Interview with Reverend Billy and Savitri D.

by Dan Venning

BillySavitriWebBill Talen is the performance artist who created and portrays the pseudo-revivalist preacher Reverend Billy. Together with his director/partner Savitri D and the “Life after Shopping Gospel Choir,” Reverend Billy preaches against rampant consumerism and the corporate destruction of the environment, among other social issues. Together, they founded the “Church of Stop Shopping,” which later became the “Church of Life After Shopping,” and is currently the “Church of Earthalujah.” Famous for delivering sermons against the Disney Store and Starbucks, they have also staged interventions to protest Victoria’s Secret’s publishing of catalogues without using recycled paper, the privatization of public spaces like Coney Island or Union Square in New York, and the building of megamalls or environmentally dangerous structures (such as dams) from Saratoga Springs, NY to Iceland and Germany. They are the subject of the documentary film What Would Jesus Buy (2007) and recently published The Reverend Billy Project: From Rehearsal Hall to Super Mall with the Church of Life After Shopping (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2011). In this book, edited and with an introduction by Alisa Solomon, Talen and Savitri describe many of their projects and the challenges they have faced as they bridge art and activism.

At the 2011 ATHE Conference in Chicago, Reverend Billy gave a solo sermon / performance. The following day Talen and Savitri spoke on a panel in conversation with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of Split Britches and academics Alisa Solomon and Jill Dolan. Venning interviewed Talen and Savitri in the historic Empire Ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton, in the time between the performance and panel discussion.

Dan Venning: Your show at the Spiegeltent in 2006 was one of the first shows I saw after moving to NYC for graduate school and I found it an engaging and moving performance. At the same time as it challenged my own consumerism (by the way, I pledged not to go into Victoria’s Secret until 2016!). How do you see the division between theatre and activism, and whether you see there being a division?

Bill Talen: Well, our practice in the Church of Earthalujah is to go back and forth between the activist performance and the stage performance, and they enrich each other. The activist events are addressed as subject matter in the concert service but I suspect that we get nourishment from public activism in ways that we’re not easily able to talk about as strategy. If you use contested space [such as] lobbies of banks or CO2 emitting coal and gas industries, that comes into the concert stage, into our bodies, just the muscle tone of our belief. I think it is a little bit like a good healthy workout. The choir, once having risked arrest early in the week, will have an energized… they’ll lift the rafters with their harmonies.

DV: The last time I saw you was when you and Savitri were the King and Queen of the Mermaid Parade of Coney Island and protesting the commercial development of that NYC landmark. Obviously, the issues you have been protesting at various times have changed. What are some of the most crucial social issues you’re currently addressing, on global, national, and local scales?

BT: I was just writing today about the relationship between the earth’s crisis—climate change, extinction waves, even what seem to be tectonic events as well: these great shifts in the physical systems of the earth—the relationship of the grand scale of such extreme earth events and our local politics such as public space and housing and immigration. We see the earth activism as the unifying mother of all issues now, the way that civil rights was at one time, the way that democracy was at one time, the way the peace movement was at one time. It is the solution to waking up in the morning and seeing seven hundred issues on your computer, and you enter quickly a state of paralysis. Because when we’re all drawing our last breath of life there will only be one issue and that is the issue of life itself in which all other progressive issues are organized in one moment. So the earth activism is our framing device. We just finished twenty-two Sundays in New York City and they had a theme built around the life activity of a fabulous saint. We had Barbara Erinreich, we had Bertha Louis from ACORN, and then Guillermo Gómez-Peña. You have these theme-driving presences, these people with strong work and we were always moving to the specifics of their activism from the general faith of our Earthalujah Church. Our previous iteration as the anticonsumerist Stop Shopping Church was also a very inclusive frame. There are not many progressive issues that fall outside of that frame. It hasn’t been such a shift for us. Coney Island: the local issues were the health of the ocean, housing and business protection for the people there.

DV: In what you’ve talked about regarding these earth crises and in your Earthalujah performance last night—it’s all incredibly serious. Last night in your sermon you mentioned the number of tornadoes that have come through the country this year alone and what they’re doing. Yet in her introduction to your recent bookThe Reverend Billy Project Alisa Solomon talks about how funny your performances can be. And they are—they’re hilarious and frightening at the same time! I wonder if you’d talk about how you find comedy productive as you’re addressing these very serious issues and how you build comedy into what you do?

