Providence's Alternative Source!

Buy Nothing Day targets our wasteful ways


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 resources.

"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]

Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002