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.
Ahead of the tour, Hayley Clapperton interviewed Rev Billy to talk about the shows, the climate conference and everything in between.
HC: You’re going to the final two days of the COP26 without an invitation – what are your plans, if you can reveal?
RB: This is not an invitation-only event! Though 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?
RB: 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: What do you hope COP26 will achieve?
RB: 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 twenty-five conferences, but this time even the Boris Johnson government couldn’t take it.
HC: In reality, what do you think will COP26 actually achieve?
RB: 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?
RB: Consumerism is the basis for culture in the USA. We are hypnotised 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?
RB: You see we don’t know how hypnotised 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 do you say to those who ‘can’t be bothered’ as it’s not going to affect them in their lifetime?
RB: Well that’s consumerism, which is the cultural arm of capitalism. These systems are killing the Earth. The Extinction is underway and accelerating.
HC: What is the Church of Stop Shopping all about, and where did the name come from?
RB: Stopping our over-consumption is basic to Earth justice on a wide scale. We are devoted to non-corporatised ways of life, freedom from the stupid life of the consumer. We believe that this is.
HC: Do we need to stop shopping?
RB: 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?
RB: 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?
RC: 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?
RB: Oh it’s great music. Earthalujah!
HC: “Earthalujah” I like that – who came up with that?
RB: 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?
RB: It’s important to be open and real about the emissions of CO2 during travel. We measure the gas burned in flying over seventeen people and the cars and busses on the ground. We have over twenty 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: Is there a confusion as to whether you are religious entity as well as activists/protesters? Do you call yourselves activists?
RB: 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?
RB: 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?
RB: 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: What has the Church achieved in its twenty years?
RB: 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 organised 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: Who are those who still inspire you?
RB: We are inspired by Rachel Carson, Nina Simone, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
HC: Have you enjoyed being Rev Billy all these years?
RB: Sometimes yes, but sometimes he’s more than I can handle.
HC: What types of music do you enjoy listening to when you relaxing?
RB: Thelonious, Chopin, Debussy, Alice Coltrane
HC: What was the last book you read?
RB: Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln
HC: Who was your most memorable teacher?
RB: Spalding Gray
HC: What’s your favourite word?
HC: What do you consider your greatest personal achievement?
RB: Gaining the interest of Savitri my life partner! Love-a-lujah!