Editor’s Note November 2020: Black Friday, like so many aspects of our lives and rituals from Thanksgiving to elections to funerals, is drastically altered this year by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. By necessity, more of our holiday shopping will be online in 2020—as will some of our family gatherings. And, hopefully, we take this time to reflect on our priorities, to put things into perspective, and elevate people, love, community, and our physical and mental health above more stuff. As we mark a different kind of Black Friday, we share (again) this popular Sightline article, from Anna Fahey’s 2012 series My Year of Nothing New. It provides tips on how to turn the biggest shopping day of the year into a day of buying nothing, and how to reorient from shiny and new to used, local, experienced, and shared. This year, Buy Nothing Day is also gathering steam as a day of protest against unfair conditions and wages for workers.
And another tradition many have adopted for this day, which is also Native American Heritage Day, is to recognize and support organizations working for Native American justice and buying gifts from Native owned businesses. That feels like exactly the right move, from doorbuster deals to what really matters.
Black Friday. It was last year around this time that I decided 2012 would be a year of buying nothing new.
Americans were busy occupying Wall Street and, worldwide, just as in my own neighborhood, families were struggling with severe economic insecurity—losing their homes, buried under debt, knocked out by healthcare costs, desperate for jobs. It made for a particularly perverse backdrop for the annual flood of Black Friday holiday shopping hype.
So, I tuned in to a growing movement to boycott the biggest shopping day of the year. My shopping boycott has lasted 11 months—and counting.
In a future post I’ll sum up how the experiment has worked for my family (Spoiler: Awesome). For now, some inspiration to others (from others) on why and how to sit out the shopping spree this Friday.
Buy Nothing Day is an “international day of protest against consumerism celebrated annually just after Thanksgiving.” Started by the AdBusters folks, including BC’s own Kalle Lasn, the movement offers ways to culture jam your local mall—including a credit card cut up (where you provide the service of cutting people’s credit card with scissors), a “Whirl–mart” (where you and your friends simply circle stores endlessly with empty carts), or a “Christmas Zombie walk” through your local mall (where you dress as zombies, obviously, and haunt the aisles).
Check out the videos on the site for shock and awe style inspiration to stop buying (e.g. Christmas music played over disturbing footage of people trampling each other and fighting to get to the “deals” at big box stores).
(To follow, look for #buynothingday on Twitter.)
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Then there’s Block Friday, a site where you can watch short video declarations by hundreds of regular folks saying what they’re going to do on Friday rather than shop. You can also record your own video to add to the series. I found it really sweet and moving to see people expressing their desire to free themselves from the numbing consumer mindset.
There are smaller efforts all over the web. For one, here’s the Boycott Black Friday group on Facebook.
And for some reminders that your own protest is happening in concert with hoards of others, here’s Time Magazine on Black Friday boycotts, protests, and anger. They point out that “In 2012, there are more than 140 Change.org petitions imploring Target and other stores to do the right thing and keep Thanksgiving as a day of rest, not shopping. Within a couple days of Turkey Day, one Change.org petition targeting Target’s intrusion on the family time of store workers has garnered over 350,000 supporters.”
Pressure on Walmart to raise wages is expected to mount on Black Friday as well. Here’s Bloomberg:
For years, the United Food & Commercial Workers union has tried and failed to organize Wal-Mart workers. In recent months, the union has adopted a new tactic: backing two groups, OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, and waging a media campaign and mounting protests comprised of activists and Wal-Mart workers at stores and warehouses around the U.S.
The protest organizers have declined to say how many Wal-Mart associates they expect to be involved in the latest round of actions. About 30 workers from six Seattle-area stores went on strike Nov. 15, and others plan to do so, the groups’ members have said. Wal-Mart has more than 4,500 stores and clubs and 1.4 million employees in the U.S.
This is significant because Walmart has a reputation of shutting down employee organizing before it even gets started. But many believe that it will take far more workers walking off the job to make much headway on company reforms.
I’ll be relaxing with my family all week. On Friday, I’ll continue to refrain from buying anything new, let alone elbowing my way into any big box stores.
Let us know what you’re doing this Friday.