Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and the discomfit of classism

For those of you who have managed to remain ignorant of the USian behemoth, last Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the Stolen States of Genocide. Which means yesterday was Black Friday — the day when all the retailers’ books go from red (in the hole) to black (making a profit). It was also, of course (because no mainstream tradition is without its counterculture movement) Buy Nothing Day. And today, for the first time ever, was Small Business Saturday, a day for supporting local/small business — sponsored, naturally, by a mega (multi?)national credit card company.

As a slightly agoraphobic crazy person with a major panic attack trigger of large numbers of people or many threads of sound, the thought of queueing up in hour-plus long lines with hundreds of other people under brain-fog inducing florescent lighting while the noise of a thousand bargain hunters and overstimulated infants pound out of beat with the uncounted battery-powered noise makers all competing to be this years Must Have Toy leaving my ear drums jittery and my brain beaten — is, no joke, one of my top three nightmares. I would be unable to function in any meaningful way.

So I stay home, and buy nothing.

Today, in the last hours before my parents started the drive back to their house 650 miles away, my mom and I went to a local yarn shop, one which, when I visited three years ago, had a cafe attached; we thought a little fiber love and caffeination would be a fair pleasant way to spend some mother-daughter bonding time. Turns out the cafe shut years ago, but they did have the perfect yarn for a present I was planning, a locally made silky soft machine washable kettle dyed wool, ideal for a winter project close to the skin for someone sensitive to cheap scratchy yarns.

So I supported a small business.

There is nothing wrong with either Buy Nothing Day nor Small Business Saturday1; indeed, both are in line with my values of environmentalism, simplicity, quality over quantity, and, to the extent that one can have and seek and spend money and be anti-capitalist, against the excessive accumulation of capital by a tiny, homogeneous, privileged minority of the population.

And yet.

Traveling in the circles I do — where Buy Nothing Day is more likely to be celebrated than Black Friday, where buying local or handmade is, if not the default, at least a well-represented position — I’ve seen and heard a lot of ardent advocacy and pointed humor in favor of buying nothing/local/quality and against buying lots/china-made/quantity. And without exception each has left my brows creased and my lips pursed, thinking anything between “That’s fine, but…” and “Dear Gods don’t let me be associated with this.”

Everything I’ve seen — every post spreading the gospel of small business support, every I-would-never comment on overnight queues, every joke about Zombies of Walmart and duels over the last flat screen TV — grew from the fetid soil of classism.

Because Buy Nothing Day is great — if you can afford to pay full/er price on your holiday presents (or clothes or kitchen tools or household goods). Buying local is wonderful — if you can pay $13.95 for a small skein of wool instead of $1.95 for super bulk acrylic.

But y’know, not everyone can. And I have no patience (but plenty of pointed words) for anyone who says that if you can’t afford handmade from Etsy then you don’t deserve anything under your tree, or that if you’re struggling to make rent or don’t have savings you’ve not the right to “extras” like Christmas presents or DVDs or cell phones with cameras. We all of us — unless you are reading this at a public access point on a mandatory fifteen minute break from your 100 hour a week unpaid job of serving the disadvantaged — make “selfish” decisions sometimes. We indulge. We allow ourselves luxuries — yes, sometimes when we don’t have the basics, because it helps us feel a little more human in a world that would deny us our humanity. This isn’t a trait of those poor people over there, it’s something we all of us do; it is only kyriarchy and classism that somehow makes it ok when it is our own indulgences (or those of persons of a similar class), yet calls it “imprudent” and a sign of “stupidity” when they do it. We cluck our tongues at those who fail to buy handmade, while clutching our Kindles and fretting about our retirement and ignoring our hypocrisy.

There are a lot of critiques to be made of USian consumerism. Our “need” for stuff, our unwillingness to repair when we can replace (for how long?), our economy that rewards those who can create the most profit regardless of human benefit (or harm) — there’s enough there to fuel thousands of blog posts, millions of snide remarks, even, if we will ever get off our asses to do it, a revolution or five. Do not mistake me for supporting a system that doesn’t care what brown people overseas are starved or raped or enslaved or murdered so we can live in luxury, for I do not2 — but the solution isn’t as simple as cajoling people to “shop smart”, because so many do not have the option to buy the “better” product. Or they could buy it and eat exclusively beans and rice. Or they could do without and feel that much more defeated by life.

Or, they could wait in line in the cold overnight for a chance to have some part of the life that those of us smugly sitting at home mocking their “greed” take for granted.

***

What I want you — if you have made those comments or read them and not seen any problems or thought them quietly to yourself — to take away from this isn’t an urging for self-castigation (my brain certainly doesn’t need any assistance in that area), nor a blanket don’t-critique of USian-style consumerism. I certainly don’t want anyone stop advocating for alternatives to mainstream disposable-junk holiday traditions.

But I want you to look and to really see the people in the lines you’re tempted to mock. I want you to realize they might have many more reasons to be there that do not fall neatly into your (spoken or not) theory of “stupid sheeple under the control of Big Money”. I want you to recognize that you do not know what brought them there (and neither do I), and it might be simple joyful bargain hunting

and it might be unacknowledged need

and it might be desire for the life you lead

and it might be they’ve always wanted a gaming console and finally one is in reach

and it might be their kid’s convinced them Christmas will be ruined if they don’t have a particular plastic toy

and it might be they’re trying to fill the void left when kyriarchy sucked their soul

and it might be they can’t drive in to the city or out to the ‘burbs to shop at the independent stores

and it might be they never liked those snobby places anyway

and it might be it’s where everyone they know goes

and it might be a family tradition

and it might be they’re too damned tired to figure out what the “right” place to shop is

and it might be because stretching the family budget gives them more for education or babysitters or retirement or savings or hair styling or whatever else they have decided is important to them and they don’t particularly care whether you or I approve of their values or their reasons or their purchasing habits today or tomorrow or any other day of the year.

It might be that they are people just like you.

  1. Ok, something is wrong with a day supposedly in support of local economy that is in fact adding to the coffers of a megacorp.
  2. And yet, because I do live in the USA, and have consumer debt, and shop sometimes at big box stores, and do not grow all my own food and wear only second hand clothes, in many tangible ways I do financially support slavery and murder and rape and starvation. Short of joining a self-sustained commune or hanging myself from a hand made hemp rope out in the forest, I don’t know how to avoid it entirely; such is the system as it is.
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37 Responses to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and the discomfit of classism

  1. I loved this post. Thank you so much for writing this. I have had this debate with friends for years, and I believe I have been trying to say exactly what you wrote here. We’ve been updating one appliance a year on Black Friday and will continue to do that because we stick to our family budget. We’ve saved our family thousands of dollars on purchases we were going to make anyway.

  2. Thank you for this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately that the fact that I *can* say “we don’t really need anything this weekend” is a factor of class – obviously, having money to spend on things that aren’t necessities, and deciding not to, means you have money to begin with.

    Though…having watched ads closely this last few weeks, it seems to me that about half of the “sales” over the weekend weren’t – some were standard prices advertised large, while others were things that prices went up on last month, and the “discount” this weekend still left them at a price above what they were before. Again, though, I wonder how much of having even a little time to price shop (and an internet to help with that) means more about class than the actual act of shopping….

  3. No matter what, people are so judged by their consumer choices that it’s a can’t win situation. We, as a family, sort of practice Buy Nothing Day on a daily basis. Some of this lifestyle is ethics based but mostly…it’s because we’re so damn poor we’re just plain po’ and can’t even afford the ‘or on the end. Even in those same circle you travel (as do we), we get criticized.Yeah, I’m not supporting local businesses (although I totally count the thrift shops as businesses and people selling things on craigslist or having yard sales are in fact part of the economy). Everything we own is second hand, free or handmade.I do lots of swaps & barters online.We make a lot ourselves.It’s what we have to do.
    So, I totally don’t condemn people for their Black Friday vices. Everyone is just doing what they need to do for their own family. Honestly, if I had a wad of cash, there’s some awesome deals I could take advantage of this weekend. More likely Cyber Monday sales,though…since I HATE crowds and all that chaos on Black Friday.

  4. Thank you for this! Lately I’ve been pretty frustrated by the “granola-ier-than-thou” mentality of some people around me who seem to be saying EVERYONE who doesn’t do exactly what they do with regard to social-justice and/or environmentally friendly behaviours are “idiots/selfish assholes/the-devil-incarnate”.

    I was raised to understand that people do what they do for a reason and that we really can’t pass judgement on their actions without acknowledging that we don’t know the whole picture. Yes, we all do things that have a negative impact on the world in ways we can’t even really imagine but I’m sick to death of listening to people denigrate others (especially those with potentially drastically different life experiences in areas of oppression and power) because their behaviours don’t measure up against some unwritten rule of human responsibility or conscience.

    I like to quote Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch at them when I can and point out that, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

    I like the embodiment of that idea, that it’s not just standing in your point of view and thinking about what that person might be thinking – you have to go outside of yourself, really try to be in their position and move around in their experience of the world, not just how you would experience it if you were in their position… If that makes any sense at all. To me the difference is between taking all your baggage and own understanding and trying to see from their position without leaving your own, versus letting go of yourself and doing your best to understand the world as they see and experience it with their own baggage and understanding.

