The appearance of Reverend Billy and his megaphone breathed some holy fire into the London campers, says Jamie Kelsey-Fry.
Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence.
Three and a half weeks after London’s OccupyLSX pitched its canvas demands, the very Reverend Billy came to St Paul’s Cathedral to testify as part of a tour of the Occupy sites. This would usually be a major event but, the way this camp has been playing out on the cathedral steps, Elvis could land in a flying saucer and the camp would take it in their stride.
On a daily basis, London’s wing of the Global Occupy movement has been beset with obstacles: from its proximity to one of the most famous cathedrals in the world to the intense scrutiny of national and international media shoving their cameras in the face of anyone who stands near a tent and smiles. Things have not been helped by the City of London Corporation being both a target of the camp’s ire as well as the owner of the land on which the tents are pitched. And the endless questioning from the outside – ‘what do you want and how will you achieve it?’– only adds to any pressure we already put on ourselves.
So if we were in need of a little fresh air then, perhaps fittingly, it came in an ecclesiastical form.
Reverend Billy wandered into the camp two days ago with a leather jacket and a dirty backpack. Before he’d even worked out where he was sleeping, he’d got in behind the kitchen and taken over washing up duties. Most people had never heard of Billy until about 9 pm on Tuesday night. I doubt anybody will forget him now, after hearing him testify on the steps of St Paul’s.
Reverend Billy in Vallejo, California. Photo by Brave New Films under a CC License.
For over 20 years, the Reverend has been dedicating his life to the issues that Occupy has focused on. Through his situationist, shamanistic shenanigans, he is able to key in to precisely why we all came here and pitched tents. Clad in his white suit and dog collar, megaphone in hand, he strides across the steps of St Paul’s and rattles out his sermon.
‘There’s something much stronger happening,’ he tells us. ‘There’s a kind of tent of the ultimate ancient media, the media of the human being talking and listening. And I think that whenever there was political change of any kind, something like this took place, people went down to the public space in the middle of the power and started in some sense living there… It doesn’t have glib answers right now, it doesn’t have lists, it doesn’t have pixels, all the things that we can do are in service to something that we can’t see and we shouldn’t… it’s a little like practicing not being fundamentalists.’
The people of OccupyLSX and its sister camp OccupyFS were inspired and delighted. After the various stresses of keeping the centre of the camp holding, he reminded us of the magic of all this. The fact that this story has only started and that, already, we are working as a movement without any other leader than the conviction that another world is possible and that the people themselves are capable of identifying what that world can be and how to make the change happen.