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12.22.07

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Buy Nothing Month

Understanding the Great Shopping Boycott of '07

By Gianna de Persiis Vona


O ne story leads to another in the green world. So it comes as no surprise that my investigations into the darker side of holiday shopping led me from the nationally known Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping (now the documentary subject of What Would Jesus Buy? ) to a North Bay anti-shopper named Terra Freedman, who tells me about a revolutionary named Lew Brown. From Brown, I learn there is more to the stop shopping movement than I could possibly have visualized even under the most paranoid of conditions.

Some may recall a national shopping boycott in April of 2006, and most have heard of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, known across the country for being the heaviest shopping day of the year. But how many know that from Black Friday until the New Year, conscious consumers are partaking in the Great Shopping Boycott of 2007? This does not mean buy nothing; it means buy local, buy mom 'n' pop, buy fair trade and, most importantly, buy less .

Terra Freedman, whom I interview over the phone, is an active citizen, who, after becoming concerned with corporate takeovers, began to curb her own shopping habits. Freedman stresses that the stop shopping movement is about starting your own scene. This is a DIY revolution based on the belief that we are drowning ourselves with our insatiable desire for things . There is no one to follow but oneself, and Freedman's self led her to the downtown Santa Rosa mall on Black Friday, where, with about a dozen friends and some home-made signs, Freedman handed out flyers printed from the BuyNothingChristmas.org website, which declared, "Have Less, Live More," "Santa Came, Jesus Wept" and "Define Necessity" with photos of a new SUV on one side and starving children on the other.

After talking with Freedman, I contact Lew Brown, designer of the WeAreNotBuyingIt.org website, and an innovator behind the stop shopping movement. Brown tells me that activity for "undermining the economy" can be considered a terrorist act; he talks about martial law, global domination and an undermining vampiric corporate atmosphere indicative of the corporate global control currently in effect. There was a time when violent force was the way the oppressed conquered their oppressors. Brown and other shopping-boycott activists across the world believe that time has passed, and that we now have a much more powerful and effective weapon: our money.

This is not just about overcoming consumerist tendencies, nor is it just about human rights or environmental atrocities; this is about oppression on a global scale. When I was in high school, "Buy American" was a slogan of right-wing conservatives. Now, liberals and conservatives are beginning to unite in reaction to the dire consequences of out-sourcing and globalization. We all want to buy American because, at this point, it's not a matter of patriotism, it's a matter of survival.

Brown says that the corporation's job is to make money for its shareholders, and that these shareholders represent that mythical 1 percent of the population who own most of the world's wealth. Brown points out that we are often quick to refuse homeless people a dollar, assuming they will do something to hurt themselves with it (like buy booze), and yet we will just as quickly turn around and purchase something with that same dollar that has a long and bloody trail of harm attached to it.

Like Terra Freedman, Brown stresses the fact that we need to engage this movement on a personal level. Too many progressive movements are destroyed by a "white knight," the savior who will pull the organization forward, and good ideas can become too easily co-opted and destroyed. Rather than follow, Brown believes, we need to take responsibility on an individual level, discovering ways to participate in the movement and to spread the word.

My final question to Brown is simple and perhaps a little bit desperate: Why would anyone do this? Why don't the 1 percent care? Brown says that very wealthy people can live very insulated lives, that they operate on global abstractions and that they have no real contact with the rest of us and therefore no basis for understanding.

Later, when I find myself at the mall, I remember Brown's words of wisdom and am struck by the sinking realization that on an ethical level, I am hardly any different than a wealthy corporate shareholder. I buy things that I know hurt others, and yet continue to do so because I live a very insulated life. The pain of my fellow humans, the death of the planet? To me, it's clearly just an abstraction.

For more information on the shopping boycott go to www.wearenotbuyingit.org. For more information on the Christmas boycott and alternative gift giving go to www.buynothingchristmas.org.


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