On 'Not One Damn Dime Day'There's a protest movement out there called 'Not One Damn Dime Day' (website). Esssentially, it calls for people to not spend a single dime tomorrow, Inauguration Day, in order to protest all the things liberals and progressives want to complain about... mostly the Bush administration as you might expect. The ostensible point is that by boycotting the entire economy, it will send a message to everyone about how powerful consumers could be when they act collectively.
I've seen variations of this protest before, particularly as related to gasoline. Now, you will find few people who object as strongly as I do to this country's overdependence on cars and pampering of motorists to the exclusion of other forms of transportation. And I'm clearly no fan of the Bush administration either. But I've always thought these one-off protests were more self-indulgent than substantive.
Essentially, it's a way to make you think you're doing something substantive when you're really not. I often think if it's not worse than doing nothing at all because at least then, you're under no illusions. It's protest chic, the fast food version of activism, rather than anything with any hope of being transformational. But people like it because it's quick and easy with little of the committment necessary to effectuate actual change.
When the local Greens organization was meeting regularly, they decided to do something called Whirl Mart. It's described as performance art. Its website explains: It is a ritual during which a group gathers and silently pushes empty carts through the aisles of a superstore. Whirl-Mart utilizes tactics of occupation and reclamation of private consumer-dominated space for the purpose of creating a symbolic spectacle.
The point, I was told, was to get people thinking about the culture of consumerism. The spectacle, by itself, didn't catch my fancy, but thought it might be useful if we could add on to it. I proposed developing a list of products sold at the Big Box along with locally-owned businesses who sold comparable products. I figured that way, once we got people thinking, they would have concrete suggestions on how to act differently.
I proposed this because it's my longstanding belief that you can't simply tell people to say No. You have to give them something to say Yes to. This is why the ABB argument failed in November; Democrats said, "Bush is evil, vote for us" instead of "Bush is evil, vote for these IDEAS." This is also a reason why a group like the Greens have so much trouble getting people to pay attention to them. Part of it is, of course, because the corporate media doesn't pay attention to alternative ideas on any side of the political spectrum. But part of it is also because Greens are so focused on telling you how bad the two-party duopoly is, they forget to tell you what they themselves stand for. When they do tell what they believe in, it's often phrased in the negative. We oppose this, we object to that.
Not only did no one agree to help me with my proposal to provide people with alternatives (which wasn't a surprise), but no one even seemed to think it was a good idea for me to pursue. "I don't care. Do it if you want," one told me.
I didn't do it because there was so little enthusiasm from everyone else and it was their pet project. And I also didn't go to the spectacle, done at the local Super K-Mart. It just seemed like a waste of time to me. Even if they were successful at getting people to think about it, what inevitably happened was people would say, "Yeah, this sucks, but there's nothing I can do about it." So lack of alternatives presented meant the desired change in comportment did not occur. I spent the afternoon at the basketball courts, where I was under no delusion of transforming society.
The 'Not One Damn Dime' Day is the same thing. Instead of buying gas on the 20th of January, people will buy them on the 19th or 21st. Unless people fast on the 20th, they will eat food they've purchased from the consumer economy at an earlier point. Businesses won't notice any overall difference on their weekly balance sheet. Money will be shifted around, like a shell game.
I don't like disparaging people who are trying to do something, no matter how small. But this protest doesn't send a message. And if it doesn't send a message, what's the point? Is it doing something for society or is it the illusion of doing something? Wouldn't the effort, energy and promotional skills be better focused somewhere else?
And this article at the left-wing site AlterNet asks: Not One Damn Dime Day has good intentions -- it's meant to send an anti-war message. But can local businesses survive this kind of solidarity?
In addition to doing nothing positive, protests such as this harm the working class. If you don't go out to eat tommorrow, the president won't be even notice, but the cook and wait staff on sub-minimum wage might be. Way to stick up for the little guy!
Skip the 'damn' boycott, go to a diner and leave a big tip.