Billy begs Black Friday hordes to resist temptation


By Jefferson Siegel

The phrase “Black Friday” has become as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas and New Year’s, so much so that the date may soon be listed on wall calendars.

The term marks the time of year when stores’ balance books turn from red ink to black.

Seventeen years ago, the group Adbusters created a counter-holiday, Buy Nothing Day. The day’s observers embrace culture and eschew consumerism.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush asked the nation for its “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” Unlike other conflicts where Americans sacrificed in support of the war effort, the nation was asked to shop.

This irony was not lost on Reverend Billy, the anti-consumerist preacher. Shortly after the attacks, Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) adopted Buy Nothing Day on a local level, organizing “interventions” and demonstrations in the midst of frenzied shoppers.

Last Friday, as they have in recent years, Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir started their observance of Buy Nothing Day in the predawn hours at Macy’s in Herald Square.

As a blocklong crowd counted down the seconds to the 5 a.m. store opening, Billy and the choir found themselves swept up in the wave of shoppers.

“You don’t have to do this! Back away, put your credit cards away!” Billy exhorted the throng through his white megaphone. Choir members yelled, “Stop Shopping!” They were met with smiles but no letup in the rush.

“It’s not too late, this is the Shopocalypse,” Billy cried as the crowd passed under the word “Believe” in bright red script over the entrance. Within a minute, Billy was approached by security and escorted out of the store.

While Billy tried to stem the “Mayhem on 34th St.,” a tragedy was occurring on Long Island. After waiting hours, anxious shoppers pushed against the doors of a Walmart in Valley Stream. In their rush in, they trampled an employee to death. Four others were injured, including a pregnant woman. Police described the mob as out of control.

Later in the afternoon, there was a “Dance Your Debt Away” party in the newly renovated north plaza of Union Square. The light atmosphere turned serious as Billy asked the crowd to join hands and reflect on the Walmart worker’s death.

Billy, the choir and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra then formed a conga line, dancing across the street to exorcise the demons from a Barnes & Noble bookstore, a business Billy criticized as the anchor store of malls across the country destroying small businesses.

They then moved on to the nearby Starbucks, where Billy knocked a campaign by the coffee giant to donate 5 cents of every purchase to the needy in Africa.

“This is like the attempt to turn the [Union Square] pavilion into a high-class restaurant,” he yelled, comparing Starbucks’ charitable intent to what he slammed as the privatization of the park’s pavilion. “It is our temple of free speech,” he said. “We will not permit it to become an upscale restaurant with $15 Chardonnays.”

Another Black Friday tragedy occurred at a California toy store when two men pulled guns and killed each other.