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.

The Church of Stop Shopping is an activist performance group based in New York City, led by Reverend Billy, the stage name of Bill Talen. Using the form of a revival meeting, on sidewalks and in chain stores, Reverend Billy and his gospel choir exhort consumers to abandon the products of large corporations and mass media; the group also preaches a broader message of economic justice, environmental protection, and anti-militarism, protesting sweatshops and the Iraq War. Though it continues its street theatre activities, the Church has also appeared on stage and has toured internationally.

Origin 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

Bill Talen (born May 25, 1950) is a Dutch-American Calvinist Minnesota-born, Franconia College-educated actor who moved to New York City from San Francisco in the early 1990s, where he had originally created a character that was a hybrid of street preacher, arguably Elvis, 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.) In New York, Talen began appearing as Reverend Billy on street corners in Times Square, near the recently opened Disney Store. Times Square had recently begun its transformation from a seedy but lively center of small-time and sometimes illicit commerce—and also of New York theatre—to a more gentrified and tourist-friendly venue for large companies like Disney and big-budget stage productions like The Lion King. Whereas other street preachers chose Times Square because of its reputation for sin, Reverend Billy's sermons focused on the evils of consumerism and advertising—represented especially by Disney and Mickey Mouse—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."

Each year, Reverend Billy and his choir attend and perform at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

The Church of Stop Shopping is a non-profit organization that includes Talen, theatrical director Savitri Durkee (who is married to Talen), a 34-member choir, and an 8-piece band.

Activism[edit]

Reverend Billy

After beginning as a solo performer, Reverend Billy soon acquired a loose organization that assisted in his in-store actions. These were originally centered around the Disney Store. 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.

The Starbucks coffeehouse chain became another frequent target of the Church's actions, due to perceptions of its displacement of local small businesses, unfair labor practices including union busting,[1][2] and its role in creating what Talen calls a "fake Bohemia".[3]

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. [4]

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.

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.

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

What Would Jesus Buy? is also the title of Reverend Billy's book, subtitled "Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse," released in March 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 Wal-Mart pushes half of their DVDs."[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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, NYC (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 has its eyes on the Union Square historical pavilion to be developed as a restaurant. Groups fighting to keep the park public alongside the Reverend are 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 Wal-Mart 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.[8] Billy released an official statement to the press.[9] The following Sunday the group traveled to the Long Island Wal-Mart where the worker died and held a candlelight vigil.[10] Billy appeared on Fox News[11] and Savitri D. later appeared on Democracy Now to discuss the event.[12]

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.

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.[13]

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.[14]

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

The Church of Earthalujah[edit]

After Reverend Billy's run for mayor of New York City ended in November 2009, the group turned its attention to what they see as the imminent threat of climate change and environmental disaster. 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.

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.[15]

Crazy Shopping[edit]

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 characters name. The group put on Crazy Shopping, a Dutch play with a character similar to Reverend Billy.[16]

Films[edit]

The Reverend Billy leading an anti-Starbucks protest in Austin, Texas in 2007

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Unfair Labor Practices Settlement With Starbucks | Starbucks Union". Web.archive.org. April 28, 2006. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  2. ^ "IWW Starbucks Workers Union | Industrial Workers of the World". Iww.org. May 17, 2004. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ Dee, Jonathan (August 22, 2004). "Reverend Billy&#39 - s Unholy War". NYTimes.com. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ "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. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ [2][dead link]
  7. ^ "Saving Iceland Conference 2007". savingiceland.org. August 4, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  8. ^ Edroso, Roy (November 28, 2008). "Reverend Billy Leads Buy Nothing Day Service in Union Square". The Village Voice. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Public Statement From Reverend Billy On Wal-Mart Casualties In Long Island". News Blaze. November 28, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  10. ^ "WAL-MART MEMORIAL ( w/ rev Billy ) Long Island "Black Friday" victim". YouTube. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Very Black Friday (video)". Fox News. May 3, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Wal-Mart Worker Killed in Black Friday Stampede Covered on Democracy Now". YouTube. December 1, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Funeral For The East End". Space Hijackers. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ "The Church of Earthalujah". Revbilly.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  16. ^ Ryzik, Melena (October 8, 2010). "Reverend Billy’s Revelation: A Role for Money". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2010. 
  17. ^ 2006 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards for Documentary and Dramatic Films in Independent Film and World Cinema Competitions 
  18. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0893403/

References[edit]

External links[edit]