BY REVEREND BILLY | Once in a while something happens where we see daylight — the power of individuals and communities suddenly returns. Such a thing happened in London, when a couple of years ago nine women associated with Extinction Rebellion-UK walked up to the headquarters of a key climate criminal, HSBC, and — being careful not to hurt anyone — smashed the giant front windows of the company’s headquarters.
The British government threw the book at the women, agreeing with the bank that the cost was £500,000 and limiting the defendants’ ability to travel, etc. But after a four-week trial, the jury found the activist women Not Guilty! The women demonstrated that a small amount of property damage contrasts dramatically with the worldwide violence of HSBC’s fossil-fuel emissions. The activists argued that their simple demonstration was a necessary moral lesson in a political world where people cannot defend themselves against suffering and early death.
The jury acted as an island of actual democracy. They asked for materials to help them understand the fine print in the Paris Climate Agreement. The jurors studied the toxins being financed by the bank. They started things off with an open mind, and built the details into a big picture. They put what was before them to the “common sense test.” After listening to the defendants passionately defend humanity and the planet Earth, the jury took only two hours of deliberation to set them free.
In her closing speech to the jury, Clare Farrell, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, said:
“The prosecutor explained yesterday how important it is that you bring your wisdom and experience into the courtroom. And then she told you to put aside your personal thoughts. She told you to disengage emotionally. Maybe that’s what the board of HSBC tells their staff to do, too?
“There are many people I have known over the years who work somewhere that is not living up to the ethics they would like to see in the world, but they stay — to keep their salary and pay the rent or mortgage — and continue to wish that the organization will change.
“We are trying to live honestly in a corrupted world. This is a trial of women who are not perfect, but we are all here because we are dedicated to peace and nonviolence, willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of others. So when you heard our character references, from mayors, bankers, teachers and the former executive director of Greenpeace and Amnesty [International], you can see that we have loving goals, not selfish goals.
“I believe that the staff, shareholders and customers of this corporation want the economy to continue — they’re not in business to intentionally destroy capitalism,” Farrell continued. “And I have to believe that they can’t know the extent of the deadliness of the projects they fund. As one of my co-defendants said, ‘To believe that all the people in the HSBC building support killing and displacing people would mean an awful lot of people are sociopaths and that can’t be true.’
“Ultimately, my guess is that the people who work for this bank aren’t so different from me and from you. And I don’t think any of us would do something if we knew it would cause so much death and human suffering.”
Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) and the Stop Shopping Choir will perform at Joe’s Pub, at 425 Lafayette St., on Sun., Dec. 10, and Sun., Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. For tickets ($15) and more information, visit revbilly.com.