Artist Ted Dave came up with the idea for the first Buy Nothing Day in 1992 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Five years later, the date was moved to the Friday after America's Thanksgiving Day, also known as "Black Friday" in the retail trade because it's the busiest shopping day on the calendar. Thanks to the Adbusters Media Foundation, over the years the event has gone global, although outside of the U.S. it usually occurs a day later, on Saturday. Activist groups organize to cut up their credit cards, dress up like zombies and roam shopping malls, throw a neighborhood block party give-away, or whatever will draw attention to the massive problem of overconsumption of goods by the wealthiest of our planet's inhabitants. Individuals can participate simply by taking the day off from shopping. Buy nothing and you'll be a part of the world-wide celebration.
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, said in this year's press release, "Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great, but they are Band-Aid solutions if we don't address the core problem: we have to consume less." And who, by now, hasn't heard the statistic that 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of its goods? I wonder if that's still accurate or if the scales have tipped even further in the wrong direction.
It's an interesting challenge to forego shopping completely for a day, especially the day the vast majority of us seem to decide to take care of our holiday purchases. Yes, this requires a little advance planning. Besides the obvious elimination of gift shopping, there will be no quick trip to the store for a forgotten ingredient for the evening meal. No stop at the gas station to fill up the tank. No haircuts or manicures. Not even any quarters dropped in the washing machine to do a load of laundry. No spending at all. It's a bit like an intense Money Meditation: we stop the mindless flow of money (and the continuous acquisition of the stuff it buys) and instead, we just experience our lives. When we take a full day to focus on experiencing life, we might finally understand that it doesn't require a whole bunch of excess stuff. We might figure out that all of that excess stuff actually inhibits the act of experiencing our lives instead of enhancing it.
Undoubtedly there are people who misinterpret the message of Buy Nothing Day and its goal of reducing consumption. I'm quite certain that someone's outraged at the thought that the American Dream of abundance should be criticized in any way and is convinced that it's all part of a conspiracy to destroy our economy. (Of course, these days it seems like just about everything is part of a conspiracy in somebody's mind.) But that's a pretty difficult position for a rational thinker to support. The Buy Nothing folks are just trying to raise a little consciousness about the limited resources of our planet. And in case anyone out there hasn't noticed, we are on a planet with a pretty specific and limited set of characteristics that allow us to sustain our lives. Alter the balance too much and we end up with global warming . . . oh, excuse me, "climate change."
More unfortunate than the fanatics who dismiss Buy Nothing Day are the people who think that they can't make an effective political statement just by not shopping for a day. I don't believe that's the case. In our capitalist system, no matter who's in power, nothing registers more with decision-makers (and even "deciders") than a message delivered via wallet. If you want to send a signal that our country's policies should reflect some awareness and sensitivity about the environment, poverty, and the inter-connectedness of us all, keep your hard-earned money to yourself on Buy Nothing Day. It's only twenty-four little hours, but like that old popular song lyric by Stanley Adams says, what a difference a day makes.
© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob