Articles by

<Reverend Billy>

10/12/11 4:00am


Children of the occupation! Are we alright?
Is anyone hungry? Occupation
pizza is fresh and hot! A prisoner in
Burma ordered it for us! Or was that a
family waiting for clean water in Bangladesh?
Or a foreclosed grandmother
on a porch in Bed-Stuy? They speak to
us clearly. The word “solidarity” comes
to our lips!

But there are people speaking to us
also who talk in the windows of these
skyscrapers that lean over us here in
Liberty Plaza. They are chattering into
microphones. Their fingers are blurring
over the keys. They demand to know
what… They demand to know what…
What do we want? They demand a list
of demands!

They say we are amorphous! Kind of fuzzy
and vague! We’re just romantic rebels! In a
pantomime of protest! They say

Now children…


I am here to thank you! Can you feel the
gratitude that so many people feel toward
you? From around the country…
And the world? Because we know it’s all
in the phrase:

To occupy this park in the shadow of
these banks is to create a tear, a big rip
in the system.

We all underestimated the power of the
corporate monoculture, the thousands
of ads and little threats from fashion,
credit, and stylish violence, of consumerism
and militarism that hurries us and
exhausts us in this middle class America.

And now here we have this island, this
occupation of the banks, this banning of
logos and cash this love of humans without

What does the CEO up there see looking
down from his lofty corner office?
We’re down here, so close by, but we’re
not in his economy, and we write our
own history. We’re living and breathing
and making music, we’re crazifying
the pure products of America! Living
eating dreaming sleeping and shouting,
occupying with our lives in the face of the
financial instruments that circle us to
abuse us but can’t get at us because we
claim our lives as are our own: to live our
First Amendment of freedoms, without
permits or dividends or wars…
What we’re doing here could not be more
specific, more elucidated, researched and
clear. It takes a nation of millions: hungry
prisoners, hungry-thirsty families,
students who got fooled into debt, lifelong
helpers losing their homes—people
betrayed by a lie about freedom; good
people lied to by men in suits.

Oh yes, we have the common sense to
feel what is demanded here these last
three weeks in Liberty Plaza! They are
thanking us for what we’re doing, and
they are going down to their own public


We are living life here, and life is very
specific. We are

07/23/09 2:17pm

Street Vendors Project tonight… But where is the meeting? Joan Baez night at the Highline… the manager wants the sound specs. Can we have an interview with FMU on Friday at 2?

BEFORE we started running, I remember when the notion of the comic preacher running against the billionaire was a giddy, cuddly romance. Of course I should run. Of course, run into the $100 dollar vat of lies and get chased by evil teleprompters up the canyons of the apple.

Maybe the key to sanity is to just try one thing… One single big continuous thing. One thing at a time, because the details flying into my body from the phone and computer are at such a mind-rending rate it cannot be sustained. Political campaigning, even of the quixotic and surreal sort, is simply harder work than being a preacher. I mean, I’m still that comic preacher, but it’s like Rev Billy has burst into pixels and each pixel is trying to kiss a baby.

Maybe that’s why my heart palpitated me in the St. Vincent’s emergency room three weeks ago. Full of needles and blood-thinners and beta-blockers, I finally relaxed because outright pain was my new boss. A heart ailment is my new Bloomberg. Then, later, back at the home in Brooklyn convalescing, I’m back on the phone asking ex-wives for money for the campaign. What’s not to stress me out? Running for office, even when you’re not invited to the debates, is an invitation to, shall we say, “the horrors of ambition?”

Do a single big thing, like campaigning with the choir, like studying the greennwashing of PlaNYC with the phones turned off, like jogging hard for a long time in Prospect Park and communing with my heart. Otherwise, life becomes an interruption a minute, and you end up pacing like a joke Napoleon with a cellphone.

But the one, big, continuous belief is that the neighborhoods have an economy that is sustainable if it isn’t steroided by Bloomberg and his developers. The Rise of the Fabulous 500 Neighborhoods! The people out there getting Rev Billy Talen on the ballot, by gathering signatures on streetcorners and parks and farmers’ markets… they remember the one big thing. New York City is in the hands of a right wing billionaire with marketing like a tsunami, and we are envisioning livability, non-racist police, progressive taxes and dependable public services. We know that we have to change our lives, and that is the way that we will change our government. It is time to be a radical New Yorker.

Ah, now that feels better. The polemics of compassion — good for the heart.


