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Apocalypse of the Mountaintops

Photo by Claudio Nigri.

There are about 80 of us, Savitri and myself and an eclectic group of Europeans, South Americans, and Russians.

First, we gather in the courtyard of Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Amen? Savitri announces that the name of our action is “Naked Grief,” and that we will have to learn how to cry energetically—with tears all the better!—in public. We’ll do this in Deutsche Bank—a bank that finances CO2 emissions. As we sob and moan, we will remove our clothing. Then we will rub ourselves with coal and cry even harder.

So we practice crying in that courtyard. Savitri coaches us in our exercises in public wailing. It is easy for a few seconds, but out-and-out crying, sobbing, retching, really sorrowing for 10 minutes? It is hard to do. We have to start crying over and over again.

To help the people who are having trouble crying on purpose, we go down into the politics of this act. Deutsche Bank is among the banks that finance Mountaintop Removal (MTR). Do you want to cry? Imagine a mountain in Appalachia. The coal company inserts dynamite into deep holes, then lifts the whole ecosystem into the air to die. The cries of surprise and pain range across the mountain. Nests fall from trees, deer try to run but catapult dead through the air, the creatures on the forest floor are crushed, the mountain is uprooted and broken. Then bulldozers with wheels 40 feet high begin to push the dead “over-burden” into the neighboring valley, into the pristine mountain streams below, where the fish lay their eggs and the delicate frogs sing courtship songs. Where mountain laurel drops its petals and ferns grow from hundred-year old beds of moss.

Do you want to cry? MTR is a highly profitable but deadly coal-mining practice. Long-sequestered chemicals like selenium, arsenic, and mercury float down wind, cancer clusters along their flight path. Toxins seep into the water table—it goes on and on. Do you want to cry?

Photo by Claudio Nigri.

Yes, we cry, and with ever more feeling, until we are ready to walk to the bank. Savitri leads us in her tan trenchcoat. We walk through the narrow streets of the old city, full to bursting with mopeds and bikes and our throng. When we get to the Deutsche Bank I hold the door open and Savitri walks out of her coat, emerging all white skin and freckles and dark red hair. We are weeping. People disrobe to varying degrees. We are extremely naked for a German bank.

The inconsolable wailing has a strange power. Among us are many Spanish folk who know all about cante jondo. They can hurl down the betrayal of the heart like no rightwing televangelist ever could. The bank managers who walk down to the first floor to see what all the trouble is about are


The naked form of Savitri hits them harder than good graphics. The earth goddess turned banshee debt-killer is lifting an imploring arm to the fluorescent lighting. I’m shouting all the sins of big banks, blood-curdling the research. Preaching the CO2 emissions. The mountains. A good shout for every animal.

We start crushing coal over Savitri’s white skin, as tears pour down her face. Somewhere in the bank the money suddenly becomes real. The investments are full of cries and death. The bulldozer pushes against the stunned life. I lose my voice.

Getting down to the root and stem of an emotion—the wailing of “Naked Grief” opens up space that is no longer consumerized.

Getting down to the root and stem of an emotion—the wailing of “Naked Grief” opens up space that is no longer consumerized. The pictures of happy customers (played by actors trained at contentment) on the bank’s walls are suddenly inconsequential. The naked and grieving foreground is irresistible. Hundreds of curious citizens along the edges of the action read the info sheets we give them, then look up again, checking the flesh. When the crying finally stops, it feels like the Peaceable Kingdom. Raw uncorporatized experience returns! An emotion in a public place, a human being crying in a bank lobby. Now why is that so powerful?

We discovered in Zuccotti that living ordinary life in public is a far-reaching and impactful protest form. I should say that we rediscovered that impactful protest form, since all American social change was attended by the shared pursuit of daily life, food, shelter, knowledge. People making community is a clarifying drama, a surprising prosecution of the lie that corporations foist on us—that they are normal, and that their spaces are just like our spaces and how we act in their spaces is the natural way to act in all spaces. The gravity and intensity of actual living has the effect of revealing their theft of our lives.

Photo by Claudio Nigri.

The corporations showered the simple gestures of living with exaggerated indictments, beginning with criminal trespass. In Zuccotti and thousands of occupied commons, the sharing of food, media, schooling, music, medicine—was encircled by armadas of Darth Vaders with guns. JPMorgan Chase gave the cops five million dollars directly, and the arsenals of fear spiraled. But they were right to panic. Something uncontrolled—the human ecosystem! Survival!—can begin from a bit of unadorned real life, showing itself in public.

We searched for many years for a form that protest would take, and it was hiding in plain sight. For decades we carried on with ’60s-style rallies and marches, and felt the lack of impact, the shrug of onlookers, the derision in the press. But the doing of life and living in public? That’s it! We’re on to something here!


In Barcelona we went a step further. We made a community, we expressed ourselves as a community, we mourned together, and the power of that dead mountain’s life entered the self-anointed holy lobby of the Deutsche Bank. As removed and cleanly polished of any earth as the bank is, the life of the mountains that died at its hands came up through the naked bodies of crying activists.



    The above is an excerpt from Reverend Billy’s End of the World, currently available from OR Books.


    For details on Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping’s current “Extinction Resurrection” campaign, see


Reverend Billy


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2013

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