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Click Click Activism

Click Click Activism

by Mahala High Five Brigade / 01.12.2009

Since its inception, Facebook has become increasingly helpful and concerned about its users. Always dropping little hints and suggestions about how you can make it better for others, or telling me to connect with that long-lost-psycopath-I’ve-never-met-and-whose-friend-request-I’m-certain-I-rejected. It also updates me on what my friends are feeling, thinking and doing. As well as how many cows they’ve slain in Farmville, which 80’s song best describes them and what faux charitable cause they are supporting with just a click. So this morning, in between fielding notifications, requests, comments and messages with the deft skill not unlike that of Billy-Bob Thornton circa Pushing Tin, I couldn’t help but notice a fair amount of my virtual compadres had given up the ‘Like’ for a certain Buy Nothing Day.

Now naturally, being one to hate parting with my hard-earned pennies, my finger hovered over my mouse button. The thought of sticking it to The Man, of not buying anything for 24 hours seemed noble and conscious. A proud statement that I am not what I buy, that my possessions do not define me. That I will not champion the rights of a corporate over those of human beings. Hell, was I ever ready to ‘Like’! I was on the brink of ‘Like’! I was a woman on the burning, fearsome edge of ‘Like’… But something made me hesitate. I scrutinized the synopsis a little further. DETOX FROM CONSUMERISM, the headline pleaded. Yes! I cried. Yes! I need a consumerism enema! A week at the consumerism spa with lots of de-consumerising face packs. And then I thought about it a bit more.

Now, I’m not about to get into the nitty gritty pros and cons of our world monetary system. Nor am I going to attempt to deny the evils of certain corporations who think nothing of exploiting anything with small enough fingers. But come on people. Put down that copy of No Logo, get off thine soapbox and get real. If you think you’re going to achieve anything more than a feeble show of Virtual Activism, by eschewing the trade of goods and cash for a day, you’re sorely mistaken. Further, if you think you’re in anyway detoxing from consumerism by doing so, you’re doubly as duped. But let’s play devil’s advocate. Suppose I boycott buying and selling. I don’t buy groceries. Fine. I had some stuff in the fridge. I don’t put petrol in my car. It’s ok, I had some already. Next, I tell my maid not to come in to work today. I mean, she needs the money but rules are rules. I don’t go into work, and take a day of unpaid leave. I don’t log on to Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Google. Because every time I do its just ching-ching-kaching in someone else’s account. I don’t buy the homeless man lunch as is my Friday tradition. That bastard! Suckling on the privileged teet of consumerism, I’ll show him! I don’t pay my gardener, who will have to wait until 2 weeks time before he can next expect his loot. I don’t buy my kid his chronic illness medication. But who cares? I’m making a stand! One day’s sacrifice for… for… for awareness! But really? What, exactly, has been achieved? Is it not a self-defeating purpose that those least effected by one pithy day of no-buy are those who “the system” affords that very luxury? Would a poverty stricken single mother be able to exercise such “awareness”? After all, isn’t she the one who should be protesting consumerisms many evils? But I digress.

Buy Nothing Day

See, like most Detoxes, this Buy Nothing Day, while lodged in good intentions, is horribly misdirected. Ask any health professional. Detoxes are fads, and more often than not, unhealthy ones. Short term gratification over long term gain. And, time and time again, the only “diet” that ever really works is one that addresses your lifestyle, and daily routine. Otherwise you end up locked in a hapless yo-yo scenario that can only end in tears. Like Oprah. If the analogy is lost on you, then what I’m saying is this. There is nothing inherently wrong with consumerism. In fact, if people spent less time bitching about Nike, and more time supporting their local veggie market, the better. Spend that money. Spend it on people that deserve it, who need it, who have earned it. Spend it on products and companies who use their powers for good, and who practice sustainable methods. Buy and sell and spend and buy all you want. But be informed about what you’re spending on, and take responsibility for your choice to do so. Don’t spend more than you have. Don’t get 30 credit cards. Don’t take out a second bond, then gamble it away, or spend it on shoes. And then blame the advertising industry for filling you with all these consumeristic needs and wants beyond your control. Exercise your right to say ‘No’, and your responsibility to ask ‘Why’. If you don’t agree with something, choose something else. There are more than enough alternate solutions out there, if we feel strongly enough about it. It all comes down to making that choice. And therein lies the dilemma, because unlike the click of a button, real choices require real effort and real change. And so long as we have an economy, it is the buying-power public’s right to make the right choices to make it work. The markets don’t crash because someone pushes a button (despite what conspiracy theorists have us believe), they crash because of irresponsible, greedy and short-sighted behaviour on the account of global financial structures, local governments and individuals alike. They crash because of bad choices.

