Reverend Billy faces year in prison for climate change protest


Our friend Reverend Billy Talen is facing year in prison for protesting JPMorgan Chase’s financing of fossil fuels. Video interview on Democracy Now!, with transcript and additional information below:

Democracy Now! interviewed Reverend Billy on November 26. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

For more than a decade, Reverend Billy, along with his Church of Stop Shopping, has preached fiery sermons against recreational consumerism — and more recently, against climate disaster. You can often find them greeting the crush of shoppers at Macy’s in New York City on Black Friday. That may not be the case this year. That is because in September, Rev. Billy was arrested after staging a 15-minute musical protest at a JPMorgan Chase bank in Manhattan to highlight the bank’s environmental record and the extinction of a Central American golden toad. He now faces a year in prison for misdemeanor charges of riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly and two counts of disorderly conduct. Despite this, he and The Stop Shopping Choir are performing in New York City every Sunday through December 22. Rev. Billy is also featured in the film “What Would Jesus Buy?” and in the book of the same name. 


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As a Northeast braces for major holiday storm, we turn to a story about a prominent New York performance artist and activist who faces a possible jail sentence for preaching about climate change and the fossil fuel industry. For more than a decade, Bill Talen Reverend Billy has preached fiery sermons against recreational consumerism and more recently, against climate disaster. You can also find Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping greeting the crush of shoppers at Macy’s here in New York on Black Friday. That may not be the case this year. That is because in September, Reverend Billy was arrested after staging a 15 minute musical protest at a JPMorgan chase bank in Manhattan. This is part of a video made a similar protest in June in a JPMorgan Chase bank lobby.

REVEREND BILLY: We are in the midst of a mass extinction at this time. I ask you to think of your own children. I am a father of a three-year-old and I’m worried about the kind of world that my daughter will inherit. Please, protect life, protect the earth. Take your money out of JPMorgan Chase or work inside the bank to change the value system of this bank. It is the largest bank in the United States by assets, but it is also the top bank in the world for financing industrial projects which poisoned the atmosphere with CO2 emissions. Who caused hurricane Sandy? Chase Bank did if anybody did. Rise up against the corporations that are poisoning the atmosphere. It is up to you and to me. Only we can do it. Somebody give me changellujah.


REVEREND BILLY: Somebody give me an earthellujah.


REVEREND BILLY: Somebody give me a lifellujah!


AMY GOODMAN: For our radio listeners, you can see in the video protesters are wearing yellow frog masks. Well, for protesting JPMorgan Chase Reverend Billy now faces a year in prison for misdemeanor charges or riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly and two counts of disorderly conduct. Despite this, he and the Stop Shopping Choir are performing at Joe’s Pub here in New York every Sunday through December 22. Reverend Billy is also featured in the film “What Would Jesus Buy?” and the book of the same name. His most recent boot is, “The End of the World.” He is joining us here in our New York studio. It’s great to have you back, Billy.

REVEREND BILLY: Glad to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that action that you are engaged in.

REVEREND BILLY: It was a different action for us. Going back across the years, all of our performances inside banks, UBS, Deutsche Bank, World Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Bank of America, and many Chase Banks, this one was unusual in that we, on purpose, chose an uptown Manhattan bank that we knew to be frequented by people from Wall Street wealthy people. It’s called a wealth management bank. It had a design where the escalator shot up to the third floor so our 14 singing toad actors could go right into the center of what we call white people land where all of these people were having hushed conversations about their stock portfolios.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, explain the significance of the golden toad.

REVEREND BILLY: The golden toad was driven into extinction 30 years ago in Central America in the mountains. Cloud forest ponds were its habitat. It is a beautiful, a luminescent forest creature called the allelujah toad toad by the indigenous people there. And the United Nations and — there is a consensus among natural scientist that this is one of the first prominent species to be killed by climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! was just broadcasting from Warsaw all last week at the United Nations Climate Change Summit. One of the most powerful leaders there is Christiana Figueres, Head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. She is from Costa Rica. She recently told KQED the disappearance of the Golden toad from Costa Rica had a lasting impression on her. She said, “I was about 12 or 13 and my parents took me to a rainforest in Costa Rica where there was an endemic golden frog that was a beautiful species. By the time I was married and had children, the species of frog had disappeared because of the increasing temperatures [caused by climate change]. The fact that I have seen the disappearance of a species in my lifetime has left me marked. I now realize the planet I’m leaving to my children is visibly diminished from the planet I inherited.” Your thoughts, Reverend Billy?

