WHY CELEBRATE 'BUY NOTHING DAY' AFTER SEPTEMBER
President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister
Chretien and other world leaders are a one-note choir
these days. "Shop!" they cry. "Shop like
you've never shopped, shop like you're not already sinking
in personal debt. Shop because at this time of crisis
your country needs you to. Shop because the economy
and hence the whole world's economic well-being
is at stake.
In this climate, Adbusters' call for a 24-hour consumer
fast seems to some folks to be coming out of deep left
Our annual campaign has, from what we're hearing, utterly
polarized readers. Some are sympathetic indeed,
they think the idea of breaking the trance of consumer
culture for a day has never been more relevant. But
some reckon this year we should just shut up about Buy
Nothing Day. And some folks seem genuinely baffled why
we would even suggest such a thing in the first place.
This may be because in the official "Shop while
the bombs drop" rhetoric is coming out of Washington
and London and Ottawa without any context or caveats
at all. No mention that it's a short-term emergency
measure that comes at the long-term expense of the planet.
No suggestion that our economic policy makers, as they
tote up this years GDP, may actually have no idea
about how to measure real economic progress. And not
much tolerance for the notion that frugality rather
than spending may, in the long run, be the only rational
response to S-11.
What do you think? Should we shelve our Buy Nothing
Day campaign in light of the tragedy, or should we shout
the message from the highest rooftop?
Since its launch in the Pacific Northwest eight years
ago, Buy Nothing Day has grown into a worldwide celebration
of consumer awareness and simple living. Observed on
the day after US Thanksgiving America's busiest
shopping day of the year the campaign has sparked
debate, radio talk shows, TV news items and newspaper
headlines around the world.
People in more than thirty countries have made a pact
with themselves and, as a personal experiment and public
statement, stepped out of the consumer stream for 24
hours. The ways in which people have marked the event
worldwide have been as diverse as the participants themselves.
Many play with the icons of our consumer landscape
by taking off on mock shopping sprees, by hawking "hope"
and "happiness," or simply by opening up shop
and selling nothing more.
The daredevils of the Ruckus Society, a California-based
direct-action group, dropped a boxcar-sized banner ridiculing
overconsumption smack in the middle of the Mall of America.
Other more down-to-earth-types created and distributed
the Gift Exemption Voucher a polite way of saying,
Let's not get each other anything this year, out of
principle. In Seattle, helpful Buy Nothing Day celebrants
offered a credit-card cut-up service outside a downtown
In America, Buy Nothing Day played out in some of the
nation's last remaining public spaces its malls.
Costumed groups of revelers managed to slip in and stay
long enough to set up tables and suggest alternatives
to heavy holiday spending such as giving to charity.
Spend time with family and friends, rather than money
on them, was the message. If there's one thing the terror
attacks have driven home this year, it's that the things
no-one can buy love, ritual, attention, sacrifice,
freedomare the only things worth pursuing, and
Buy Nothing Day just wouldn't be the same if the networks
didn't reject our opt-not-to-shop TV uncommercial. Every
season, we approach ABC, CBS and NBC to air the spot,
and every year they refuse usclaiming our ad asking
people not to buy anything threatens "the current
economic policy of the United States." It will
be interesting to see if this year CNN Headline News,
the one show that has taken our money and aired the
spot (after their "Dollars and Sense" program
since 1996) continues to break ranks.
Most constitutional-law experts aren't bothered by
the networks' refusal of the spot, according to Robert
Berner in The Wall Street Journal. Networks aren't under
any legal obligation to air it. But as Harvard Law School
Professor Laurence Tribe remarked, "At least the
networks make it clear who butters their bread."
"September 11," the mainstream-media consensus
seems to be, "changed everything." But did
it? The millennial world was already at a crisis point
between a sustainable rebirth and the final sale of
its assets. The global economy was on track to use up
our resources sooner rather than later. The tragic events
of two months ago just sharpened our appreciation of
how tenuous and potentially catastrophic is a voracious
First World's dependence on foreign oil, networked international
money markets, and the utterly uncompassionate survival
instincts of multinational corporations.
Lost in the breast-beating of recent weeks is any critical
discussion of the *point* of all this economic patriotism.
The goal is to boost the flagging gross domestic product.
The GDP is the usual measurement of the strength of
the economy, but how useful is it? Consider that whenever
there's an ecological or human disaster in the U.S.,
the GDP goes up, and we call it "progress."
By that logic, the crash of those jets into the Twin
Towers was a good thing, because it, too, sent the GDP
up (or it almost certainly would have, with new billions
spent on defense and health and cleanup, had the fear
factor not kicked in). The point is, we measure the
goods, but we do not measure the bads and, unchecked,
its the bads that will bury us. (For more on this
subject, check out the website of the folks at Redefining
Progress in San Francisco. www.rprogress.org) Overconsumption
creates long-term ecological problems that aren't accounted
for in the GDP. Thats one of the things Buy Nothing
Day is all about.
Theres no right way to celebrate Buy Nothing
Day. The idea is to do *something* to spark up debate,
not shut it down. The shining hope for a revolution
in human consciousness lies in the actions of everyday
people. And so in the most profound sense, nothing has
changed at all.