So. don’t be lured into the false sense of security that Facebook Activism provides. The notion that the click of a button, or, not buying anything for a day, can really make a difference, is as much of a swindle as the one of If You But This Record Your Life Will Be Better. The only thing that makes life better, is living a better life. And that, ‘Like’ it or not, is the truth

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RESPONSES (28)
  1. nissim says:

    LIKE Great piece – blows the lid off this tokenism that just leads to self-righteous twots who actually think the world gives a toss about their freakin “Likes”. Virtual activism = virtually no activism + a couple of pseudo twots

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  2. Berry says:

    I guess you don’t really get how change happens do you? Slowly. The seed needs to be planted and the change in peoples’ consciousness then happens (hopefully). Slowly.

    Have you thought that maybe a campaign like this is probably not aimed at someone like you, someone who (I hope) is conscious of your purchasing decisions? It’s possibly aimed at people who haven’t arrived at the same conclusions you have. That’s why awareness raising has it’s place (although it’s probably too late by now). To blow it off like you you just did is short-sighted.

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  3. danni says:

    ok. Berry. lets keep this brief.

    1. this campaign is not aimed at those hapless consumers, those people In The Dark. At least, that is not where this “campaign” holds its appeal. Adbusters are the PETA of their cause, and appeal to people (and are known to people) who already buy into their underlying philosophy. this campaign preaches to the converted. I, for one, did not see one person support this cause who erstwhile is ignorant about the effects of consumerism, or not already ‘oenlightened’ with regards to the issue.

    2. this campaign does not in any way effect mindset or behaviour change. To use the PETA analogy again, much in the same way that blood on a fur coat at a fashion show does little to change the minds of the fur wearing public; so to does but nothing day have little relevance or importance for those deep in the toxic sludge of consumerism. You try tell a little trust fund cretin with mommy’s credit card not to shop for a day. around xmas time. when there are sales. and shoes. and all those things one NEEDS. Buy nothing day? say what?

    3. this article does not “blow off” this cause. Of course, awareness is necessary. This article challenges and explores the relationship between Thinking Something/Believing Something and Doing Something. Specifically, how the former can hinder the latter, especially in a virtual environment

    4. just as an afterthought for my own amusement, it is interesting to note, on the subject of Buy Nothing Day being a campaign, that as acutely aware as adbusters are of the powerful force of advertsing, they themselves fail to harness that power to affect behaviour and mindset change in a positive way. Sounds like they need a new agency..oh..wait. I forgot. They don’t have one!

    5. conclusion: this was a shitty excuse for a campaign, poorly executed, in the wrong way, to the wrong people, with little effect other than a virtual ra-ra-ra. end.

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  4. Berry says:

    That wasn’t brief…but I like it.

    Not sure what you mean by, “I, for one, did not see one person support this cause who erstwhile is ignorant…”? How can you know that this campaign hasn’t reached someone who was not previously aware of? I for one am now aware of it.

    Ja, agree with you that their targets were not TF kids…and to most people with an awareness of the issues facing the planet this is obvious. As an aside, a solution to TF kids or people willfully ignorant is a bomb dropped on cavendish or the waterfront (or any other shrine to consumerism anywhere in the world) but they can’t exactly do that can they? Could they? Can WE? Hmmmm….look, at one extreme there are the militant activists and at the other, the tf kids…but there is a whole lot in between and that is where the battle is being fought.

    There are numerous ways to reach people and Facebook is one of them. Once a seed has been planted, and someone becomes aware that there are people out there that are going to buy nothing for a day, that person might delve a little deeper into what it is adbusters is about…and so their journey begins. It could take them to an awareness of peak oil, of private/corporate water ownership, organic food, whatever. The point being that that is what started them on their journey. It doesn’t matter how they start it, just that they start it.

