Local Economies and the Church of Life After Shopping

The New York-based activist, Reverend Billy is an Elvis-inspired, white-suit-clad iconoclast and self-ordained minister of his own Church, the Church of Life After Shopping. As reverend, he preaches the evils of consumerism.

But with a 40 member choir and a feature film under his belt, “What Would Jesus Buy,” Reverend Billy is not just a fringe comedian, he has become a recognizable figure and now he will be running for mayor of New York City.

Simultaneously mocking the religious right and consumerist culture, Reverend Billy acts like a televangelist as he preaches his dogma of local business first and how to empower communities to fight against the corporate landscape.

He pushes for “community finance” — neighborhood banks that lend to local business, allowing profits to stay in the community. He’s also campaigning on a community-first platform, under the Green Party ticket.

As he writes on his site:

Our actions to support independent business, unions, and sweat-free labor are rooted in the struggles of particular communities emblematic of larger struggles. In particular, many of our actions focus on New York’s East Village, internationally recognized as a site where flourishing shops and culture are seriously threatened by a rapid influx of chain stores. Currently, between 2nd Avenue and Avenue D and Houston Street and 14th Street there are less than 10 chain stores, making it one of the last few commercial sites in Manhattan where independently owned business predominate. The struggles to defend the East Village therefore set precedents for communities around the world. In protecting and strengthening neighborhood diversity, we build critical case studies that emboldens healthy neighborhoods everywhere to fight their own extinction.

The Wall Street Journal concurs, noting:

Sure, it sounds kind of dreamy, but such systems are already in place in the neighborhoods large and small. Small businesses thrive, but they are often at the mercy of big banks who giveth and taketh credit according to shifts in economic cycles.

“The Wall Street experience is parallel and equal to the destruction of neighborhoods through chain stores,” Reverend Billy says. Basic economics are on the Reverend’s side.

For every dollar spent at a chain store, studies show only 50 cents stays in that community. By contrast, 90 cents of every dollar spent at a local business remains in the local economy.

“It’s a little reductive, but people recognize there’s a truth in it,” Reverend Billy says. “Neighborhoods are economic powerhouses.”

Although he has little chances of winning the bid to be mayor of New York City, Reverend Billy is using the political platform to bring attention to his cause.

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