WASHINGTON – On what is typically one of the biggest shopping days of the year, a number of Maryland activists will be on the streets and at the malls urging shoppers to opt out.
The protesters hope to turn the day after Thanksgiving from Black Friday – – the day on which retailers say their books go into the black — into Buy Nothing Day.
“Rampant consumerism really represents people running around thinking about themselves rather than thinking about what’s going on in the world,” said Alicia Luckstead, a Baltimore research psychologist who will be touting her anti-consumer message outside the Galleria at the Inner Harbor on Friday.
Other Buy Nothing Day activities in Maryland will range from quiet non- consumer days at home with family to silent peace vigils to more active “culture jamming” protests.
Maryland Retailers’ Association president Tom Saquella has one word for Buy Nothing Day: “Humbug.”
In his view, the activists are the Scrooges.
“They ought to get in the holiday spirit,” Saquella said, noting that the protests might have an adverse effect on the state’s economy.
“There are 400,000 people who work in those stores and make their livelihood,” he said. “Our state is in a real fiscal situation. I think there are a lot of very bad unintended consequences to what they’re doing.”
But Buy Nothing Day supporters say American consumerism has its own unintended consequences — on the environment, on poor nations and on consumers themselves.
Buy Nothing Day ads produced by the Adbusters Media Foundation charge that the rest of the world is “dying” because of over-consumption by North Americans. The ads have aired on CNN, but efforts to buy time on local cable channels fell short. Activists draped banners announcing Buy Nothing Day from Capital Beltway overpasses Sunday, but the signs were gone by Monday afternoon.
Andrea Norouzi is turning retailers’ concept of being “in the black” on its head Friday by starting a Frederick chapter of Women in Black, a movement started 14 years ago by Israeli women who keep silent peace vigils on busy street corners.
Other Women in Black chapters plan to hold vigils outside shopping centers in Westminster, Towson and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to remind shoppers “that women of the world are victims of violence and abuse of war, even on a 4-day holiday weekend,” an event flier reads.
“Frederick is a pretty conservative community, it’s a pretty patriotic county and we do not want to upset anybody, but we think peace is pretty patriotic,” Norouzi said. “Unfortunately, we have a president who, when we are hit by terrorists, says, `Go out and shop.'”
Norouzi, who raised her children in Montgomery County, said she found it hard to “underplay the commercialism of the holidays” to her children when a classmate’s parents were forking over $700 for a Cabbage Patch doll.
She and others backing Buy Nothing Day link mass consumerism with a deadened sense of spirituality, and they started pushing this year to gain the backing of religious groups.
“It makes you a happier person when you aren’t always wanting the next thing,” Norouzi said.
Organizers have mostly been coordinating online and are not certain how many people will turn up Friday, though many contacted this week said they expect 10 or so supporters at each site they visit. Most will be simply handing out fliers in front of shopping centers.
“We’re sending this information out into the (online) universe and hopefully people respond,” Norouzi said.
Saquella said that individual retailers are not likely to respond to the protests.
“Most stores will only take action if they are discouraging people from going in the stores to shop,” he said.
But while they may not be challenged physically, buy nothing advocates can expect to be challenged by a “buy more” mantra from retailers, who face an uncertain economy and rumors of war this holiday season.
Surveys conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation show that, while the federation expects to see a 4 percent increase in holiday season sales, consumers are being more cautious about spending. About one-third of those surveyed said that they would be spending less this year.
“It is clear that consumers are willing to spend money, but it will ultimately be up to the retailer to give them a good reason to come out and shop,” said Phil Rist, a spokesman for the research firm.