NEW YORK – For Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir, Black Friday is practically the devil incarnate and, of course, a reason to go once more into the streets to battle consumerism.
His New York congregation, which is not exactly religious but somewhere between activism and musical theater, has fought for almost 20 years against the effects that savage capitalism has on the environment and citizens’ lives.
“How we manage our personal budget, whether we’re going for luxury items or we’re just getting by in life, that is, that is the seed, that’s the center,” Reverend Billy, whose real name is Bill Talen, told Efe.
On Black Friday, the crazy big shopping day in the United States, Talen encourages everyone to practice consumer “fasting,” and leave those unnecessary articles on the shelves, and in that way stop the otherwise unstoppable cycle of production, consumption and more and more production.
This year, Reverend Billy and his followers decided to take their prayers on this notorious date to the flashiest shopping center in New York.
Cartier, Chanel, Coach, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Tiffany... hardly a luxury brand is missing at the new Hudson Yards mega-mall, the great urban project inaugurated this year on Manhattan’s extreme west side.
Talen got 15 of his followers to enter Hudson Yards hand-in-hand because it damages the land, and minutes later they displayed a giant photo of the planet Earth and started singing, to the surprise of all the customers around.
“Stop shopping, the world is on fire,” was the environmental plea of the choir as it sang and spun in a circle in front of the luxury Dior store.
Their lyrics urged people around to “stop shopping and get out of here,” while the singers were directed by the reverend wearing a black shirt, orange pants and jacket, a cream-colored raincoat and a white clerical collar.
But not for long could they sing their anti-consumer songs because aside from arousing the customers’ curiosity, they are spotted by security guards, who without violence make them leave the building. So they decide to continue their protest outside the vast complex.
“The biggest government corporations, the religious institutions, the military, all the big institutions are essentially denying the climate crisis,” Reverend Billy said.
“That leadership will come from ordinary people, not going to come from the people that had traditionally been our leaders,” he added.
Aside from in the streets, between November and January the reverend holds festive events in a cycle of acts in Joe’s Pub, a well-known facility of the Public Theater arts organization of New York.
Reverend Billy and a chorus of 35 artists and activists celebrate a religious service every Sunday during the biggest shopping season of the year, from Black Friday to Christmas.
According to Talen, the Stop Shopping Choir began almost spontaneously 20 years ago, when he began “preaching” in the streets against the “cleanup” of New York promoted by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“I began to preach against sweatshop labor and against gentrification. and a choir kind of gathered around me...people singing and harmonizing next to me on the sidewalk,” he recalled.
For the reverend, the problems of 20 years ago are the same that exist today, multiplied by what we now know about the climate change crisis.
Talen summed up his sermon with a final thought on the environment:”We say that when all the world is drawing its last breath and there’s only one issue, that’s the issue of life.”
For that reason, for the Earth and with special meaning on Black Friday, Reverend Billy let loose a resonant “Earthalujah!”