OPINION: All that glitters at Christmas isn’t gold
FREE PRESS OPINION COLUMNIST
Sometimes I think we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” simply because those things are easier to say that than “Happy Celebration of Mass Consumerism, Environmental Destruction, and Human Exploitation.”
Imagine how many sets of glittery gold letters it would take to make a banner with a message like that. Plus, it probably wouldn’t leave anyone feeling very jolly or overcome with the spirit of the season.
Thanksgiving tends be the time when I entrench myself in my home, venturing out among shoppers only when necessity prevails. I was anticipating that after I’d fulfilled my volunteer obligations at Grand Valley Peace and Justice’s Alternative Christmas Fair last weekend, I’d be ready to hole-up for the rest of the shopping season with my stinky, curmudgeon attitude.
This was my first time to attend the Alternative Christmas Fair, so it was a pleasant surprise to walk away with warm feelings of love and joy as well as an appreciation for the true spirit of giving. The idea of the event is that instead of buying a bunch of junk no one really needs for Christmas, a person can make donations to a worthy cause on behalf of the gift recipient. There were dozens of booths, created by passionate activists and student groups for organizations representing all sorts of important issues, ranging from homeless pets to human rights and safe drinking water.
The organization I represented was one which assists survivors of human trafficking. Every year, nearly one million people are bought and sold throughout the world. Slavery is more prevalent today than at any other time in history with 27 million people working as slaves, 7 million of whom are children, according to the International Justice Mission.
As consumers, these numbers are a big deal because they are the direct result of our spending habits. With 1 in 3 adults shopping and spending $59 billion last year during Black Friday weekend, it’s clear that Americans have an eye for good deals. If the holiday season is really about love and generosity, though, it behooves us all to consider the true costs of our purchases. American shoppers can be a powerhouse with the ability to use our wallets to send strong messages.
Besides the purchase price, there is more to the cost of every single thing we buy. International working conditions received a lot of attention this year in light of factory disasters which left hundreds dead, including 1,200 people in one fire in Bangladesh. Clothing labels found in the refuge of burned and collapsed factories have linked Walmart, Sears, JCPenney’s, Disney, Nike, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy, Dickies, Forever 21 and countless other corporations to sweatshops and gross human exploitation. Sweatshops employ millions of children and pay workers just a few dollars a month.
Walmart has refused to participate in efforts to improve working conditions internationally, and has a pretty dismal record at home, too. Full-time workers earn less than poverty wages and require public assistance in the amount of about a million dollars per year per Walmart store. There is such a disparity among store workers and the corporation’s upper tiers, that the average employee would have to work 800 years to earn the equivalent of the annual compensation of Walmart’s CEO, reports Money Magazine.
It’s impossible to keep an accurate tally of businesses to avoid. Like Walmart, mega-corporations always seem to be involved in some sort of misdeeds or another. With all of the issues surrounding the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, buying local doesn’t necessarily make me feel much better.
Shopping can be a lot of fun, and we all have the power to force change even in powerful corporations if we’ll just slow down and make an effort to understand the consequences of supporting the businesses we do. Knowing how our products are made, how workers are treated, and what a business contributes to our community really does matter.
And if shopping just seems too scary now, contributions may still be made to any of the organizations represented in the Alternative Christmas Fair by visiting the website for Grand Valley Peace and Justice at gvpeacejustice.org.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Robyn is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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