To help get Reverend Billy on the ballot, print this and sign it! Democracy in New York needs this…

05/19/09 4:00am

Part three of the Reverend Billy’s ongoing campaign diary, as he outlines his run for mayor of New York City.

May 16, 2009.
Writing on a yellow legal pad by my window. Waiting for a beautiful woman to walk through the door. Listening to distant ambulances out in Brooklyn. Musing on our surreal campaign…

Thursday, I shouted my two-minute subway sermons, and the choir sang our campaign song, the reconstructed Frank/Liza anthem “Start spreadin’ the wealth. I’m hoping to stay…” Then, as the train stopped, we’d run out over the platform to the next car and there would be another bunch of citizens sleeping, reading books, staring at the floor — unsuspecting citizens waiting for their interruption.

The first blast, “I’m Reverend Billy and I’m running for Mayor!” would make a row of heads jerk all at once, and I’m sorry about that. Eyes opened in surprise, and sometimes yes, there were looks of dismay. But I got to Bloomberg’s obvious corruption quickly, and laughter and applause, or tired smiles, invited us to talk.

I ride the F every day. That was something I always said, as if to invoke favorite son status. “I’m in the F Train community! We ride together!” That’s a stretch, but a good support for our pro-neighborhood campaign. The choir was only six, but Shilpa, Damaris, Judy, Michael, Monica and Savitri – we looked like New York, even with the shouting white blond up front.

“The $100-million man is bribing and advertising his way to a third term only if we are asleep, stunned – passively dreaming.” And that’s a good description of most of the citizens on these trains. You might say the underground strap-hanging is a kind of urban yoga. Take a different kind of breath. It’s true too – that Bloomberg’s blitz of ads has left us groggy. As Wall Street crashes, the billionaire seems to be fulminating with guilt and fear, putting his face more places than Putin and Mugabe combined. Does that make it alright, Mike? Feel better now? But Mike, are you going mad?

As we preached and sang our way to Jamaica Queens and back again out to Coney, the stunned citizenry sat up a bit and listened, and agreed with us. We got some energetic gratitude, but mostly timid handshakes. At home later, emptying out their pockets, the palm-card with the preacher will spill out on the dresser, and maybe people will stop to think about the idea of democracy in New York City? “Was that guy just some underground rogue preacher? Hmm… maybe I will vote for this Rev and his crazy friends. After all, even Bloomberg won’t be in the voting booth with me.”

05/12/09 4:00am

This is part two in Green Party candidate Reverend Billy’s L Mag campaign diary. Read the first one here, and read about Billy’s throw down with Immigrant Detention Centers here.

Mike Bloomberg is the Devil in his own development. He resembles what he creates: a harsh landscape of concrete and glass featuring a crane falling on your head. Running for mayor as a Green, I find myself shouting into his echo-less urban canyons. Picking up the Times to discover once again that I don’t exist, Mike whispers the phrase “competent manager” inside ten million heads.

The loneliness of the long-distance candidate isn’t different from the feeling any of us have when we take off our iPod and stand in the street under an empty condo waiting for the idling traffic to let us through. The world of identical details surrounds us. Modern design repeats and repeats and slaps us across the face with WHITE NOISE. It’s in this world of no differences that the existing power is able to offer itself as an alternative to chaos, crime and the unseeable abyss.

My existential loneliness comes from this landscape that murders all the neighborhoods in all directions. I keep shouting back at that landscape. The pavement and dirty glass silently reply with supermodels selling things from the side of a bus, stuck in mid-orgasm. I shout at it. Shout again: “Change-a-lujah!” Finally, a neighbor does step forward with a comment about the weather that makes me swoon. It is utterly generous, a sensuous symphony in a single sentence, coming out of a face with big wet eyes – an original life! Her name is Marvy! She’s a neighbor! She lives around here!

The only possible variation is that second person, another iPodless soul who might offer a smile and a weather report that would ground Bloomberg’s jet. What my neighbor and I do is a kind of touching – maybe that’s what I mean by voting…

04/28/09 4:00am

Starting today, the Reverend Billy, of the Church of Life After Shopping, will check in with us each week about his Green Party candidacy for mayor of New York City. We’d go into more detail about what makes his platform so compelling in the face of the multi-billion dollar corporatist approach of Mike Bloomberg, Inc., but we’re pretty sure Billy can handle that himself.

