Today, according to the Adbusters set, is Buy Nothing Day. To most of America, on the other hand, it’s known as Black Friday, the first day of the Christmas shopping season, brought on by an unspoken holiday usually granted after Thanksgiving.
I bought something today. A few somethings, actually. Lots of people did that today, in fact, as Black Friday is consistently one of the top five retail days of the year (the Saturday before Christmas being #1). Which gets to the heart of why Buy Nothing Day doesn’t make much sense: the worst time to show yourself in numbers to make a point is when you know your opposition, which already dwarfs you in size, is going to turn out in three times higher volume than usual. It’s about as noticeable as taking a gallon of water out of a pool that’s being filled on the other end by a supertanker.
The act of not consuming isn’t a vote, it’s an abstention. In fact, a lot of the time, it’s just an absentee vote for the other side. What does it say to the people you’re trying to engage if you’re free to hop onto the deal-hunting gravy train at midnight on Saturday? Not a very powerful message. Perhaps it’s even counterproductive, in that it gives the happy capitalists a tangible bogeyman right when it’s most convenient for them to engage in demagoguery.
No, what one needs to do is to change how people feel about the holiday season. Instead of being confrontational, it’s possible to be subtle, even friendly, while at the same time communicating your point more effectively. Here are two campaigns I can think of that would be much more interesting to me.
- Give Something Day
- Yes, technically, most people think of this as being Christmas, but all the better to catch the opposition off-guard. Think of something people can use, that they pay too much for, that can be made cheaply, with little waste, and given away. No slogans or logos or globalization guilt. Just a tacit message that giving, not consuming, is the spirit of the holiday season.
- Do Something Day
- Black Friday is a day about stuff. Buy Nothing Day attempts to frame the argument on this point. But if that’s the case, then why not make it about reconnecting with family and friends? This is especially important after the Thanksgiving feast, which is usually meant to get these people together, but usually ends up being a stress-fest with cooks sweating over a turkey and guys drinking beer in front of some shitty Detroit Lions game. If you can engage those close to you enough in an event you can all enjoy, maybe the bond with consumption can be overcome.
Eh. Maybe not. But there has to be something better than buying nothing on which to build a movement.