Left Justified: Buy Nothing Day

As a new shopkeeper (Fair Trade in Exile, 623 Seventh St., open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.), I’m surprised to find myself telling you not to shop. Yet, that is what Adbusters, a bunch of anti-consumption advocates, suggest: not buying anything on the busiest shopping day of the year.

This is a global effort, albeit one that just started a few years ago, actively campaigning to tell our consumer society to take a day off. That day is Friday, Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, normally the busiest shopping day of the year (the second-busiest is the day after Christmas, when a lot of the stuff is returned).

It’s a strange idea, one that the commercial media so far have ignored. Adbusters magazine is the originator. You might hear about “Buy Nothing Day” on public radio, and there are a few religious congregations that preach simplicity. But you won’t see politicians extolling the virtues of frugality.

As consumers, and we all consume something, we should question where the products come from. Who makes all this stuff? And during the holiday gift-giving season, shouldn’t we even more reflect upon those who need something versus those to whom we wish to give something?

When we give a gift, we give of our resources, our understanding of the recipient, and what we think they want. Sometimes we give what people really need, like when we give to disaster relief. The gift (most often cash) goes toward the most urgent need: food, shelter, clothing.

But for a gift to a loved one, I would suggest thinking more of where that gift came from. Some items come from sweat shops and prison labor camps.

Our little fair-trade store gets gift items from cooperatives and individual artisans who receive a fair price and living wage. The gifts are beautiful but, in my opinion, not really needed unless you want to show your concern for the welfare of the world as you give a gift to a loved one.

Sometimes there’s no time to think. Or at least I don’t when I do last-minute Christmas shopping. That is one of the reasons why I helped start this fair-trade store: to be able to buy gifts that I know are “twice given.” Once to my friend and once when I pay the person who made it.

Where did the idea of a “Buy Nothing Day” come from? Probably young, out-of work artists and advertising marketers, or those rich enough to have a conscience. They started the magazine Adbusters that rips into this consumer society and advertises “Buy Nothing Day.”

They wanted people to stop consuming for at least a day and think about what they buy, how much they buy, how it affects the environment, and where most of the stuff comes from.

Right now, most stuff comes from developing countries. Poor people produce it, and rich companies ship over here to the big stores, who sell it cheaper than American workers can put it together.

How much stuff do we need? Personally, and I am witnessing now, I have a closet full of clothes that no longer fit me. I have enough clothes to outfit a small village in Guatemala (where half of the clothes probably came from).

Yet, most of my stuff is purchased second hand. Kudos for second-hand shoppers! At least, second-hand stores keep stuff from filling up our landfills. It’s a good way to recycle, and most of the stores support nonprofit entities. So you could be giving a gift that gives thrice.

As a shopkeeper (the Fair Trade store, 623 Seventh St., etc.), I should want you to shop. But as a Christian advocate, I really want you to think about your actions and do the best, not only for yourself but also for the community and the world.

So the Fair Trade store will be closed on the busiest shopping day of the year. Yes, we had volunteers who planned on working. But after prayerful reflection, the nonprofit board voted to support “Buy Nothing Day.” Of course, if you do shop on Saturday and Sunday, we encourage you to visit 623 Seventh St.

But I think we also want you to carefully consider where you put your resources, for there is where your heart dwells.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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