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Left Justified: Thanksgiving thoughts about giving gifts

November 25, 2009

By Stanley Campbell

Americans get stuffed on Thanksgiving, then shop until we drop. I think that should change.

As a shopkeeper (JustGoods Fair Trade Market, 201 Seventh St., open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m.), I’m surprised to be telling you not to shop. Yet, Adbusters, an anti-consumption magazine, suggests not buying anything on the busiest day of the year.

This global effort just started a few years ago, telling our consumer society to take a day off. That day is Friday, Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, normally the busiest shopping day of the year (second-busiest is the day after Christmas, for returns).

It’s a strange idea, one commercial media so far ignore. Adbusters magazine is the originator of “Buy Nothing Day,” and maybe you’ll hear it on public radio, but few other sources. There are some religious congregations that preach simplicity, but most “give thanks to God for blessing America.”

As consumers (and we all consume something), let’s question where the stuff we consume comes from. Who makes it and from what kind of environment? Well, workers, sometimes in prison camps, maybe children, and clear cutting are all accepted practices in the new economic order.

I’ve said this before: during holiday gift-giving, we should reflect upon those who make our comforts and gifts. When we give a gift, we give of our resources and our understanding of the recipient. Sometimes we give what people really need, like when we give to disaster relief. That gift (most often cash) goes toward food, shelter, and clothing.

But a loved one needs more thought of where a gift comes from. Some come from child labor, sweat shops and prison labor camps. That’s called free trade. Fair trade is different.

Fair trade stores work with cooperatives and individual artisans who receive a fair price and a living wage. It doesn’t harm the environment, and helps the whole community. When you give a fair-traded gift, it can be beautiful and show your concern for the world.

Sometimes there’s no time to think. When I do last-minute Christmas shopping, JustGoods is a godsend. That’s why I got involved in fair trade: to help people buy gifts that are “twice given,” once to the recipient and once to the person who made it.

Where did the idea of a “Buy Nothing Day” come from? Probably young, out-of-work advertisers, or those rich enough to afford a conscience. The magazine Adbusters rips into this consumer society and advises “Buy Nothing Day.” They want to stop consumption for at least a day, and have people think about what and 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 international companies ship it to the big-box stores, who sell it cheaper than American workers can put it together.

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

Most of my stuff is secondhand. Kudos for recycling shoppers! Secondhand stores don’t fill up landfills. It’s a good way to recycle, and most support nonprofit entities. So, you could be giving a gift that gives thrice.

As a shopkeeper, I should want you to shop. But as an environmentalist and a Christian advocate, I want you to think about your actions and do the best, not only for yourself, but for the world.

Consider where you put your resources, for there is where your heart dwells. Happy Thanksgiving.

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

From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue

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