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Restoring New York's natural springs

Reverend Billy

May 1st 2009

With the oil and gas industry spoiling groundwater in the US, New York’s once-prominent natural springs need to be restored.

Halliburton’s ‘fracking’ process poisons the water, as the citizens with the falling-out hair have noted

The Church of Life After Shopping – the singers and I – were performers that afternoon. People came to see us. On the other hand, all of us watched the water, the clouds and waves. We were listening, guests of the water for an hour on that pier out over Hudson river.

World Water Day, 22 March, was the original mover of our ‘Blessing of the Water Picnic’. It was also an early outing in my candidacy for mayor of New York City. But what got the crowd there was ‘fracking’, the process by which a chemical cocktail is injected into underground shale to drive natural gas toward Halliburton’s suction, shipment and storage. This process poisons the water around it, as the citizens with the falling-out hair and flammable tap water have noted…

The choir donned their blue robes; my preacher’s suit was blue too, but the two blues did not match as well as the blues in the river and sky. The Christopher Street pier is a long one, with real grass but with over-designed concrete and shiny metal filagree. The sun was warm at the start of our water picnic and many families were unfurling blankets on the ground. The Green Party people handed out placards for crayoning the name of your part of town, in line with our campaign’s endearing slogan, ‘The Rise of the Fabulous 500 Neighborhoods!’

In the crowd were veterans of the battles against chain stores and gentrification, eminent domain [compulsory purchase] and rent-hikes. These are our friends, and we could tell they wanted a respite now from the onslaught of the predator economy. This was a Sunday to relax. The sun shone on the water, and the Hudson river, with the gigantic green woman with her torch at the mouth of it, looked grand. ‘It’s time to go to church!’ I got shouts of ‘Aqualujah! Aqualujah!’ from my congregation on the grass. And in Spanish, please? That would be ‘Agualujah!’

We decided to face the evil straight away. The water activists were handed the bullhorn. The mendacity of the gas-drillers left us dazzled. Like an unstoppable ghoul rising from the slab of the Bush administration, Dick Cheney’s old company is skulking around the countryside buying off broke townships and putting in place a cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting extraction beast that somehow evades all the Environmental Protection Agency safeguards. In particular, an activist named Josh Fox scared us – and scared us well. In an era when evil is relativised and dissolved into special effects, Josh raised the flag. Laura Newman and the choir lit into our new song, Fabulous Bad Weather, with fatalistic lyrics that could have been authored by an Earth Firster, but with the confessions of ecocide delivered in a bouncy rhythm, an unlikely pop tune:

Fabulous bad weather!
Climate change - change our laws!
Cast a spell on our nature!
We obey - you're the boss!

Katrina - killed New Orleans!
While we dream - of getting rich!
Stimulate - stimulate our assets!
We're programmed just like this!

What are we doing in the sky?
Where's our next End of Time?
Humans need to live or die!
Go ahead, leave us behind!

Life on Earth what will you do?
Life on Earth what will you do?
What will you do?
Go ahead, leave us behind...

A cold, rainy wind came down the river and across the pier. The temperature plunged 20 degrees with bellying clouds. The sky seemed to be singing Fabulous Bad Weather with us! The wind whipped the blue robes and collapsed my Elvis ’do and whirled a neighbourhood sign like a frisbee into the old river.

I preached then, into that wind, with the crowd of shivering environmentalists hugging their children. Here are the talking points I found in my blue jacket two days after:
● Water is the best teacher – there are famous translators like Al Gore, RK Pachauri, Bill McKibben – they only translate the rise of the sea, the death of the coral, the century storms…
● Water is the authentic preacher – Alvin Ailey’s dancers and Wade in the Water from Revelations – water speaks from the genocides and slavery – indigenous whispers in the natural springs – rivers – this arguing Hudson under our feet today – the hundreds of natural springs that gushed and seeped all over this land that became our city…
● One spring comes to mind – at 165th Street in Harlem – the Audubon Ballroom was built there – with the mermaid sculpture over the front door – the ballroom was eminent, domained by the city and Columbia University to build a bio-tech lab – the neighbourhood feared the contamination but couldn’t stop the construction – Malcolm X come back! We need you today!

Aqualujah! Aqualujah!

Judging from YouTube, the sermon came out differently on that windy Sunday.

My water policy is this: as New York’s mayor I will find the hundreds of natural springs in the five boroughs that were paved over as land values rose and cars and trucks overran the boroughs. Let’s give the water eminent domain. My administration will break the pavement open and let the water rise the way it wants to. The water never stopped singing its message.

Water is our leader! The water will rise up and be protected in community gardens, in pump-houses, in the lobbies of buildings. Our children will touch the water and listen! Let the water speak!

For more information, see www.revbilly.com

Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping is the Green Party candidate for mayor of New York

 

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