When I turned on my computer today, I had 8 emails from vendors announcing special low prices — Black Friday deals — available all week. I waded through the Black Friday junk mail, tapping away at my delete button, to find the one email I sought: the message from my neighbor with the menu, schedule and guest list for Thursday’s Thanksgiving gathering….
Leading up to the holiday season, it’s hard to remember that there are things better, or more important, than shopping. You want to make sure everyone gets the perfect gift, stores bombard you with sales, and everyone else seems to be shopping, right?
Well, we want to show the world that there are better things to do than spend the day at the mall buying more stuff! Can you help us?
Tell us what you think is better than shopping — it could be spending time with your family, going for a hike… anything! We’ll use your photos to tell the story of people who’ve committed to #buynothing this holiday season.
- Print out the #buynothing sign.
- Write your favorite activity in the blank. (example: “Sharing is better than shopping.”)
- Take a picture and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those of us in the U.S. are wrapping up our work weeks today to spend tomorrow with friends and family, gathered around big home cooked meals and giving thanks.
Yes, I know that the history of this particular holiday is not nearly as charming as our children’s schoolbooks portray, but for many, the gathering isn’t about participating in a fabricated historical tale, but is about pausing in our hectic lives and honestly sincerely giving thanks for those things which make our lives sweeter throughout the year: our friends, our family, our community and our work to make world a better place.
Unfortunately, many people across the country leave their home Thanksgiving night to sleep in cold parking lots and line up at stores to participate in the consumer frenzy known as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Retailers know that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the only weekday that many people will have off from work until Christmas, so they widely advertise rock bottom prices to lure people away from their friends and families to go shopping. Adbusters has declared November 27th in the U.S. and 28 November internationally Buy Nothing Day and calls upon us all to restrain from holiday shopping, or from any shopping as well as to unplug our TVs, leave the cars in the garage, and “from sunrise through sunset, we’ll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.”
Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year old man from Haiti, was working as a temporary worker at a Wal-Mart in New York State. At 5:00 am, when the store was scheduled to open, the crowd of shoppers who had been waiting in line in the cold for up to 8 hours, stormed the door and trampled Jdimytai to death.
I think of Jdimytai with every advertisement that I’ve seen urging me to go shopping early on Friday morning. And I’ll be thinking of him as I instead linger around our dinner table, crowded with friends, and when I spend a welcome Friday off of work playing board games and making art projects with the kids and doing any number of things that will be infinitely more fun than sleeping in a cold parking lot to be first in line at the mall.
I hope you’ll do the same.
As those of us in the U.S. know, this past Friday was Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, the official start of the consumption-crazed holiday shopping season.
For the 2 weeks prior to Black Friday, my mail box, my local newspaper and my computer spam filter were loaded with ads heralding rock bottom prices for all sorts of consumer goods. I got ads offering new clothes, new electronics, new furniture which didn’t require any payment at all for up to 24 months! Retailers were clearly worried: would people come shopping in the face of growing economic insecurity, rising gas prices, mounting consumer debt, collapsing mortgages, and increasing unemployment? If there was ever a year to skip shopping on Black Friday – as well as more broadly – this is it.
But people did shop. Across the country, people left the Thanksgiving dinners early on Thursday night to sleep in their cars and line up in store parking lots hours before scheduled store openings, which were moved forward to 5:00 am in many places. Putting aside for now the bogus manufactured myth of the origins of this uniquely U.S. holiday, it is nonetheless a time for families and loved ones to stop working, to gather and give thanks. It is one of the few national holidays that don’t dictate buying stuff to show one’s affection for another. While there is a budding Thanksgiving paraphernalia industry (little plastic turkeys for the front yard, rosy cheeked pilgrim placemats), for my generation of people in the U.S., the day remains primarily about gratitude, not consumption. It requires spending the day cooking, baking, and chopping. It requires hours of playing board games and exchanging stories with family members perhaps only seen once or twice a year.
I spent my Thanksgiving with 20 close friends in a rural area, with no TV and spotty cell phone coverage. Only an occasional text message came through, including one from a friend, Ariane, telling me that a worker at a Wal-Mart had been trampled to death by out of control shoppers.
When I got home last night, I learned more. Shoppers began gathering in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York, at 9:00 pm Thanksgiving evening. At 5:00 am, when the store was scheduled to open, the crowd of more than 2,000 people stormed the door. A temporary worker, 34 year old Jdimytai Damour, was overwhelmed by the crowd surging to get inside. Witnesses said people walked over Damour to get to the bargains promised inside. Emergency medical officers who arrived to help were also jostled and stepped on by the shoppers. Damour was pronounced dead just after 6:00 am. He died of asphyxiation; he was trampled to death.
Wal-Mart didn’t adequately prepare for the crowds, even though a high turnout was expected and this same store had problems last year, even though police had met Wal-Mart before Black Friday to suggest enhanced security measures. Wal-Mart had not bothered to erect barricades, develop systems to moderate and control the number of people who entered at a time or set up any number of measures that could have held back the surging crowd, as other stores did in preparation for the biggest, most manic shopping day of the year. For all these reasons, I believe this as not an accident; it was inevitability. The local Police Commissioner, Lawrence Mulvey, called the situation a “recipe for disaster.”
Sadly, the disaster extends far beyond this one senseless death.
Our consumption driven economy depends on a pattern of constant exploitation and violence towards both people and the planet. This violence is largely hidden from view for us shoppers in wealthy countries, but communities around the world know the reality, even if it isn’t shown on TV or in shiny advertisements. Violence happens at the point of extraction, when communities are displaced and water supplies are poisoned with toxic chemicals from mining operations. Violence happens at the production stage, when workers are exposed to chemicals linked to cancer, neurological disorders, and birth defects. Violence happens at the disposal end, when unwanted electronics – laced with toxic heavy metals and flame retardants – are shipped to China and India because wealthy consumers don’t want them in our own communities anymore.
Yes, Wal-Mart should have taken more precautionary action and it should be held accountable for its lack of responsibility. But the problem goes far beyond Wal-Mart. As Nassau County police Detective Lt. Michael Fleming said: “Today, it happened to be Wal-Mart. It could have been any other store where hundreds and hundreds of people gather.”
Our current economy depends on excessive levels of personal consumption, even when this consumer spending is resulting in personal and ecological debt beyond a sustainable level. As a result, both the economic and the ecological systems are in crisis. Both need immediate attention and drastic interventions.
It’s the perfect time to go beyond a band aid approach to the connected economic-ecological problems. This is a perfect moment for raising the hard questions, for challenging and replacing the underlying system that is trashing both the planet and its people. Right now U.S. government is figuring out how to rescue the sinking U.S. economy. Right now, world leaders are meeting in Poznan, Poland to figure out how to prevent even more climate disruption. Right now, a family in New York is mourning the death of Jdimytai Damour.
Let’s turn it around. Let’s disengage from the consumer frenzy this holiday season. For many of us, it would be a relief to both give and receive less stuff this year. Spend less time at stores like Wal-Mart and more time with our friends and families. Donate to those in need, in lieu of ever more superfluous gift giving. Let’s make our displays of love be a net plus, rather than a drain, on our budgets, our communities and our planet.
Let’s honor Jdimytai Damour by promising “never again.” Let’s celebrate the holiday season in ways that build something new.