Savitri D: Some of the comedy of our work is an accident of Billy’s personality which is a naturally funny one, but some of it comes from a kind of cultivated wildness, I would say, in which we try to jar and destabilize. So what sometimes feels like funny is actually nervousness and unsettledness. Laughter is the easiest way to express that unsettledness. What we try to do with comedy or humor is deliver meaning with it. There’s always something else going on, it’s not simply a matter of making people laugh. It’s opening a door and pushing something through at the same time.

DV: I think that really ties into my next question: what does that persona of a revivalist preacher allow you to do or achieve that you could not do without the collar?

BT: The presumption that I have permission to shout at people! There are only certain characters that have that permission. Rock-and-rollers and preachers are two of them. So in casting Bill Talen as Reverend Billy, I think our decision was that it’s a character that I can play with my particular voice and my gestures. Now of course I’ve just fallen in love with preaching. I just love to preach.

SD: I think that it provides a tremendous platform, again, for meaning and for having not just a strong feeling but an opinion, even a didactic one, where you are in a performed position of moral authority, or of knowing the road to the answer; certainly not the answer because we don’t have a fundamentalist position. I can’t think of very many other things that allow you to say what’s right or wrong. Not that Billy really says what’s right or wrong…

BT: I don’t!

SD: But he does perform that. Again, it’s not fundamentalist. And I’m always fascinated by how abusive a preacher can be. I mean, I’m fascinated by that relationship. Like a bartender, it’s almost required. It’s like the audience wants a little bit of abuse from their preacher. Why do we do that? Why do we have that relationship with that person? In this case it’s exaggerated because it’s a performance but I’ve been watching this and I see it in regular, non-performative, real churches too.

DV: It’s also a vehicle for a huge amount of trust. There’s a trust that we give a preacher, there’s a trust that we give a teacher, that we don’t give an actor. We know that the actor is lying to us, even if what he or she is telling us is very true.

SD: Right. Part of the instability, the interesting chaos of this work is that you sometimes don’t know which it is and you allow yourself as an audience member to become a parishioner or a congregant and you start having those feelings of trust and that sense of, “yeah, yeah!” And then you wake up and you’re like, “Wait, no, wait. That’s for me to decide, that’s for me to form those opinions.”

DV: Speaking of preaching—has this become what you might call a spiritual calling? When did it go beyond being a career or a role?

BT: Well, there was a big shift at the time of 9/11, almost exactly ten years ago, when lots of folks in New York were badly hurt and wanted to be in a room with other people praying in fellowship and singing. Having left organized religion long before, or maybe even their parents or grandparents had left organized religion long before, so suddenly we had big crowds at the Culture Project—smaller than this room—a three-hundred seat house. We had full crowds. They were people who had their own holy spirit from their intimate life, from their love of the arts, their love of nature, all of the above. They had a veiled approach to the unanswerable questions about life (which is what an interest in the spiritual is), but not necessarily one that they shared in a larger room with a bunch of people.

SD: Trauma and tragedy can lay bare that public process and we need to do things collectively when we experience collective damage like that. It was a very interesting time just after 9/11, as well as, I think, for a lot of people a moment of transformation. That’s always a time when people look for a path or a way or, as I said, a public process. I think there was a demand placed on Billy to participate in that. I was just starting to work with Billy at the time and I saw it on the street a lot, because it wasn’t inside a theatre that this was taking place, it was on the street. It was in the parks. It was a very citizen-driven. It was very secular, in the most banal and non-mystical surroundings. It was very emotional.

BT: I remember one man giving me this big hug as he was getting into a taxi cab.

SD: I remember one time being stopped on the Williamsburg Bridge, by a cyclist carrying the bike up the stairs as we were coming down the stairs. In funny places like that, a lot of transitional spaces. It lifted this character into a different physical place with people. It was outside the theatre. It was not taking place in a performative setting. And Billy was being interrupted in his everyday, quotidian moments—just like this! Without a collar on and without any presumption of performance. So there you go: it came straight from a community of people.

DV: Who needed you.

SD: Yeah, it seemed like that to me.

BT: Within a few days, it wasn’t performance art anymore.

SD: You know, there’s an ebb and flow there. Sometimes we cultivate the performative aspect because we want to reach a certain aim or we have a campaign we’re working on that requires spectacle and performance. When we made our movie, we certainly pushed into the performative aspect of it.

DV: Speaking of people who come to you for personal reasons, I know Billy has a license to officiate at weddings in New York State. Have you officiated at any gay or lesbian weddings since the new law legalizing them went into effect [on July 24, 2011]?

BT: We’ve been out of town since that time, but I’m sure that will take place in the fall.

