A gospel of salvation at Wilton’s Music Hall last Saturday, when Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir delivered their ecological message to a rapt congregation through song, dance, and the kind of bombastic dynamic monologue that is unfamiliar to those of us who’ve never been to church. For an atheist it was a reminder of what is powerful about religion, the chorus of voices and the seductive potential of a message we can all get behind. They arrived on a brief tour of the UK from their New York base; activism and performance meeting both on the stage and in the choir’s show day protest actions.
A week later I am, oddly enough, in New York, watching a glitch-ridden BBC feed of the election results. It’s New York Thursday bleeding into UK Friday, election night and morning and I am up, alone, late in a strange city that doesn’t care in quite the same way I do about what’s happening back in my home. I thought about Reverend Billy, whose call to action had actually managed to make me feel good about the upcoming change of government and the political fresh start. I thought the Tories would be out, now lets move on to the big stuff the choir are singing about. The beginning of the end for the end of the world.
That night at Wilton’s they brought up the huge problems, the insurmountable dread of climate change and the future of our children. No, wait, as the Reverend said, I read the paper and watch the doomsday predictions tick down from 2100 to 2080, 2060, 2050 and start to worry for myself rather than fictional children that I don’t yet have. We are fiddling with taxes while the atmosphere burns. The choir sing so convincingly that all injustice, inequality and ecological distress are linked, to fear and capitalism and to the power of the 1%. The ones that, from election night, are running the place still. The yearning earnestness of the choir’s songs detail lost and dying honeybees, a forthcoming environmental apocalypse and the personal cost of our estrangement from nature. They are the big things coming, not the minutiae of an election where the lesser of two evils lost.
The choir’s cries of ‘Don’t shoot!’ punctuate a list of the lost lives of young black men at the hands of police in the country from which I’m watching my own. People die of ignorance, they die of guilt, they die from simply not knowing what’s going on. Reverend Billy tells us what’s going on in the wide angle: what is on the horizon, burning. An election seems small.
And yet I’m sad. My social media has become a feedback loop of people condemning the echo chamber of their friends, not wanting to face the reality that voters delivered a majority in the name of a theoretical economy. It seems unlikely we’ll care when the waves roll in who the prime minister is. Maybe it doesn’t matter. The world, the Earth itself, wasn’t part of the campaign, even for the Greens. Instead all chased the perfect balancing act of an imaginary money system presided over by unaccountable corporations. Reverend Billy named his show after one of them – Faster, Monsanto, Die! Die! Would that it were that easy. It’s been shored up, this system we live in, and fire and brimstone might be all we’ll have left. Dust us off, Reverend. Let’s do some preaching of our own.