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Volume 77, Number 26 | November 28 - December 04 2007

Support businesses and organizations that support The Villager: St. Anthony's Church

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Marching through Times Square, Reverend Billy’s choir and elves passed striking theater workers.

Reverend Billy preaches against shopping gone wild

By Jefferson Siegel

The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday for the color of ink that stores’ financial books use to indicate their most profitable day of the year.

However, for the past few years the anti-consumer activist Reverend Billy has declared the first day of the holiday shopping season to be Buy Nothing Day.

Reverend Billy (real name Bill Talen) started off last Friday by leading an early-morning sermon in front of Macy’s at Herald Square, accompanied by his Church of Stop Shopping Choir and several dozen acolytes dressed as Santa’s elves. The performance-artist preacher and posse then marched through Midtown, decrying the consumer-orgy attitude of the season and excoriating several stores for selling goods made in sweatshops.

Starting at the fountain across from the Plaza Hotel at high noon, the anti-materialist mass slowly walked, danced and sang their way down Fifth Ave., stopping at several large stores to preach against the evils of “shop till you drop.”

Carrying signs reading “Buy Nothing, Gain Everything,” “Sweatshops Are Naughty” and “Silent Night, Elves on Strike,” they stopped in front of FAO Schwarz, the Disney Store and the Gap.

On Fifth Ave. at 55th St., Reverend Billy and company made their way through the press of intent shoppers and tourists while trying to spread their anti-shopping gospel.

Unlike previous “interventions,” they did not enter the establishments, choosing instead to stand outside for several minutes and sing.

Chanting, “What do we want? Nothing! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey hey, ho, ho, Santa’s sweatshops have got to go,” Billy and his overbuying bashers brought crowds of shoppers and tourists to a stop; many in the Black Friday crowd pulled out cameras and camera phones to capture an “only in New York” moment.

Passing several Salvation Army bell ringers and a musician playing steel drums, the consumerism-condemning choir and elves soon arrived in the middle of Times Square, where Reverend Billy held one of his noted sermons on the evils of consumption gone wild. As the comic-yet-concerned clergyman delivered his message through a large white megaphone, passing taxis and tour buses honked their horns in support.

There were no untoward incidents, although, at the very end, Reverend Billy, feeling a sudden urge to go forth and overshop, had to be restrained by the elves and was carried away to safety.

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