Our campaign song is “It’s up to US, New York, New York!”, and it’s that change in the lyrics that makes all the difference. The exuberant singer is already a New Yorker, and is singing with other New Yorkers who have been here awhile. The song starts: “Start spreadin’ the wealth! I’m hoping to stay! I came to live my life here, New York, New York!” The storyline of the new song is pretty straightforward: a chorus of citizens demanding fairness from landlords and developers who are making the city unlivable.

It’s hard to imagine that the deal that millions over the centuries agreed to when they moved here, acting on the famous offer made by the big green lady standing in the harbor, could actually be changed. The corporations and the super-rich have done that, while performing the advertising trick of glorifying the thing they are destroying. The Statue of Liberty is lifting her torch throughout the imagery that pours from the media factories of Wall Street. She is a favorite logo for banks and insurance companies and brokerage firms, along with eagles, flags and George Washington.

Lady Liberty offers something different than Wall Street. She is not lighting up the big board with her torch. She is raising a grand glorious welcome to our immigrants’ neighborhoods, where relatives or at least some tribal or artistic group is ready to help the newcomer. Keep looking, she says, there is a neighborhood here you can live in. Lady Liberty is offering, in fact, a city of 500 neighborhoods, where we will be buoyed up by gift economies of those around us. Wall Street is trying to change that message, by its gradual take-over of our monument of generosity. Neighborhood economies, the heart of the immigrant’s hope, operate independently from the new corporate-scape of the city and are its potent competitor.

Coming to this city is an act of faith — precisely because so many of us arrive here broke and powerless and this dream of New York City is all we’ve got. Immigrant neighborhoods are really extended patterns of families — and the generosity of kin is usually how the arrival in New York City starts, for at least a generation. That gestating-time has happened in neighborhoods and still happens in those human-scale places. It is non-corporate. In fact, these communities pursue what the economists call “gift economies.” The attitude is “Let me help you” – and the money will come later. That’s what the “us” is in “It’s up to us, New York.”

But the promise of the old New York myth belted by Broadway hoofers has been betrayed. The fans who can still afford Yankee tickets — they get the Sinatra version of “New York! New York!” blasted like arena rock after the last fly-out of the game. Meanwhile, back in the city, you can no longer be sure your rented home will remain your shelter; cannot assume the values of land and of buildings will remain steady enough to commit your family’s welfare to; and you can’t raise a child trusting in the continuity of a healthy neighborhood.

The final lyric “It’s up to YOU…” has become a desperate plea that we return to the faith. What is happening now? Predator companies sweep in, real estate speculators and chain stores distort the market. The long-time shops are evicted. Long-time residents see their rent jacked up. Wall Street is the financier, and the city government of Mike Bloomberg, with the tax write-offs and legal advantages going to the landlords — Mike is the fixer. The City of New York, Inc. — the corporation that Mike runs — considers the 500 city neighborhoods to be soft old colonies, Third World countries ready for profit-taking.

Wall Street crashed before Mike, Inc. was able to gobble up all 500 neighborhoods. At the height of the take-over last year we had an epidemic of evictions and foreclosures. But many communities resisted. We have a lot to learn from the neighborhoods that are now alive and well, with small banks and credit unions accepting deposits and loaning out money, with independent shops that have long histories on the block keeping their faithful customers. In our campaign we celebrate these local cultures. We can stand on their corners and we witness in each neighborhood its special quality — the calling out of first names, the offering to help, the rough, sweet generosity of street life in a healthy neighborhood — that creates the same fairness offered by Lady Liberty when we entered this harbor.

“Livability” is our uniting campaign issue. New Yorkers must have access to healthy neighborhoods and mobility from one part of the city to another. Bottom-line: you don’t have New York anymore without a rent that is reasonable and public transportation you can use. End of story. If you don’t have these two basic rights, then the health care and schools and policing and all the qualities of a good city cannot happen. If you don’t pay your rent and get where you need to go? Then it’s not New York. Mike Bloomberg dreams of stadiums and skyscrapers and Olympics and says the great city must have no less. That’s not New York’s essence, not its greatness.

Fairness is greatness, here in this city. The hand of Lady Liberty that isn’t raising the torch is cradling the book of justice. The treatment of immigrants in these illegal prisons that sprouted up in the Bush/Giuliani era would be called by our corporate mayor “a federal matter,” but we know better. It is the heart of our identity. It is the fertile center of this city. This is the deal with the Lady and with her welcome — she gives us the go-ahead to create our neighborhoods. There are eight million of us. A third of us weren’t born here, and in a way, we are all immigrants to this city. It’s up to US, New York, New York.