REVEREND BILLY: I am listening to you and I am hoping that there is a way that we can be marked by the extinction of the world, the extinction wave is real and the financing of the extinction wave by people who profit from it is real. But, don’t — we are so consumerized. Something is wrong with us, we don’t have any fight or flight. We’re not responding. The natural scientists have a consensus, they are telling us we are in grave danger. When other life dies, we die as well. I think we are taught by, I don’t know, the Industrial Revolution, enlightenment, capitalism, we are taught that the human species can exist alone, but Dr. E.O. Wilson, kind of the leader of the extinction experts in the world, a biology teacher up at Harvard, they all say, that, that is not possible. If the biosphere becomes damaged on a certain level, we suffer damage, too.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How is it that JPMorgan Chase, the bank that you targeted, how is it that they’re involved in climate change, exacerbating climate change?

REVEREND BILLY: Our research has it that JPMorgan chase is the top financier of climate change in the world. Its investments put more CO2 and nitrous oxide and methane into the atmosphere than any other single investor. Of course they are traditionally a fossil fuel bank. They come to us from standard oil. There’ve also been a fossil fuel bank. The trouble is they continue to be. But, now like all the corporations, pour hundreds of millions of dollars into green-washing advertising and we are led to believe that they have a neutral carbon footprint and we’re subject to their propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: This year Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, Bank Track, released their fourth annual coal report card which evaluates the largest U.S. banks and their financing coal, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The report found “U.S. banks financed a combined $20.8 billion for the worst-of-the-worst companies in the coal industry in 2012. Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase had the most exposure to coal among the U.S. banks in 2012, financing $3 billion, $2.75 billion, and $2.17 billion respectively in loan and underwriting transactions with companies that engage in mountaintop removal, coal mining or electrical utilities that are expanding or extending the lives of their coal-fired power plant fleets.” The report gave JPMorgan a D+ for policies on mountain top removal, and a D for financing of coal-fired power plants. Reverend Billy, in the last minute we have with you, if you could share with us a pre-Thanksgiving sermon in this period where, well, it will soon be decided whether or not you go to jail.

REVEREND BILLY: I just want to ask, this thing that we share here at this table, the people in the studio audience, the people watching us right now, we share this amazing, unexplained thing called life. I just want to pray to life. Lifelluja. May we respect the life in others. May we respect life in the species, the plants, the animals that we share this beautiful planet with, may we respect the lives of the workers who are serving us with this strange convenience, these products that we are addicted to, this Black Friday weekend. We can’t afford to force life into an other category anymore. We’re all life together. Earthelluja.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Billy, I want thank you for being with us. Your final thoughts, 15 seconds — quick question, would Jesus go to jail?

REVEREND BILLY: Well, Jesus taught us — I mean there are lots of things about Jesus that we can’t listen to right? But, one thing he did teach us is, if you can’t afford a press person, get arrested quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Billy, I want to thank you very much for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Billy, performance artist, arrested September after staging a 15 minute musical protest at Chase Manhattan.

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From The Guardian, November 25, Reverend Billy faces year in prison for JP Morgan Chase toad protest:

An actor who uses comic theatre and music to persuade corporations to address climate change faces a year in prison after the largest bank in the US took offence.

In September, Billy Talen and eight members of the Church of Earthalujah choir walked into the lobby of a Manhattan branch of JP Morgan Chase in New York.

Dressed as central American golden toads, a species that has been made extinct as the result of climate change, they told the staff that they were about to perform “expressive politics”.

As the choir sang, Talen, who impersonates a Baptist preacher as “the Rev Billy”, then delivered a short sermon about climate change and Chase’s record in financing in some of the world’s most fossil fuel intensive industrial projects. The bank is one of the largest funders of mountaintop removal mining and other major fossil fuel projects around the world. …

Talen, who has been performing environmental theatre around the world for more than 20 years, said he was surprised and worried by the charges against him.

“Our whole thing was 15 minutes long. And for 15 minutes [they] want to put us in jail for a year?” he said. “I’ve served three days in the Los Angeles prison in 2006, other than that – my 75 arrests were usually just overnight. It’s surprising.” …

Earlier this year the choir, which often draws on Broadway actors, did a similar performance at an HSBC branch in London but no one was arrested. In 2011, the group “exorcised” BP in the main turbine hall of the Tate in London.

JP Morgan Chase, which has revenues of $21bn a year and assets of $2trillion, was last week ordered to pay a record fine of $13bn after admitting it made serious misrepresentations to the public over mortgages.

Reverend Billy’s website has a petition to the New York City District Attorney:

We need to address some pretty basic problems. The banks are destroying the earth, they don’t get punished for that. We try to stop them with some extinction resurrection and singing and we get threatened with a year in jail. Charged with Riot, Menace and Unlawful Assembly.  Earth Riot? Bio-Menace?

Rev and Nehemiah are looking at a year in jail and thousands in fines for their participation in a peaceful singing action at a Chase bank in Manhattan.

Please go sign THIS PETITION, tell New York City’s  DA Cyrus Vance the government needs to start respecting activism and prosecuting  big banks and heavy industry, before they drain all life from the planet.

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1 Response to Reverend Billy faces year in prison for climate change protest

  1. marnie says:

    You can support Rev. Billy by making a donation to his legal defense fund. Even $10 helps!

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