Enough Already: Eugeneans Rebel Against Consumerism
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
Eugeneans rebel against consumerism
Story by Alan Pittman | Photos by Linda Smogor
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
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 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
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
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.
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),
-- The Book of Dzyan.