Reverend Billy

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Earth Riot – The charismatic and colourful New York based singers, performers and climate change activists Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir are coming to embark on a whistle-stop UK tour before arriving in Glasgow for the final two days of the COP26 climate conference.

HC: So you’re going to the final 2 days of the COP26 without an invitation – what are your plans, if you can reveal?
Rev: This is not an invitation-only event! I suppose the CO2 emitting corporations would like political singing troupes like us not to show up!

HC: What are you hoping to achieve by being there?
Rev: We sing songs that we write about the Earth and we hope to inspire people to defend the Earth however they can: activism, marching and rallying, giving money, praying and singing. The Earth is in an uprising now with floods in the valleys and fires on the mountains.

HC: How do you think you will be received? 
Rev: Our director is Savitri D, and she helps us with our anxiety and projections. You know, as director she takes on the anxieties herself, and when that happens we try to support her in turn. The Stop Shopping ‘Church’ is celebrating its 20th anniversary now, so we have been on a lot of stages and streets. People are generally good with us. Everyone likes music.

HC: Do you think the delegates at COP26 have calculated their carbon footprint? 
Rev:  We have all travelled to be here, some from far away. We are from London (about 1/3rd) and New York (2/3’s) and we have jetted across the pond and we are in two big busses zig-zagging to 7 different cities between London and Glasgow. There is a great deal of gasoline burning here so we better work hard.

HC: What do you hope COP26 will achieve?
Rev: The conference has a breakthrough already. The corporations that lied about their net-zero CO2 projections got booted off the program. They’ve been lying to the public for 25 conferences, but this time even the Boris Johnson government couldn’t take it.

HC: In reality, what do you think will COP26 actually achieve?
Rev: Really?  Well, the Earth’s disasters are blowing by all the estimates. But the oil companies won’t stop. I think the Earth is the main activist right now. 

HC: Why do you think we are not doing enough?
Rev: Consumerism is the basis for culture in the USA. We are hypnotized by thousands of marketing events each day.  We can’t tell a real hurricane from a YouTube clip of a hurricane until it rips off the roof. Our passivity has much to do with the lazy hazy life of the consumer.

HC: Is society ready to make the necessary changes? 
Rev: You see we don’t know how hypnotized we are, because this BUY BUY BUY world is experimental.  It’s built up to dominate our lives in only a few decades. We don’t know how much we have to change because we don’t know how deep a psychological hole we’ve fallen into.  As of 2021, no, we aren’t ready to change.

HC: What are your thoughts on the coverage Greta Thunberg receives?
Rev: Greta is a new generation of millions who find their lives in danger. Her scolding us is a good response and she is growing up to be a world-scale leader. There needs to be action though, not just guilt.

HC: What direct action can us, the public take?
Rev:  Leave it in the ground today. No more oil. Then we adapt. Start at the drill site – stop it.

HC: What do you say to those who ‘can’t be bothered’ as it’s not going to affect them in their lifetime?
Rev: Well that’s Consumerism, which is the cultural arm of Capitalism. These systems are killing the Earth. The Extinction is underway and accelerating.

HC: Do you think it will get a lot worse before us humans will actually take serious action?
Rev: It gets worse every day and we didn’t think it would get this bad this fast.  

HC: Why do you think the public are not doing more? Do you think we are getting complacent or don’t care, or don’t understand?
Rev: We love our families. We care. We just can’t believe that this mass mortality event is really happening. Our theme song in our show is “Extinction is real! Extinction is here! Better say I love you before you disappear!”

HC: Unless every single country joins in the battle against climate change, we’ll lose. Do you think it’s already too late? Can we really achieve the targets?
Rev: It’s too late to return to the life we got used to. We’re like Wiley Coyote – when he runs off the cliff and stops in mid-air and doesn’t know he will fall. Finally, he looks down and sees, then still standing there in the air, he looks at us with total shock. Most people are seeing the fall about to happen and the amazement is a feeling we’re just starting to have.

HC: How can the we expect countries that are still developing their economies, industries and infrastructures to stop developing? The over developed countries will always have an advantage. 
Rev: The developed countries have no moral authority. We are colonizers and Capitalism always finds a way to keep the colonies down. If we were willing to stop our toxic emissions, then we would enter a trusting conversation with all the all our fellow nations.  

HC: What is the Church of Stop Shopping all about, and where did the name come from? 
Rev: Stopping our over-consumption is basic to Earth justice on a wide scale. We are devoted to non-corporatized ways of life, freedom from the stupid life of the consumer.  We believe that this is.

HC: Do we need to stop shopping? 
Rev: Consumerism, the BUY BUY BUY of our culture in the USA certainly – is reaching dangerous levels. It is based on fossil fuel, plastics, fabrics, half of the drug store is fossil fuel…. Yes we need to Stop Shopping. But as we say, if you stop your shopping for ten minutes you might suddenly see the emergency we’re in and DO something.

HC: What are you hoping to achieve from the Earth Riot UK Tour?
Rev:  One thing is: we try to inspire activists! Don’t lose hope! We can save our lives!  Earthalujah!