SD: We were really sad that we were leaving town. That was such a bummer.

BT: We’ve activists in that area. We hosted UnMarriage until GayMarriage last year and then this April in Central Park, where straight couples were pledging that they would forego their marriages until—until now!—until we could all be married, and giving some straight people a way to express how they feel.

DV: Moving in a slightly different direction—you’ve been arrested for reciting the First Amendment in Union Square and subsequently sued New York for wrongful arrest. That document, the First Amendment, explicitly connects freedom of speech and of religion in our nation. Could you talk about how you see the connection between those freedoms, and how you feel they are being challenged today?

SD: You know, Jesus talked about a house not made of hands. I think that the First Amendment is a house not made of hands. It’s actually a location to me. It’s a political location and inside of it you are free. It encompasses freedom. I’m in the cult of the First Amendment, the mystic cult of the First Amendment. It’s extraordinary when you look at how essential and clarifying a notion and idea it is.

BT: That’s going to be good looking copy in the interview: “I’m a member of the mystic cult of the First Amendment.”

DV: It’s a beautiful phrase.

BT: Well, the freedom of worship is the first of the five freedoms that is guaranteed in the Amendment and in the context of the revolution against a monarch who considered himself divine, King George. Today, the corporation has replaced the king. The big banks, the corporations use the designs and manipulations of religion: the logo resembling the cross, marketing resembling the old enforcements of religious belief. The act of purchasing is a highly formal ritual. I’m not the first person who would say that the supermalls are the cathedrals of our day. Sometimes it feels as if our culture is becoming so fundamentalist. The freedom of worship almost becomes a freedom against worship.

SD: A freedom from worship.

BT: A freedom from worship is almost the important question. So many people in this country are worshipful in a way that’s personal or a way that is nondenominational.

SD: I think in particular the bullying that so many gay people experience as a result of religion. That’s such an interesting problem of the First Amendment, isn’t it? The way that religion beats up on some people. How do you restrict that? You can’t, right? There has to be something else that protects people. … We’re on a huge tangent, but it’s that funny thing where you use the strategies of your enemies to defeat them.

DV: Returning to what you mentioned earlier, a lot of your message has been against shopping and rampant consumerism. You’ve targeted mainly large corporations, megamalls, chains, banks, or commercial institutions that are trying to infringe on public space or private life. But related to that, my sister co-founded and co-owns a small business that relies upon the same consumerism that you protest. What do you have to say to or about small business?

BT: Well, we defend small business. We spend a lot of our time defending neighborhoods, and farmers’ markets against Whole Foods, and neighborhood shops against the chains and the supermalls.

SD: And also [against] development and gentrification we work as hard as we can to make sure that if there are redevelopments of areas they include provisions to protect small business and encourage and subsidize small business as opposed to corporations.

DV: What I’m asking is more about the consumerism—the shoppers who you’ve told to stop shopping.

SD: The exchange of goods has [always] taken place between people and has been a form of communication between people. It’s not just necessity that makes us trade things and buy and sell things. There’s other things going on there! It’s expressive, it’s communicative, and that’s been going on a lot longer than what we call capitalism today. So we just like to draw that distinction and we also would say that a healthy economy like any system is diverse. Any system has to be diverse to be healthy and strong: to integrate new things and also protect old things. That’s just the natural way! If you look at what we have today, we don’t have that kind of diversity. This neighborhood [in downtown Chicago] is a great example of that, right? I can walk four blocks and see four Starbucks; I can walk four blocks and see three 7-Elevens. We went out to this religious supply store to get a collar for Billy—it’s been there since like 1900. And on the way there, we were saying, “Isn’t it amazing it’s still here in this neighborhood? How could it possibly survive?” Well, it couldn’t! It couldn’t! It closed a month ago. Wow, there’s nothing more creative and wonderful than opening a small shop.

BT: The proprietor of a small shop is like an artist.

SD: Totally!

BT: Surrounded by objects they’ve curated from the world. They sit there and have stories about these things they have acquired and are now offering. [I’ve had] wonderful conversations with proprietors. We make that distinction, and we want other people to make that distinction: between the monoculture on one hand, which is usually financed by Wall Street and has big dependencies on packaging, usually has a big parking lot [meaning] fossil fuel; they have supply lines often that are thousands of miles long. Shipping and trucking is fossil fuel. The malls and the chains are distinctly different from the shops of a local economy.

SD: As well because of what happens to you when you shop in one. The experience that you have when you go into a shop where the owner knows the stuff and you can talk about it with them.

