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Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
Exorcise Chain Greed in Williamsburg

photos by Paul Bartlett from artandpolitics.com

"Hallelujah, children! We don't want Starbucks in Williamsburg!" cried out Reverend Billy, crusader against Corporate Greed and chain stores like Starbucks, Disney and the Gap. As a crowd gathered on July 14th at the corner of North 5th and Bedford, rumored to be the site of a future Starbucks, police stood close by, arms folded, sending messages every few minutes threatening to arrest Reverend Billy and his 20-member Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.

Even though the choir and Billy were not disrupting the flow of traffic, were not on private property, and had stopped using amplified sound, the rally ended abruptly when word came that a "police van was waiting" to arrest the group. Detective Walsh, of the 94th Precinct in Williamsburg, refused to comment, and referred this writer to the NYPD's Public Affairs office, who stated that they could not comment on the event because it involved "no major incident," meaning no arrests, or destruction of property and the like. But why the police threatened to arrest a group that, by all appearances, was following the rules, remains unanswered. ACLU, are you listening?

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping is the creation of actor/activist Bill Talen. The message is to stop shopping at large chain stores such as Disney, Starbucks, and the Gap.

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir will be performing on August 23rd in Central Park.

Check out www.revbilly.com for more performance times and locations.

"We are against the large transitional corporations that try to defeat the individual, the ones that attempt to replace freedom of expression with their products."

The Reverend's character and philosophy have incensed chain stores like Starbucks so much that they sent an internal memo advising employees how to handle him if he came into the store. But his message is sticking and people are listening, as evidenced by the crowd that had gathered on July 14th.

While the choir got ready to perform, the Starbucks rumor was quelled when two women handed Reverend Billy a flyer that said "Coming Soon, Fabiane's Pastry and Cafe, an Independent Pastry Experience." "You should have done your research, this is not going to be a Starbucks," Fabiane and her friends yelled. The Reverend told Fabiane that the Church of Stop Shopping was supportive of the small business owner and that the rally wasn't against her, but large chains like Starbucks.

Reverend Billy said he received "scores" of emails from Williamsburg residents and local businesses, saying that the vacant property on Bedford and North 5th was going to be a Starbucks. Starbucks itself has denied that it is opening a store in Williamsburg. He was also told that the space would be renting for $7,500 per month, a sum that is roughly triple the amount of rent that nearby businesses are currently paying. "Even if Starbucks doesn't move in to that space, $7,500 per month, by itself, is destructive for this neighborhood," said the Reverend. And while Fabiane didn't say what she was paying in rent for the space, and Billy wasn't convinced she was legitimate, he encouraged her to stick around for the show.

"We come that you might not shop so abundantly!" sang the choir, made up of actors, activists and singers. The choir, dressed in long, golden robes, were lifting their arms up, jumping up and down, much like any gospel choir. But this was no ordinary church choir. "Oh children do not shop, oh children shop no more," they sang, to the delight of the crowd and the chagrin of the cops, who said the NYPD had no official position on organized religion.

"These cops made a mistake," the Reverend told Free Williamsburg. "They made the crowd more sympathetic towards us and our cause."

The Reverend Billy has been arrested at rallies numerous times, and he believes that Federal Agents have even attempted to shut down his web site. At a fall 2000 rally against NYU's tearing down of the historic Edgar Allen Poe House, the Reverend read from "The Raven" repeatedly until he was arrested. The publicity generated by The Reverend Billy caused the NYU Board of Directors to concede and partially preserve the house in remembrance of Edgar Allen Poe.

Supporters are still sending complaints about that arrest to police. "The police do not have an instinct for free speech," said the Reverend. They have forgotten that their first duty is to protect and uphold our constitutional rights."

There were no arrests on the Reverend's July 14th performance in Williamsburg and the rumors that Starbucks are coming to town are so far unsubstantiated, but our neighborhood continues to cross Big Money's radar, the coming of Chain Greed is imminent.

The Reverend offers us this hope on his website:

"If enough New Yorkers wanted to protect our city from this company's assembly-line fake Bohemianism we could leave these cappuccino machines hissing alone. Talk to someone about Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and see if they don't start staring at their steamed milk. I swear this isn't hopeless."

-Urania Mylonas FREEwilliamsburg.com

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