For almost 20 years, Buy Nothing Day has been celebrated by environmentalists and activists around the world in response to Black Friday and the gluttonous season of shopping that begins around this time each year. This year, getting the word out about over-consumption is made more difficult at a time when the lack of "consumer confidence" is blamed for the downward spiral of our economy. At work when I asked to put up a flyer in the lunch room about Buy Nothing Day, I was told no. Any other year would have been fine, they said, but this year when so many retailers are suffering, it's just not ok to tell people not to shop, they said. And let me remind you I work for an environmental organization.
So I've been wondering what other challenges this year's Buy Nothing Day has found due to the economy. Like after 9-11 when Bush called for Americans to go shopping as if it were the ultimate patriotic duty, consumers are being called on now to save our economy by going back to the stores and spending their money on things they don't need and can't afford. And this frustrates me to no end, as if these retailers are really what need saving. I'm not denying that putting retailers out of business won't affect people in a negative way. Job loss and cities full of abandoned buildings are terrible for society, but I just can't believe that this disastrous economic climate isn't waking more people up to the dysfunctional pattern of mass consumption that Americans are trapped in. I would hope that rebuilding our society and our economy to promote a more sustainable way of living, and encourage a more fulfilling pursuit than the pursuit of stuff, might be the goal for more people right now, instead of saving retailers.
Well this morning, I was happy to check my email and see a message from AdBusters, the originators of Buy Nothing Day and other positive culture jam campaigns including True Cost Economics. The email from Adbusters acknowledged the state of the economy today and that this economic climate makes a whole new set of challenges for Buy Nothing Day. So, they say, let's confront the economic meltdown head-on. To quote Kalle Lasn in the press release:
"It's our culture of excess and meaningless consumption -- the glorified spending and borrowing of the past decade that's at the root of the crisis we now find ourselves in."
Yes, Adbusters, I couldn't agree with you more. They go on to describe the economic meltdown as an opportunity to start a new era, "the age of Post-Materialism" wherein everyone lives within our means. Imagine that. So, I encourage everyone to buy nothing today despite the suffering economy. There is a bigger goal here than saving any one retail chain, and if we really want to save society from the ailments of a dying economy, we need to revise our habits, today and every day.