    • yes, exactly!

      Also, it’s so easy to look down your nose and sneer but how about a little compassion for others, just because?

      Love this post, LOVE! And all the comments so far :-)

  5. The same sort of commentary (with the same sort of class weighting) comes out here in Australia with regards to our Boxing Day sales. December 26 is our traditional fire-sale-pricing day with all the major stores and people queue overnight, buy lots of stuff, and come in their thousands to pick up goods that are discounted once Christmas has passed. Every year there are human-interest stories, a catastrophe or two (someone getting a broken ankle from being pushed aside in the rush etc), and a minimum of two tut-tutting opinion pieces in the broadsheets about the crassness of the consumerism, the moral bankruptcy of those doing to buying, etc etc etc.

    It has always pissed me off but I’ve never been able to quite articulate why, but what you said, THAT’S why. We ourselves don’t shop on Boxing Day, because I am mildly claustrophic and the idea of being squished in tight holds no appeal, and hubs is whatever-the-word-is-for-crowd-phobic, so for us it would be torture. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see the classism inherent in the standard critiques of Boxing Day, and am not bothered by them. It’s very easy for people who can afford not to queue for a super-bargain to sneer at those for whom this might be their only chance to acquire the item in question. And as you say, motivations for consuming are many and varied, and not always apparent from the outside.

    I hope it would be possible to mount a general critique of Western consumption, acknowledging one’s complicity in it (as you do, and I also – yes, we all contribute to some extent to the oppression of people in producer countries, simply by existing in the world as it is currently structured), without resorting to holier-than-thou criticism of particular kinds or modes of consumption and the “type” of people who engage in it. In theory, it should be possible. But in fact, yours is the first piece I’ve ever read that takes such a perspective. It’s much easier to just Other the people who participate in “vulgar” consumption.

  6. Oh hells to the yes. In the magical universe in which unicorns crap Skittles, I would buy all local and organic and fair-trade and all that theoretically-well-intentioned stuff, but in the real one, in which my family needs to eat, pay massive medical bills, and keep the lights on, I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay within budget. And I thoroughly resent the (sub)cultural implication that if you fail to pass that ecological and sociological litmus test, you’re deliberately being foolish and/or lazy and letting down the team. (That being said, I don’t care for the Black Friday materialism rush either, thanks to my own agoraphobia and, well, broke-arse-ness; it’s hard to get excited about deals that you can’t afford.)

  7. I’m quibbling today- your overall point is right, although handmade from etsy is often as cheap as anything you find in the mall, and you don’t have to worry about an elbow in your ear.

    Of course, many handmade things are made from the machinery of big capitalism. I know that I don’t mine my gemstones myself! I buy them from suppliers, and some of the other folks buy them from big boxes such as Michaels(I do only occasionally- due to I don’t like stores) and so some of the money does go to Big Corp.

    BTW: I think that my ability to be like “Oh, I shop at the Goodwill all the time” is a class privilege in itself, since I was never shamed for being broke and wearing used clothing, it is just a ‘fun’ thing for me.

  8. It actually was that I never could afford a gaming console before! But not being a fan of crowds, I purchased mine online.

    Being a thrifty person (I don’t even own a cell phone – not something I recommend to anyone), it was the most terrifying purchase I’ve made in years. “Do I deserve to buy this for myself? Shouldn’t I be putting this into savings or buying gifts for friends? Do I really deserve this? It includes free games and a $50 gift certificate, so doesn’t that make it better? But isn’t that how they suck me in? Do I REALLY deserve this?”

    When I applied a little compassion to myself, I realized I am guilty of not showing the same compassion to others for their Black Friday shopping habits. :(

  9. Pingback: Soapbox Sunday: Thanksgiving Edition « Navelgazing

  10. Wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you.

  11. Thank you! You’re so right, on so many levels. Making all the “best” possible choices is actually a luxury for people with the time and the money to do so all the time. Sometimes I feel crushed by the information I learn about various products and the impacts they each have on the environment, people’s lives and health of the workers and consumers, and it’s often so contradictory, too, that making what SEEMS LIKE a simple choice of getting a drink in a can, a plastic bottle or one of those tetra pack thingies becomes a full time job. I’d love to support more local businesses, too, but their hours are so much shorter (I can go to the Walmart or many grocery stores 24 hours a day!) and their prices are so much higher. Even so, I know that I’m very privileged to be able to “choose better” as often as I do because I’m fairly solidly in the middle class and I have access to more resources than the average person.

