Why you should care
If you’re wondering whether the holidays are about anything other than mindless consumption, we’ve got a movement for you.
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Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, has long been the prelude to the most American of pastimes: buying stuff. Retailers would like you to consider Black Friday and its recently begotten cousin, Cyber Monday, the “kickoff to the holiday shopping season.” Sounds festive. In reality, it’s pretty creepy, the discounts are often deceptive, and should we ever be in the unfortunate position of visiting Walmart the day after Thanksgiving, we’d invest in body armor first.
The movement does not say “Thou shalt not buy.”
A countermovement is incipient. Unlike Buy Nothing Day, this smattering of campaigns is not anti-consumption. They do not say “Thou shalt not buy.” Instead, they encourage you to give to charity, shop at local retailers or consume with a conscience. In other words, spend all you want, but maybe try to make the world a little better while you’re at it.
The most prominent is Giving Tuesday, which began in 2012 with a simple idea: “Why not create a day around giving?” says Anastasia Dellaccio, of the UN Foundation, which created the concept with the 92nd Street Y. “Giving” means donating to charity, volunteering or raising funds for people in need. “Tuesday” means December 3, this year. Giving Tuesday seems to have legs. Last year, about 2,500 partners, including corporations, nonprofits and small businesses, took part. This year, some 7,000 have already signed on. With props from the White House, a national holiday may not be out of the question.
Instead, they encourage you to spend all you want, but maybe try to make the world a little better while you’re at it.
Part of Giving Tuesday’s MO is to create awareness around giving, and so it encourages givers to broadcast their donations on social media. (See #givingtuesday.) While Oxford Dictionaries has proclaimed “selfie” the word of the year, Giving Tuesday is popularizing the “unselfie.” That’s a self-portrait in which one’s face is hidden by a sheet of paper labeled with a charity or cause (see the gallery above).
There are other such campaigns. Fair Tuesday promotes the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a day for ethical and sustainable consumption — which means, generally, ensuring that the people who make what you buy are paid fairly for their labor. The site has about 150 retailers on it, including Global Goods Partners (which helped create the campaign) and Ten Thousand Villages. Like Giving Tuesday, Fair Tuesday started in 2012 as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, says co-founder Jennifer Gootman. The idea was to “create a movement around things that are produced differently, and encourage a different kind of consumption.” It’s gotten support from Fair Trade campaigns and from TV personality (and, now, ethical consumption entrepreneur) Lauren Conrad.
Even Kevin Bacon has gotten into the ethical consumption game. He’s thrown his nonprofit, Six Degrees (!), behind an inititiave called Shift Your Shopping for Good. Shift consists of independent retailers who will donate a portion of purchases to consumers’ choice of charities. It’s kind of a twofer: You support local businesses instead of megabox stores, and the businesses donate some of their profits to a charity you choose.
Could these campaigns change how we think about the holidays and consumption? Perhaps. Last year’s Giving Tuesday resulted in a 53% spike in online donations to clients of Blackbaud, which provides software and services to thousands of nonprofits. (Year-over-year holiday giving rose less sharply, but still significantly, at six percent.)
A bigger question is about charity: which ones work, in what circumstances, and whether it’s generally effective. Because Giving Tuesday aims at inclusiveness, it doesn’t screen its charitable partners. That means you should still do the work of figuring out who’s really going to put your money to good use. And that’s not always easy. Charities and nonprofits are fertile ground for scams, and even those that abide by regulations might not be doing as much good as you’d like to think.
And yet, for all that, we’ll take an unselfie over a selfie any day of the week.