“Where’s Reverend Billy?” asked a young woman with a camera.
The acolyte who’d handed her a flyer for the Buy-Nothing day event at the north end of Union Square (detailing the activist Rev’s “10 Commandments of Buylessness,” and including a “Fun Page” of BND activities) thought a moment, then said, “Where would you like him to be?”
“Right here,” the young woman said, pointing at the ground.
The acolyte — who, unlike most of his comrades, was not dressed as an elf in green and red motley and Santa cap — made a disappointed sound; magical thinking only works if the crowd cooperates. But the Reverend was on his way, and meanwhile his elves were getting up a dance party, encouraging the hundred or so attendees to “dance your debt away” on and around a “NOT FOR SALE” sign taped to the ground.
Not many joined in, but the elves put their booties into it, rocking, prancing, and even break-dancing as the public address blared Motown. The crowd was at least vicariously warm as the Reverend arrived in his white suit, busted a few moves of his own, and then proceeded to the day’s lesson. His electric bullhorn was weak, and his paper “First Amendment megaphone” did not serve, so his set it aside and just bellowed, stalking within the circle of listeners.
He announced he’d been to Macy’s at Herald Square and could report that Black Friday shoppers were down to “25 percent as many as they were last year.” The crowd applauded. “Something very exciting is happening,” he said. “This economic system… is stunned, in retreat.”
He told the crowd that at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, “a young store clerk who had the responsibility of holding back the crowds” had become a Black Friday casualty: “Suddenly the doors burst open and the young man was trampled and killed.” Some people laughed; other told them, “it’s true, it really happened.”
“I don’t blame them,” said Reverend Billy about the people who laughed. “In years past violence at the doors of the mall has been comic,” the subject of amused chatter for “caffeinated breakfast radio shows… but this year is different… this young man died at the very end of an era… and we’re all feeling the excitement of our future… a new era in which we will all have to work hard with each other for our freedom… a critical mass shift in the way we’re going to live our lives.”
Comparing this to the civil rights movement and the struggles of Harvey Milk, the Reverend raised cheers when he said people were contacting him “from around the world, and they’re saying, I’ve got it, I get it! I’m waking up, I’m not shopping and I won’t shop in those stores! Change-ellujah!”
He bade the crowd hold hands and form a circle around him as he prayed for the young clerk, for a time when Thanksgiving would be about “gratitude instead of greed” and the clerk “shall not have died in vain.”
As the Reverend moved aside, becalmed after his peroration, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra started filing in, and an elf announced that they would turn Union Square into “a dancing zone and not a shopping zone” and lead the celebrants in a conga line around the perimeter.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 28, 2008