  12. I completely agree with the sentiment of what you have posted here Arwyn. I am privileged to be able to choose when and where to shop, if not every day, then at least most of the time.

    But I think there is more to the messages some people are spreading than simply looking down their noses at others. I’m not sure how to best express it, so perhaps I’ll tell you a story instead.

    I grew up as the daughter of a small business owner. I was one of four children. We were privileged when compared with the broader world, but were less privileged than most of our classmates at school. They wore designer clothes, we didn’t. They took airplanes for their vacations, we didn’t. They got the “toy of the year” for Christmas, we sometimes did but frequently didn’t. We had food on our table and were thankful for that.

    But, there were many times when I was growing up that I feared that a few months later we wouldn’t have food on our tables anymore. We wouldn’t have food on our tables because the people wearing Ralph Lauren and driving BMW’s decided to drive 20km out of our small town to go to the new big box store instead of shopping at my father’s store. We wouldn’t have food on our tables because the big supplier gave a better price to the big box store than they did to my father and therefore he couldn’t offer Mr. BMW Ralph Lauren a better price. I heard him in his meetings with the accountant as I played in the next room. I heard his late night conversations with my mother when they thought I was asleep. I know that there were times when things were really tough and my father paid his employees, but didn’t pay himself.

    So when I do make comments in support of small business, I’m not making those comments to the people who cannot afford to shop at my father’s store (and believe me, he really, really wishes he could give them the same price the big box store does and he spends hours fighting on the phone with the suppliers to try to do so). I’m making those comments to Mr. and Mrs. BMW Ralph Lauren who decide that saving a few dollars is worth more than supporting a local business, family and community.

    • Annie — I definitely don’t think a pro-small-business stance is inherently wrong or classist, only that none of the advocacy for supporting local/small that I’ve seen this shopping season has acknowledged that it’s not a choice everyone can afford to make. When we make comments aimed at Mr BMW, we need to make it clear that’s who we’re talking to, and that we’re having a privileged conversation. And I don’t see that a lot — I see the moralizing (whose basic sentiment I agree with) without the qualifications, which really does adversely impact Ms Public Transit.

      So please — continue to comment and advocate in support of small businesses. I don’t object to that at all. What I want is to see us all do it in a way that acknowledges the diversity of those reading or listening to our words.

  13. This goes hand in hand, I think, with people who preach that nobody should ever buy a $10 sweater from target, old navy, etc. Instead, they should buy $100+ dollar sweaters (or go to a thrift store!!!!) and not buy disposable clothing, which totally overlooks the fact that for a lot of people $10 “disposable” clothing winds up doing multi year non-disposable permanent duty, and a lot of people are unable to shop at thrift stores due to lack of thrift stores, disability, lack of time, size issues, etc. But if you buy cheap clothing, you are KILLING THE EARTH. YOU ARE. YES YOU. IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU SLAVER YOU.

  14. We don’t have Black Friday in Canada, since Thanksgiving happens in October here, on a Monday. The only day off we have during November is for Remembrance Day, and that’s not dedicated to shopping in any way. Our big ‘sale holiday’ is Boxing Day, but now people have ‘Boxing Week’ or ‘Boxing Month’ sales, and so even that is much less urgent than it used to be. Why line up early in the morning on December 26, when you can saunter in on December 29 and get the same price?

    But. But. Somehow, Black Friday sales are coming here all the same. I suppose it’s inevitable. I don’t relish the thought. I do view it as a symptom of consumerism. I see it as a way to encourage people to spend more money, rather than a way to make the holidays affordable. That may be in large part due to the difference in culture. Also, it’s not a holiday here, so the people best able to take part are those who can afford time off – typically more privileged themselves.

    I understand that my decisions to buy handmade, to shop at the farmer’s markets and to avoid big box stores comes from a place of privilege. Even my decision to buy second-hand does, to be honest. I think it’s fine to make those choices. I don’t think it’s fine to judge someone who makes different choices. And yet I do think it’s important that we understand the ramifications of our choices. That’s what concerns me about consumerism. If you’re making the best choices you can, that’s cool. But you need the information to make those choices, and I fear that we don’t do a good job of sharing that information in an accessible and non-judgmental way. I think that’s what you’re trying to do, and I’m glad of it.

  15. I didn’t shop on Black Friday for two reasons: I feel the same way about crowds, and I’m broke. I’d rather go without than buy things that no one NEEDS. In my house we need to pay our bills and eat. No one needs a new tv or shinier toys. On Saturday we bagged some toys & took them to Goodwill. That’s my giving right now, and all I can afford. We have so much stuff, where some have nothing. So I may not be buying presents for everyone, but I’m giving what I can to those in need.

