by elizabeth
Categories: Causes.

Looks like AdAge is not the only one finding fault with Bono‘s RED campaign. In reading the newest issue of the recently relaunched PURE Living Magazine (a UK publication), I came across an open letter to Bono from a Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.

I had never heard of Reverend Billy before but apparently he has a bit of a following. Reverend Billy (I’m pretty sure he’s not a real reverend) uses humour and a tongue-in-cheek approach to draw attention to his main belief that all of us in North America need to stop shopping! He preaches across New York City on the perils of frequent shopping and has launched a film recently in the SXSW Film Festival called “What Would Jesus Buy.”

In his open letter to Bono, Reverend Billy says, “You urge us, from a tsunami of ads – to buy RED – to continue consuming, to shop. But we can never shop enough for the African children, when the cost to the world from shopping is so destructive. We need to stop our shopping and start giving.”

On his Web site, he encourages us to support celeb-free charities and lists a bunch worthy of our donations. (On that note, I find it odd that Reverend Billy admonishes celebrity involvement in charity when through his use of attention-grabbing sermons he is obviously trying to become a bit of a celebrity himself.)

I absolutely 100% fully agree with the foundation of his argument that there is too much unbridled consumption in today’s Western societies. For some people shopping and consuming has become too much of a regular pastime – a solo sport practiced every Saturday. But I think Bono has recognized this and is using this reality of our society as a way to help Africa.

Is Bono’s RED campaign perfect? No – that’s highly unlikely. But he is experimenting with a new approach that will hopefully get the mainstream thinking about issues they may not have thought of before. Unfortunately, I expect it will be a while before people click into the fact that we may not be able to consume as much as we have been. Until that happens, if Bono can get people to switch to RED denim, sunglasses or phones over any other conventional brand they may be considering, I think he has done a good deed indeed.

To put it in language Reverend Billy might understand, Bono’s out there recruiting new members – trying to convert the non-believers into believers. Reverend Billy’s merely preaching to the already-converted choir.

  • Ben Dubin-Thaler

    Nice article. I understand what you mean about trying to push a message into the mainstream and not just ‘preach to the choir’, and it is something that our group (I am a singer in the stop shopping choir) and all proponents for social change must address.
    But in this case, the hypocrisy is so clear cut and easy to see, I think no one can deny the sick joke being played:
    Company A is involved in the RED campaign to cure AIDS in country B. Company A is also enforcing low wages and tariffs in country B, abetting the spread of AIDS in that country. Company A then sells the sweatshop product to person C (iPod, sweater, phone) on the pretext that C is curing AIDS.
    The facts are well established that the people making these products are forced, by the low wages of sweatshop companies and the lack of alternatives, to live in the impoverished conditions perfect for amplifying the AIDS epidemic.
    This underlying sweatshop-structure of our economy ensures that AIDS will continue to worsen, and it is this structure that must be addressed. I don’t think that Bono is doing us a favor, no matter how well intentioned, by propagating the illusion that we can solve world poverty while maintaining the existing systems of economic servitude at the heart of the U.S. economy.

  • Sandy, Pasadena, CA

    The issue is transparency. Will GAP open their books to the public for a careful vetting how much of the sales is actually going to help these causes?

  • elizabeth

    I understand your perspective Ben and you raise some good points. I guess my perspective is that companies respond better to the carrot than the stick. And I guess I am also an optimist. My hope is that when mainstream companies test cause-related initiatives such as (RED) and see that they can be profitable, they will eventually extend the principles of these pilot-projects to other parts of their operations. So if GAP, for example, sees that (RED) can be profitable for tbem, then maybe (just maybe!) they’ll start an organic cotton line or pay better wages or donate 10% of all their profits to charity. I worry that if mainstream companies are only greeted with scorn when undertaking new “ethical” projects, they will give up on them altogether.

  • Tod Brilliant

    I admire Bono and his efforts, but I agree with Reverend Billy that Bono is way, way off target here. Trying to do good by shopping, by “recognizing this and using this reality” is like adding oxygen to a highly destructive conflagration, and using a few of the extra sparks to drive efforts to put out the fire. Ben (above) says it even better.

    The issue of shopping our way to a brighter tomorrow has bothered me for years. Too many believe that buying a Prius and/or shopping at Whole Foods is making a difference. Sorry to inform these well-intentioned souls, but the ice caps could give a shit about your hemp candle snifters. Only powerful and immediate legislation will affect the rapid changes that are needed. Grassroots shopping campaigns are ineffectual and, at worse, damaging as they let people off the hook, freeing them of guilt with every gift card purchase.

    The eco-movement needs to stop giving free passes to people like Bono or Hillary or Obama – even Gore. Nobody gets a free pass. Everyone’s motives and the efficacy of their proposals MUST be debated vigorously. Elizabeth, it’s rad to be a fan of Bono – he sure do sing purty (joking) – but you’re defending him and from your words it’s pretty clear that you don’t really know why . . . you haven’t really and truly examined the issue.

  • Joe

    The Reverend Billy C. Wirtz is CLASSIC! He has been around for decades, and is one of the smokingest blues keyboard players who happens to right some of the funniest songs that poke fun at Deadheads, Right Wing, and Christian zealots. BUY HIS CD’S AND SEE HIM LIVE!!!