    What’s effective for one person is not effective for another. That doesn’t mean that the method or channel that doesn’t work for you is wrong or shitty, it just means that it didn’t work for you. As an example, I think Peta are effective. If, in front of me, someone threw a bucket of paint/blood over an unsuspecting furcoat wearing person, I would question their motives…in a “what made that person do that, what are they so angry about?” sort of way. That is an effective way of getting people to question things. Sure, it would alienate people too, but the time has long past to be worrying about whether an action might piss people off. It works for me.

    The “Thinking Something/Believing Something and Doing Something” point you make is an interesting one. The only way to affect change is Doing Something. However, the system we live in prevents action on practically every level. Many of us can see how we should live, how we need to be for things on the planet to return to a balance, but the system prevents us from making those changes. Said another way, we can see the cage but we can’t see the way out…yet.

    But I digress.:
    You didn’t like the campaign. Should they rather have done nothing? You’re clearly in media/ads/etc, and clearly have an awareness…maybe you should volunteer your time to give their next campaign more punch.

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  5. julius says:

    Heita, you tell them Comrade Danni! The last thing that we need in Mzanzi now is less of this consumerism. We need more, more, more so Comrade Julius has a wide range of sharp-sharp jackets to choose from and there is no problem to find the next waBenzi. And a wide choice on the menu would not hurt either – Comrade Julius has big shoes (and other clothings) to fill one day. But even more important, if he cannot parade the trappings of the prosperous life for all to see, then there is nothing for the prolet… er, disenfranchised masses to aim for. After all, a successful politician leads by example. And the example should be something like “you too can live this well if you are as talented in the causing of the groot kak as Comrade Julius”. We don’t want this white-person’s new-agey sitting in the lotus position, eating the muesli and finding inner peace without the shopping. Be careful if you do, because if us communists cannot find enough wealth to spread amongst everyone, then instead we will spread the misery – and you will get more than your fair share.

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  6. Lochie says:

    Notice how the only corporation mentioned in the article is actually a major sponsor of this web site… a subtle form of product placement perhaps???

    Great article BTW, the general idea is applicable to all forms of social protest, make em accountable!!

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  7. Andy says:

    Danni Diana knows which side her bread is buttered on.

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  8. danni says:

    ah Julius. ever adept at those skills. no, not woodwork, but ‘conprehension’ and ‘perceptiveness’. although, i’m sure the marks were the same. because yes, that’s exactly what i’m saying. go live a wabenzi lifestyle. spend. be ignorant. don’t care. Exactly. Fuck yoga. Fuck muesli. And all those other meaningful things,. those bastions of those priveleged enough to afford enlightemnt. Fuck em. You! you got me!

    Final note:

    Activism appeals to activists. The psychology, ethics and value systems that underpin initiatives such as BND speak to those who already adopt them. Whether actively or in part. The people who BND makes stop and think, are likely the people of the Stop-Think variety. BND does little to tackle mindet, affect behaviour change or challenge belief systems where needed most.

    but yes. moot points. take it. leave it. buy nothing. buy everything. just make sure that at the end of the day you do something. obrigado, comrades.

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  9. Roger Young says:

    Danni.

    I agree entirely with everything you say here. In your comment on your .5 regarding the campaign you mention that they do not have an agency. This may be in line with thier ethos of trying to buy nothing, not soending money on advertising but it is a deeply flawed stance.

    Conceptually if you choose to take part in Buy Nothing day, you have to buy into the concept of buying nothing. This means buying the concept. How does that translate? By buying nothing on the day you are justifying thier ad spend, even though they did not have an agency they had to have spent some money on advertising. By Buying Nothing the buy nothinger has paid for something.

    Your call to (and I summarise) buy locally and wisely as a lifestyle choice and not as a one day “stand” is, it seems to me, the best approach. If Buy Nothing had chosen to spend thier money wisely they would have done much better by spending more money on an agency that communciated thier method more effectively. They may have spent less, but it has cost them more.

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  10. Berry says:

    Where is it needed most?

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  11. Mary says:

    Yeah, as Berry says – where is it needed most?

    If this campaign is so godawful then how do you make a difference?

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  12. Buy Nothing or Do Nothing? says:

    Mmm. Mixed bag this one. Whilst I applaud Danni’s main thread – that virtual activism is ineffective – I disagree with her critique of the campaign.