  16. You cannot imagine how much I agree with every single word you’ve written here. As someone who grew up in more poverty than most people could ever care to imagine, and as a person who still struggles to make ends meet, I simply CANNOT “shop smart” all the time, or to me, “shopping smart” often means getting what I need or want to get in whatever way my family can afford. I had so many people tell me I was INSANE to go out for Black Friday sales, but the only other option was to buy almost nothing for my kids for Christmas, and I’m quite sure that mommy’s principles would be LOST on my 4 and 2 yr old. Pardon my broke ass if I want to have a couple of presents under the tree for my kids. I guess if I can’t buy all wood handmade items, then my kids don’t deserve any presents. *hmph*

    I felt the same exact way during the Halloween season when everyone on Twitter had the stick up their arse about buying ZOMG ONLY Fair-trade, organic, local, independently-made candy for trick r treaters. That’s wonderful if that’s what some people can afford, but when thinking of feeding a hundred little trick r treaters on a $20 budget, there is no way to buy organic/fair-trade/blahblahblah chocolate candy. I completely understand why some people grab a few bags of Twix at Walmart and call it a day.

    The privilege and classism of many who run in my “circle” really eats at me sometimes. You know why I feed my kids Mac N Cheese from a box for lunch? Because Kraft costs $0.27, while making it from scratch costs nearly $8 or $9. That’s just simple math right there.

  17. Hmm. It is late and I will try to be thoughtful since I am not exactly sure how to express myself. I have definitely been on a “think before you shop” and “support local/handmade” this year. As I am every year. I am also not a fan of Black Friday, for a number of reasons.

    But I don’t feel like I judge those that go out in the wee hours to try to get something for their families. What I hate is the system we have in our society that promotes and necessitates something like Black Friday. I feel that the mindless consumerism comes less from consumers and more from society, which I feel must be changed. I don’t know any real person that participates in mindless consumerism and yet it seems like it is everywhere. How is that possible? Is it maybe fictional? But why is there so much absurdity surrounding holiday shopping in particular? Why do we need so much all the time?

    I also supported Small Business Saturday in that I supported those that were shopping anyway to try to get at least one thing at a local small business. Going through a mega corporation provided benefits to those small businesses and to itself through card use, but the sentiment is valid.

    I know I come at this from privilege. I know what it is like to have less. I know that it will take everything to create change. Start small. When you can do more, do more. That is my responsibility. Judging others, absolutely not. Encouraging others? Absolutely. I still believe change can happen.

    Good grief, not sure if that makes any sense. But there it is.

  18. Emphasis is mine –

    “Everything I’ve seen — every post spreading the gospel of small business support, every I-would-never comment on overnight queues, every joke about Zombies of Walmart and duels over the last flat screen TV — grew from the fetid soil of classism.”

    I am a small business owner and I actively spread “the gospel of small business support”.

    Why?

    Because the folks who own and operate small businesses live where they work.

    Local business ownership means that important decisions about the local economy are being made by people who live in the community. This is why you see small business sticking it out in communities and neighborhoods ignored or abandoned by big business. There is no head office a thousand miles away saying “there isn’t enough money to be made there.”

    Small business owners reflect the community they are a part of.

    You see a lot more women and minorities owning and operating small businesses than you see sitting in corporate boardrooms. This country also has a strong history of business creation among immigrant populations, my own family history can attest to that.

    Small businesses keep their money in the community.

    Where does the money go? We pay our local staff. We pay rent to our landlord who lives in the community. We hire our accountant and other professional service providers who live in the community. Me buy local advertising. We support local schools, local community events, and other local non-profit efforts. Before we take a profit home for our family to spend in the community, we pay state and local taxes and fees that support local public services.

    At the end of the day, every dollar you spend at a local independent businesses grows by 300 percent in terms of economic benefit for your community (http://sustainableindustries.com/articles/2009/01/local-economy-healthy-economy)

    So that’s why I spread the gospel of small business support.

    I may well have grown from some fetid soil but it isn’t elitism or classism…

    I think it smells like populism.

    • Tony — all the reasons you cite are exactly why I do, as much as I am able, support small businesses. It’s why all of the Boychick’s dresses (including the dress half of his much-beloved Halloween costume this year) came from your re-sell racks, why my Portland baby shower was held in your public space, why I haven’t set foot in a Target more than twice in the last three years, why I ordered my menstrual sponges and wetbag through Zoom Baby. I am very much not attacking small/local businesses, nor saying that supporting them is classist; to the contrary, for all the reasons you cite, I think it is important to spend my money at local businesses whenever possible.

