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Like many families in America, last Thursday we gathered together to celebrate Thanksgiving. For me, it is time spent enjoying the company of my family, and a time to be thankful for what I already have. We thankfully have a congenial family, mostly free of conflict, always happy to come together for family events. And we have stuff, the stuff we need, and stuff we don’t need, but enjoy. I feel lucky and satisfied.

This Thanksgiving was cut short because two of my nephews working in retail had to leave early so that they could prepare for Black Friday. Black Friday is a new American holiday created by retailers to boost Christmas sales.  Many people already considered the free day after Thanksgiving a good time to get an early start on gift shopping. The stores offer sale pricing to lure in more consumers and they do. As years passed, a fun family tradition for some has become a frenzied free for all of people consumed with consuming. The media dutifully reports receipt totals as a barometer of the country’s economic health, if only they reported the true measure of a healthy economy - our wages, retirement savings or income inequality.

Did these consumers really get a good deal?
This year’s Black Friday continues with the recent trend of consumers increasing the extremes to which they will go for a deal on waffle irons and big screen TVs. Some are willing to camp out days ahead of Black Friday while others left Thanksgiving dinner before dessert was served to shop at big box retailers who decided to start Black Friday on Thursday night. The stories of workers and customers being trampled; consumers beating each other, pepper spraying each other and even tasing each other are too numerous to list. But really this is just a cruel hoax; a careful analysis shows that the retailers have actually been raising their prices in the months ahead of Black Friday only to drop them down to previous levels for their big sales.

Over 500 protesters at Wal-Mart. San Leandro, CA
Our new family tradition is to stand in solidarity with retail workers. Like many industries, retail wages have been pushed down while profits increase. The spoils of increased productivity have not been shared with the employees. The big box retailers have successfully diminished the amount of family run businesses and small chain stores with whom they compete for consumers and employees. As consumers were inside Wal-Marts this year fighting over waffle irons, Wal-Mart workers were outside rallying for fulltime jobs paying $25,000 a year. With 2012 U.S. profits of 15,700 ($ millions), and another 35,000 ($ millions) in international profits, Wal-Mart has all the money it needs to lobby and even bribe governments for more favorable trade and tax policies while they fire employees who might be working to unionize workers.

5 workers were arrested for failure to disperse
As I stood with the workers and looked out over a parking lot bustling with people, shopping carts full, I couldn’t help but wonder how we, as consumers could make better choices. I understand how good it feels to give to yourself and others, instant and easy gratification, but we must consider those on the other side of this transaction. Are we supporting a corporation guilty of exploiting its workers or the environment? Did this retailer use its size and wealth to force out mom and pop competition? Do we even need this stuff or are we just buying because it feels good? When buying something, we should look at the real value and not just the cost. Is this a need or a want? How much enjoyment will I get in relation to the cost in resources: energy to manufacture and transport, its effect upon the community and workers. If we find stores stocked full of plastic junk, who is to blame? Do the stores only stock what we are willing to buy, or do we only buy what the stores are willing to stock?

Dancing in the streets ...more fun than shopping?
My family lives pretty simply, living within our means, which are not so great anyway. We gave our little one two gifts for Hanukkah; a new camera because she had taken good care of her old camera that was actually a beat up hand-me-down and a week at horse riding camp. Choosing to buy the camera at Costco instead of Wal-Mart or Target was an easy choice with Costco’s record of paying their employees better. She should get years of use from her camera with a good enjoyment to resources ratio. The horse riding camp is at a local family-owned ranch and will be an experience she will remember for the rest of her life. My beautiful wife received an equally beautiful pair of hand-made earrings bought through the kos katalogue from kossack and friend edrie. But none of the gifts can beat mine when it comes to the enjoyment to resources ratio, two pieces of construction paper with a hand drawn star of David on one and the loving words of my little one on the other. I will cherish and keep it always with the added bonus of being able to pull it out when my little one becomes a teenager, to remind her that once she thought I was the smartest, kindest and funniest person in the world.

Bonus Links:


Rev. Billy at Occupy Oakland
Rev. Billy part performance artist, part activist and maybe religious figure has been preaching against excessive consumerism for years. His humorous approach to pointing out the absurdity of our consumer driven culture brings a smile to your face while shining a light on serious issues. His targets have included retailers, banks and Wall Street. JP Morgan Chase was not excited to be his recent target for their poor environmental record and had him arrested. Now the New York prosecutors want to send him to jail for a year. Please consider giving to his defense fund, his voice should not be silenced.

Related Diaries:

How I Learned to Stop Wasting and Love the Trash ~ citisven

Commandment #7 - A Closer Look ~ John Crapper

Coming Next Week:

On Tuesday special guest host liberated spaces will discuss organizing gift cards and their little friends.

Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate.

Readers may notice that most who post diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but newcomers should not feel excluded. We welcome guests at our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well.

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