Back in the 1990’s Rev Billy noticed a more overt method of marketing products that was being pushed into people’s lives and as a vulnerable consumer it
engaged him by appealing to his status and power, good looks and youth – and he was tricked into it. And it kept turning his head.
Then somehow with the help of friends and teachers and the fortune of the luck of the draw - he decided to resist! He was just tired of getting rolled
over by the glam and whizz bang of seduction and the dazzle of neon super models when he walked through New York’s Time Square. So out of these circumstances
he emerged out of the pavement - as a preacher on the Broadway sidewalks of Times Square.
And with help of some cohorts created a theology in which Mickey Mouse was the antiChrist. Then he placed himself in front of the Disney store and began
to encourage and exhort people, that if they entered the Disney store and shopped - they would be sinning! You will have to listen to Rev Billy rage
against the machine – ‘that they are all sweatshop products’ – and that type of preaching would go on for hours and hours . And he received all sorts
of different responses … and he got better at it. And he got what preachers got … your whoop – yes your whoop! …. And after some
months he got his whoop up to speed and that he could preach at a thousand bored listless tourists, drifting like cattle and get them to consider to
go into the Disney store - OR NOT. And this is when Billy’s Ministry began.
It began in his own self-defence, but also a willingness to appear foolish and he encourages all his listeners (he laughs) to be foolish and we have to
cross-over from that character that we have been ‘conditioned’ to be.
The American comedian Steve Martin in the movie “Leap of Faith” came up and Billy said that he was influenced in this role by comediennes, rock and roll
and jazz. He would also go to Evangelical and Pentecostal ‘performances’ where there would be grandmothers passing out on the altar and people screaming
- and then he states that many of those churches were right wing in their content. So he turned off the content and just learned how to preach. Listen
to Billy, wind up and show how it’s done!
Yet Billy did not really want to be a preacher, because he was brought up by abusive right wing Christian parents. However he in the end could not resist,
because having the backup of a choir and great music made the message even more compelling. So when he really got good at it – the Church of Stop Shopping
had to have a choir – and he found many people who agreed with his contention that consumerism is the devil – starting to sing his lyrics. – He doesn’t
really know how it actually happened - he said he was lucky – it was a blessing - out of the blue – it just became.
Surmising that it was partly persistence, stubbornness and the willingness to let go and be foolish.
Billy states that we have to be open to the mysterious and the earth telling us in whatever subtle ways we can perceive - that the indigenous peoples have
been telling us from day one that consumerism and everything that it entails is not the way forward in our relationship to our great sustainer, our
planet. It is not the indigenous people way to just make money and conquer nature.
Visiting Standing Rock in North Dakota
Listen to Billy tell us what happened up in Standing Rock in North Dakota where he took his Stop Shopping Choir and that so many other indigenous tribes
from around our planet had converged in support of the First Nations of North America. He finds himself with the Aotearoa NZ Maori and in particular
their haka - he realised that they had a deep connection to the earth. Listen to here his tell his story.
He said all other tribes were singing water related songs that were so very moving – that he and his Choir started crying.
He mentioned that the songs seemed to have Beethoven’s 9th beat - that he felt his life changing …
And right next to him and the Savitri D were 15 Maori who when they dropped into their Karakia (prayer) followed by a Haka ‘it scared the hell out of Billy
and his group” … that knowing about other first peoples from around the world makes a huge difference to how he saw life.
That Rivers are becoming recognised as entities
He then mentions the Whanganui River (awa) as having recently been given living status and classified as an entity. This he said was wonderful and that other countries like India are following
He sees that the reengaging with this knowingness, that the Whanganui river is an entity – shows that the global neo-liberal economy has a limit. That
this emergence of such an event means that indigenous cultures can now take the higher ground in seeing that the earth is both living and sacred. See
India recently passing legislation as well as what has been happening in Bolivia and Ecuador etc.
