If you believe the organizers behind the misguided effort called Occupy Black Friday, Americans go on an orgy of consumer spending because it’s the “one day where the mega-corporations blatantly dictate our actions.” So they’re organizing a boycott of stores to “hit the corporations that corrupt and control American politics where it hurts, their profits.”
The boycott includes giants such as Walmart, Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as lesser-known chains such as Dollar Tree. (Does anyone really go to Black Friday sales at Dollar Tree?) Since this group is convinced that people are doing what “corporations” are dictating, I went over to the Target near my house Thursday evening to talk to people standing in line waiting for sales to start at 10 p.m. I’m happy to report that I couldn’t find an oppressed person in the bunch.
Rebecca was in line with her 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer. I explained to them that some activists on Facebook say that Target and other corporations are dictating their actions, and Rebecca laughed.
“The only way someone ‘dictates’ my actions is if they have something I want to buy at a price I want to pay,” Rebecca said. “I’m out here tonight because I can save some money on things I want to buy anyway. This is going to be a major portion of what I’m going to spend for Christmas presents, and I’m saving money to do it this way. It’s pretty arrogant for some ignorant yahoos to claim I’m only here because someone forced me to. I’m here because it’s in my best interests — to get what I want.”
I told Rebecca that the online group claims that everyone should be shopping at local, independent retailers instead of bigger stores.
“I don’t care who owns a store,” she said. “I want what I want at the best price. If Target has it, that’s fine. If one of the little shops down the street has it, that’s fine, too. I don’t have a political agenda. I just want to deal with whoever can give me what I want without breaking me.”
Not everyone I talked with was as articulate and outspoken as Rebecca, but nobody felt that any company was dictating what he or she had to buy.
“That’s silly,” said Ronald, a 62-year-old who had accompanied his wife just so she wouldn’t wait in the cold alone. “Some people think we just go buying everything they show on TV, but that’s not the case. It it was true, I guess all the ads on TV would work — and they’re all the time advertising stuff that dies because nobody buys it. We buy what we want and don’t buy what we don’t like. We vote with our dollars.”
When I was outside the store around 6:30 Thursday evening, I counted 54 people in line. The group was an interesting demographic mix. In addition to the other suburban white folks who live nearby, there were quite a few — nearly half – who were blacks who had come from more urban, lower-income parts of Birmingham. Arionna had some definite feelings about the idea of avoiding big stores and shopping at small local merchants instead.
“Do they know how much things cost at those little stores in my neighborhood?” Arionna asked. “I can’t get the kind of stuff there that I want and the prices for what they have are two or three times as much. And they people are rude to you and the place is dirty. Now why would I want to give those people my money when I can come to a clean store and pay half the price? I got four girls and I can’t afford to feed them and put clothes on them if I don’t save every dollar I can. I’m going to buy where my money gets the most and I don’t care who owns it.”
I couldn’t find anybody who felt as though the “big corporations” were dictating anything to them, but maybe they’ve all been brainwashed by seeing too many television commercials and don’t realize they’re marching lockstep as they’re told.
One of the best points I heard tonight was from the older guy who pointed out that big companies frequently introduce products that fail. How do the Occupy Black Friday people explain that? How do they explain the fact that many companies go bankrupt when they don’t offer people what they want at competitive prices? Why do Occupy Black Friday organizers believe people should make the choices they dictate — instead of the choices that make the most sense to the individuals?
The Occupy Black Friday people sound like socialists to me. If you read their Facebook page, their language sounds really compatible with what you’d find in run-of-the-mall socialist literature. Of the three people they mention in their “likes” on Facebook, two are outright socialists and the third may as well be: Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore.
The kind of people behind Occupy Black Friday are the ones who want to dictate to people. Companies such as Target and Walmart don’t have any power to dictate anything to you. They’ll beg you to come shop with them. They’ll try to tailor their offerings to be what you want. But they’re not going to give you sanctimonious lectures if you don’t make the choices they want you to make.
I won’t be shopping anywhere Friday — whether it’s with big companies or small, local shops. Frankly, I think people would all be better off if they spent less of their money on consumer goods and saved more of it instead (preferably in hard assets). I live pretty simply and don’t really understand most of the consumer shopping that most people do.
But that’s just me. I do what I want with my money. You do what you want with your money. That’s the way it should be — regardless of what either governments or socialist protesters want.