Protesters urge buyers

by Nichol Nelson

The 600-square-foot white banner hanging over Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America punctuated its bold proclamation of “Buy Nothing Day” with a picture of a globe crashing through a shopping bag.
The banner was flanked by two men suspended like mountain climbers from the ceiling by a tangled mass of rope. Crowds gathered below to gawk at the two protesters as did mall security officers waiting with handcuffs ready.
The protest was sponsored by Adbusters, an organization that aims to slow down the rate of U.S. consumption. The group sponsored the “hang-in” to draw attention to excessive holiday buying.
John Sellers, a member of Adbusters, said the goal of the protest was to make consumers stop buying for a day — to think about why they’re shopping and whether they really need all the items on their Christmas list.
“We’re not here to rain on Christmas,” Sellers said. “We want people to think about what consumption means to the environment. All of our environmental problems are spawned by our consumption.”
Adbusters has been around for six years, the same amount of time the 525-store Mall of America has been open. Sellers said his group chose the Mall of America because its sheer size represents the magnitude of American consumerism.
“We’re at the country’s largest mall to use it as a symbol of our consumption,” Sellers said.
Shoppers who saw the protesters hanging from rafters were bewildered by the demonstration and far from receptive to the idea of a purchase-free day.
Patty and Al Gilbertson drove more than two hours to the Mall of America from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., to enjoy a day of shopping with their grandson. The couple watched the arrest of the protesters from Camp Snoopy.
Al Gilbertson was angered by the display. There is nothing wrong with holiday spending, he said, shaking his head: “It’s America, people have jobs because of consumerism.”
Frenzied holiday shopping is a direct result of tying symbolic value to the gift-giving process, said Akshay Rao, professor of marketing at the University. He credits marketers with using emotion to motivate consumers to buy.
“They build up the symbolic value of a product,” Rao said. “You tie a ribbon to a hand tool and it becomes a symbol of affection for Dad.”
Rao said that merchandisers need the holiday season for profit since between one-third and one-half of sales in certain product categories happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“If we cancelled Christmas for one year, it would be disastrous for the economy,” Rao said. “There is a little excess, but that’s the privilege of a free society.”
Drew Hempel, a University graduate student in liberal studies who helped organize the “Buy Nothing Day” protest, disagreed. He said the holiday shopping frenzy in the malls comes at the expense of child labor and the destruction of the earth.
Still, said Hempel, we shouldn’t stop spending altogether. We should just think more about what we’re buying, where it comes from, what it’s made of and whose hands produce it, he said.