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Enough Already: Eugeneans Rebel Against Consumerism

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://www.egroups.com/group/smygo Enough Already Eugeneans rebel against consumerism Story by Alan Pittman | Photos by Linda
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 17, 2000
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Enough Already

      Eugeneans rebel against consumerism
      Story by Alan Pittman | Photos by Linda Smogor

      Eugene Weekly

      And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
      Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
      "It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
      "It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
      And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
      Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
      "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
      "Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!"
      -- How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

      What the Grinch found out the hard way, people around the
      country and especially in Eugene are realizing in growing
      numbers. Shop 'til you drop isn't good for yourself,
      society, or the planet.

      The anti-consumerist movement "is huge, it's a monster,"
      says John Baldwin, UO environmental studies and planning
      professor. "I think it's going to capture this whole next
      generation of young people." With youth rebelling against an
      inundation of advertising, he says, "it is just as solid as
      a rock among young people."

      Baldwin says anti-consumerism is the response to a wide
      range of social ills created by the excesses of world
      capitalism including environmental degradation, social
      injustice and inequity, sweatshops, racism, corporatization,
      cultural homogenization and the job rat race.

      While the media criticized the recent uprisings against
      globalization and the rise of the anarchist movement as
      lacking a coherent cause, Baldwin says anti-consumerism was
      the uniting theme. "They knew exactly what they were doing,"
      he says. "You're seeing the kind of angry mob-like reaction
      to [consumerism] -- from the WTO protests in Seattle to the
      anarchists here."

      UO economist Ed Whitelaw says Oregon, and especially Eugene,
      is a center of anti-consumerism. A large number of the
      population here have chosen to practice anti-materialism to
      some degree, simply by choosing to live here, according to
      Whitelaw. Salaries at many companies in Oregon trail 5 to 15
      percent below the national average. Whitelaw says his
      analysis indicates that's because Oregonians have chosen to
      forgo higher income and the things it might buy in exchange
      for the region's better quality of life. "It's like, I'm
      going to exchange a fancier car for something I can't buy,
      like getting out for a hike in the mountains or watching the
      salmon run," he says.

      In Eugene, it's clear that many people are, to varying
      degrees, following an anti-consumerist model of simpler
      living, Whitelaw says. "It's not just the Country Fair,
      there's a general mellow lifestyle," Whitelaw says. "There's
      a lot of plain folk here in Eugene."

      Here's a look at a few of the plain folk here in Eugene, how
      they've lived a simpler life, and what they've learned from

      Charles Gray, 75, lived for 16 years on a "World Equity
      Budget" of $100 a month. In 1979, Gray says he decided the
      American lifestyle of consumer excess just wasn't right. "I
      just couldn't morally feel good living with such privilege
      compared with people in the third world."

      So Gray calculated a World Equity Budget (WEB) based on an
      environmentally sustainable level of world consumption and
      income divided by the world's population. To get by on the
      budget, he moved into a 7- by 12-foot travel trailer, rode
      his bike everywhere and bought almost nothing. Back then,
      the idea of going back to the land and simpler living was
      becoming more popular in Eugene. "A lot of the hippie
      alternative culture thing was a reaction against excessive
      materialism," says Gray. Many people started communes, Gray
      says. But he says the initial financial investment in such
      communities was beyond his equity budget, "I was more

      "I could hardly afford a patch for a bicycle tube," joked
      Gray. But he says, "I felt liberated by doing this. It made
      me feel good spiritually."

      Gray says he only had to work about 50 hours a month doing
      gardening, carpentry and other odd jobs to make his budget.
      He would only charge $1 to $2 and hour for his labor so he
      didn't over-earn. "It liberated my time for doing the things
      I wanted to do," says Gray, who became active in the
      homeless rights and peace movements. Many people now are
      working so hard they don't even have time to harvest the
      fruit growing in their own yards, Gray says. "In any
      reasonable civilization we'd probably have to only work
      about one-third time if we didn't have to generate all the
      crap we do now."

      Gray says at times living the WEB was a struggle. At one
      point he remembers biking on a rainy winter day hauling a
      cart full of carpentry tools. He passed a restaurant and
      smelled the coffee. "I said to myself, damn, a few years ago
      I could have afforded to buy that restaurant, now I can't
      even afford a cup of coffee."

      But Gray says he found happiness in living simply. At
      Christmas, he would have fun making his own gifts -- dried
      fruit, wood crafts, crochet. "It's so good to get away from
      the Christmas madness," he says.

      Gray got off the budget after he got married. If they'd
      moved in together in the cramped trailer, "our relationship
      would have ended quite shortly," he laughs. He lives in his
      wife's comfortable house now, but still lives simply, biking
      and buying little.

      When he sees frantic Christmas shoppers he thinks, "They're
      helping murder the planet," he says. "But I don't blame
      people," Gray says. With all the advertising, "We're so
      brainwashed into it."

      Mary Ellen Laughlin and her husband bailed out of lucrative
      careers to come to Eugene and lead a simpler life. Motivated
      by the book, Your Money or Your Life, Laughlin says she and
      her husband decided there was more to living than their busy
      careers as a Realtor and running a veterinarian clinic. "We
      figured out financially how to drop out of the rat race,"
      Laughlin says.

      Laughlin says they figured out a budget to live off their
      savings and liquidated assets by doing just some part time
      work. They cut their budget by two-thirds, moved to Eugene
      three years ago, bought a modest house and furnished it from
      garage sales and second hand stores. "It was kind of funky,
      but fun," she says. Many of the family's clothes are now old
      or second hand, she says. "We all look like hell, but we're
      pretty happy," she laughs.