BT: So we don’t call that consumerism.

SD: That’s not consumerism. I’m putting money into that person’s economy and—you know what—it could come right back to me!

BT: You can watch that person come back into the community and spend the money. That’s sustainability.

(Savitri shows her handmade belt)

SD: I was just in Chiapas and I got this belt from a woman and just the day before I’d seen her making this belt and so I bought this belt, and the next day she was giving my daughter an apple which she had bought with the money I gave her for this belt. It’s a living thing that you’re participating in, completely different and so much more rewarding.

BT: To be honest with you, the faith is that you feel the aggression with which phrases are owned by the big companies with the most money to manage language. Shopping and consumerism are two words [for which] we try to make distinctions about the applications of these words. We’ve spent a certain amount of our time saying, “Well, what do you think shopping is? What is consumerism?” To us they are pejorative terms. Buying and selling, trading service, the nonmonetary economic life of a gift economy; neighborhood economies are often to some extent nonmonetary. That whole world is fascinating to us.

SD: And so is any world where we’re not leading with the money.

DV: Speaking of the human element of interacting with people versus the nonhuman aspect of consumerism, one of the logos that you’ve railed against the most is the Starbucks mermaid…

BT: The mermaid with no nipples.

DV: I wonder if you could discuss her and how you feel about logos and what you feel is so offensive about her and the logo in general.

BT: The Starbucks aesthetic is to take the most important moments in cultural history: in Zurich and Paris and New York after World War I when artists were faced with the decimation of the human race, a sort of mass suicide, a war that no one understood and a whole generation just walked to their death—and they wanted to start culture over. They did it in the Cabaret Voltaire, they did it around coffee. Starbucks tries to use this glow of hipness as a pretext for this diluted reality where you just get a little bit of a buzz or a little bit of a ricochet of that hipness. But those people were doing what we must do now, which is risking everything to change. They were not paying three dollars for a mid-size Frappuchino. They were risking everything. Sitting there in fake boho-land and getting a bit of a buzz and persuading yourself that on some level that “I’m a part of something hip”: there’s the source of my anger. It’s just a lie.

SD: But the mermaid part of it is really fascinating. It starts with this incredible sexual image of a mermaid holding her—legs open, essentially!—her tail open. It’s a sea goddess and it’s completely magical, powerful…

BT: Fertility goddess!

SD: Fertility goddess. And then it’s sort of anesthetized.

BT: Streamlined into a nonsexual, sort of automobile logo kind of look.

SD: But you know, we were just down in the Maya world and this is a very sophisticated, visual culture there, [with] ornate embroidery and weaving and a language that evolved through pictographs, and I thought a lot about logos. Because there’s an absence of logos there, because of the economy.

BT: There’s no advertising in San Cristobal de las Casas.

SD: There’s hardly any advertising! And what you end up looking at are these amazing patterns, weavings, and the logo of the culture. And I’m thinking “God, we never look at things this closely anymore in my culture, because everything is so repetitive. Advertising is so relentless. So when I got to Chicago two days ago and I was walking down the street and I was applying that kind of deep looking that I had in Chiapas where you could look at someone’s shirt for a long time and go into it and start seeing other patterns and the pattern of it next to her sister and that they were matching in some way. There’s this incredible sophistication. So I’m walking on the street in Chicago and I’m like, “Oh my God, every single person is wearing a logo and they match and there’s no complexity. None!” And it was so distressing, so distressing. It was just these repetitive shapes and words, down to the belt buckle and the watch and the side of the shoe. Even our best intentions are in that shape. Suddenly I’m confronted by Planned Parenthood on the sidewalk and then the American Red Cross and how is it signified, this goodness? By a great big logo on their shirts!

BT: Good works become conflated into the corporate invasion.

SD: It’s just our language. That’s how we communicate, through brands.

DV: It’s impossible to avoid. I remember you had a song in your Spiegeltent show—“Are you…”

SD: “Are You My Lover or My Logo?” (Sings) “Across a darkened room…you move closer!”

DV: But I remember when I got the CD after the show, your CD jewel case had a little logo on it. You can’t avoid it in our culture.

BT: We try to as best as we can. We need to open up other kinds of intelligence. Going to Chiapas for two weeks—since right now the single main thing that confronts us is the earth crisis—you just look at the marketing dominated environment. You just wonder if it’s possible to have the intelligence in this setting.

SD: That we need.

BT: To really accept the danger we’re in and the changes that are taking place in the physical systems of the earth.

