Home Stretch Interview with Reverend Billy, Candidate for Mayor of New York


Photos by Brennan Cavanaugh.

(This is our third conversation of the campaign with Green Party candidate for Mayor of New York, Reverend Billy.)

How’s the campaign going? Are you confident?

I’m confident that an accelerated evolution is now taking place.

Could you elaborate?

This government and its landlord development thug-buddies will ultimately be chased out of town by scared neighborhood defenders. (pause)

Will this occur on election day, or at some future date?

It’s taking place now — the Michael Bloombergs of this city are suffering a bout of conscience at this time.

What stimulated that?

The change is coming from the neighborhood bodega, pedestrians stopping and looking up at the sky — straphangers who yank out their iPods — the city is full of citizens shedding their consumerism. There’s nothing the NYPD can do about that! They can’t stop-and-frisk fast enough!

We understand you and the Rainforest Relief people have an event coming up Thursday that has to do with the tropical hardwoods being used illegally on city property.

Rare hardwoods are being used for the benches in the High Line Park. At 5:30 Thursday we gather at the fountain in Washington Square. That is the kind of earth justice that we are moving toward — not just environmentalists, we all feel this. We have to imagine life far away to imagine our own lives. This city is never been able to bring itself to consider — well, I just wanna end on that. We have to imagine life far away in order to imagine our own lives

Does that kind of thing take the place of political action, like your mayoral campaign, and legal action?

Got to have both. Enforce what’s on the books, which means turning to someone who might want to bribe you with money, and telling them “I’m not gonna buy this from you. Find some old recycled wood.”

The Church of Life After Shopping was involved with changing Victoria’s Secret a couple of years ago — they were clear-cutting arboreal forests in Canada in order to publish a million semi-pornographic catalogues every day — every day! Grok that! A million a day! So we went to various Victoria’s Secret cash registers and exorcised them… even if I’m Mayor, we’ll exorcise the demons from the Starbucks, the Gap, and Nike.

The new Disney store they’re gonna put up in Times Square, if the National Labor Committee tells us that they still have sweatshops, the City of New York will put those Disney officials in the Tombs. We’ll put them in the Tombs with Ray Kelly!

We noticed that last month the polls had “Other” candidates for Mayor at less than one percent, but this week the Marist poll had “Other” at seven percent.

I want to be called Brother Other!

We hear you were at an “other” candidates forum last night.

This was our fourth or fifth candidates’ forum at the Hudson Guild at West 26th. It was all the third-party candidates, I think. Don’t think I’d been with all of the candidates before.

Was [libertarian candidate] Joseph Dobrian there?

He was trying to run the meeting! He’s against Big Brother while being Big Brother himself. But I’m Brother Other! I want to run this city with Jimmy McMillan! The Rent’s Too Damn High!

One thing I talked about at the forum was the Stella D’Oro strike — they will be our saints, the survivors of that 11-month, brave heroic action up at 238th street in the Bronx . They’re saints and we’re gonna bring them up on stage in our big show at the High Line Ballroom. And that’s my plug! 1 p.m., with the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, and the New Hot Democracy. That’s Sunday, November 1! Nobody turned away!

The election’s a week away. What are you going to do with it?

We don’t have any money left. We’re gonna gather as many people as we can in the High Line, we’re gonna have a big float in the Halloween Parade, and we’ll have a 100 Zombergs… (confers) It’s not a float? A hundred staggering Zombergs! It’s a horde, it’s a swarm! And I’m looking at a stack, a big stack of outsized Michael Bloomberg canvas faces, ironed on canvas, and he looks like an iguana with a haircut. People, you don’t want him as your Mayor for another 4 years, come on.

I believe the local rights movement will continue — after 16 years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, all over the five boroughs people have battled with the city and the city’s business partners, the landlord-developers. So we have a lot of grizzled veterans. And I think Bloomberg, if he should win — and Thompson isn’t that much better — but if he should win, he may very well have such a strong shadow government I don’t think he’ll be able to govern.

What do you mean?

The neighborhoods have developed their own economies and their own governments. People are running their own lives… they’re bartering, they’re making things in their garages, they’re being of service to their neighbors, getting food from farmers’ markets… the City has declared itself to be in opposition to generative local economies. And you can spend two or three months waiting for permits, they just don’t let you start. I’ve talked to small business people about it. You literally can’t be legal…

There’s a kind of common-sense radicalism going on the neighborhood — they’re not Trotskyites, but common sense dictates that you have to defend yourself and your family. At the same moment we have record amounts of empty building space, and record amounts of homeless. What does that tell you?

Official culture is abandoned now, You’re not going to Lincoln Center, you’re going to your community center. The rise of local rights is upon us. That’s where you make that statement: I’m not a consumer, I’m a citizen.

What about your campaign has been encouraging to you?

The censorship of third party candidates is very strict. You’ve got hundreds of institutions working in lockstep — you ask that New York Times writer [who interviewed the Reverend and other third-party candidates], “When did you agree to do this? How do you agree with Bloomberg not to write about third parties? Is it on a piece of paper, or a silent agreement?” It’s consensual censorship.

I needed go through this. Our project has been against the Pentagon, WalMart — we always take on impossible Goliaths, and we try to find a kind of defense of community. And I had to do this with Mike Bloomberg, just to learn how thorough it is, how militaristic it is.

When I was at the debate at El Museo del Barrio — I was in my Reverend Billy televangelist outfit, but they let me in — I watched the 600 people in this political class, the group-grope, loving each other, kissing each other’s cheeks, kneading each other’s shoulders… those people who run agencies, the Wall Street people — and I thought “They’re holding New York City hostage. ” Why did they let me in? I felt very lonely, sitting there in my televangelist outfit and my elvis ‘do. So three or four words into Bloomberg’s opening statement I stood up and started preaching

They had Delta Force, Blackwater types who work out a lot, and they hustled me into a little side-alley and I got a lecture from a lieutenant, who looked exactly like Ray Kelly, except younger, and they let me go. I had the cross and the nails all set, but they didn’t want me to be a martyr.

That’s the kind of thing we have to do to puncture this 100 million dollar monoculture.

[The campaign] has helped me to discover how virulent the anti-democratic forces are in this city. It’s helped me to follow my own rhetoric back to my own neighborhood, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. It’s helped to magicalize my foreground, and put me in touch with the green vision we need for our city: Just conversation with my neighbors about weatherizing, composting, solar and wind, pricing things, finding out the best teachers. A lot of it is hands-on stuff.

PLANYC 2030 is such a greenwashing document. It’ll never happen, because Bloomberg never talked to he neighborhoods about what he wants to do. A good mayor would be rolling up his sleeves in the neighborhoods now, talking to us about how we can change our lives. We’re a coastal city — we have the same emergency as other coastal cities have. We need to grow a green economy. And that’s not about policy and court decisions, that’s standing in your doorway, getting to know your neighbors and “how do we do this?” It’s buying a pair of brown gloves in the bodega and actually discovering the least toxic insulation you can buy. Its a revolution of conservation.

You ever hear the expression, “The revolution of everyday life”? That’s what we have here. We have to make change by discovering a kind of neighborhood intimacy. And I believe that for us and our 1400 volunteers, the great people who were part of this, that’s what we keep coming back to: We’re changing our lives.

What is the city? We’re the city. The “City” will go on with its bubble economy. But we have homes, loved ones, children. And as the corporations fade away we’re starting our own companies, we’re making our own arrangements, we’re counting on our neighbor’s genius to help pull us through. As we say in the Church of Life After Shopping, Change-allujah!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 27, 2009

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