Students urge a fast for the wallet

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By Amy Brown-Bowers

Local students will be trading old stuff for more old stuff outside one of the biggest shopping malls in Canada this Friday. Kelsey is one of the thousands of students helping to celebrate the 11th international Buy Nothing Day.

The York University student’s point of attack is “consumerism capital,” said Kelsey. On Friday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. there will be a free market outside the Eaton Centre. She is encouraging people to bring old clothes, books, music and toys to trade in for other old goodies.

The event isn’t a tiny grassroots protest anymore. Nor is it a day for radical socialists to wreak havoc upon the life of holiday shoppers. For many young people across Canada, Buy Nothing Day goes beyond Nov. 29. It’s more than buying your groceries the night before, or drinking on someone else’s tab for the night.

Dan Anema of Edmonton is planning a week of anti-consumerism around Buy Nothing Day at The King’s University.

He wants people to learn to live simply and to limit their wants and focus their needs. He also wants people to support a more just economy.

“Live simply [so] that others might simply live,” Anema said.

The events planned for the weeks are creative: a silk screening table to plaster “no logo” across t-shirts, a coffee tasting table for fair trade coffee and alternative gift-giving displays. There will also be a person handing out free bananas with a note attached explaining the labour involved in producing the banana.

Buy Nothing Day was started by The Adbusters Media Foundation in Vancouver, in 1991. Nov. 29 was chosen because it is the busiest American shopping day of the year — the day after thanksgiving. Last year, culture jammers boycotted stores in countries like Turkey, Japan and Israel. For Friday, Adbusters is providing promotional materials such as free downloads of posters, press releases, stickers and website banners for organizers all around the world. Adbusters estimates that “more than a million people will celebrate 11 years of opposition on the unofficial ‘opening day’ of the Christmas frenzy.”

Sean Botham of St. Catharines, Ont. has put up hundreds of posters around the Brock campus for Buy Nothing Day. He’s organizing two tables for Nov. 29 in high traffic areas. One will be a bartering table for people to trade old stuff for more old stuff. The other table will offer free hot cocoa, coffee, vegan chilli, and conversation.

Botham got involved after asking himself why one billion people are living of hunger while another one billion are dying of excess.

“The way we live really matters and effects the world,” Botham said.

He wants people to stop on November 29, and evaluate how often they unthinkingly buy things. He calls it a fast for the wallet. Jeanne Sumbu, a second-year radio and television arts student at Ryerson, thinks that people are, for the most part, not interested in having their daily routines interrupted. She says they are so used to making small purchases several times a day that they will opt out of Buy Nothing Day.

On a more intimate level, James Tyne of Courtenay, B.C. had his own plan of attack. Tyne set up a buying-free zone in the middle of Courtenay’s Moonlit Magic late-night-shopping-spree on Nov. 22. The zone had couches, lamps, and blankets where people could enjoy free cider, a drum session, and copies of Adbusters magazine. It was a refuge in the midst of what Tyne calls “the hedonistic festival.”

On November 29, Tyne has a potluck dinner planned with guest speakers and live music. Tyne wants “to drive home to people that are not what they own,” and says there’s a better quality of life out there if people only shift their focus.

Craftivists of the Montreal Church of Craft are hell-bent on shifting people’s focus. They are a sub-group within the non-religious organization of diehard do-it-yourselfers and have made their own plans for Buy Nothing Day.

Craftivist Jen Anisef spreads the gospel of glue and gab. She is co-minister of the Montreal Church of Craft. They host bi-weekly stich n’ bitches, crafty workshops and are hosting a huge swap meet: a glorified garage sale whereby people swap their used goods for someone else’s. They are also producing a DIY holiday zine that will be filled with creative alternatives for disgruntled holiday shoppers with tips on making your own cards, wrapping paper, and gifts. The craftivists will also be hosting some card-making booths in downtown Montreal. They say that their aim “is to demonstrate the ease and satisfaction of doing it yourself to holiday shoppers.”

A sales associate at the Gap, at Yonge and Bloor Streets, said that he expects their store to be targeted by protesters. In the past, participants in Buy Nothing Day have entered the store with big bags, walked around, and made it quite clear to sales associated that they were not buying anything.

“I guess they have their reasons for not consuming,” he said, shrugging.

Rhonda Howells of Yellowknife, N.W.T., has teamed up with two local coalition groups that have offered her money, resources and support to help her get the Buy Nothing Day message out. There is perhaps more at stake for Howells than for other young people in Canada. She moved up north a couple years ago, but has already noticed the damage that satellite T.V. and southern influence has caused on the small northern community.

“People are desiring things that are impractical, excessively expensive, and unattainable,” said Howells.

She says that the Day is important to have a reference point to look to during the year. If people curb consumption for one day, she hopes they will stretch it to two days, or just generally think before they buy. She has posters up all over but word is also being spread in Yellowknife through book clubs, public meetings, and in conversation. People will also be walking around downtown in Santa hats handing out pamphlets and spreading the “anti consumption joy,” said Howell.

After years of working towards buying an ad spot on a major T.V. station, Adbusters raised $21,670 to buy a 30-second commercial slot on CNN to air a spoof ad directly after CNN’s suppertime financial news program, Lou Dobbs Moneyline yesterday. The ad, Burping Pig, is part of Adbusters’ effort to increase awareness of Buy Nothing Day. As their website reads: “[The day is] a calculated strategy to reach the largest audience.”

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