SD: Or even what senses we’re using to communicate with. I was just watching some video of the Tottenham riots and I decided I was going to close my eyes and just listen to the words that the people being interviewed were saying. Because I don’t know what to think about those riots, I have no way to form an opinion. I thought I was just going to listen to the people who were talking from there. So I closed my eyes and decided to listen. And you know it’s almost impossible for us to do that. We can hardly do that. So I was and now I have a completely different understanding of those riots because I actually just heard the words. I didn’t see the interpretation, I didn’t conflate it with fires and all kinds of other things or some edited version of it, it was just what those people were saying. And that’s what we have to learn to do now, with the earth: listen to it. There’s nothing in between us.

BT: What were they saying?

SD: Oh, they were all saying the exact same thing: “It’s been brewing for a long time. People need to have their say. They want answers.” Every single person said some variation of that.

BT: The consumer-dominated democracy really leaves the individual stranded.

DV: One of the things that you talk about in your book, The Reverend Billy Project, about Starbucks is what it does to the earth and to people in other countries, places like Guatemala where they don’t have doctors, about the amount of money that’s going back to the workers there. But I felt compelled when I came here to interview you to make a confession. I have a Starbucks gold card, and I’ve had it since 2008—but I couldn’t hide that from you. One of the things about Starbucks that lets me keep going there is that I have known several people who have worked here in the U.S. for that company and who have told me how good an employer it is: how it paid them a fair living wage, made them part-owners of the company through stock-option plans, gave them better health and retirement benefits than any similar business would. You’ve called this a “lying smorgasbord of false good intentions,” and they’ve sent Billy to jail, so I understand you have immensely good reasons for wanting to show what they do wrong. But I wonder if you might consider where the line between the truth and the lies is, for Starbucks? And in a time of massive unemployment in the U.S., is there some good that they’re doing?

SD: Well, I would say that first you should definitely look at some of the National Labor [Relations] Board’s assessments of Starbucks in light of what you’re saying. They’ve been fined.

BT: They’re union busters.

SD: Let’s just say that any company that won’t let people unionize is suspect to me. There will always be people within a company who claim that it’s a good place to work. There are also just as many people who work for that company who would say, “I’m not guaranteed any hours, as soon as I become close with the people in the shop where I work we’re separated, if we try to organize a union we’re busted, we’re harassed.” These are known facts about Starbucks. I think one of the reasons they were our target for so long is because they lead the way. They invented cluster retail model. They lead the way, and they set the stage.

BT: They’ll have six cafes in an area, they’ll kill their competition, and then they’ll let go of three of them and have just three remain and then they’ll get out.

SD: They’ll start by having so many because the minute you want a coffee you don’t even have to cross the street.

DV: It’s in the lobby [of the hotel]… it’s actually underneath the lobby.

BT: I know!

SD: I mean, I know lots of people go to Starbucks. Billy and I have had this conversation with hundreds of people. We’re not in the business of convincing you or any other single person to not go to Starbucks. I mean that’s your business. But we are in the business of underlining why certain companies do what they do, why we’re vulnerable to it, and its ultimate outcome, which, as far as I can tell, is negative.

BT: It’s the monoculture. They’re just everywhere and they’re the same, and that changes us. That changes us. The monoculture changes us. The consumer-driven democracy environment makes us stupid.

SD: Boring.

BT: Through boredom. Through unrelenting repetition of the same image and the same text, the same tastes, the same colored walls. The monoculture is just simply not good for us.

SD: I mean it’s so good for you to go to a place where you’ve not been, and have to encounter it differently, and not know what to call it, and not naturally know how it’s going to come to you, in what shape or form it might meet your hand.

BT: You have an active, playful, creative response to such a place that’s distinct.

SD: I think we resent Starbucks as well because they somehow manage not to be known as fast food even though it’s a factory model.

BT: It’s just a chain store.

SD: But somehow people feel that they’re not. I remember Laurie Anderson did an interview with the New York Times in a Starbucks, and I was thinking, “Would Laurie Anderson do an interview in a McDonalds with the New York Times?” And I thought, “Oh hell no!” It’s an elitist fast food restaurant, where people have all their American ease, “I know what this environment is, and what’s available,” but for the liberal elites.

DV: Speaking of liberalism, another thing that Alisa Solomon says in the introduction to your book is that the persona of a preacher allows you the freedom, to some degree, to preach to the choir. Political theatre is often accused of this. But, when performing for people like me who still go to Starbucks or the like, what are some of the challenges you face in reaching audiences or overcoming resistance to your ideals? How do you address those challenges?