      Before, "all I did was work and keep our head above water,"
      Laughlin says. Now, she says, she and her husband have time
      to garden, take classes and volunteer for Alliance for
      Democracy, FOOD for Lane County and Meals on Wheels.
      Laughlin says they also take great satisfaction from knowing
      they're "living lightly on the planet."

      Laughlin says she's seen more and more people from her
      50-something age group making a similar lifestyle change.
      "The whole simplicity movement is a huge great groundswell,"
      she says. "A lot of people my age are really feeling that
      their lives aren't quite satisfactory."

      "We haven't done Christmas as such with the crazy
      consumerism for many years," Laughlin says. This year,
      Laughlin says she and her husband plan to volunteer helping
      with a Christmas dinner for the poor and have a quiet dinner
      together by themselves. "We basically exchange a book and a
      calendar, something small, no big piles of presents," she
      says. "There's lots of joy."

      Before, "I can remember how stressed out I was at Christmas
      time," Laughlin says, recalling all the time shopping for
      things people didn't really need or even want. "We probably
      gave horrible gifts to people and we received equally
      horrible gifts," she says.

      "It's become so ridiculous," she says, before she goes to
      sit down, relax, put on some music and make balls of cloves
      tied together with a red ribbon for Christmas presents.

      Marshall Kirkpatrick is a local anarchist. He likes all the
      controversy now over the city's decision to ban some
      Christmas trees in public spaces. "I'm kind of psyched," he
      says, noting the issue is sparking people to think more
      deeply about the meaning of the tree and the season.

      Kirkpatrick laments "corporate fetishization of corporate
      products" and ingrained "crass consumerism" of everyday
      American life, especially around Christmas. He notes that
      while WTO protesters were trying to convey the dire social
      and environmental ills of globalization in Seattle last
      year, the media couldn't stop dwelling on the fact that the
      protests were disrupting downtown holiday shopping.

      But he says he's not opposed to gifts. "The world is a sad
      enough and barren enough place that it's pretty
      understandable that people want to make their loved ones
      happy with the exchange of gifts." The problem is that
      "people don't have a lot of access to non-corporate
      alternatives," he says. Gift giving is a "potentially really
      healthy social impulse put within a very unhealthy context."

      Kirkpatrick is also critical of liberal "Buy Nothing Day"
      protests and liberal calls for buying locally made crafts to
      "uphold the local hippie economy." The local crafts are too
      expensive for most people and buying nothing for a day "is
      really just something that's going to make yourself feel
      good" rather than make much of a dent in massive

      Kirkpatrick says he'd recommend "not buying a dead tortured
      bird to eat" as a more meaningful act. "What's one more
      overpriced piece of plastic in the heap of crap from Toys R
      Us?" he says. "A bird is a whole life."

      Kirkpatrick says his Christmas this year will be fairly
      tame. He'll spend time with family and relatives, making
      small talk with people who don't share his world view. "I
      don't tell them I've been in touch with insurrectionists
      around the world trying to overthrow world industrial
      capitalism," he says. "I just sort of smile."

      Hope Marston, 46, worked "20 years in the [TV] news business
      making big bucks" in Seattle before deciding to bag it all
      for the good life.

      She got rid of her 2,000 sq. ft. home, sold most of her
      possessions to pay off her credit cards and escaped her 40-
      to 60-hour-a-week job. Now she works 30 hours a week as a
      secretary and uses the time off to volunteer for causes she
      believes in. She worked with the Nader campaign, the first
      major presidential campaign to challenge consumerism. The
      day after Thanksgiving she organized a "Buy Nothing Day"
      event on the biggest shopping day of the year. The event at
      a local church featured a used coat swap. Three hundred
      people donated coats for less fortunate people to have to
      keep warm.

      Marston says getting rid of the TV was the most difficult
      and most important step she took toward a simpler life. The
      ad-driven "cravings" for buying went with the TV, she says.
      Noting she doesn't even have a closet now, she looks back at
      her former life and wonders, "Why did I need all those
      clothes? Why did I need the big house and the sports car?"

      Marston sees a sign of societal illness in the boom of the
      self-storage industry. "People have so many possessions they
      don't know what to do with them," she says. "It's really

      "Love comes from spending time with people," not from madly
      shopping for gifts, Marston says. "It's a frenzy not born of
      peace and understanding, it's a frenzy born of promotion,"
      she says of the droves of holiday shoppers now filling the
      malls. "People like me seem to be scrooge to people like
      that, but I have to say, I'm really happy."

      Although anti-consumerism's call for simpler more
      environmentally and socially sound living may have a growing
      number of dedicated adherents here in Eugene and around the
      nation, the movement has a long way to go.

      Ever-growing consumption, consumer spending and economic
      growth are seen by the mainstream media and society as
      universally good. A rising gross domestic product is the
      primary goal of the U.S. government's economic policy.

      While some in Eugene call for living simply, many others are
      rushing to the mall. In a recent survey by the Media Audit,
      three-fourths of the readers of the ad-laden local daily are
      regular shoppers at Valley River Center. Thirteen percent of
      their readers consume more than five hours of television a
      day and another 7 percent eat fast food more than five times
      a week.

      Dr. Seuss taught millions of children that "Maybe Christmas
      Ö perhaps Ö means a little bit more!" But now, even that
      message has been commercialized. Hollywood bought the rights
      to the book from Seuss's elderly widow this year and spun
      off a mall full of movie-related merchandise, from
      green-filled Oreos to plastic Grinch toys in Wendy's kids'
      meals. VISA is now the official credit card of the Grinch,
      with a heart two-sizes too small.

      Dan Clore

      The Website of Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
      The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page:

      "Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas
      zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam
      not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not;
      Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang
      and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in
      night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna),
      &c., &c.,"
      -- The Book of Dzyan.
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