      But here’s the thing: I am able to frequent Milagros because I live quite close-in SW, and have appointments that put me across the street from you at least weekly, often with the Boychick in tow. And I have the money to be able to enter your store, knowing that if he takes a liking to something there, odds are good I’ll be able to afford it for him. When I went looking for a baby carrier last-minute when the dog ate our favorite mei tai, I was able to pay full retail price for one and replaced it that weekend from (I can no longer remember) either you or one of Portland east-side’s many babywearing-friendly boutiques.

      But a lot of my friends live in the way west suburbs. To get to Milagros would be a 45 minute drive, or more. Many of them rely on public transit, and it’s more like a two hour trip, one way. And there are no crunchy parenting stores on the west side, as well you know (and if you do know of any — and I don’t mean in Lake Oswego — let me know, because I have dozens of friends who would love to hear about it). So when they need BioKleen they don’t spend a four hour trip getting out to you to pay full price for a half gallon, they spend half an hour and get it at Fred Meyer, or New Seasons, or Target, and probably are able to stretch the budget that much further. When they need cloth diapers, they look at that drive, at the gas money and time it would cost them, and at the difference between retail and discount prices, and they buy online from someplace big enough to write off shipping prices (or they get it on Craigslist, or they do without). And I don’t blame them, one bit.

      Supporting small businesses is great, for all the reasons you mentioned. I will continue to buy my child’s toys from places whose owners I know and have met and who are as likely to comment on my blog as not, even though I could get them cheaper from elsewhere and pay off my debts faster, because those are my values and my priorities. The parts that are not great, that I object to here in this post, are assuming that everyone can, and saying that everyone should. Because it’s not that simple. Because sometimes paying full, fair price for clothes or diapers or toys means the difference between keeping the electricity on, and not. Because sometimes no one is hiring their small business, and the money isn’t there this month. Because sometimes there are no small businesses selling what one needs where one lives, and traveling to get to one that does is a luxury one can’t afford.

      It’s not small businesses I’m objecting to, at all; it’s not even small business advocacy per se (I want more people to know about the value of buying local!) — it’s the, yes, classist assumption that eschewing big box stores is within reach of everyone, and the unreasonable, unrealistic dictate that no one else is allowed to weigh cost and benefit and come to a different conclusion for their own families, in their own circumstances. Those are the parts that reek to me. If your advocacy doesn’t succumb to them, then I thank you and cheer you on. If it does, then here’s me asking you to do better.

      • Arwyn –

        Thank you for the the reply. I appreciate that your core issue is with folks being smug or snide about shopping local. However, do you really believe that there is anyone who advocates for shopping at small businesses who thinks folks should shop at a small business if doing so would result in the electricity being turned off? Or that they believe folks should have to spend half their day on a bus or in a car simply to shop at an independent business?

        The vast majority of small businesses are run by folks in the community with the same struggles and concerns as their neighbors. I truly doubt that any of these business owners or their advocates expect or are asking for these kinds of sacrifices. I know my family doesn’t expect that.

        The shop local cheerleading that I have seen, and that I embrace, focus on the community benefits of doing so. These messages aren’t smug or snide or cruel.

        I am sorry and still surprised that you haven’t encountered any post on small business advocacy that didn’t read as classist or elitist to you. That said, when I advocate for indie businesses, I don’t throw in the caveat that big box retailers are still an option. Why? Because any advocacy for shopping local is being made in the endless noise of advertising and media coverage of big retailers.

        How many hours of newscasts nationwide were devoted to the “news” story of shopping at large retailers on Black Friday? How many newspaper and new media articles?

        How many of those videos, stories, blog posts and what not also highlighted shopping local as an option? How many outlined the cost and benefits for families and communities?

        In that vein, how many challenged the assumption that big box = lowest cost? How many noted that once the dozen TVs that were door busters were gone, the folks who already invested hours in line end of buying things that aren’t such an incredible deal?

        Anyway, I welcome your review of my advocacy for shopping local. I would certainly hope it is something you feel that you can cheer on:

        http://www.launchpadradio.com/uncategorized/trade-in-fridays-frenzy-for-a-small-saturday/

        http://www.launchpadradio.com/blog/free-shipping-isnt-really-free/

        http://milagrosboutique.com/2009/11/12/want-to-help-your-community-shop-local/

        Here is the pledge to Buy Handmade from the Handmade Toy Alliance, which we support:

        http://milagrosboutique.com/2010/10/05/shop-for-a-better-economy-pledge-to-buy-handmade/

        All the best,

        - Tony

        • Tony,

          I’m not Arwyn but as you can infer from my reply to her (just below yours), the answer is yes, there ARE people like that. Not necessarily because they’re cruel but because they cannot step outside of their own privilege. There are people who drive their cars from all parts of Portland and So.WA to come to your store or other “crunchy” stores because it fits their upper middle class lifestyle of CHOICE. From participating at various advocacy events and socializing with such people, I came to the conclusion that they had no idea what life is like when you always live in fear of where your next meal will come from. Choice is assumed in such circles, and yes that is classist. It is assumed that you will drive to Milagros and then go out to lunch, or stop for coffee & a pastry before getting there. For those of us whose lifestyle is most often prescribed by economics and not choice, it can be frustrating to hit that wall of incomprehension (of our lifestyle) and the condescending implied “you would, if you really wanted to”.

