by Jas Faulkner
Reverend Billy and his partner, Savitri, are no strangers to being approached by police officers and security personnel. They have seen many a purposeful walk to their particular brand of disturbance with a message. Some of these approaching men and women wear blank game faces with the intent to intimidate while others betray their amusement and even agreement with Earthalujah and The Church of Stop Shopping Choir. With this comes the inevitable string of citations, fines, and even occasional brief stints of being taken into custody. All of this is the cost of exercising free speech as part of the act of making their business the act of pushing big business to behave itself.
Response to this enterprise took a chilling turn last week when activist Billy Talen, aka Reverend Billy, and his musical director, Nehemiah Luckett, were charged with a number of misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, riot and menace, all of which could lead to a year in prison. Now, keep that in mind as you look at the kind of protest that occurred at JP Morgan Chase Bank:
Speaking as someone who once won a staredown with Stu Grimson, I have to say: People of Chase Morgan? Y’all are remarkably delicate folks. I mean, come on. I’m a five foot tall little old lady from Nashville who has always assumed that New Yorkers were made of tougher stuff. Screaming for law enforcement when confronted by people in toad masks seems like overkill.
If Reverend Billy and golden toad masks rate low on most people’s lists of scary things, their message doesn’t and the current situation they are facing should be a concern for us all. Think about it. All they did was sing and protest. To be fair, I understand we are not owed a platform on private property. Still, we should keep in mind that Earthalujah was not violent, did not threaten violence, and usually cooperate with security and law enforcement when asked to leave. Now two of their number are facing a year in prison. We should be frightened by the legal precedent this sets.
Could this have an effect on the freedoms you as booksellers enjoy right now? Of course it can. Just ask any comics dealer who has needed the assistance of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund after someone decided they didn’t like what a store was offering. Allowing this sort of legal climate to take hold means that anyone who expresses a view that counters institutionalized “wisdom” is subject to imprisonment. You might think this is limited to performers and activists. As has already been demonstrated by the case histories of the CBDLF, this could leave writers, manufacturers, publishers, retail outlets, and even readers vulnerable to draconian measures by those with the means to quash opposition and possibly even competition.
Booksellers, constant readers, and writers, educate yourselves. This might mean the difference between enjoying the continued freedom to write, read, and sell what you want and having those choices made for you in the future.
Links for the edification of y’all:
The Church of Stop Shopping
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund