''Hallelujah!'', Reverend Billy's running for mayor

he's not just preaching to the choir

Billy's the real thing.

Reverend Billy of the Church of Not Shopping is more than a performer and a performance. His, its, their dedicated and vocal supporters are only one center of a contemporary activist, grass-roots movement for economic justice, environmental protection, and anti-militarism, but their performances and meetings have typically been among the most entertaining and joyful manifestations of a growing movement which may be about to come into its own, even if it may not yet be in sight of the promised land.

Bill Talen (Reverend Billy is the stage name he's used for years) wants to be mayor. Let me go on record right now by saying I'd vote for him at the drop of a hat, and that's what I saw happen today at noon in Union Square. Since the good Reverend himself is never seen in anything resembling a hat (his thick theatrical comb-back "do" probably supplies enough warmth), if I'm going to resurrect another hoary expression to describe what I saw, I'll have to emphasize that Talen threw his hat into the ring only metaphorically, when he declared his very serious candidacy for the office of Mayor of the City of New York on the Green Party Ticket.

If you've heard him speak you know Billy's a master with metaphor, but you may not know that he's a master at gently but firmly cutting through the cant, stupidity and obfuscation which passes for political discussion in New York. He's quick on his feet in front of both large and small crowds, but he reveals an awesome, genuinely-sincere mind - and heart - in the very smallest groups, or in one-on-one conversation.

He's an impressive speaker and an impressive candidate. If only he were able to appear in front of voters and speak to them as I've heard him talk, both in and, at least as importantly, out of his theatrical character, I believe he'd be a shoe-in for the office (another clothing metaphor, but we do know Billy wears shoes). They'll come to smile and to laugh, but the message he delivers is serious, and it now has more meaning for more New Yorkers than ever before.

In the midst of an economic disaster Billy can no longer be dismissed as a voice crying aloud in the wilderness, but of course for many of us he never was.

He's not going to be quiet, and as the candidate of an established party he can't be ignored.

When the choir had finished and he was done speaking, Talen walked down the steps from the rostra (where he stood at a white-painted wooden church "pulpit" constructed for an earlier "Church" action) to take questions from the press assembled below it. He was asked what he thought about the difficulty in beating the incumbent, Michael Bloomberg (the richest man in Gotham, who literally bought the office - twice - and is willing to do so again) "Bloomberg? I don't think he'll win; he's running against democracy; it's Mike vs. democracy, and democracy will win. It actually is that simple and clear to lots of New Yorkers". Asked if he himself represented democracy, he answered generously: "There are a number of very worthy candidates," adding, "we have to respect the people of New York", alluding at least partly to the voters' decision to impose and uphold term limits recently scrapped by the Mayor and City Council.

The new Green Party nominee pointed to the historic focus of his political activism up until now, New York's 500 real neighborhoods*, as the new political reality with which he will be working, and which he said should and would replace that of the paternalistic and undemocratic system of failed corporations, insolvent banks and ruined developers. "The key is in the neighborhoods, [even if] for some neighborhoods it's too late." Reminding us of one the Church of Not Shopping's battles, that focused on the multiplication of the big chains and the disappearance of local businesses, the Reverend seemed to be warning Bloomberg and the beneficiaries of his largesse, "We all now know what the monoculture is, and we know to oppose it."

From the candidate's letter to New Yorkers which appears on the campaign web site:

The 500 neighborhoods of New York, if they are healthy, are protecting our families and jobs. Local economies anchored by independent shops and public spaces are not as sexy to this administration as luxury boxes, corporate jets and the like, but really the greatness of this city is in its neighborhoods.

This would all sound like only an utopian dream if we weren't already experiencing the beginnings, within the country as a whole, of virtually a revolution in public attitudes and government programs proposed, and even an alteration in the political system itself, all being driven by circumstances, the internet, and Barack Obama's emergence originally as candidate and now as President.

ADDENDUM: Video documentation of the scene in Union Square yesterday:

Billy's oration
Billy and the press
Bill of Rights chorale

Billy says he and the members actually got together to try counting, and stopped at 500.

Bill T is a very fine artist. Cut his teeth in SF and we miss him. Remember many an artist has runa political campaign. Jello Biafra and Lowell Darling come to mind, california centric such as i am...

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Published on March 1, 2009 5:05 PM.

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