Buy Nothing Day is a Canadian-gone-global tradition with a simple concept: avoid shopping for one day out of 365.
The catch? The day is this Saturday, November 24, the first major shopping day before Christmas.
The point? To protest a global culture of consumerism and to assert that we were born to do things other than shop — such as protecting the planet, looking after our fellow humans, and showing loved ones that we love them by making them presents with our own hands, three extraordinary things that can be accomplished with the simple act of not shopping.
This “consumer fast,” as the anti-consumption magazine Adbusters calls it, has become a global phenomenon that will see more than 65 countries participating this year.
It is in the richest countries, however, where people like you and me are shopping addicts, where the occasion really needs observing.
Protests on this day over the past 15 years have included credit card cutups, shopping clinics in malls and shopping zombies.
This year, ‘living rooms’ will be set up in Australian shopping districts to encourage consumers to sit and talk instead of shop; a film entitled What Would Jesus Buy? produced by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame will be launched; in Montana, a parade to “stop the wars” will be marched as “the ultimate act of nonconsumption.”
Each local event is a grassroots phenomenon and does not follow a script.
And the beauty is, you can participate just as wholeheartedly by sitting on your couch at home or by skiing.
The anti-holiday is the inspiration of Vancouver cartoonist Ted Dave who, in 1992, while working in the advertising industry, became disgusted by the corporate domination of our culture.
He initiated Buy Nothing Day as a campaign that would demonstrate to the corporate sector that consumers do have power.
“Absolutely everything around us in the urban environment is set up to be coercive, to get you to buy things spontaneously,” Dave once told the Canadian Press.
He erected simple posters asking people to participate in a 24-hour moratorium on shopping. They did, and Buy Nothing Day was born.
The campaign was taken over by Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, which has helped give it international status.
“So much emphasis has been placed on buying carbon offsets and compact fluorescent lightbulbs and hybrid cars that we are losing sight of the core cause of our environmental problems: we consume far too much,” says Lasn
“Buy Nothing Day isn’t just about changing your routine for one day. It’s about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment. With over six billion people on the planet, it is the responsibility of the most affluent — the upper 20 per cent that consumes 80 per cent of the world’s resources — to set out on a new path.”
In 1999, Adbusters attempted its first television commercial for Buy Nothing Day.
Of course, every major network found reasons why it couldn’t run it.
CBS said: “This commercial is in opposition to the current economic policy of the United States.”
CNN said no, but eventually agreed after being told that to refuse would mean an embarrassing story in the Wall Street Journal.
The 30-second ad was nothing short of a TV revolution.
The commercial’s voice-over explained why the networks might not have been keen to run it alongside other ads: “The average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican, 10 times more than a Chinese person, and 30 times more than a person from India.
“We are the most voracious consumers in the world … A world … could die because of the way we North Americans live. Give it a rest. November 24 is Buy Nothing Day.”
My only caution against celebrating this anti-occasion is that we do not want to punish local artists and craftspeople.
Last weekend, I shopped a good deal, as did many Yukoners, at the Spruce Bog (all handmade goods by Yukoners) and the World Fair (all Fair Trade items made by crafters in Third World countries).
At the Spruce Bog, we had the privilege of meeting the artist and enjoyed knowing that our money was helping them survive.
At the World Fair, the more we shopped, the more we felt that we were helping someone less fortunate than ourselves.
It would take a mighty cause to convince me that I should avoid doing either of those things.
Luckily, this weekend, the annual Cranberry Fair and Yukon Inn Craft Sale both happen on Sunday, the day after Buy Nothing Day.
It appears that you and I have no excuses.
The Big Boxes and Main Street shops aren’t going anywhere. And there will still be four more Saturdays before Christmas.
To encourage us to celebrate the day in Whitehorse this year, Buy Nothing Day will launch the first annual Fraught Festival.
On Friday, November 23 at noon, there will be a piñata smashing at the Elijah Smith building and a citywide treasure hunt to follow.
It continues on Saturday at the Whitehorse Public Library, where there will be a panel discussion about alternative trade, and Sunday with workshops on book-making, jewelry-making, underwear-making and minor bicycle repair, with other events at the library until Christmas.
Fraught Festival is the invention of A DYIing Society (DIY=do-it-yourself), a collection of Citizen Kanes. The group has its own blog at adiyingsociety.blogspot.com if you want to know more.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.