Group Protests Consumerism On Biggest Shopping Day
Tue, Nov 25, 2003 By Anita French
The [Northwest Arkansas] Morning News/NWAonline.net
ROGERS –While others are rushing to stores Friday to kick off the traditional first day of Christmas shopping, Justin Barnum, a University of Arkansas student in Fayetteville, will be putting up fliers on campus protesting such conspicuous consumption.
“I see a lot of problems with the way that people consume, and this is just one way that I feel maybe I can reach another person and make them realize how much pain can be caused through consumerism,” Barnum said.
He won’t be alone. Barnum is taking part in “Buy Nothing Day” Friday, a world-wide protest that started several years ago in New York by a group called Whirl-Mart Ritual Resistance, said organizer Andrew Lynn of Troy, N.Y.
“Buy Nothing Day was really started by a Canadian magazine called Adbusters, a progressive journal dealing with consumption issues among consumers,” Lynn said in an e-mail. “They started this holiday (the day after Thanksgiving), called Black Friday. What they’re pushing for is to resist consumption for that one day.”
According to the Whirl-Mart Web site, what began as a single happening in Troy has evolved into a ritual activity performed across the United States and around the world, often at Wal-Mart stores and other large chains. During the ritual, groups gather and silently push empty shopping carts through the aisles of stores.
Barnum said he came in contact with the movement while working on his undergraduate degree at Hendrix College in Conway.
“Buy Nothing Day is just a piece of the anti-globalization movement, the environmental movement, and finds its followers and adherents among those of us who are fed up with the way modern society is taking advantage of all of us for the pleasure of a greedy few. This is just a way that I am able to maintain my sanity,” Barnum said.
The movement has been written up in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers. According to a July 2002 article in the Austin Chronicle, some Whirl-Mart protests have received negative response. The newspaper wrote that during a March 2002 “performance” at a Wal-Mart store in Austin, Texas, store managers grabbed Whirlers’ shopping carts, told them to disperse and threatened to confiscate one protester’s camera. The store’s general manager also reportedly followed the group into the parking lot, scolding them for “causing trouble,” the newspaper said.
“We get reactions all the time from management at particular stores,” Lynn said. “I don’t think we’ve penetrated the system enough to get any type of reaction from (Wal-Mart) headquarters.”
Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart in Bentonville, said the company was not familiar with Buy Nothing Day or the group behind it.
“Because of our size, we’re often the target of criticism by special interest groups that have agendas,” she said. “We enjoy having customers in our store whether they’re buying anything or not.”
Dr. Helene Cherrier, who taught international and retail marketing at the UA before moving to London, England, said she found out about Buy Nothing Day while doing research for her dissertation. Cherrier said she became “very interested” in the protest because of her own personal beliefs.
“I have been involved in expanding consumers’ awareness on the importance of waste in consumption practices,” Cherrier said in an e-mail message. “On Nov. 28, I will not consume. In London, they’ve created a ‘puppet shopper’ that yells at people how wonderful it is to consume and waste and do not care … It is quite sarcastic, yet it seems to attract people’s attention. I will probably construct my own puppet and join some members (of the protest).”
Michael Paulukonis of Pennsylvania said he started taking part in Buy Nothing Day last year. He sees the event as “a cross between protest and performance.”
Paulukonis said he’s never run into any problems in the stores he entered.
“I like to think of myself as a protest artist,” said Paulukonis, who works in information technology. “At my post, I try not to pick on one chain. The real reason behind Whirl-Mart is not to point fingers at companies … but to recognize, as consumers, that we are the people shopping there. All that money Wal-Mart and the others have is because we go there and buy things.”
This year, Paulukonis will be targeting a Wal-Mart store in northeastern Pennsylvania, he said.
While Buy Nothing Day has participants all over the country and overseas, no Wal-Mart stores in Arkansas have been targeted so far, Lynn said.
there will be a NEPA-WHIRL at noon.