What could be more American than going to the mall on the day after
Thanksgiving to help flog the simpering economy? Well, activists across the
nation think that taking part in the annual Buy Nothing Day and pondering the
high cost of our wasteful brand of consumerism would represent a more
meaningful form of citizenship.
In Providence, the sixth annual local Buy Nothing Day will take place on the
State House lawn on Friday, November 29 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. One highlight is
the donation and distribution to the needy of hundreds of winter coats.
Since members of the Rhode Island Green Party started the event in 1997, the
Providence version of Buy Nothing Day has attracted steadily growing
participation and sponsorship from close to 50 organizations, ranging from
environmental groups like Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club to social
advocacy and church-based organizations. "If the weather cooperates, we're
anticipating lots of people," says Greg Gerritt of the Green Party. "We're
known enough in the community that lots of people look for us. It's unfortunate
that the need [for winter coats] is so big."
Adbusters, the Vancouver-based anti-consumerist magazine, introduced
the Buy Nothing Day concept in 1993 to highlight the harmful effect that
consumerism is having on communities and the ecosystems that support the Earth.
The holiday, now observed in more than 40 countries, is marked on the day after
Thanksgiving since it is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. As
the nation faces the brink of war, critics blame globalization for a situation
in which a small fraction of world's population consumes most of the globe's
"Every year, the Adbusters Foundation attempts to buy advertising time on ABC,
NBC and CBS to encourage people to stay away from the malls on Buy Nothing
Day," writes Michael I. Niman in a recent editorial being distributed on the
Internet. "And every year the censors at the three networks refuse to sell
airtime to air the anti-consumerist messages. Buy Nothing Day, however,
continues to grow."
In some instances, anti-consumers have set up official looking tables at malls
around the country, encouraging people to go home and spend time with their
families, donate money to charity, or make homemade gifts, before the activists
were eventually found out and evicted by security guards.
"Around the country and around the world, people will be using an endless
array of creative means to just say no to irresponsible consumerism on November
29," Niman writes. "The bottom line is that we are consuming the planet to
death, stealing finite resources from future generations and transforming them
into wastes that our current generation can't adequately dispose of.
Shortsighted economists argue that consumerism is good for the economy, but in
the long term, conspicuous consumption is poison. The debt that consumers
accumulate is good for bankers who will collect payments for decades, but it
limits the amount of money consumers will have to buy future services from
their neighbors or support community-oriented programs and services."
In Providence, Buy Nothing Day combines helping the less fortunate with taking
a questioning stand against consumerism. Gerritt cites a common expression in
making a related point: "When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I
ask why there are hungry people, they call me a communist."
It nonetheless remains important to ask such simple questions, he says, as why
so many people go hungry or without a winter coat in America. "What are the
root causes?" adds Gerritt, "and what do we do to solve these problems?"
Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.
Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002