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Reverend Billy gets coverage for stirring up youth!

photo by flickr user (cc) crizzirc

photo by flickr user (cc) crizzirc

(excerpt from) Good magazine
Not Like Mike

New York City’s oddball mayoral candidate Reverend Billy is mobilizing young voters in droves in his race for City Hall. He might not be able to beat the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, but he’s up for the fight.

Reverend Billy Talen bursts onstage wearing a white tuxedo and a black priest’s habit, his platinum hair sprayed into an Elvis bouffant. A 35-member gospel choir breaks into a soulful hum and within seconds, the packed New York City auditorium erupts in shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”

“I know some of you are shopping too much,” Talen bellows to a room packed with aging hippies and twenty-something hipsters. “Consuming too much, sneaking off to the big box. You gotta push back!” And with that, his back-up singers launch into their first anti-consumerist anthem of the night. “Who are these politicos? Have you ever seen one lie?” the choir sings, as the Reverend wings his head up and down, his arms reaching to the heavens. “They gotta live uptown. Somewhere where they can hide. Who buys them all that TV time? He’s the one who broke your lease. Officials slick their palms with grease.”

This is tried-and-true material for “the Rev,” as William Talen, 59, is known. Ever since he founded the Church of Life After Shopping, after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, he has been spreading the gospel that Americans cannot buy their way out of their problems. In the years since, Talen has amassed hundreds of followers and become arguably the most entertaining champion of embattled mom-and-pop retailers in the city. But this year, he upped the ante.

A few months after New York City’s two-term mayor Michael Bloomberg drafted a bill to extend term-limits so he could run a third time, the Rev vowed to take that oddball activism all the way to City Hall. And in late August, he became a bona fide New York City mayoral candidate on—what else?—the Green Party ticket…

“The reason we said yes to a quixotic campaign against a $100-million candidate was to introduce new ideas into a political system that’s become conservative,” explains Talen. “The mainstream parties here are like Coke and Pepsi; McDonald’s and Burger King.”

So Talen represents an alternative. “We’re activists, and as activists you have to broaden your idea of success to include the fight itself,” says Savitri D., Talen’s wife and the director of the Church…

Talen’s platform is about supporting community-based growth after a decade of breakneck residential and commercial development…

Beyond the anti-Bloomberg rhetoric, a utopian vision emerges. Talen would like to see a socio-economically and ethnically integrated city where rich and poor mingle in parks, greet their local beat-cop by name, and plant community gardens together. The vision is at times vague and unrealistic, but it’s clearly tapping into something some New Yorkers have been missing. Talen has recruited more than 850 volunteers—many of them young people who typically steer clear of municipal elections…

…after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Talen sensed that New Yorkers’ were searching for something more; a sense of spirituality, perhaps, outside of organized religion. That year, he founded the Church of Life after Shopping, and began to hold regular Sunday worship services at St. Mark’s Church.

It was around that time that the self-described “theater refugee” became the Reverend Billy full-time, and his vision of the “Shopocalypse” started to materialize. The church now has about 450 members, and many of Reverend Billy’s parishioners have joined him in activism as well as prayer over the years. Talen characterizes himself as a “public-space tactician” whose goal is to reclaim the dwindling commons spaces of New York City.

“You have to go on the street,” he says. “You have to go to places where different kinds of people are; where there are unexpected results; where people who can’t afford theater tickets might show up; where you are not operating at the whims of grant makers, government agencies, or real estate itself.”

Talen’s attention-grabbing antics belie a relaxed, reasonable, and reflective person. He is as comfortable sprawled out on a picnic blanket in Brooklyn as he is dressed up in his costume onstage…

If that late July fundraiser was any indication, it seems to be working. There were 650 people in the audience that night, and Joan Baez headlined. But once Talen took the stage after 9 p.m., it was clear people hadn’t forked over $30 a head to see the iconic 1960s folk singer.

“I had a moment in there where I was like this guy, he’s a saint,” Holmes said. “He’s so powerful that I don’t believe anymore that he couldn’t get elected. I believe that if he keeps doing this, if enough people saw him in this crazy city, New Yorkers would just be like ‘Fuck it. Let’s vote for this guy. He’s brilliant.’”


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