For years, culturejammers have been warning that the logic of capitalism is unsustainable and that sooner or later a system based on limitless, ever expanding consumption will fail. Not content to merely whine, we embarked on social campaigns, such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week, to demonstrate that a decrease in consumption means an increase in the enjoyment of life. And we witnessed, with growing satisfaction, that each year our movement grew -- until even the mass media could no longer ignore our advances.
Taking the lessons of Buy Nothing Day one step further, many culturejammers began advocating a General Consumption Strike as the appropriate tool for reshaping the basis of our economies. Two years ago, Paul Ariès wrote the Manifesto For General Consumption Strike. In his manifesto, Paul called for a collective refusal to be consumers that would contrast the “bulimic economic logic with the goal of living with less goods but with more relationships”. He then went on to say:
We'll go on strike to get free public transportation, to get free social housing, to get different pricing depending on consumption levels, to give everyone a universal existence income so all can live in dignity, we'll go on strike to have those who ruin the planet pay more, to have advertisements limited to a few spaces, to redistribute wealth according to a maximum permitted income, etc. Thinking this strike would be a hunger strike is understanding nothing about what is consumption. A consumption strike means refusing to be a consumer, the kind of human being who belongs to the system. The goal is not to threaten our lives, our hyper-consumption society does that very well without us. On the contrary the goal is to learn how to fully exist, to live as a user in control of his use and no longer as a labor and a consumption convict, no longer as a capitalist market slave.
Let's trust collective intelligence to rediscover long-forgotten use. Let's think right now of our consumption and try to consume much less adopting a minimalist way of life. However we must watch out for purists who could turn this citizen action into a religious, moralizing, or authoritarian posture. Let's trust the collective sensitivity to allow this action to grow in size and consistency.
Of course this general strike will require the boycott of some products vital for the hyper-capitalist system (not only economic products but also ideological products like TV news or most newspapers). A consumption strike wouldn't make much sense if the strikers keep shopping (even for necessities) in those capitalist temples (supermarkets).
The manifesto circulated widely: it was printed in the pages of Adbusters, emailed to friends and discussed in cafes. And now, at the brink of an economic collapse, increasing numbers are joining the Consumption Strike. Already our actions are having profound consequences. The New York Times reports that consumer spending is down sharply, the first quarterly decline in two decades link and that consumer borrowing fell for the first time in a decade. And according to the Wall Street Journal our general decrease in consumption is putting retailers out of business and pushing mall vacancy rates to their highest level in seven years.
The mass media would like to write off the widespread decrease in consumer spending as uncoordinated fear and irrational behavior, but the truth is that there is a growing movement behind this conscious consumption decrease, and we won’t stop saving our money until the whole system is rethought.
Ours is not a purely nihilistic campaign, we do not revel in economic collapse out of spite but instead because we believe that only after an economic decline will it be possible to bring about the necessary changes to capitalism that will assure a sustainable future. We are also taking steps to insure that the money we save by decreasing our consumption goes to organizing mutual aid societies that will provide services to our needy compatriots.
To join the General Consumption Strike is easy: spend less, live more. Consider doing without your high-speed internet, cell phone service, beer or wine, restaurants, gasoline, new clothes, fancy electronics and tourism. Think of the money you will save, the fewer hours you’ll need to work, and the more time you’ll have to live. Tell your friends that you are consciously taking part in the General Consumption Strike and prepare yourself for the moment of truth: when the corporations will fall and the local communities will thrive. But beware, as Paul Ariès warns, “the system will react. It will use blackmail with employment, it will threaten with firing; the shopkeepers will cut prices and manipulate consumers.” Stay strong, this is a once in a hundred year opportunity!