Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

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Reverend Billy at Occupy Wall Street, where he has shown up several times to support the protesters.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is a radical performance community with an Elvis-like preacher based in New York City. Protest performances are rehearsed like a stage show. The troupe is guided by a theatrical director, Savitri D. The singers interrupt the operations of banks or corporations that the community deems to be racist or damaging to the Earth. The music director is Nehemiah Luckett.

Origins of Reverend Billy[edit]

Reverend Billy attempting to exorcise bad loans and toxic assets from the Bank of America ATM in Union Square, New York City. 2009

The pre-choir church of the late 1990s, was the project of William Talen (born May 25, 1950), a theatrical producer and playwright originally from Minnesota and South Dakota. He adopted the persona "Reverend Billy" and studied Pentecostal preachers in the south and west. He grew up in a series of small towns: Eyota, Minnesota, Menomonie Wisconsin, Watertown. South Dakota. His parents, Bill Talen and June Sieswerda were Dutch Calvinists of the Christian Reformed Church, a conservative sect centered in Holland, Michigan. The character he invented may have been created as a satirical defense against the rightwing culture of his boyhood.

Talen is an American radio show host, stage performer, composer and author. Talen was born in Northfield, Minnesota into a Dutch Calvinist family, and received his BA at Franconia College in New Hampshire. While working as a theater manager in San Francisco during the early 1990s, Talen created a character that was a hybrid of street preacher and televangelist called Reverend Billy. This character was performed in various San Francisco alternative theater venues, where Talen had earned a considerable reputation as both a performer and a producer (Life on the Water theater, the Solo Mio Festival, Writers Who Act, etc.) After moving to New York City, he branded his act as a "new kind of American preacher". It debuted on the sidewalk at Times Square in 1998, in front of the Disney Store and Mickey Mouse, the anti-Christ. Talen noticed that when he was preaching people nearby would begin to clap, and The Stop Shopping Choir was born. Reverend Billy's sermons focused on the evils of consumerism and advertising—and on what Talen saw as the loss of neighborhood spirit and cultural authenticity in Rudolph Giuliani's New York.

Talen's chief collaborator in developing the Reverend Billy character was the Reverend Sidney Lanier. A cousin of Tennessee Williams with an interest in avant-garde theater, Lanier was then the vicar of St. Clement's, an Episcopal church in Hell's Kitchen that doubled as a theatrical space, where Talen was working as house manager. Lanier encouraged Talen, who was suspicious of religious figures after rejecting the conservative Protestantism of his youth, to study radical theologians and performers; of these, Talen credits Elaine Pagels and Lenny Bruce as particularly strong influences. Though Talen does not call himself a Christian, he says that Reverend Billy is not a parody of a preacher, but a real preacher; he describes his church's spiritual message as "put the Odd back in God".

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is a non-profit organization that includes Talen, director Savitri Durkee, a 40-member choir, and the Not Buying It band.

Activism[edit]

Reverend Billy

Early campaigns were focused on Disney, Starbucks, Walmart, chain stores and sweatshops. In one early action, Talen and his associates pretended to be shopping at the store and talking on non-functional cell phones, carrying on increasingly loud conversations about the evils of Disney and its products; once the ruse was discovered, Reverend Billy began preaching to the actual consumers until the police removed him from the store.

Talen leads large march after "The Battle in Seattle" from Charas Community Center on Avenue B in the East Village to Judson Memorial Church in the West Village. Talen receives the 2000 OBIE Award for "Reviving Activism".[1] The choir marches from the Tishman Auditorium in New School, to the "Poe House" near Washington Square, which is threatened with destruction. "The Raven" was finished when Poe lived there. The throng reads the famous poem in front of Poe’s residence. After the reading Talen is arrested and jailed.[2]

The Starbucks coffeehouse chain became a frequent target of the Church's actions, due to perceptions of its displacement of local small businesses, unfair labor practices including union busting,[3][not in citation given][4][not in citation given] and its role in creating what Talen calls a "fake Bohemia".[5] Starbucks at Astor Place in downtown Manhattan is repeatedly used as an indoor stage for concerts and protests. Astor Place becomes designated "The Bermuda Triangle of Retail". Talen would be driven from Astor Place to The Tombs annually over the next ten years.

