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Despite brave efforts, 'the apocalypse is roaring toward us like a freight train.'

Despite brave efforts, 'the apocalypse is roaring toward us like a freight train.' (Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Wild Cats Grab Back

The big wild cats are dying. The leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers…

Rev. Billy Talen

The big wild cats are dying. The leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers…

Each of these cats leaps from the top of their own ecosystem, and yet we humans are above the cats and we’re killing them all.  We are the apex predator in the era we’ve named after ourselves, the Anthropocene.  

Big animals continue their world-wide decline.  The position of governments seems to be that humans won’t be one of the animals that dies.  The Environmental Movement never seems scared enough.  The EM has staged endless marches and rallies and raised billions of dollars.  But their protests haven’t slowed down the extinction wave.  The apocalypse is roaring toward us like a freight train.

But we're all sensing—something new is in the air.  The resistance of Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter, of the Women's March and the airport "Let Them In" uprisings, are now accomplishing what the EM could not.  These are not just bigger gatherings—they are radically different.  This is the future of resistance.

The Women’s March of January 21st was joyous, crowded, and liquid.  The 650 marches seemed like ecosystems streaming down the avenues of the world.  The police retreated in the face of the pink, fleshy signs.  The JFK Terminal Four siege of the customs officials felt like the intense expression of natural life.  Life flooded everything.  The gray Washington buildings haplessly waited for the flood to recede.  Were those guys from Exxon and Goldman Sachs in the darkness behind those windows wondering about this soft tsunami of pussy-capped resisters?  

In Washington, the police couldn't square themselves in relation to Cartesian shapes that would put order into their law.  They wanted to know "Who’s in charge?" to put some structure on the mess.  Pussy was in charge.  We pussied around in circles.  Nobody was in charge, there was no center.  Wild cats ran things.  There were a million centers.  

John Berger’s statement that "a forest wants to be thick" comes to mind.  A healthy forest is intensely crowded with insects, salamanders, wood thrushes, and generations of trees—young seedlings and old trees fallen in dramatic rot. And yes, also hawks and big cats gazing down from the high places. Each individual life presses at surrounding life in a state of energetic chaos.

In these new political gatherings, the victims of Earth-killing are the best carriers of the story that must be told. Brown and black mothers from sacrifice communities like refinery-poisoned Newtown Creek in Queens; the tar sands refinery in Marktown, Indiana; the decades of Monsanto’s PCB’s in Anniston, Alabama; or the methane leak of Porter Ranch, California… such people carry better information in a sigh than all the flashy documentaries of destruction you can screen.  

At the Women’s March, Angela Davis, fugitive from racists and teacher to generations of activists, was standing there before us.  She deflected our adulation: "We follow the lead of the First Nation’s peoples who despite massive genocidal violence have never relinquished the struggle for land, water and culture for their people.  We especially salute today the Standing Rock Sioux."

I happened to see a group of Sioux women who traveled to Washington that day.  They seemed at home in the swells and eddies of the many species of humans pushing up against the monuments of dead presidents. There was Kandi Mossett, Eagle Woman of the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara nations—a stalwart of Standing Rock.  She was surrounded by a circle of dancing plains women in blue fringed dresses.  

"She is a force of nature."  That is a phrase that we call people with surprising power.  These new protests are far more powerful than Trump.  There may be a time when the number of us raging in public space is reduced.  But if we have the Earth inside us storming, then that wall will come tumbling down.  The sidewalk in front of the Ferguson police station was held in the late summer of 2014 by a modest number of young African Americans, but they had the force of nature.

Then I remembered Standing Rock, when Indigenous peoples sang water songs created from the form that water takes in their homelands.  At once praying and protecting, they sang the salt marshes, thunderstorms, snow, the turquoise waterfalls pouring into the floor of the Grand Canyon, the freshwater swamps and aquifers and swelling Polynesian tides and streams of the Black Hills…

Somewhere a wild cat was watching this with old eyes.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Rev. Billy Talen

Rev. Billy Talen

Reverend Billy Talen is pastor of The Church of Stop Shopping, New York musicians and singers who create different kinds of ritual trespassings in corporate space while holding six-part harmonies.  Their illegal concerts have recently favored banks that finance fossil fuel industries.  Upcoming shows include the Brooklyn Folk Festival, Mother's Day at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, and the March Against Monsanto in Miami.  Talen is the author of "The Earth Wants YOU" (2016), from City Lights Books.

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