mayor and his friends are arranging for an addition to the plan: They want to plop a big Walmart box in the middle of the community plan.

Of course we can rise up indignantly and have all the right reasons for doing so. The bad jobs, the mono-culture of the sweatshop store, all the traffic and the death of bodegas and longtime local shops. This Walmart, the first in NYC, could be righteously opposed by all of us. But that won't be enough to stop it. We all sense this. Saturday, we stood in the field and admitted to ourselves that our activism won't succeed if it re-cycles the old issues and copies the activism of the past. Oh, we dream, will always dream of re-creating Selma or Stonewall or the Berlin Wall. But our movement now will have to have its own life. In fact, the movements that have created change in the past had their own strange newness then. We will have to walk through counter-intuitive risky-weird actions and it might not seem very connected to those famous heroic events of the past.

We wondered Saturday -- is this Earth, this worn-out looking field we're standing in, would it connect with us somehow? We called out to it. We knew this lonely field, surrounded on all sides by sprawl, was as complex as any personality. We felt its power, even if it was a site for old detergent bottles and beer cans and the treads of dune-cycles, just an afterthought of a vacant lot. We knew that our ability to save the community plan from the world's biggest retailer and the corporate mayor would somehow come from teaming up our lives with the life of this place.

Standing in that field, we made a promise on an intuition, not knowing precisely how it would work out. We start by letting some parts of the community plan enter the field ahead of schedule, while the lawyers continue their fight. Make that playground. Make a contest -- make music, make films here in this field. Find the old-timers who grew up here. And there are neighborhood children, of course, that use it as a secret place of adventure. So the stories come back. From the dunes, it seems like this was shoreline once. You can sense that the ocean was here.

If we save the life of this field, it will be because the field saved us. If we really believe in this field of change, then what we do in resistance to police and bulldozers won't be a question of bravery, or ego or correct-thinking. Imagine what we can do.

Earthalujah!