At the time of the defense of community gardens and small shops in the East Village, 9/11 took place. Nightly trips to Union Square mixed with afternoons at ground zero reciting the 1st Amendment. Talen wrote his book, What Should I do When Reverend Billy Is in My Store? in November 2003. The title is taken from a Starbucks memo issued to New York Starbucks managers.

On Christmas Day 2005, Reverend Billy and his choir performed an action at Disneyland. He led the choir down Main Street, U.S.A. singing anti-Disney and anti-shopping songs. After ignoring requests from park security to cease, an on-site Anaheim Police officer attempted to intercede and was ignored. Reverend Billy was then arrested for trespassing and resisting an officer; his choir left peacefully after that.[6]

Reverend Billy and his choir traveled to Washington, D.C. in March 2007 to participate in an action against the war in Iraq, "Don't Buy Bush's War", organized by Code Pink Women for Peace, where they roamed the halls of the U.S. Congress preaching and singing their anti-war message. No arrests were made.

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

The anti-consumerism message in the film has hindered its widespread distribution: in an interview published by Reuters, film director Rob VanAlkemade claimed that "major distributors have backed away because Walmart pushes half of their DVDs."[7]

In March 2007, Reverend Billy released his second book, also entitled What Would Jesus Buy.[8]

On June 29, 2007, Billy was arrested on charges of harassment in Union Square, Manhattan while reciting the First Amendment to police officers through a megaphone, during the monthly bike ride Critical Mass. On July 2, 2007, Billy revisited the scene of his arrest, accompanied by a choir who sang a hymn version of the amendment.[9] On July 7 and 8, 2007, Billy hosted an international conference in Iceland organized by the non-profit organization Saving Iceland to protest heavy industry in Iceland and around the world.[10]

On July 4, 2008, he met with members of the Granny Peace Brigade and Code Pink with special guest Lawyer Norman Siegel at Strawberry Fields to recite the Bill of Rights.

On September 7, 2008, the group was on hand in Coney Island to perform the Last Rites for Astroland. The theme park was a cause they had rallied behind all year causing them to be nominated King Neptune and Queen Mermaid of the Mermaid Parade.

On September 18, 2008 Billy was arrested again in Union Square Park (although the last charges against him were dropped by the NYPD for an arrest at the very same spot). This time the group was protesting Harvest in the Square an event sponsored by Danny Meyer and the Union Square Partnership a non-profit organization that had its eyes on the Union Square historical pavilion to be developed as a restaurant. Groups fighting to keep the park public alongside the Reverend were Union Square Not For Sale and the Union Square Community Coalition.

Billy and the choir finished up 2008 with tours of the San Francisco area, a stop on the traveling lecture series, Democracy in America, and another trip to Iceland. During the time of year when they orchestrate their part in Buy Nothing Day, like protesting at Macy's, the group was presented with the shocking news of the death of Walmart employee, Jdimytai Damour. That day the group spoke about his death and the pregnant woman who lost her child in the event at Union Square Park for their Dance Your Debt Away event.[11] Billy released an official statement to the press.[12] The following Sunday the group traveled to the Long Island Walmart where the worker died and held a candlelight vigil.[13] Billy appeared on Fox News[14] and Savitri D. later appeared on Democracy Now to discuss the event.[15]

The Choir celebrated the release of their latest album, The Shopocalypse, and will hold three holiday performances in New York City and have added an Hour of Power live Sunday webcast to their programming and have also have a Dish Network TV show in the works.

On March 1, 2009, Reverend Billy announced in Union Square Park that he is running for Mayor of New York City on the Green Party ticket. He went on to win 8,902 votes, just under 1% of the vote in the November election.