HC: What message are you hoping to get across at the show?
Rev: If you calm down and get honest about what’s happening in the Earth, if you acknowledge honestly the progress of the great extinction sweep through the land and sea, you have a better chance to join others in an earth-saving action.

HC: What do you tell people to encourage them to come to a show, what can we expect?
Rev: Oh it’s great music.  Earthalujah!

HC: ‘Earthalujah’ I like that – who came up with that?
Rev: Our community can lose it sometimes, our rehearsal, in drums and clapping and singing, and Earthalujah came out of one of our community seizures.

HC: The tour has a carbon neutral status – how has that been calculated?
Rev: It’s important to be open and real about the emissions of CO2 during travel. We measure the gas burned in flying over 17 people and the cars and busses on the ground. We have over 20 metric tons of CO2 in the flight from NYC. The local singers are of course less. We then support financially the gardens, transportation projects and permanent culture education sessions here in the UK neutralizing the CO2. We make sure that our help is reversing the emissions in a greater amount than created by our trip.

HC: How much support is there for the Church?
Rev: Our reach through technology is more than a hundred thousand folks. About 500 of them share financial resources with us.  We are celebrating our 20th year.

HC: Is there a confusion as to whether you are religious entity as well as activists/protestors? Do you call yourselves activists?
Rev: Well we try to earn the title of activists. We sing a lot and trespass on the property of misbehaving corporations. We opened for Neil Young and we get awards and yes we are the church that a number of people want. There are effective social activists in all religions. We pray to the Earth. I suppose we are called secular. Then again, we marry and bury and baptize and keep singing.

HC: Where did it all start for you – what happened for you to dedicate your life to this cause?
Rev: The origin story is not a lone hero who saw the light. The origin is many different kinds of people came together and began to sing. There are about 50 of us, singers and role-players, supporters. We are a family and yes we are dedicated to change.

HC: Who are the real climate criminals, or is it all of us?
Rev: No, all of us are living everyday, and some of us have to use fossil products. The criminals are taking the oil out of the ground and poisoning the sky, water and soil. The big banks keep it going with their billion dollar lines of credit. The government is too corrupt to stop the big banks.

HC: ‘Retail interventions’ – how did that come about and what is the purpose?
Rev: The ‘Retail Interventions’ are about the stopping of consumption at its most basic level. Interrupting people when they are in their shopping trance, asking for their thoughtfulness and care.

HC: What has the Church achieved in its 20 years?
Rev: Recently we had a central role in banning Monsanto’s pesticides from the New York park system, the biggest in the US. We were a leader in resisting ICE, the immigration police who pull parents from their homes while their children scream and cry. We organized big protests at the ICE jails. We were arrested several times while protesting racism – in the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson and then last year. We keep working for the Earth, and since human justice and earth justice are the same thing, you spread your compassion everywhere you can.

HC: What are you plans for the next 20 years?
Rev: Starts with singing a song! Earthalujah!

HC: How do you describe the meaning of ‘Revolutionary Ritual’ and ‘Transformative Spectacle’?
Rev: We need to create new collective rituals, through speaking and singing, gestures and prayer to some kind of higher being, and for us that is the Earth. So much of collective ritual now, as in entertainment and sports – is depoliticized or just a distraction while the great extinction sweeps through…

HC: Has the ‘Year of the Covid’ changed your direction or thoughts?
Rev: Covid is another super storm from the Earth.

HC: What are the main challenges you face to put your message across?
Rev: Oh, our main challenge is the insidious deeply-entrenched thing called Consumerism.

HC: What would you like to do differently next year?
Rev: We are working to recognize the Earth in our own bodies. Somehow that is the key to change. There is a super storm inside here and there is a message coming to us from this fire and flood.

Quick Questions:

HC: Who are those who still inspire you?
Rev: We are inspired by Rachel Carson, Nina Simone, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

HC: Have you enjoyed being Rev Billy all these years? 
Rev: Sometimes yes but sometimes he’s more than I can handle.

HC: Do you have a hidden skill/talent?
Rev: I hope so. Somethings got to happen that isn’t a Selfy.

HC: What types of music do you enjoy listening to when you relaxing?
Rev: Thelonious, Chopin, Debussy, Alice Coltrane

HC: When you are not on stage what hobbies do you enjoy?
Rev: I like to get up in the middle of the night and go out into a forest.  

HC: What was the last book you read?
Rev: Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln

HC: When was the last time swore at the TV?
Rev: I swore at my computer a few minutes ago, somehow I swerved into a Chinese soap opera

HC: If you were a flower, what kind would you be and why? 
Rev: A Venus Flytrap, in which the fly is the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland

HC: If your pet could talk, what would it say?
Rev: Billy lighten up, got a treat?

HC: Who was your most memorable teacher? 
Rev: Spalding Gray

HC: What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
Rev: Jalapeños

HC: What’s your favourite word?
Rev: Enthusiasm

HC: What do you consider your greatest personal achievement?
Rev: Gaining the interest of Savitri my life partner! Love-a-lujah!

The tour hits East Anglia with two shows:
Colchester Arts Centre 3rd November
Norwich Arts Centre 4th November

This interview first appeared on GrapevineLIVE


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