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Photo: Visit Exmoor via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Forget Black Friday - this is 'Buy Nothing Day'!

Vicki Hird

27th November 2015

Black Friday is yet another manifestation of a consumer culture that is both empty and destructive, writes Vicki Hird. So instead let's join in creative celebrations of Buy Nothing Day ('no purchase necessary'), and develop a new life-enhancing ethic of joyful frugality.

Let's resist the destructive interplay of economic 'austerity' and debt-fuelled 'shop till your drop' growthism, and adopt a life-enhancing ethic of 'joyful frugality' - living lightly on the Earth, while taking full enjoyment of life's simple pleasures.

The 'shop till you drop' event that is Black Friday first hit my consciousness in 2014 in Paraguay's capital city. I was there to meet some farmers and was baffled by these odd Black Friday posters in shop windows.

So I caught up on what Black Friday stands for. It means buying lots more stuff on one day when the goods look cheaper.

Despite rumours that the name originated in the slave trade it seems that Black Friday as a term, was coined by police despairing at levels of traffic and smog resulting from shopper traffic after thanksgiving. That seems familiar. Thanks Volkswagen!

Now it may make some kind of sense in the US where Black Friday comes straight after Thanksgiving Thursday, a family event rather bigger than Christmas. The way it works is that the Thursday is 'men's day' when red-blooded males kick back, drink beer, eat meat, and watch interminable football (American, not soccer) on TV.

Then Black Friday is all for the women, doing what women do best and enjoy most: shopping! OK, it's not exactly advanced thinking in terms of gender roles. But at least it reflects some kind of balance.

'No purchase necessary!'

But finally, times are changing - and not just in terms of gender stereotypes. Many people are uncomfortable with Black Friday: too much, too cheap, too ravaging of the world's resources and workers' lives. People buy tat on impulse when on a calmer day they may have been more sensible.

Such concerns are justified. War on Want's partners in the global south all too often feel the sharp end of 'cheap' fast fashion; Producing clothes at such rock bottom prices that make basic factory health and safety - let alone wages you can live on - impossible. Hear their stories here. Workers producing electronic gadgets are exposed to toxic chemicals and inhumane conditions.

One cheering note is that US Black Friday sales were down in 2014 compared to 2013 and public opinion is shifting. Yet this US tradition has spread its ugly limbs far and wide. Seeing it in Paraguay, when I was about to visit rural communities devastated by the expansion of export led agriculture, was a bit of a shocker.

And it's hardly welcome here in the UK either, where it arrived on the scene just a few years ago. So let's give a big hand to Buy Nothing Day - which proposes wonderful ways in which not shopping can be fun and creative - as well as frugal. What's more, you can join in for free: "no purchase necessary!" Here's a few helpful suggestions from the website for events in your area:

ZOMBI£ $HOPP£R$! - Here come the cheerful dead! Dress up as zoned out zombies, shuffling from shop-to-shop chanting BUY, BUY, BUY - BRANDS, BRANDS, BRANDS! Stalk the high street and those who have been infected with Black Friday!

SHOPPING FREE ZONE - Mark out a public area and fill it with people playing games, listening to music and chilling out on sofas or chairs (inflatable furniture is good). Hand out balloons with Buy Nothing Day written on them to the bemused onlookers.

WHIRL-MART - Organise a group of friends to push empty shopping trolleys around a store in a long and silent conga line without ever actually buying anything.

And it's catching on - where you might least expect it

Now here's something pretty amazing. Some UK retails giants are resisting the Black Friday madness. Bicester Village and ASDA have declared their non-participation, for example.

Will this herald the start of a new circular economy and fair economy drive which delivers fair wages, good labour conditions, and quality products which last and which don't cost the planet? Well, it's a bit of a dream - but we have to start somewhere! Everyone knows deep down that this 'retail therapy' based way of life - shopping as fulfilment - is on the way out. We need something better.

In honour of those people willing to forgo the pleasures of Black Friday in 2015 - the cheap rubbish, the misleading bargains, the huge planetary harm that goes with all that consumption - can I suggest a few alternatives?

'Mend it Monday' could be the day you pick one thing to mend instead of replace. If you need help with stuff like this then try Restart. Or how about 'Work It Off Wednesday' which could involve more walking upstairs, walking to work or school, or going to the park instead of shops. And on Friday you could do the Buy Nothing option or, for a more flavoursome approach, how about a Flexitarian Friday where you 'eat food, eat less and mostly plants'?

We could even bring back an ancient British tradition - deeply rooted in Christian culture - of not easting meat on Fridays: not so much as a form of penance but to reduce the enormous environmental impact of industrial meat production, not to mention the cruelty it inflicts on farm animals.

Joyful frugality

We don't have to be slaves to sales pitches and corporate marketing drives. Take some of the time you saved shopping joining in campaigns for a fair and decent living for all, including better wages and conditions for fashion workers.

Support the fight against so-called free trade deals such as TTIP, TPP and CETA that will just boost corporate control over what we buy and force countries to dismantle regulations that protect the environment, workers rights and food safety. And at this seasonal time when purchases are the norm, using charity catalogues and shops can also mean your thoughtful purchase puts something back.

But above all, we need to imbue our lives with meaning beyond consumerism, and learn to distinguish the things that really do matter, from those that do not. We must stand against the destructive interplay of economic 'austerity' and debt-fuelled 'shop till your drop' consumer-led growthism.

So as well as making Black Friday into Buy Nothing Day, let's adopt a life-enhancing ethic of 'joyful frugality' - living lightly on the Earth, while taking full enjoyment of life's simple pleasures, and the companionship of friends, family and community.


Vicki Hird is Director of Policy and Campaigns at War on Want.


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