Fred Gillen Jr.

Fuel for the Revolution

This is my blog. I started it back in 1998 when the term "blog" was new and I'd certainly never heard of it. At the time I didn't know I was blogging, I just wanted to post some non- edited pieces I'd written in my notebooks. I do not revise or censor this material in any way. Please feel free to email me through the "contact" page on this site if you have anything to say about what you read here.

Civil Disobedience for Climate Justice Verses the Power of Song

On April 23, 2018 I was arrested for the first time, for "Disorderly Conduct," for civil disobedience. It was at the Climate March in the New York capital in Albany. This was, up until that time, the largest environmental protest in NY's capital in history. From my official court document: "A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof: he or she congregates with other persons in a public place and refuses to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse. To wit: at the above mentioned date and time, the defendant did participate in a sit-in with 55 other co-defendants, in front of the entrance to the hall of governors on the second floor of the New York State capital building intentionally blocking entry and egress from said entrance. The defendant did refuse a lawful order of a uniformed member of the New York State police to remove themselves from the area."

Years ago when I first became politically active, the national Republican convention was held in New York City. This was during the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. There were big protests and many protesters were arrested, with a large number roughed up by the NYPD, followed by successful lawsuits against the NYPD. I remember my good friend Katherine Pritchard saying "if you go get arrested I'll kill you. It is your job to sing about it, not get arrested." At that time I agreed. I kept singing at rallies, but did not put my body on the line. I protested through Presidential administrations of both parties but always kept it legal.

Fast forward to 2018. My wife Peg Taylor and I had been involved in a fight against a gas pipeline in our town for a few years. When all legal/ administrative options had been exhausted and failed the group organizing began having actions. I sang at rallies, we fed and housed protesters and hosted meetings at our house, we had an episode of Democracy Now edited at our dining room table, and we held signs at actions and done jail and court support for arrestees who'd put their bodies on the line to protect our home town. Peg and I had both had civil disobedience training at this point. A call went out for participation in a big rally in Albany, and we went to a training meeting about it. Peg had said she would never volunteer to get arrested. At the meeting she raised her hand when they asked for volunteers for arrestable action, AND for a theatrical action involving covering the state seal with a giant sun. Peg volunteered to be a ray of the sun. As if she wasn't already...

When Peg volunteered to get arrested, I felt I had to join her. That's how we roll. I was terrified, but the reasons to finally get arrested were compelling. A black, blue-collar neighborhood in Albany had fought for years and finally gotten a garbage incinerator facility closed down in their neighborhood, and now there was a proposal to replace it with a gas power plant (I refuse to say "natural gas." It is 90-something percent methane, which is "natural," but poisonous and a devastating greenhouse gas.) They needed some white folks to do the arrestable action. (Seems obvious that black folks voluntarily getting arrested in the USA is not a good idea .A LOT of neighborhood people participated in the rally, but not the civil disobedience.) I was scheduled to sing at the rally before the action, and I did so a cappella, because handing my keys, phone, and wallet over to a volunteer was one thing, but I was not prepared to hand a guitar over.

We all passed through the metal detectors and marched to the "War Room." This was where Peg did her part in the "sun dance," in which the state seal was eclipsed by the sun. It was really beautiful. We marched in a circle, and it was public property so as long as we kept moving and did not harm anything it was legal up to this point. (The sun was basically strips of fabric so it did not harm the state seal in any way.) Then we went into the hall of governors and 55 of us sat down and locked arms with red cloths. Our police liaison negotiated with the police that if we were allowed to each say a few sentences about why we were there, we'd go quietly. We went around the circle and when we were done the police began our "3 warnings" to disperse. At this point we'd also negotiated that the 2 song leaders be arrested last, so we could sing songs as each person was arrested. I was one of those song leaders. They arrested four people at a time, going around the circle in an orderly fashion. At some point in my song-leading, I decided to sing Alan Bigelow's mantra "Hallelujah, Jai Shri Krishna, Saura Urja, Om Shanti." Just as I began to get people to sing along, one of the arresting officers stepped across the circle and arrested me out of turn.

To me this illustrated the difference between the power of song and the power of civil disobedience. A song can have an impact on one person at a time. The officer was pretty obviously bothered by that song. Maybe he was offended by the mixing of Judeo-Christian and Hindu spirituality. Maybe the song really made him feel something he was not comfortable with. I'll never know. The civil disobedience tied up the court in Albany every morning for a week. We did not get much press, despite the actor James Cromwell and former candidate for Governor Howie Hawkins being arrested with us. Governor Cuomo announced a plastic bag ban that day, and this took away press coverage. Despite this our action was part of a larger, cumulative effect. Actions like this which tie up the courts add up, and this one did. Not long after this our movement experienced some big victories, mixed in with all of the usual defeats.

It may sound cynical coming from a songwriter, but I learned that getting arrested was much more powerful than a song, particularly in this age of passive consumption of music with corporate streaming services. In the 1960's people owned the songs of the time. Maybe a song had more power. In the 2000's it seems civil disobedience is much more powerful. My ACD is up so though it was a frightening experience and the handcuffs hurt like hell, I hope you will see me in them again. There's a lot to get arrested for! When we do it, we do it peacefully and courteously, with dignity.

