Today marks the 20th Buy Nothing Day. This consciousness raising, protest action initially conceived by a Ted Dave, a social activist artist from Vancouver became a central campaign for the anti-consumerist Adbusters magazine. As described in a 2006 Adbusters’ press release Buy Nothing Day “isn’t just about changing your habits for one day” but “about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.”
The Friday after US Thanksgiving marks the ‘official’ beginning of the rampant, pumped up burst of consumerism known as the Christmas season. It became the logical choice of a date for Buy Nothing Day. Any day, though, can be a personal Buy Nothing Day if we believe that the many-leveled mess we are in in part stems from our societal addiction to consumerism, our apparently insatiable, blind desire to acquire more things no matter what the cost to the environment, our health or global equality.
This year the Adbusters folk, whose blog last summer challenged and inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement is arguing for a more demonstrative approach. On their website (www.adbusters.org) they state that while “Historically, Buy Nothing Day has been about fasting from hyper consumerism - a break from the cash register and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption. On this 20th anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, we take it to the next level, marrying it with the message of #occupy…
“On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams! We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline.”
When you read this column Buy Nothing Day will likely have already witnessed a variety of these actions across North America. We can, however, continue the reflection and personal action it seeks to provoke. What would our Christmas look like if we focused on the core meaning and values of the day commemorating the Nativity of Jesus instead of what the bombardment of seasonal ads tell us to believe and do? How would our lives be impacted if we placed an emphasis on being more rather than having more? Could quality of life replace quantity of goods as the central goal of our work?
Christopher Lasch, historian, social critic and author of the 1991 book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, wrote in an essay entitled What’s Wrong with the Right?, “It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life ... these values are being discarded precisely because they no longer serve the needs of a system of production based on advanced technology, unskilled labour, and mass consumption.” We don’t have to buy into that logic. We can buy a different set of ideas that are life sustaining and planet nurturing.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.