"Reverend Billy has a First Amendment right to recite the First Amendment," Norman Siegel, the legendary civil rights lawyer, told the NY Times. Siegel is representing the Rev, who's been charged with second-degree harassment because he wouldn't stop reciting the First Amendment to a bunch of stone-faced cops. Watch the incident yourself and decide who's harassing whom.
We were deeply disturbed by this episode because: (a) I thought we lived in a democracy where people have the right to peaceably assemble, and (b) we were expecting the Rev for dinner that evening and had been looking forward to it for a whole month.
Sadly, my chilled strawberry soup turned warm while the Rev cooled his heels in the slammer. His partner, Savitri D, who rushed over around 9 p.m. to tell us Billy had been arrested, sent a mournful e-mail at 3:15 a.m. titled "Billy is still in jail," adding that she "was able to sneak him in a sandwich..."
We'll have to set a new date to break bread with the Rev and brainstorm about how the Church of Stop Shopping and the Liberally crew can join hands to help Americans rise above the hype and hoopla of our uber-consumer culture.
His clerical collar's a costume, but the Rev's rhetoric is no comedy routine; he's on a serious mission to rescue us from the maws of the malls, deliver us from Fed-Ex delivered temptation, get the mom and pop shops off the endangered species list, banish bigotry, and preserve God's green earth before we brown it to a crisp.
So let's hear it for heresy! Reverend Billy's agenda flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that we have a civic duty to shop to prop up our Made in China economy, as well as a god-given right to squander resources and pollute the planet in the pursuit of our "blessed way of life."
My own rants against rampant consumerism and our fuelish ways have won me a halo from the Rev, so in my official capacity as Saint Kerry, I'd like to offer the following Beatitude:
Blessed Are They Who Bike, For They Shall Preserve the Earth
What could be more benign than bicycling? It gets you where you're going by burning fat instead of finite fossil fuels. You would think Mayor Mike would be pro-bike, right? I mean, he's throwing all his weight behind congestion pricing, and he launched a sustainability initiative whose goals include reducing emissions from vehicles and easing gridlock.
Spoke-centric spokespersons have lobbied long and hard on behalf of NYC cyclists, from Transportation Alternatives to the officially unofficial coalition known as Critical Mass. The mass transit mavericks at Transportation Alternatives advocate a "green hierarchy" which gives priority to pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit, and commercial vehicles over the single occupancy cars that create so much congestion and pollution. Transportation Alternatives has also popularized the concept of "traffic calming"--think feng shui for roadways.
But the Critical Mass crew is cut from slightly woollier cloth, and their monthly rallies routinely rub the NYPD the wrong way. Critical Mass is an international grassroots movement to green our cities by making them more bike-friendly, and the participants celebrate cycling by meeting up for a ride, typically on the last Friday of the month.
Of course, when you have dozens or even a hundred cyclists riding en masse, motorists who are used to ruling the road can find themselves displaced and disgruntled. And City Hall claims the cyclists don't have the right to assemble and pedal -- however peacefully -- without a permit.
So, take a stream of green bikers, add a sea of NYPD blue, shake and stir, and you get a wave of purple-faced cops launching a free-for-all against our freewheeling friends.
This persecution of pedal pushers has been going on for years -- back in October of 2004 our dear friend Liz had her bike confiscated at a Critical Mass and spent an unpleasantly unforgettable night locked up in the Tombs, a dismal downtown jail, accused of disorderly conduct and parading without a permit.
Eight months later, the NY Times reported that Liz was found not guilty:
One of 33 bicyclists arrested last October in a monthly Critical Mass bicycle protest was found not guilty on Tuesday of charges of disorderly conduct and parading without a permit. The bicyclist, Liz Shura, an art director at The Wall Street Journal, had been the sole rider to plead not guilty and take her case to trial, said Mark Taylor, a spokesman for Freewheels, a group that defends the Critical Mass riders. The cases of the 32 other bicyclists, arrested for running red lights and other violations, had been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Mr. Taylor said that a judge in New York County Supreme Court acquitted Ms. Shura after just 30 minutes of testimony, saying that her lawyer did not have to present a defense.
Perhaps because the charges were indefensible? Liz was so deeply shaken by this flagrant abuse of power and trampling of her rights that she left her job at the Wall Street Journal to go to law school.
The charges against the Reverend Billy will no doubt be dropped, too, because they're equally bogus. But things are really going to heat up when the Morgan Spurlock-produced What Would Jesus Buy? hits the theaters this fall. This biography of the Rev and his Church of Stop Shopping on the road in their biodiesel bus is already hitting speedbumps, according to Reuters, although the Today Show aired a surprisingly supportive profile of the Rev, partner Savitri, and their gospel choir.
Some folks see Reverend Billy as a social satirist à la Jonathan Swift, but given his role as a mock missionary and a champion of conservation, he strikes me as more of a modern day Johnny Appleseed, sowing a social movement dedicated to uprooting the weeds of waste that choke our democracy. The 44 words of the First Amendment "are like a magic seed," he e-mailed me yesterday. It better be a Round Up-resistant strain, though, because the Powers That Be seem to see Billy as a pest, and they're taking toxic measures to control him.
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