November 26, 2011

Black Friday Range of Protests

Yesterday was Black Friday, when everybody is supposed to run to the store and buy Christmas presents. Since many of us have the day off, retailers often lure us into their stores with promotions and odd opening times. This year, the hours were even odder with Black Friday actually starting on Thursday for many of the largest retailers.

Two women from Occupy Sarasota wanted to protest that Walmart made their employees work on Thansgiving, a day they feel most employees want to spend celebrating with their family. Jeff Fox asks them to tell their story:

These two women took a stand, engaged shoppers on the issue, acted non-violently, and were told by Walmart security that if they did not leave they would be arrested.

Businesses since time immemorial have asked their employees to work when they don't want to. Certainly I would prefer it, if we could individually pick our work hours, but in many instances that would not work out too well. So, it's hard for me to rile up much indignation on this issue. And, in this case, where there is demand from consumers, who come out in droves during these supposed precious family occasions, I feel even less indignation. This is part of the beauty of the leaderless Occupy Movement. Each of us has the power to be a leader and act on those things important to us. Pilar and Leslie did just that and I commend them.

And there is a louder truth at play here. In the name of buying things, many times pointlessly buying things and buying pointless things, our society and our law enforcement turn a blind eye to injustices and illegalities. It's okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk, if you're waiting to buy consumer goods, but it's not okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk if you are part of Occupy Tampa and wish to speak out against income inequality and the corporate takeover of our democracy. Such distinctions have their roots in the outsized power captured by large corporate interests and are under intense scrutiny by the Occupy Movement.

In the wee hours of the morning, yesterday in Tampa, a larger protest organized around the buy-local ethic. During mic-check disruptions, Occupy Tampa repeats

...When you spend your dollar at a big chain store, only $.13 stays in the local economy. When you spend your dollar at a local, independent business, $.45 stays in the local economy...
Occupy Tampa held mic-check disruptions inside Walmart and Target stores and outside a Best Buy store.

Now this is an issue I can get behind. Think local first and buy local when you can. Why?

  • When you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned chains, more of your dollars percolate through local businesses, thus strengthening your community's economy.
  • Supporting local businesses helps preserve the unique character of your community.
  • The closer you shop to home, the less time, money, and energy you spend driving. You then contribute less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution. (Or better yet, ride your bike and shop within bicycle distance)
  • Small local businesses create two out of every three new jobs.
  • There are additional reasons to buy and eat local food: keeps us in touch with our food seasons, protects us from bioterrorism, gives us more variety, tastier food, and fresher food

The Occupy Movement did not respond uniformly to Black Friday shopping. Due to differences of opinion, Occupy Sarasota did not come to a consensus on a response. Nonetheless, individuals acted individually and in small groups. Occupy Tampa staged mic-check disruptions. Other Occupy groups chose to condemn shopping itself and put their support behind Buy Nothing Day. This is the somewhat messy face of a grassroots movement. It represents a larger sharing of information, individual engagement around the issues, and newly self-empowered folks speaking out.

Sources: Occupy News, Open Letter News, Part 1, Open Letter News, Part 2, Occupy News, Occupy Marines, Big-Box Economic Impact Studies

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