I live next to the Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where thousands of soldiers are on their backs, staring into the earth above them, their last memory a moment of pain in the Civil War. Their bullets were removed, and their bodies carried on wagons and trains back to New York where their loved ones stared at them hard and sang to them and wept, and then one by one they too lay down next to their fathers and brothers and sons.
In the United States, we won’t remember these things on Memorial Day. Not in the way of a strong memory that moves us. Our minds will be cleared of the images so that we are ready for our next directed act of consumption. For instance, we will be readied to experience war as visual entertainment, war as an event without meaning, battles as ads – so that we will forget Viet Nam and buy Iraq, forget Iraq and buy Afghanistan.
And personally, I live in a time of my life when my body is mimicking the memory loss of society at large. If the culture of the USA is memory-erasing, I too have to fight for the sensual details of my personal past. We are hyped literally out of our minds until Memorial Day turns into a three-day weekend. I hope today that we are able to remember the dead and resurrect the future.
The Massey coal blast, and BP’s poisoning of the gulf – these are interruptions that worry the corporate marketers because they revive our memory. These two disasters are man-made, but oil and coal is the Earth too and the Earth is finding inventive ways to excite our memory. That oil won’t stop because that bleeding wound is necessary. Nothing that comes from modern culture can shock us. There are no Picassos or Elvis Presleys anymore. But the Earth, the Earth can more than shock us.
We are Earth’s rogue species. The Earth says that this is the time that our drilling down into the ancient sunlight of oil and coal be replaced by a view of the millennia of life there, that we see the original life buried beneath the mountains and oceans, that we see it and remember it. Our personal ancestors live too, with untapped energy, beneath our mountains of disinformation. My neighbors died so that we would not enslave our fellow Americans. If we really remembered this on Memorial Day, we wouldn’t be afraid of the corporations and fundamentalists. Remembering is a radical act.
Starting in San Francisco in the early 90's Reverend Billy Talen began to explore "a new kind of American preacher" - a post-religious one, but a good whooping preacher anyway, inspiring people toward a spiritual event that did not need the mediation of organized religions or other corporations. Moving to New York City, he preached on the sidewalks of Times Square, and found people clapping and singing along with him, and the choir grew to empower the message of resistance to Consumerism. They called themselves the Church of Stop Shopping. They came to Burning Man in 2003 ("Beyond Belief"), but many of the singers and musicians were longtime Burners. They were invited to perform on a stage built in the base of the Man that year. Two years later they gathered with Joan Baez and the jazz musicians of the playa to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Their hope is to continue to preach and sing against Consumerism, and for the Life After Shopping! Change-a-lujah!