BT: It’s a very tough time right now. We have on the one hand the corruption of public life. The physical earth is in a state of crisis. Our government and our major institutions in the consumer democracies of Western culture are in a state of dull paralysis.

SD: And yet…

BT: There’s this cyber-world so that many activists can make themselves semi-well-known. There’s a way that we have some room here. The corporations haven’t found a way to really take over the Internet yet. They want to! Savitri and I have an arena of people that we can talk to on our computers and we’re constantly traveling, constantly meeting local activists, trying to move forward. Coming down from over the top is a tremendous fundamentalist conservative force. And yet there’s movement, there’s some daylight. We have not ever contacted as many people as we have at this very moment in time.

SD: I guess I would say that I’ve scaled down my expectations a lot lately. In fact I feel that the situation is actually so bad, and so much worse than it could be at this point in time. I thought during the Bush years, “Oh, this is it. This is as bad as it gets. And this is bad—we’re in two wars.” And then the recession came and we saw this incredible opportunity for a rethinking of our entire situation: as a nation, as a people, as individuals. And we kind of slept through it. So now, you go, “We still have those wars. Now we have another war.” Our relationships are even more fraught, even more fearful. People are so full of anxiety right now.

BT: And they’re still telling us to shop!

SD: And they’re still telling us to shop. I’ve scaled down my expectations. What I want now, is if I can even open a window in someone’s imagination at this point I feel that’s a great victory. If I can liberate ten minutes of their time from branded commercial reality, I feel, “Wow. Woo-hoo!” It’s a really sad state.

BT: And in such a conservative era, preaching to the choir is very important.

SD: Also, because you don’t know who is the choir. You’re not the choir!

BT: You’re not the choir! You go to Starbucks. You’ve got a Starbucks Gold card.

SD: Most people would probably say that you’re the choir because we probably share [so much]—if we laid out our values they’re probably totally aligned. So who’s the choir? I don’t even know anymore.

BT: I think talking to the choir is terribly important because as we witnessed here at this conference, people are so beat up. They’re just not able to enter into the courage of activism.

DV: Guillermo Gómez-Peña said at his panel something about how Obama was elected President on a platform of hope, and now we can’t hope anymore because now we’ve seen where that goes.

SD: Hope is always a frail thing to lead with anyway. I mean, hope? That’s not good enough for me. I don’t give a shit about hope. Hope has been a balm for people for centuries.

BT: You can take up a permanent residency inside hope and change.

DV: I have just one last, very short question, but it’s a huge one: what is the world that you imagine, globally and locally?

BT: First of all, it has to be based on a relationship between the human species and this living thing called the earth. It seems to me that all politics is local, but in this case the global is local. When you have climate change coming into the center of town and impacting your family, you can’t let the coal company spew CO2 anymore. In the Church of Earthalujah we’ve come to believe that the justice and the peace and all of the things that we strive for in this world—let the earth lead the way. We have to radically change how we live in this place.

SD: That, and a slight reconsideration of the distribution of wealth would be great.


SD: Just a slight one. Okay. Again, I’ll scale back expectations. A miniscule adjustment of the distribution of wealth would be great.

BT: Just a few trillion dollars.

SD: You know, my dad writes me, “Why don’t you take up this cause, or that one?” But there’s this meta-view that I have: if we really were able to live—and I hate the word harmony, but harmoniously—in some kind of balance with other species on this planet. A lot of our other problems, in sorting that out, would also be sorted out. Not all of them. I’m not a romantic, but some of them would be. I would say it would be good for us to de-center ourselves in terms of all of the species on the planet. There is justice in that for humans as well as for other creatures.

BT: We have to live lives in which the corporations are not mediating everything we do. There’s been a tremendous debasement of basic meaning, of language. How can it be that there’s been a historic shift of money to a very few people, a historic shift, and yet day in and day out we keep lacerating ourselves, cutting our own budgets, unable to have simple things like libraries and schools, and there are thousands and thousands of billionaires who don’t pay taxes. But the billionaires have debased the language so much that we end up just constantly hurting each other as our local governments collapse. I believe that takes place as a result of everything being commodified for so long. I believe that corporate marketing has had a far more insidious impact on our ability to communicate with each other—just to make sense of things—than we realize. So when we say, “Let the earth lead the way,” what we’re saying is, “Don’t let the corporations lead the way.” There’s another kind of clarity. Amen?

DV: Amen.

BT: Praise be!