They stand at the intersection of Valley River Drive and Valley River Way, visible to every driver headed to the mall on Black Friday; they’ve hung homemade signs on highway overpasses and pushed an empty train of carts through Wal-Mart.
Their message: “Stop buying, start living.”
They are Buy Nothing Day activists, protesting consumerism on the biggest shopping day of the year.
Ted Dave, a Canadian activist and artist, started Buy Nothing Day in 1992 by spreading fliers throughout Vancouver, BC. Adbusters Media Foundation spread the word and before long, Buy Nothing Day became international.
“It gained international success and is today arguably more important than ever, considering our current dangerous negligence of our planet’s health,” said Athena Wisotsky, a 22-year-old University linguistics major. “It would be worthwhile to reject or protest consumerism any day of the year, but Black Friday is symbolic.”
Wisotsky became a Buy Nothing Day protester after realizing the environmental and social costs of modern economics.
“Our current system is one based on resources that are practically gone and that relies heavily on human exploitation,” she said.
She joined Shawn Kilmer, a former University student and the lead developer at Bravo Web Solutions, who has been the main Buy Nothing Day protester in Eugene for the last five years.
“I started reading Adbusters magazine in 2002 and that was my first wide exposure to the fact that tons of people out there thought the same as I did,” Kilmer said. “I saw photos from Buy Nothing Day activities around the world and it instantly made so much sense to me.”
Brett Jarczyk, a 22-year-old sociology major, has been protesting against mindless shopping for three years and feels consumerism distracts people from more important global issues.
“Corporations are trying to get us to be passive consumerists and not active participants in politics,” he said.
Jarczyk said gifts shouldn’t define the love factor at Christmas.
“There’s nothing wrong with buying gifts,” he said. “People should just question where they get gifts and what defines their relationships with their families.”
Jarczyk and Wisotsky said their protest causes mixed reactions.
“People are either really supportive or are already aware,” Jarczyk said, or they get really angry. “They think we are attacking free choice.”
One of Wisotsky’s harshest reactions came from a group of Duck fans who said her unborn child was going to be murdered. She acknowledges the protest is up against a tough audience.
“We expect to be marginalized, it would be ignorant to think we’ll always have a warm reception,” she said. Wisotsky said it’s worth it as long as one person hears the message and contemplates it for a moment.
Kilmer said he is used to negative responses, but disagrees with some people’s perception of the protests.
“I’d say 70 percent negative and 30 percent positive,” Kilmer said.
“I see nothing but positivity in our messages.”
One method of protest, called “the whirl-mart,” involves pushing a train of empty carts through Wal-Mart to obstruct the buying of cheap goods and jolt shoppers out of their glazed-over expressions. Another method protesters use is filling carts with what Kilmer calls “the most vile embodiments of consumer culture, such as Hannah Montana trading cards and the animated Bible on DVD,” and parking the carts perpendicular to the entrance of aisles.
“This is a great method I would recommend because if the customer finds the shelf completely out of the product they want, they can’t buy it,” Kilmer said. “And all the time spent re-shelving at the company is basically profits lost.”
For the most part, Wal-Mart employees don’t mind the protests because they are busy working, Jarczyk said. However, management isn’t as understanding.
“The managers kicked us out and called the police,” he said.
For most of the protesters, Buy Nothing Day doesn’t stop on Black Friday.
Mark Boyle, a Canadian, used Buy Nothing Day in 2008 to kick off a year without spending money. Wisotsky and Jarczyk aren’t as extreme, but they do try to practice what they preach.
Jarczyk said he tries to buy everything locally.
“For me personally, it’s not just about boycotting,” he said. Supporting local businesses for Jarczyk is a larger issue of political, environmental and social well-being.
“The integrity of human life should be more important than the production and purchase of goods that will probably end up in a landfill,” she said.
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