Christmas, Consumerism And Consequences
This time of year is always a bit crazy and this year is no different. I haven’t had much of a chance to blog lately since I’ve been caught up in the Christmas rush. Both my husband and I come from families that love to celebrate Christmas and that love to give and receive presents and even though every year we swear we are going to downsize our next Christmas, it never seems to work out that way. So the last several weeks have been taken up with shopping, creating, wrapping and shipping gifts all across the country. We’re now done with that part, but since we have kids, there’s plenty left to do.
I try to live my life in a way that reflects my view of the world. I drive a biodiesel fueled VW bug that gets about 50 miles to the gallon, I give money to leftist organizations and local charities, I contribute time to causes that are important to me and I try not to consume too much in this consumer driven economy. That last one is the most difficult by far.
This year, we convinced our kids to give up their Christmas presents from us, and instead, use the money to buy gifts for children at their school that don’t have all that they need, let alone what they want. It wasn’t as hard a sell as I thought it was going to be and I was thrilled at the prospect of less shopping and less crap cluttering up my children’s rooms. But Santa Claus still comes to our house so I wasn’t let off the hook completely.
This past week has been crazy in Seattle. We had a major windstorm blow through and it caused damage and power outages all throughout the area. Living in a high-density area (not to mention an affluent zip code, which I hope doesn’t matter but I suspect it does), we were lucky to only be without power for a few hours, but the surrounding areas weren’t so lucky and many (200,000 at last count) are still without power and it’s damn cold here at night. I can’t help but think that the severe weather we’ve experienced this year in Seattle is related to global warming and I keep thinking about what Al Gore described as “the age of consequences” in his film An Inconvenient Truth. If fall is the new winter, I’m a little afraid of what tomorrow, the first day of winter, will bring.
Anyway, back to the Christmas stuff. I was running around, trying to finish up the Christmas shopping, which was a challenge with so many stores without power, and the one thing my kids wanted from Santa was the one thing the stores were out of. I called Man of American Dissent and had him check out what stores were open and what stores had the item in question and had him check the traffic situation as well. Having spent two hours stuck in traffic the night before in what should have been a ten-minute drive, I wasn’t eager to experience that again. When he called me back, the news wasn’t good. Wal-Mart had the item, in exactly the configuration we wanted, for $100 less than anyone else and it was a straight shot, no traffic. I could have killed him for even looking at Wal-Mart as an option.
So I got in my bio-bug, and headed for the freeway. Traffic was at a standstill heading South, but I was heading North to the suburbs on my way to Wal-Mart. As I sat at the light waiting to get on the onramp, I thought about my kids and all that they have. I thought about them giving up their presents and what that meant to them and I thought about diminishing that by rewarding them with stuff purchased from a store that makes their money by crushing small businesses and denying their employees health benefits. And as the light turned green, I envisioned my bio-bug with its “dubya, dubya, dubya dot liar dot con” and “Bio-diesel: No War Required” bumper stickers sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot as I shopped for items my kids don’t need, and I just couldn’t do it. I turned left instead of right, waiting in the traffic with everyone else and slowly made my way to one last store in hopes of finding the one thing my kids wanted at a price that wasn’t so high.
I heard Thom Hartman say once on his radio show that we can’t shame the consumer for playing by the rules. I agree. We have to change the rules instead. We can’t allow the largest employer in the country to skate by not paying their fair share and we can’t continue to be a consumer-based economy, producing nothing, shipping our best jobs overseas and not protecting our workers here at home. It is Congress that needs to act, in providing universal healthcare, in enacting fair trade policy and in eliminating the corporate loopholes that allow corporations like Wal-Mart to thrive at the expense of the rest of us.
I decided a long time ago, never to shop at Wal-Mart again, but they make it so easy to say yes and so damn hard to say no. I almost shelved my principles for an evening because I was caught up in the Christmas consumption frenzy, the same frenzy I swear not to succumb to every year. I’m lucky though, choosing not to shop at Wal-Mart one night only cost me time and money that I could afford to give. If I’m a single mom, living paycheck-to-paycheck, trying to provide for my family on a shoestring budget with a 24 hour Wal-Mart right down the street, I don’t really have the luxury of shopping my principles.
As consumers, we can only do so much, but as citizens and voters we can hold our representatives accountable for what they do and what they don’t do. We can as individuals choose to consume less, but Congress needs to make sure that we, as a country, produce more. We must invest in this country, respect the American worker, enact fair tax policy and negotiate fair trade deals. Where we choose to spend our money matters, but it matters less than who we put in office and what they do once they get there. I won’t shop at Wal-Mart, but what I really want is for Congress to finally do their job and regulate how Wal-Mart does business. Only then will we see any real and lasting change.