On May 31, 2009, Reverend Billy and his choir joined a procession through the East End of London alongside the Space Hijackers and Rhythms of Resistance. After first appearing in the Spitalfields Starbucks, the Metropolitan Police temporarily shut down the Starbucks outlet nearby on Whitechapel High Street after being informed the group would be heading there.[16]

On September 24, 2009, at the 2009 G-20 Pittsburgh summit Reverend Billy spoke out to a crowd of reporters and protesters at Arsenal Park.

Talen, as Reverend Billy, delivered a speech to members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti park in New York, October 25, 2011.[17]

Reverend Billy gave a sermon, and the Choir performed, at the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia preceding Independence Day, 2012.

On January 6, 2015, Reverend Billy was arrested at a Black Lives Matter demonstration at Grand Central Terminal.[18]

Earth Justice[edit]

The group began to focus on the imminent threat of climate change and environmental after Superstorm Sandy. Linking consumerism to the global climate crisis, the group joined the growing movement in Appalachia to end mountaintop removal. In early 2010, Talen and several members of the choir traveled to Coal River Valley, West Virginia. There they met with local activists and gathered mud and dirt from mountains that had been exploded in the area, which they brought back to New York City and used in several direct actions targeting the ATM lobbies of Chase Bank, at the time the world's largest financier of mountaintop removal.

In July 2015, the group opened for musician Neil Young in New York to protest Monsanto's use of carcinogenic pesticides.[19]

Reverend Billy leads an action at Chase Bank protesting its financing of mountaintop removal

Reverend Billy and Choir have since performed in West Virginia, and are now focused on Union Bank of Switzerland and their policies on mountaintop removal.

The group is currently performing its "Church of Earthalujah" show, which further expounds on its environmental and spiritual themes, on a weekly basis in Manhattan's East Village.[20]

In popular culture[edit]

The cross-country journey that Reverend Billy and his choir made in the month prior to Christmas 2005, culminating in his arrest at Disneyland, is depicted in a documentary, titled What Would Jesus Buy? produced by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. The film was screened at the Silverdocs international film festival in June 2007. The anti-consumerism message in the film has hindered its widespread distribution: in an interview published by Reuters, film director Rob VanAlkemade claimed that "major distributors have backed away because Walmart pushes half of their DVDs."[7]

In 2009, Henk van der Meyden and Monica Strotmann, owners of the Dutch theatre group Stardust, paid Talen $25,000 for the rights to several songs and his character's name. The group put on Crazy Shopping, a Dutch play with a character similar to Reverend Billy.[21]

Bibliography[edit]

  • What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is in My Store (2003)
  • What Would Jesus Buy?: Reverend Billy's Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse (2009)
  • The Reverend Billy Project (2011)
  • The End of the World (2014)
  • The Earth Wants YOU City Lights (2016)

Films[edit]

  • Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture, a 2001 documentary by Jill Sharpe.
  • Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, a 2002 documentary by Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios, produced by Play Loud! Productions.[22]
  • Preacher with an Unknown God, 2005 documentary by Rob VanAlkemade, received Honorable Mention in Short Filmmaking[23] at the Sundance Film Festival
  • Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We'll Have to Explain to Our Grandchildren, a 2006 documentary written and directed by Carl Christman.[24][better source needed]
  • What Would Jesus Buy?, 2007 feature-length documentary by Rob VanAlkemade.[25][better source needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jonathan Dee. "Reverend Billy's Unholy War" New York Times. August 22, 2004. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/22/magazine/reverend-billy-s-unholy-war.html?_r=0
  2. ^ "Merry Christmas, Rev. Billy: Performance Preacher Hosts Poe Service Dec. 16 | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  3. ^ "Unfair Labor Practices Settlement With Starbucks | Starbucks Union". Web.archive.org. April 28, 2006. Archived from the original on October 14, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ "IWW Starbucks Workers Union | Industrial Workers of the World". Iww.org. May 17, 2004. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ Dee, Jonathan (August 22, 2004). "Reverend Billy&#39 - s Unholy War". NYTimes.com. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Reverend Billy and the Shopocalypse Comes to Long Beach! | Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping". Revbilly.com. March 1, 2013. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b [1] Archived June 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "What Would Jesus Buy?: Reverend Billy's Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse - Kindle edition by Rev. Billy Talen. Humor & Entertainment Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.". www.amazon.com. Retrieved February 25, 2016. 
  9. ^ [2] Archived July 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ "Saving Iceland Conference 2007". savingiceland.org. August 4, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  11. ^ Edroso, Roy (November 28, 2008). "Reverend Billy Leads Buy Nothing Day Service in Union Square". The Village Voice. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Public Statement From Reverend Billy on Wal-Mart Casualties in Long Island". News Blaze. November 28, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  13. ^ "WAL-MART MEMORIAL ( w/ rev Billy ) Long Island "Black Friday" victim". YouTube. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Very Black Friday (video)". Fox News. May 3, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Wal-Mart Worker Killed in Black Friday Stampede Covered on Democracy Now". YouTube. December 1, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Funeral for the East End". Space Hijackers. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Bill Talen, known as Reverend Billy, delivers a speech to Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti park in New York, October 25, 2011. (Photo 11/24)". Reuters. October 25, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  18. ^ Lauren Evans (January 7, 2015). "MTA Bans "Die-In" Protests at Grand Central Terminal". Gothamist. 
  19. ^ Rosignol, Derrick (July 3, 2015). "Fellow Monsanto Opponent Reverend Billy To Open for Neil Young in NYC". Diffuser. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  20. ^ "The Church of Earthalujah". Revbilly.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  21. ^ Ryzik, Melena (October 8, 2010). "Reverend Billy's Revelation: A Role for Money". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2010. 
  22. ^ Boston Globe review of the film. (PDF) 
  23. ^ 2006 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards for Documentary and Dramatic Films in Independent Film and World Cinema Competitions (PDF) 
  24. ^ "Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We'll Have to Explain to Our Grandchildren (Video 2006)". IMDb. November 27, 2006. Retrieved May 1, 2016. 
  25. ^ Prairie Miller (November 11, 2007). "What Would Jesus Buy?". NewsBlaze News. Retrieved May 1, 2016. 

References[edit]

  • Talen, Bill. What Should I Do if Reverend Billy Is in My Store? The New Press, 2002. Paperback ISBN 1-56584-979-5; hardcover ISBN 1-56584-824-1
  • Talen, Bill. What Would Jesus Buy?. PublicAffairs, 2007. Paperback ISBN 1-58648-447-8
  • "YouTube - Reverend Billy arrested by NYPD for reciting First Amendment". Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  • Give Speech A Chance Reverend Billy and the First-Amend-a-Thon in Central Park July, 4th 2008 from Alterati
  • Angels At The Twilight of Coney Island from Alterati& Last Rights at Astroland from Rev Billy Sept. 2008.
  • YouTube - King & Queen Mermaid, 2008
  • "Barbikat," YouTube November 28, 2008 Buy Nothing Day 2008, Macy's 5 am Retrieved 12/08/08
  • Creative Time - Vimeo.com Democracy in America: Reverend Billy Retrieved 12/08/08
  • Edroso, Roy - Villagevoice.com November 28, 2008 Reverend Billy Leads Buy Nothing Day Service in Union Square Retrieved August 12, 2008
  • News Blaze 11/28/08 Public Statement From Reverend Billy On Wal-Mart Casualties In Long Island Retrieved on 12/08/08
  • "Team Spider," YouTube January 12, 2008 WAL-MART MEMORIAL ( w/ rev Billy ) Long Island "Black Friday" victim Retrieved 12/08/08
  • Fox News January 12, 2008 Very Black Friday Retrieved August 12, 2008
  • Democracy Now - January 12, 2008 Wal-Mart Worker Killed in Black Friday Stampede Covered on Democracy Now Retrieved August 12, 2008

External links[edit]