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Ask Reverend Billy

Issue 218

In his first column, the activist preacher answers readers' questions on homelessness and the elections

Reverend Billy Talen Oct 21, 2016

I feel anxiety from the election. I’m having trouble sleeping. I find my focus is shot. I hate to admit that the election matters this much, but it’s getting under my skin. 

— Daryl, Ditmas Park

Dear Presidentially Anxious in Brooklyn,

Anxiety is the landscape of the Land of the Free. Our society is based on hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth. Multinational corporations, the military, sports, porn, Hollywood — all the big institutions of American life have discovered fear makes money. They’ve known that since the invention of advertising. Trump is showing the big boys they can be much more brazen about it.

Let’s arrange the candidates in order of ascending murderousness. The 3rd party candidates taunt us. They are the human candidates we could have had. Clinton smiles in our face like the Wal-Mart logo, where she was on the board destroying communities and hiding an empire of sweatshops. Trump is a blithering psychopath who would shoot refugees on the beach. (Testify, Miss Universe!)

There is a reason the Saturday Night Live caricatures of the candidates are so lame. They will never catch up the weirdness of the actual candidates. But if we think that the E=MC² of everything is these would-be presidents, then we’re sucked farther into their bizarre fear-generates-profits world. 

Clinton and Trump are essentially New Yorkers. So, let’s change this town.

Go Local. There is nothing as radical as a healthy neighborhood. 

If a landlord slaps an eviction notice on your neighbor’s door, treat that as more important than a Putin flyby in the Crimea. That landlord is your Putin. Better yet, break into buildings that are empty for investment purposes — break in and give New Yorkers homes. 

If they are spraying herbicides in your neighborhood park, go warn your neighbors.

A Local Power Movement starts from your insides out, the opposite of the outside-in hypnosis of iPhones, televisions and this election. It calls for embarrassment, long hours, chutzpah, and sometimes jail.

Anxiety is cured by activism.

Dear Pastor Bill,  

I was an activist like you for many years but I’ve gotten very involved in supporting my family and building a home for us since I reached my 30’s. I spend time on pipes and roof leaks, I have a long-term mortgage, etc. Recently, a homeless shelter moved onto my quiet street. I hear a lot of shouting and music from them. There are cigarette butts everywhere now.  My old days of activism seem a long way away. I don’t seem to have patience with these people. I feel invaded. I can’t move. I’m stuck here.  

— Frank in the Bronx

Dear Frank,

You can use the activism of your youth to good effect. Activism is going out into public space, into the public mind, and introducing new ideas there.  

See if you can muster that old moxie from your activist days. Go have a smoke the shelter folks.  Go into this surprise subculture that showed up on your street and get to know some of the people by their first name. Think of it as fixing the pipes beyond the property line. 

I’m not a Christian, but I like the golden rule,  “Do unto your neighbors as you would have them do unto you.”  

Imagine you are a homeless person, have been for years, and you finally find a shelter on a safe street. It isn’t a warehouse or an armory. It’s human-size, family-size.  You move in there and you feel happy and secure. You can just be yourself, have a smoke outside and laugh, because some of your housemates are good people. And you remember, there’s this other guy who joins you sometimes. He lives a couple doors down, a working stiff with kids. He hangs out, too. Nice guy. Name is Frank. You say to your buddies, “We gotta be careful not to be too loud, cause it keeps Frank’s fam awake and his kids gotta go to school in the morning.” 

See what I’m sayin’?

— Reverend Billy Talen

Reverend Billy is an activist and political shouter, a post-religious preacher of the streets and bank lobbies. He's been in New York forever with the activist performance group the Church of Stop Shopping. Got a question for Reverend Billy? Just email and unburden your soul. 

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