'Occupy' instigators urge Christmas shopping ban
TORONTO - After a clarion call that brought thousands of people flocking to protests around the world, the Canadian magazine that touched off the international Occupy movement is urging its disciples towards a new destination: the shopping mall.
Adbusters, the Vancouver-based counterculture magazine widely credited with launching the Occupy Wall Street protests and countless other offshoots around the world, is exhorting its followers to "Occupy Christmas" by boycotting holiday gift shopping during the upcoming festive season.
The campaign got under way today, Black Friday -- known as such in the U.S. because it's considered the busiest shopping day of the year, when customers flock to stores to put merchants "in the black" as they kick off the retail industry's most hectic season.
The call to arms is old hat for the magazine, which has been pushing its "Buy Nothing Day" for the past 20 years, said Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn.
But this year, after the hard-won prominence of the global "Occupy" movement, people are more likely to take a hard look at what the holiday season has come to represent, Lasn said in an interview from Vancouver.
He recalled the holidays of his childhood, when the focus was on quality time spent with family and friends, and gifts were either made by hand or completely intangible.
"Quite often the gifts were just spending time with each other. There was a whole different kind of ethic there to gift-giving," Lasn said.
"I would say the gift-giving in those days was way more profound and meaningful than the kind of gift-giving that happens right now, which seems to be all about people getting the most expensive gizmos that they can possibly wheedle out of their parents."
Lasn said he's hopeful that the young people who pitched tents in public parks in hopes of sparking grassroots change will bring similar enthusiasm to the fight against the consumerism of Christmas.
The effort, he added, is in no way meant to criticize the season's religious significance.
The fact that stores are located on private property and don't like people camping out on their doorsteps will likely force supporters to be creative in attracting attention to their cause, Lasn said.
"We're hoping that a lot of the occupiers ... will start engaging in credit card cut-ups and flash mobs and various pranks and shenanigans in malls."
Needless to say, retailers aren't warm to the idea of organized chaos.
Sally Ritchie, vice-president of communications for the Retail Council of Canada, denounced "Occupy Christmas" as an outrage that would threaten the livelihood of workaday Canadians.
People who make a living in retail depend on the revenue generated during the industry's peak period, Ritchie said. Disrupting it would be particularly mean-spirited in light of the precarious global economy, she added.
"It's a highly undemocratic sentiment, really," Ritchie said. "I just don't think that people are going to respond very positively to this campaign.
"We believe a lot of people are going to say, 'Hands off my Christmas."'
Lasn scoffed at the notion that its irresponsible for Adbusters to urge would-be shoppers to stay home.
"It's irresponsible for us to keep living our ... lifestyle and to propagate the system that could lead to some sort of climate-change catastrophe," he said.
"I think the people who want to continue business as usual, making as much money this year as they made last year, I think they need to go deeper and look at the larger perspective."
At Toronto's downtown Eaton Centre, there wasn't much "Occupation" apparent on Friday, but schoolteacher Vanessa Delzingaro had her social-issues class handing out "buy nothing" stickers to raise awareness about rampant consumerism.
"Black Friday as a concept coming to Canada -- I find it completely disgusting because it just means U.S. consumer values are now really affecting us," Delzingaro said.
"They've always been affecting us, but it's just that now we are celebrating it in the same ways that the United States is."
Renan Lima, one of Delzingaro's students, said he planned to buy as little as possible.
"I don't like this day," Lima said. "Everyone is addicted to shopping; they seek happiness through shopping."
"Occupy Christmas" has generated comparatively little buzz so far, with just 2,100 people joining its official Facebook page. But Lasn said he believes those who supported the original "Occupy" protest will recognize it as a natural next step in their fight for change and won't hesitate to take action.
"If there's one thing that this 'Occupy' movement has done, it's given young people around the world who are fighting for a different kind of future ... permission to get angry," he said.
"It's given them permission to stand up and fight back against things they don't like."