          You ARE right in that the media often ignores small businesses. Media is corporate-owned and therefore Big Business. Why would they not exalt their Big Corporate advertisers? We really can’t expect better from them, tho that doesn’t mean we should stop demanding it. The solutions aren’t simple, but I go back to my plea for compassion for others. Yes, we need passionate advocacy, but we also need passionate compassion for those who, for whatever reason, cannot/do not choose the “ideal”.

        • Tony,

          However, do you really believe that there is anyone who advocates for shopping at small businesses who thinks folks should shop at a small business if doing so would result in the electricity being turned off? Or that they believe folks should have to spend half their day on a bus or in a car simply to shop at an independent business?

          No, I don’t. But I do think that very often advocacy is done that communicates that those things, realities for some people, aren’t at all a consideration of the advocates speaking or writing. When these sometimes-truths are simply ignored (willfully or no), I have my “That’s fine, but” reaction, and (when I have the time and ability) try to help the speaker understand why that ignore-ance is problematic; when they are actively belittled (which I see less often, thankfully), I feel ire and wish to distance myself (or, to be honest, to attack back in reply). But both are classist. Both are problematic. Neither are the sort of advocacy that can reach all people, and therefore be part of a true populist revolution.

          I’m not asking for anyone, much less a small business owner like yourself, to start saying that shopping local doesn’t matter, or to point out that there are always big box store alternatives. I am asking for compassion, for nuance, for smarter advocacy that can reach more people, spread the message wider, and be more successful. Treating everyone the same, and ignoring those who lack disposable income, is the strategy of inhuman megacorps. We can do better.

          I don’t have all the answers for how, but I know we can find them if we don’t reject the question before we start.

          • Arwyn,

            Like many small businesses, last year was a real challenge for us. But we didn’t lay anyone off and our staff members received the cost of living and merit raises they get every year. Jen and I (and our family) took the financial hit and I basically took on another job to get us through it. For us, business is personal, it is about relationships, there was no way we were going to take the hard times out on our loyal and supportive staff unless there was no other option.

            I think this ethic – that business IS personal – is true for many small business owners. Ultimately, I believe if you are going to find compassion anywhere in the marketplace, you are most likely to find it at the local, independently owned businesses in your community.

            I think that you probably agree with this assertion but for whatever reason we aren’t quite connecting on the nuances of the overall issue, so please consider this request:

            Since you haven’t been able to find any post on that promotes support small businesses that captures the message you want (I can only presume my own posts also fell short), please write one.

            This isn’t some empty challenge, it is a sincere and humble request.

            You are a prolific and eloquent writer. Put that talent to work and write what you feel would be the inclusive message that will move us to a true populist revolution in terms of the marketplace.

            Needless to say, I would love to read it and I would love to share it. And if you feel like you need the input of a small business owner as you create it, I would be more than happy to help.

            All the best,

            – Tony

          • Tony,

            Actually, what I said (or meant to say, and to the extent that it wasn’t adequately communicated, I apologize) was that in the days leading up to and surrounding this particular holiday/shopping day(s) weekend, everything I had seen –which consisted of a couple posts, several comments, and more crude Facebook statuses and memes than I care to remember — on the topic had some element of classism. I did not mean it as an indictment of all small business advocacy everywhere, nor even of all that I had ever read.

            And yes, I think we are much closer than our disagreement here would indicate. One of the first lessons I learned when I started reading social justice blogs was “if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you.” And I suspect this post wasn’t much about you, because I suspect you are not especially guilty of the sort of incompassionate classism I’m talking about here. It’s up to you to figure out whether and how much it is speaking to your own advocacy work, and what to do about it if it is.

            I haven’t had a chance to read your articles yet, as it’s the end of my school quarter and I have a final in less than two hours; I look forward to reading them when I have a few moments.

