Saturday, November 19, 2016

Buy Nothing

November 25, 2016
Last year I went to a lovely workshop by Barry Derfel at TST BOCES on MLK and the process of nonviolent protest. It was for teachers, really, getting them ready to handle the new Social Studies standards, but it was a great review for me on the three prongs of successful protest: education, politics, and money.

You start with educational acts of witness, narratives designed to change people's beliefs. Sit-ins, demonstrations, teach-ins, marches—all are designed to show that a given system is oppressive and violent. Acts of witness require discipline on the part of the participants and willingness to suffer (for example, to be arrested or beaten up). Media play a big role in documenting this suffering.

This leads to the second prong, politics. King's theory required that enough people be arrested for performing legal acts of protest that the jails would become full, causing tension between police and politicians. Police then pressured politicians to change the laws so that they no longer had to arrest protestors at the expense of doing their regular jobs arresting actual criminals.

But neither step works without the third, money. Without the boycotts of bus companies, Woolworth's, Newberry's, and other businesses that acted in hurtful ways, MLK's protests would never have worked. Withholding dollars had to lead to companies' making less money, paying fewer taxes, and laying off workers. As citizens saw services dwindling, they pressured companies to change policies and politicians to change laws.

Buy Nothing Day, established on the traditional Black Friday after Thanksgiving, is a global day of protest against consumerism. What better way this year to protest, from the comfort of your home, the ascension of Trump? For the man who exemplifies conspicuous consumption, a day of no consumption at all must be unimaginable. For the rest of us, it is a reminder that without monetary pressure on the system, all the marching, writing, protesting, and FB posting we do will have zero likelihood of effecting substantial, lasting change.

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