Reverend Billy is no stranger to the law. Recognizable by his trade-mark attire: a white suit, black shirt and clerical collar, the activist performer known as Bill Talen has been arrested alongside his activist choir group, The Church of Stop Shopping, more than 70 times in his decade-long crusade against consumerism, corporate commercialism and militarism.
The Reverend has graced sidewalks, banks, parks and businesses world-wide passionately preaching political satire since he moved to New York in the 1990s upon where his character Reverend Billy was born – a hybrid of a street evangelist preacher and Elvis Presley. Talen appeared as a sole performer preaching anti-consumerism in Times Square, before expanding his one-man performance act in 1999 to a 40-person choir and 5-person band.
Since then, Talen has written extensively on economic systems and environmental practices, has been featured in Morgan Spurlock’s film, “What Would Jesus Buy?”, and built a performance empire on community action and catchy gospel hymns performed by The Church of Stop Shopping's choir such as “We are the 99%”, “Revolution” and “End of the World”.
In recent years, the group has shifted its focus away from consumerism and towards large corporate banks which Reverend Billy argues are responsible for global warming, based on a five-year study by BankTrack.Org. The research found that big banks such as JP Morgan Chase, UBS, Deutsche Bank and HSBC create climate change by actively paying money to companies that pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir's latest show, ‘The Extinction Resurrection Campaign’, which premiered in New York in November, projects a pretty straightforward yet powerful message: the banks are destroying the earth and thus must be held accountable. The Reverend weighed in on his latest environmental crusade to AlterNet following his performance.
“We’re trying to invent a new kind of activism that comes right from Sandy and Haiyon and tornados, droughts and fires. We’re trying to take the earth’s message into our bodies and souls by venturing into the banks and going into the corporations that are creating climate change which our research indicates includes Chase, HSB and Citibank. There are also big hedge funds that are more mysterious that we can’t get at right now, but we’ll find out who they are. The bottom line is we have to go there in person. We have to educate the people who work there. We have to rise up and invent a new type of activism,” he said.
Rev. Billy and his 'Church of Earthalujah' are intent on stopping these banks through this campaign, alerting people to the climate crisis and the destruction of diversity by haunting the “big banks through extinct animals”, specifically by staging a number of demonstrations where group members perform as various extinct animals, thereby connecting biodiversity to the banks and the climate change crisis on earth.
“Coal-fired power is responsible for about 40 percent of greenhouse gases. New power plants costs billions and so are dependent on banks. Banks are business partners in Big Coal and Big Oil. Beyond the fracking, tar sands, deep sea-drilling and leaky pipelines, are the aluminum smelters, the hydro-dams, copper and gold mines. Throughout the earth, carbon dioxide emissions increase each month, as the storms, droughts and fires grow more and more tragic…as the extinction of life forms grow worse,” Reverend Billy stated in his performance pamphlet.
However, unlike the majority of his previous peaceful protests which resulted in minor run-ins with the law, his latest stint at a New York JP Morgan Chase bank could see the radical activist incarcerated for up to one year.
Recounting the June Chase bank incident at the Sunday show, Reverend Billy described how he and his troupe, wearing toad heads which symbolize the hundreds of animals vanishing in the climate change era’s extinction wave, entered the Chase bank lobby and passed the tellers up to the third floor where the private client wealth management team were located.
There, they burst into a 15-minute song and performance in the role of the extinct golden toad, followed by a short sermon from Billy about how the bank’s investments were tied to climate change. The earth-loving activists subsequently handed out informational flyers to employees which identify JP Morgan Chase as the top financier of extractive fossil projects and responsible for more carbon dioxide emission releases than any other institution.
After leaving the bank, Rev Billy was arrested in the subway and subsequently charged with riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly and two counts of disorderly conduct. The assistant district attorney described his conduct as a “criminal stunt”.
Nonetheless, Talen’s attorney fought back arguing that a 15-minute peaceful performance about the earth’s crisis is well within expressive activity protected by the first amendment and a far cry away from the “criminal” action expressed by the assistant DA, Forbes reported.
In response to the charges in typical activist fashion, Talen started a petition in a bid to generate public support, which he hopes to present at his trial hearing in December.
Undeterred by the pending litigation, Rev. Billy is still up to his old tricks. At the conclusion of his performance, he assembled the audience members into another Chase Bank to partake in a demonstration.
“I’m about to go into a bank with the audience right now. We all have an endangered life form that we have adopted, so we’re going to go in there and be the earth in this Aster Place JP Morgan Chase lobby!” he excitedly exclaimed as he mustered the audience onto the street.
Before taking to the streets Talen explained to AlterNet why this cause is dear to his heart.
“Civil rights, women’s rights, labor rights, gender rights – the great social movements that formed the freedoms that we enjoy today were all pretty strange at the time. Now, in retrospect they are religious in a way, we respect them so much, we worship them. But at the time they were counter-intuitive. They were jumping into outer space. They were doing something that hadn’t been done before. We’re being called upon to do that for the earth, right now. I am a father of a three-year-old and I’m worried about the kind of world that my daughter will inherit. It is up to us. Please, protect life, protect the earth. Give me a lifealujah! Amen’
Rev Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir’s show opened in New York on November 24 at Joe’s Pub and continues for the next three weeks. Come along and join the earth movement! Do I hear an earthalujah?
Watch Reverend Billy’s invade Chase bank with his audience on Nov 24:
Enjoy this piece?
… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.
It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.
Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.