      • (I say all this as someone who has worked for two small businesses for the last three years, one of which went under when the US economy tanked)

        YES to every single word of this… having lived on the West side of the Portland area relying solely on public transit and with no reason other than pure advocacy to go to the East side, this was an issue for me all the time. I missed a lot of babywearing meetings at Milagros simply due to transportation & cost issues. And then I had to deal with the attitude of “you’re not doing your part for the cause”. Even the cost of a round trip to the store (whether in our rarely-used car or on public transit) came down to the equivalency of a day’s worth of food. When I insisted over and over and over that we needed to hold BWing meetings in different parts of town so that a greater diversity of the parenting population in the Portland Metro could/would attend, that we needed to have at least one weeknight meeting, etc. the response I got was that people who wanted to learn would come to Milagros on a Sunday morning. Nevermind the people who go to church, or the modified bus schedule on the weekends, etc.

        When I took public transit and didn’t have a cellphone, everyone acted like I was being holier-than-thou (and greatly inconveniencing them). Because that was easier than accepting the fact my ass was completely broke and I couldn’t *afford* the things that they took for granted as “essentials”. But it was not a lifestyle CHOICE our family had made!

        So yes… when we advocate, whether it be No-Nestlé, pro-breastfeeding, pro-BWing, pro-natural birth, pro-small family farms, and on and on let’s not lose sight of this statement: “it’s the, yes, classist assumption that eschewing [XYZ] is within reach of everyone, and the unreasonable, unrealistic dictate that no one else is allowed to weigh cost and benefit and come to a different conclusion for their own families, in their own circumstances. Those are the parts that reek to me. If your advocacy doesn’t succumb to them, then I thank you and cheer you on. If it does, then here’s me asking you to do better.”

        • Micaela,

          Just to clarify. We offer our community space at our expense to non-profits to use for classes and other events that are free and open to the public.

          The local groups who use to host babywearing in our store stopped doing so a long time ago. I can’t comment on their opinions or positions on where or when they choose to volunteer time to teaching babywearing.

          We presently offer a babywearing class once a month taught by our staff at Milagros. We sometimes teach outside of the store at hospitals and birth classes as well but we don’t have the resources to do that much.

          So are you talking about an issue with one of the community groups that use to be at the store or an issue with our staff or our store?

          If it is the former, I definitely empathize. But if it is the later, please do not hesitate to contact me directly since that is a situation I can address:

          email me at milagros@milagrosboutique.com or call me on my cell 971-570-6930

          All the best,

          Tony

          • Tony,

            our family left Oregon 2.5yrs ago, so I have no idea what’s been going on in your local community since then, my comments are based on the frustrations of what I experienced back in the day. I loved your store, I adore your wife (think I only met you once), and am very aware of how hard you worked to support worthy endeavors. I’m really encouraged to read that you’ve expanded your outreach, that was something I reallyreally wanted to do but got very little help or encouragement for.

            I think this is one of those instances where we agree much more than we disagree, and the sticking point between us is one of those things that matters a lot to us but to anyone on the outside of this discussion we might as well be discussing the endangered status of unicorns (in PR they would say we’re belaboring “la inmortalidad del cangrejo”).

  19. Rape, murder and starvation happen here, to our own brown-skinned people, and to the white-skinned ones too. It’s not for the purpose of making material goods, which is the point of your post, I understand. I think it’s a problem to assume that it’s only elsewhere that people are oppressed. Our classism exists every day, not just on Black Friday. As we happily tote our recycling to the curb, it happens.

    I dig the concept that we’re privileged — how can you deny it? And I am all over the idea of support local businesses, especially the ones that MAKE things — other than just coffee and food. Our ability to craft our own products is so far gone that it’s sad.

    Thank you, for the article and the reminder: humility is the only trait that should exist in excess.

  20. Pingback: Privilege and the food police: a rant and some tasty links | Spilt Milk

  21. You know what I love about you, and your blog? You have this great way of reminding us that we need to pull our heads out of our asses, without ever sounding judgmental or holier-than-thou yourself. I don’t know how you do it, but it’s brilliant. Thank you.

  22. Hi Arwyn,

    Thanks for this. I appreciate your clarification that your blanket statement wasn’t as big a blanket as it seemed.

    I don’t want this to come off the wrong way but, basically, I doubt it is speaking to my own advocacy work since it doesn’t reflect my own values and personal history.

    That said, I still would welcome you crafting the message you want to see. It definitely couldn’t hurt.

    Good luck with your finals.

    All the best,

    Tony

  23. Pingback: Dispatches from the Buy Local Movement | Launch Pad Radio

  24. Pingback: Why Buy Handmade | Natural Parents Network

  25. I don’t really have much to add except that I really get where you are coming from in your closing statement.

    Thank you for giving me something to think about. :)

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