Saturday, June 26th 2021

==>06/26/2021     Civil Disobedience for Climate Justice Verses the Power of Song
 05/28/2021     Art work IS work!
 05/24/2021     Healthcare
 12/28/2020     Inauguration Day
 11/6/2020     Facebook Community Standards
 11/3/2020     Masks, Red Arrows, and Entitlement
 07/29/2020     Stella Immanuel
 05/8/2020     Respect the Elders
 03/24/2020     Buddha, Jesus, Patriarchy, President
 03/21/2020     Covid 19 Virus Days
 09/13/2019     9/11
 05/13/2019     Look to the Kids
 07/4/2018     Independence Day 2018
 05/20/2018     Abortion and Guns
 05/2/2018     Civil Disobedience
 12/1/2017     Price of Progress
 01/28/2017     Prayer for America
 05/27/2014     "Free" music
 12/30/2013     Happy New Year
 09/26/2013     Ignorant Bliss
 11/29/2012     Gillen & Turk 2008 Opening for Todd Rungren
 08/27/2012     Shallow Money Trench
 06/22/2012     Crazy Horse
 05/9/2012     Talk
 01/19/2012     Freedom
 12/31/2011     Happy New Year
 12/13/2011     Men of Business
 11/19/2011     WAR
 11/18/2011     Earth And Spirit
 10/10/2011     Occupy Wall Street
 10/6/2011     Independence
 09/20/2011     Anger and Love
 09/6/2011     You Can't Have Everything
 09/1/2011     The Instruments
 08/30/2011     Fathers
 08/2/2011     On Being An Artist
 05/11/2011     Speaking The Truth
 04/25/2011     Tuning the lead vocal
 03/17/2011     Instilling Values
 01/14/2011     The Current Music Business
 11/5/2010     Even The Air
 10/19/2010     Rednecks, Racism, This-ism, that-ism
 09/8/2010     9/11
 07/18/2010     Being Ecumenical
 07/6/2010     Dust
 06/30/2010     Gay Rights/ Marriage
 03/11/2010     The heart
 03/11/2010     Culture
 01/5/2010     Coats
 12/11/2009     Pete Seeger
 12/2/2009     Environmental Protest Songs
 10/5/2009     Adam & Eve
 06/18/2009     The World Rolls Along
 06/11/2009     Clearwater
 06/10/2009     The World Rolls Along
 06/10/2009     War Machine
 06/9/2009     alternative media
 06/9/2009     alternative media
 05/14/2008     God
 02/24/2008     broke
 02/11/2008     HOPE MACHINE
 01/6/2008     Dennis Kucinich
 12/27/2007     NYPD
 10/4/2007     Mitakuye Oyasin
 05/21/2007     The Past
 04/15/2007     Kurt Vonnegut, Indian Point
 10/8/2006     God
 06/26/2006     From the Pe Sla -the heart of the heart of Lakota sacred land -the Black Hills of South Dakota
 06/5/2006     Mowing The Lawn
 03/24/2006     Gone Gone Gone
 02/25/2006     grace
 09/26/2005     Sky To Mountain
 09/22/2005     Love
 09/14/2005     Look Down
 04/19/2005     April 2005
 01/27/2005     Poverty
 01/11/2005     Grace
 12/3/2004     Standing Up 2
 12/1/2004     Tired
 11/29/2004     Standing Up
 11/29/2004     Mercy
 09/18/2004     Beaten
 08/7/2004     Half Full
 07/16/2004     Hallelujia!
 07/16/2004     Battered Feathers
 03/14/2004     gifts
 03/1/2004     Ancestors
 03/1/2004     A Prayer
 12/24/2003     "The Bomb"
 05/16/2003     Safe
 05/16/2003     Satan
 05/5/2003     Faith, Hope, Love
 03/10/2003     Tatoo
 02/11/2003     Folk Music is alive and well!
 01/13/2003     Revolution
 01/2/2003     January 2003
 11/17/2002     FEAR
 11/9/2002     Election Day
 10/30/2002     Election Day
 10/14/2002     Checkpoint Charlie
 06/17/2002     Revolution
 06/3/2002     Gold
 06/3/2002     WAGE LOVE!
 06/3/2002     Mercy
 06/3/2002     New World Order?
 04/4/2002     Real?
 04/4/2002     Billboards
 04/4/2002     Faith
 03/22/2002     Living into the 21st century
 03/22/2002     Comfort
 03/22/2002     Barren Ground
 03/22/2002     Dreams
 03/14/2002     March 11, 2002
 02/25/2002     Germany
 12/14/2001     NOW
 09/19/2001     September 11, 2001
 08/6/2001     #5 Taking Responsibility
 07/12/2001     Television
 06/11/2001     #3: Sprawl
 05/16/2001     #2
 05/16/2001     #1


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