Billy sees this as an Earthalujah! moment in our history - this is what we are waiting for …
Billy states that he is very grateful for the leadership that has come his way. (It takes huge courage, especially in the USA). He is grateful that the
indigenous – earth peoples have survived the extraction and murderous ways plus the diseases of our European culture. To still be here as carers of
the earth – that which lends us bodies in which to live, plus free air, water and until recently a free food chain.
We need to drop the old story of conquest and empire and consumers consuming our planet and allow the old stories of pre ‘city-state’ culture, to come
in. That the word natural needs to been seen as far more sustainable than cultural and allow the earth to re-enter our consciousness.
Being mindful in one’s actions
Both Billy and Savitri D his dearly loved wife are very mindful and respectful of the lives of humanity and are very caring of how they language their
connection both to people and our planet as a whole.
He intuits that the uprising on earth today is more than a message to him it is an instruction – that the earth is giving a signal to join her – in this
The present situation in America and what leadership is required.
We have to come back to the living earth.
I then interview for 25 minute Savitri D - Billy’s wife and leader of the ‘Stop Shopping Choir’
The Church of Stop Shopping is a radical performance community of about 50 people.
Who are united around their values …
And recently they have been going inside banks to show their resistance as consumer activists. For example they even travelled to North Dakota to the Standing
Rock - access pipeline. In super of the First Nation peoples.
Their strength is their creativity and communal energy which focuses on political activism, being radical earth activists with heart and soul.
Being earth oriented they look at natural systems for clues - such as a healthy bio-system is diverse. They look for resilience in their human community
as much as they do in their physical landscape – some would say a permaculture view – a very broad view of integrated designs of things.
Yet a lot of their work involves standing on police lines protesting … and doing it with song and hilarious preaching plus ferocious preaching too.
Disrupting the normal tone of protest – adding clever and artistic props that they make themselves. Plus, over the last 15 to 20 years they have developed
a broad vocabulary to add to their protest and resistance – using every different strategy they can imagine. One continuous strategy is focus on climate
change and to keep it in the public consciousness all the time.
This with keeping fossil fuels in the ground, trees deeply rooted and animals healthy … to reduce human chauvinism in its industrial effort to extract
the last of earth’s gifts out of her. Is what they are here to protect.
Savitri says she and her troupe are wild people who live in the city – being the human wilderness of New York city.
And New York is the entry point of the USA and the road is unknown – but people show up as they find a way to divine a way to survive and make a new life
for themselves. As an artist it is very exciting but for an ordinary person too, just wishing to become financial stable.
Cultural creatives hare challenged to come together. As the arts now are becoming very commodified and institutionalised – and it is difficult for an artist
to be political – as sponsorship option evaporates instantly – and has always been that way.
People in New York are in a hurry – but they are open …
Some of the protests were:
Singing about Monsanto and honey bees, neonicotinoids and pesticides, plus being pollinators where they dressed as honey bees – and the fact the the Stop
Shopping Choir is so diverse that there are always creative input to their shows.
BP comes up for some attention … Marktown East of Chicago – is supposedly a cancer cluster area – so they went and sung to the people of that area
– about capitalism and the extraction the fossil fuel industry – and these people are going through hard times so ‘the choir’ has to communicate with
them in a gentle and respectful way – without undermining the value of what they have put into their own life – albeit working for a corporation that
is basically only profit motivated.
That though in a hostile territory the payback was that they were very well received as they both educated and healed these workers by showing that they
What are we to do?
Start sharing deep story with each other – being caring and insightful – be open to change and don’t get sucked in by mainstream media – it is not productive
What will make people more active and engaged?
Community holds us up and supports us – community is powerful and capable of profound things – someone gets tired. But there is always someone having an
up day and they come in alongside you and lift you up. Tend to your garden and nourish all your relationships.
Gather together to work with you affinity groups = people you know and trust and build strong cohesive relationships. It’s a long game and the challenges
are not going to go away tomorrow.
Yet Billy states that in the USA things have never been darker yet things have never been brighter … yet we need Noble courage to stand up!
The present president is showing to the public face that the macho fundamentalism is bulldozing and extracting every last drop of what the earth can supply.
What was interesting was that Bernie Sanders presidential bid was largely an Occupy Wall St platform.