The environmental movement ignores culture-making. The classic strategy for Earth activism in the West is to shadow the perpetrator of the crime. Thus the policy-making and lobbying of the most destructive corporations is matched by policy-writers and lobbyists from the advocacy groups. Even the websites of the Wildlife Conservancy and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) resemble corporate graphics.
The number of people reached by the leading institutions of the environmentalism is a sliver of society. The default position for most media is to remain silent about Earth, with coverage of climate change sliding since 2009 in the USA. There is silence until a climate disaster demands the top of the news.
When revolutionary change came in the past century, the heralds of new values were comedians and singer-songwriters. There were words, delivered by melody, beat, and/or outrageous personality. From former times, we could cite John Lennon, Andy Kaufman, Lili Tomlin, Gil Scott Heron, Joe Strummer. Who is it now? Lady Gaga? Shakira? Stephen Colbert? We must grow new performance artists of this international rank whose passionate defense is Earth.
Performers that might carry the Earth's message are not supported by the big budgets of the environmental movement, not by NGOs, nor by their foundations. They do not think of culture-makers as people that they can invest in. Even as they watch more and more artists succumb to the dumbing down of corporate sponsorship -- they hesitate to risk money on the Earth artists' wildness. They stop at educational events, teach-ins, conferences with workshops -- which is great -- as far as it goes, but....
Not betting on culture-making is the wrong decision. It comes from fear. There should be Earth activist producers roaming the small clubs right now, looking for the Bob Marley of the movement. How much longer can the Earth's voices to go unamplified? My suggestion: look to the kind of culture-making that comes from the activist side. Paul Watson, the Yes Men, the late Wanghari Maathi and her amazing speeches and tree-planting ceremonies, Julia Butterfly Hill and Tim DeChristopher.
These are newsmakers who are always ready with a statement, a speech, a moral homily, a symbolic act that borders on drama. And they offer a kind of entertainment by risking arrest. The perp walk is the oldest performance. When you expand the arts to include activists, then James Baldwin, Victor Jara, Emma Goldman's "Mother Earth," and Pete Seeger come to mind. Let's not stand on ceremony. The Earth needs bold dazzling words, with or without a guitar. We need more Monkey Wrench Gangs, more Silent Springs. I remember Rachel Carson personally confronting chemical executives...
In New York City, you would think that we need some Earth culture bad. If only because we spew so much talk out to the world. But our Earth performance goes from celebrities shilling about fracking all the way down to costume rituals in our community gardens. (Of course there are artists doing daring Earth projects on their own, in wetlands, on rooftop with gardens -- and they often work in unsupported obscurity.) So you have the vast world of the New York stage -- the dance, cabaret, Broadway, readings and concerts. At the time of Hurricane Sandy, these thousands of stages were thoroughly free of drama about the Earth. Sandy turned off those footlights.
Ultimately, all culture will be about the Earth. Nobody will be painting Campbell's Soup cans when the flood gets high and the fire gets hot. We are being pulled into the extinction that we forced on the rest of the biosphere. Our songs and dances and poems must express our desire to live -- with such anguish and emergency and beauty! -- that we rise to do the radical human act that matches the unprecedented action of the Earth.
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