RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Buy Nothing at Walmart on Black Friday

The days are getting crisp and drippy, the trees are red and golden, and people are going around saying, “It’s my favorite time of the year,” so, yeah, the best holidays are ahead — Thanksgiving and Buy Nothing Day. After that, there are a couple of others, invented by ancient and modern sales organizations.

So, if you think your little actions never add up to anything, let’s review what you can do this season, starting with Thanksgiving.

Here’s hoping you have a chance to get together with loved ones on Thanksgiving, this most generous of holidays. No gifts. No ceremonies. It’s the one American holiday devoted to hospitality and love. If everyone’s too scattered away to make a reunion impossible, you’ll have dozens of opportunities to work at one of dozens of Thanksgiving banquets within a few miles of your place. As our nation gets poorer, and the “gig economy” gets more mainstream, good folks with steady incomes are called to create free dinners for the gig-less. My favorite, in St. Louis, was at a cavernous old church. We had a bunch of donated turkeys, stuffing, pies and dozens of elders chatting and doing their cooking things, pouring flour into big pots to make gravy, or tearing up salad greens, chopping green beans, pounding out batches of yeast rolls. Nobody had a recipe book, they just cooked from what they remembered. That was back in the made-from-scratch days.

Today, you’ll be as likely to find that venue full of folks with racks of pizza collected from a franchise place but the point is that in this church basement or homeless shelter, there’s a chance to rub elbows, old and young, with your neighbors, cooking and eating. On this day, in this place, we’re saying, everybody eats.

And then, the next day is Buy-Nothing Day. This is where we can really shine.

By staying home.

The brainy creation of a Vancouver artist, Buy-Nothing Day is the resistance movement against the Black Friday spend-a-thon when crowds gather outside Walmart before dawn and crash through the doors as soon as they open. As Nothing-Buyers, we refuse the temptations of the mall and express our desires to just be. Eat leftovers, wear old clothes, sort through old collections of stuff to see what you don’t need—can give away—and just enjoy the idea that for one day you can live without buying anything! It’s a challenge, but it’s only for one day. It’s a valuable exercise even though we’re still buying electricity, internet, insurance, water, all the things that don’t stop just because we’re resisting.

And how does Buying Nothing make a difference?

Mostly by making us aware of the problems that come with over-consumption. The extraction economy, it’s called, when essentials from the earth are cleverly disguised as new I-phones, light bulbs, fashionable shoes and re-fashioned transporters.

It’s true that our consumer behavior can’t change everything, and that we need political power to really get out of the messes of pollution and extraction, but the Nothing Buyers have influence that goes way beyond the household. In the last few months, local governments have begun to see how much the “I Wanna” economy is costing taxpayers. And they’re working to get it back.

Raytown, Mo., follows in the footsteps of communities in Indiana and Wisconsin by declaring Walmart a public nuisance and demanding restitution. In Raytown, the city budget is stressed to breaking and the town is faced with layoffs. The problem started when the city cut a deal with Walmart to create a “TIF” or Tax-Incentive Financing zone, guaranteeing Walmart would pay no property taxes. The idea is that with a TIF, big stores will build and even though they don’t pay taxes they create jobs. The jobs, supposedly, will create more purchasing that will go to sales taxes, supposed to balance the lost property taxes.

Does it work? Well, no. The new corporate citizens use city services just like everyone else, and maybe even more, turning in police calls, asking for services. In Raytown’s case, 30% of the crime calls are from Walmart. Five hundred calls in 2016. When the police are laid off, who will Walmart call?

In Beech Grove, Ind., one of the police calls came when a shoplifter was detained in Walmart, waved a gun at police, fled to another store and shot himself. The mayor, disgusted with a series of crimes in the store, is seeking to declare Walmart a public nuisance, which means the city can assess fines when city services are needed.

So, yeah, speak out against these nuisances by celebrating Buy-Nothing Day. And then, if you feel the need to shop, enjoy your freedom on Saturday at “Small Business Saturday,” an invention of one of the big credit card companies that wants to schmooze up to us independents. You don’t have to use a credit card, by the way, but shopping at your small neighbors is essential to help them stay in business. And don’t tell me you won’t miss them in an emergency, when the winds blow and the rains fall and you can’t drive to the Walmart.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts “Farm and Fiddle” on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2017

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