The most cynical day in American culture is upon us again. On an evening ostensibly dedicated to giving thanks for the things we have, millions of Americans will instead huddle in cold, dark strip mall parking lots in an unholy pilgrimage to consume.
Across the country, shoppers will swarm retail giants where minimum-wage, nonunion workers have been called away from their families to earn their pittance. This year, if no frenzied shopper is trampled, maced or beaten in the rush for cheap goods, it will be the exception that makes the rule.
Suppose this year we try something different. Suppose we admit that the tawdry toys and culture-craze commodities that we fight for on Friday are a sorry distraction from the austerity looming on the horizon. Suppose we concede that Friday’s lust for mass-produced consumer goods makes a mockery of Thursday’s professions of gratitude. This year, suppose we Occupy Black Friday.
Last year, Black Friday came little more than a week after the violent eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Manhattan’s Financial District. Occupiers there had created an autonomous community of mutual aid, providing free food, medical care, and radical education to anyone who cared to receive it. In Zuccotti Park and across the nation, Occupiers demonstrated that the most effective way to agitate for a new paradigm was to simply start living it. Occupy would not demand a new world—they would build it.
When encampments across the country were forcibly dispersed, evicted activists brought that lesson home to their own communities. In the one year since then, the movement has applied the strategy of direct community aid to everything from foreclosure prevention to disaster relief. This model has proven so successful because it allows everyday Americans to participate without uprooting their lives to live in a tent, an admittedly impractical protest strategy for most. Occupy is no longer a negative protest, it’s now a positive project to raise up communities long suppressed and distressed by the current corporate order.
To Occupy Black Friday means to apply that lesson to holiday shopping. Instead of contributing to the profits of international mega-corporations which exploit their workers and the planet, use holiday spending as an opportunity to uplift your own community. When you buy from locally owned businesses, $45 of every $100 spent will remain in the local economy. Of that same $100 spent at a chain retailer, only $14 would remain locally. Unable or unwilling to spend? Make a gift, or gift a service you can do yourself—like babysitting or yard work. Treat someone to a meal at a local restaurant, where your company constitutes a gift that can’t be found in any store. Similarly, gift a hobby, craft or fitness class that you can take together.
There could not be a better opportunity to boycott the corporate structure’s influence over our culture than Black Friday, an artificial holiday which pits neighbors against one another in an antagonistic competition to acquire more stuff. Through billions of dollars in advertising, Thanksgiving has been hijacked by the corporate capitalists and warped into a spending frenzy.
We cannot afford to continue on this way. Shortly, we’ll find that our planet has no more rare-earth minerals to be made into TVs, no more oil to be transformed into plastic toys, no more room for us to bury the refuse when all that junk falls apart or out of fashion.
It’s an imperative for mankind to end this obsession with consumption, and there is no better day to turn away from the cliff than Black Friday. This year, stay at the Thanksgiving table a little longer. On Friday, sleep in. Spend the day at home with those you love.
Simply put: buy less, and live more.