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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Reverend Billy illuminates black friday

By Chris Lee 

leechris@grinnell.edu

Anyone walking past Herrick Chapel this past Monday may have been startled by the loud cries of “Life-elujah” and “Occupy-elujah!” coming from within. This week, Grinnell College hosted the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Reverend Billy, famous for putting “We Are the 99%” to music, took the opportunity to preach to a packed audience about the dangers of American consumerism.

Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop-Shopping throws his hands to the mountaintops that shouldn’t be mined. Photograph by Nate Powell-Palm.

Reverend Billy, who has recently become a vocal supporter of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement certainly had a lot to say, sharply criticizing a culture where our focus only extends as far as the next item we want to buy.

“We have to help each other learn to make very fundamental/basic changes in our communities,” Billy said. “The big banks and corporations … must be quickly … disempowered, and replaced by …direct democracy [and] community institutions.”

Much of the “sermon” was devoted to the undue influence that large companies have on our day to day lives. Reverend Billy’s remedies were somewhat sparse, if varied. True to its name, the Church of Stop Shopping dubbed Black Friday as “Don’t Buy Anything Week,” and will be staging a campaign against the consumerism associated with the holiday season. However, the Church of Stop Shopping warns against many sins within the American financial system.

“We were very involved with Bank Transfer Day, at Bank of America … [and] we had a big demonstration. The choir sang, and I preached,” Billy said. “They shut down the B of A though. They locked the doors! I guess they were afraid of us.”

One message that the Reverend expounded upon was that the change they sought wasn’t about policy. “It’s not programmatic, it’s systematic,” repeated Billy multiple times throughout his speech. And the changes that he believes will be necessary are both far-reaching and close to home.

“We have to start living over … we have to discover ourselves, how basic the changes are, how fundamental the changes are, that we need to make,” Billy clarified. “The community dynamics of generosity has been defeated for a long time by corporations, and what we’re discovering now is … the first thing to do is not have legislation that can become policy in Washington D.C.”

Billy practices what he preaches—the entire event involved an enormous amount of walking amongst the crowd, as well as involving the audience as a whole.
With boisterous outcries of “Occupy-elujah!” Reverend Billy got his parishioners off of their seats and into the streets of Grinnell. The performance ended on a powerful note, as Reverend Billy stormed up the aisle of the church and took the show on the road, literally. Intrigued members of the audience spilled out the chapel’s doors after Billy to find out where the wandering preacher had gone.

As any newly converted member of the Stop Shopping Church could tell you, all present could feel the Spirit (or at least their breath) in the air as they listened to the call to buy no more Christmas presents. Elise Gallant, who will graduate at the end of the semester, was just one of many who was moved by Preacher Billy’s dynamic performance.

“I thought that Rev. Billy did a really good job of connecting some of the disparate threads within the Occupy movement, specifically addressing the need to create a definitive set of propositions and tenets [for the movement],” Gallant remarked. “This movement is not about policy making, it is about lifestyle change, and burgeoning new ways of thinking about the world that are outside of the scope of needing to buy something to make yourself happy.”

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