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Billy Talen
Photograph by Lila Barth

My New York: Reverend Billy Talen

Stop Shopping Choir preacher Rev Billy tells us where he loves to perform, volunteer and protest in NYC

By David Goldberg
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In 1998, Rudy Giuliani’s New York met its match in Reverend Billy Talen, a gonzo musical preacher that sang and demonstrated against consumerism—in front of the Disney Store and banks across town. Since then, the Reverend and the Stop Shopping Choir have performed and protested at Zuccotti Park and beyond, bringing their cheeky hymnals to clubs and venues like Joe’s Pub. And in recent months, Talen and his community have arranged local direct actions against harsh NYC immigration tactics. We spoke with the Reverend about his crew’s favorite places in town and how you can get involved. 

Billy Talen

Photograph: Lila Barth

Performance spot: Starr Bar 
“We know the people [who own the bar] from Occupy Wall Street; we met them in Zuccotti Park, where we were the resident pseudo church. Politically, it’s more than progressive—it’s radical, and we love that. A lot of folks there have risked arrest in the way that we have. We’re among our friends at Starr Bar.”

Downtown residency: Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater
“We’ve been in residence for about five years now. We always have a run in the shopping season in October, November and December. Justin Vivian Bond, Joey Arias, Penny Arcade—we consider ourselves blessed among that group of culture-changing performers.”

Movie night: Film Forum
“It’s right next to the immigration jail. Isn’t that funny, in New York, when two things end up side by side and you come at them from completely different dramas? This is where I went to the Godard festival, and, 100 feet away, this is where I’m screaming at  cops!”

Suit Shopping: Flatbush
“I wear a lot of white suits. The white suit is holding on in certain cultures, and I have to follow it wherever it goes. I’ve identified different stores in Flatbush, Nostrand Avenue and Brighton Beach that still have white suits.”

Protest site: Varick Street Immigration Court in Soho
“We go there repeatedly. When fathers are pulled from their living rooms because they have parking tickets from 11 years ago or something, they end up being processed there, and then they’re thrown out of the country. It’s the place in Manhattan where Trump’s abusive cruelty is most clear. In June, we had 400 people there. Last January, one of our singers, Robby Rodierre, was seized by Trump’s cops. When that happens to someone you love, it just rattles your spirit, and you do things that are beyond courage, beyond ego. We keep singing, but we’re singing at the doorway of the jail, and they’ll sweep us into the jail.”

Get active: New Sanctuary Coalition
“The sanctuary is such a great place for somebody who wants to do something and be involved. You can do things there where you don’t put yourself at risk and you really help. They have an ‘accompaniment program,’ and that’s where you just buy groceries for undocumented people or you accompany them to appointments. But they have many levels of participation. They’re the best organization, in our experience, of welcoming people that just want to help and don’t have experience in a particular area.” 

Billy Talen

Photograph: Lila Barth

Volunteer in NYC!

The Partnership for the Homeless
Photograph: Courtesy The Partnership for the Homeless

Where to volunteer in NYC

Things to do

Are you a do-gooder that wants to volunteer? NYC has plenty of organizations that need an extra set of helping hands. Whether your concern is for environmental issues, the city's pet shelters, the rise in homelessness or even the insane spike in rent prices of NYC apartments, there are many ways to improve how this city operates. From cleaning up some of the best NYC parks, donating clothing to thrift stores that give back or volunteering for specific holidays such Thanksgiving, Christmas and MLK Day of Service, we have great options for you to get involved.

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