Thanks for Nothing (and Everything): On Walmart, Black Friday, and Thich Nhat Hanh

by on November 24, 2014 · 1 comment

in Culture, Economy, History, Labor, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

walmart binsIt’s Thanksgiving week and Walmart is getting ready to ruin the party by asking nearly one million of its workers to come in on the holiday to get a jump-start on the Black Friday consumer frenzy. Given its size and influence, Walmart’s move, if successful, is likely to set a trend in the industry and wreck Thanksgiving for millions more underpaid service sector workers in the future.

Fortunately, OUR Walmart is responding in kind by promising the biggest Black Friday Strike ever with allies in labor and the community promising to join hands with them in their protest. As Think Progress recently reported:

Workers have gone on strike and protested for the past two Black Fridays. This time, they will also be joined by “tens of thousands” of community members, according to Stephanie Ly, AFT New Mexico president and a teacher, the “largest mobilizing of working families we’ve seen in recent history.” Teachers, elected officials, members of the clergy, and others will participate in protests at stores, flash mobs, marches, and prayer vigils.

While Walmart’s trampling on employee rights is particularly reprehensible, the recent sit-ins and this Black Friday action are certainly something to be thankful for this year. Like the taxi workers’ victory here in San Diego, this kind of bold action by workers and their community allies is precisely what it will take to turn the tide against the increasing corporate domination of our democracy and our lives themselves.

The point is not that shopping itself is completely bad, but that we need to rethink how we shop, where we shop, what we buy, and how much we buy of it.

Indeed, as I have noted before in this column, what we should reject this Black Friday is not just the exploitation of service sector workers but the corporate colonization of our lives and the very hyper-consumerist theology that threatens not just our peace of mind but the life of the planet itself. So rather than running to the mall to empty our wallets at Walmart after Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate Buy Nothing Day. This international tradition is, as the British site succinctly puts it:

[A] day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

Everything we buy has an impact on the environment. Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.

As consumers we need to question the products we buy and challenge the companies who produce them. What are the true risks to the environment and developing countries? We all know recycling is OK for the environment, but consuming less is better and Buy Nothing Day is a great way to start.

The point is not that shopping itself is completely bad, but that we need to rethink how we shop, where we shop, what we buy, and how much we buy of it. Hence, the organizers of Buy Nothing Day call on people to shop independent, small, and smart rather than big, corporate, and heedless after they take the day off to reflect and reconnect with life.

Better still let’s make every day “Today’s Day”.

Three years ago this week, I quoted the sage of engaged Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, on this very subject:

On this day, Today’s Day, don’t think about yesterday, don’t think about tomorrow, only think about today. Today’s day is when we live happily in the present moment. When we eat, we know that we are eating. When we drink water, we are aware that it is water we are drinking. When we walk, we really enjoy every step. When we play, we are really present in our play. Today is a wonderful day.

As of this writing, Thich Nhat Hanh is in critical condition, occupying the line between life and death after suffering a brain hemorrhage. But rather than mourning, the monks and nuns of Plum Village offer this advice:

We are aware and grateful for the love and practice that people are offering from all around the world to support Th?y’s recovery. Sanghas and groups of practitioners are gathering to send their peaceful energy to our Teacher. He is clearly receiving this energy. Each of our mindful breaths and mindful steps is nourishing Th?y. Please continue to enjoy the blue sky for Th?y, the fresh morning air and the small pathways in nature for Th?y. Especially, please enjoy each other, your loved ones, and our togetherness for Th?y.

If possible, you can dedicate a day to eat vegetarian as a way to generate compassion to send to Th?y. You can reconcile with your loved ones, or to let go of your resentment of someone and write them a love letter. And in the same Winter Retreat spirit being practiced at our monasteries, you can participate in your local Sangha more, support the collective energy of mindfulness, consume less and reduce your time online.

In that spirit, every day this Thanksgiving week let’s join them and consume less and love one another more. Be grateful for the air, the blue sky, and the small pathways of nature. And kiss the earth with your feet when you walk.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Geena November 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm

The L.A. Times had an interesting, if sad, commentary on Black Friday shopping in today’s paper. The gist of it was that it was the poor and working poor who lined up in cold lines to buy that door buster special at Walmart and Target – it being the only way they could have a little Christmas for their families…..while those better off (and some of the stores where they shop) sniffed at such “mob scenes”….some of the stores where the better-off shop aren’t even opening up on Black Friday.


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