Having been suckered into giving my email address to every store that asks, I get bombarded with emails by the time Black Friday rolls around. And no, La Senza, I don’t feel like buying $100 worth of underwear just to score the 50%-off deal.

Inspired by North Americans’ overconsumption around the holiday season, the Buy Nothing Christmas movement began in Winnipeg in 2001. BNC is a national initiative funded by volunteer efforts, initially created by Canadian Mennonites to inspire both fellow Mennonites and others people  across Canada to decommercialize Christmas. Tina Newransky, a recent BNC member, explained how the idea came about and what their cause means for Canadians.

Aiden Enns, the founder of Buy Nothing Christmas, came up with the idea when he worked with AdBusters, says Newransky. Aiden decided to extend the activism of the BNC movement through the entire Christmas season. According to Newransky, BNC is founded on the belief that challenging people to tune out the voice of “consumer-driven capitalism” and listen to voice of the people speaking about problems like injustice, poverty, and pollution can bring about change.

“Overconsumption is definitely a concern, with statistics stating [that] as much as one third of Christmas gifts go to the landfill. But the real purpose of the movement is to speak against the pro-corporate orientation of North American society,” says Newransky. “Politically, socially, economically, in our country corporations have more power than people, and their voice is the loudest.”

BNC doesn’t oppose purchasing presents for loved ones. “It isn’t about separating those who buy from those who don’t,” explains Newransky. “Everyone buys. And that’s not a bad thing. But we can be conscious of how our buying habits affect the rest of the world.”

This idea has received positive and negative feedback from consumers, says Newransky, although some find the concept “interesting but not realistic”.

One of the negative experiences was last year’s incident in which BNC representatives were escorted out of a local mall. “Negative reactions are handled with respect and acceptance,” says Newransky. “Being part of BNC gives an opportunity to speak a radical message about the state of our world and our part in it.”

The FAQ section of the BNC website addresses a question about whether people would lose their jobs if everyone were to buy nothing around Christmas, saying that while they would like to “see the retail sector shrivel”, they hope the effort can be directed towards “developing more sustainable activities (how we build our homes, transport ourselves, manufacture clothes, and spend our leisure time)”.

Their website also acknowledges that something would need to change at a deeper level; it denounces capitalism but declines to endorse communism, and claims that economists are working at “new models”.

“I think the “Buy Nothing” concept is a form of protest.  It is for a limited time and place.  Not buying anything, ever, would be impossible,” Newransky says. “BNC isn’t about whether you buy gifts, or how many.  It is about thinking when you buy.  What impact will this purchase have?  What impact can I have?

“If overconsumption ceased to be a problem, BNC would continue to encourage people to think globally in their shopping—to ask themselves if an item is needed or if it will only be clutter, if having is more important than helping,” she continues.

Newransky feels the movement is growing, particularly considering the extremes being seen in the “Black Friday” approach to shopping, in which “getting up before dawn, standing in endless lines, fighting with neighbours and strangers over toys—is seen as justified in the name of getting some really good deals on our Christmas gifts,” she says. “A lot of people are starting to say this is going too far.”

This year, as in previous years, the Black Friday weekend was met with swarming, shootings, and brawls among shoppers competing for merchandise on sale, particularly in the States.

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