    If she is indeed from an agency background then she should be aware of the AIDA approach (Awareness > Interest > Desire > Action), and using a social media channel such as facebook to spread awareness of a concept is a very effective first step. Given that digital channels such as facebook require practically no budget, this approach would seem to be inline with an anti-spend ethos. Furthermore, the best kind of advertising is personal referral, so that little “I like” stamp carries a whole lot more impact in terms of spreading a message than any number of Loeries for creative excellence. Just because you don’t like this campaign doesn’t mean that it is not effective or worthwhile. The simplest means of communication are the most powerful.

    I take umbrage at this statement specifically:

    “There is nothing inherently wrong with consumerism”
    Actually Danni, there IS something inherently wrong with consumerism. Consumerism is based on exhausting resources to satisfy the requirements of a growth based economy in a finite world. If you understand maths, you will appreciate there is something very wrong with this. If you do not understand this, perhaps you should not be writing about anti-consumerism activist campaigns.

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  13. BND says:

    @Buy Nothing or Do Nothing
    You’re a laser beam…straight to the heart of the argument…well said.

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  14. Adrian says:

    Did you see our video. Produced with a small digital camera and edited with win movie maker.

    Cheesy but funny http://bushradio.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/sell-your-soul/

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  15. danni says:

    Buy Nothing/Do Nothing

    Sorry if i was not more explicit in my critique of the campaign. By all means yes, the way in which we engage with information, and the channels by which we do so have, and are, changing. It would be stupid not to take advantage of social networking platforms. It is not the medium I am challenging, but the message. Even if people DO buy nothing, one day of no-buy does little to remedy the ills of consumerism, or address/change the behaviours that underpin it.

    If it’s an online awareness campaign you want, or an example of what I believe to be a more successful approach, have a look at:

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

    .Oh, and a note on the AIDA model. Personally, I find it out-dated and simplistic. Primarily because I don’t believe that people engage with information in a linear manner, and further that one step doesn’t automatically lead to another. So just because someone is Aware, doesn’t guarantee Interest or Action. And, even if and when it does, it doesn’t guarantee that that Action will be repeated. It all depends on the experience derived from that Action, and whether it gives the consumer a “reason to believe”. What experience does one derive from buying nothing? what reason to believe in the overarching philosphy of BND does one get by buying nothing? I fail to see anything powerful or convincing.

    And to your point that a Virtual “like” equates a personal refferal… that is debateable. I agree that personal refferal is one of the most effective channels, but only where goods, services and experience is concerned. But with things that relate to a belief system or ethos of philosphy, people are far more resistant. Yes, i will go see a band or try a new product if a friend recommends me to do so. But am I going to go to their church? Or recycle? Or boycott something on their behalf? With no information to go on other than their thumbs up? Unlikely. Unless, of course, i become personally convinced into doing so.

    And lastly, with regards to consumerism. I urge you not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Agreed, the current consumerism model is disasterous. It is a linear system, in a world of finite resources, that actively promotes, among other evils, waste, pollution and exploitation. However, as the ‘the story of stuff’ (really, watch it) so beautifully illustrates, there are many points of intervention to this system. Ways of making it less wasteful, more sustainable. Ways of changing it from being a linear system, to a cyclical and self-sustaning one. When i said that I don’t think consmerism is inherently wrong, I meant that i don’t believe that the act of buying and selling is fundamentally harmful. It all depends what, who and how much you spending on.

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  16. dorin says:

    I would totally support Spend that money. Spend it on people that deserve it, who need it, who have earned it. Spend it on products and companies who use their powers for good, and who practice sustainable methods. Buy and sell and spend and buy all you want. But be informed about what you’re spending on, and take responsibility for your choice to do so. Don’t spend more than you have. Don’t get 30 credit cards. Don’t take out a second bond, then gamble it away, or spend it on shoes Day.

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  17. ian engelbrecht says:

    Nice, Danni
    enjoyed this.

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  18. Buy Nothing or Do Nothing? says:

    Hi Danni

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to respond in so much detail, I appreciate it. I am well aware of StoryOfStuff, it is a great piece of communication. Re AIDA, yes it is simple, and old, but it still has a lot of value. The point I was trying to make is that you can’t run before you walk. I totally agree with you on the vast majority of your points. There is no substitute for action, and nothing else is really good enough. BUT – awareness must come first. Before you can care about something, you must be aware of it. This is where I believe the campaign succeeds – NOT in convincing anyone on facebook that their current lifestyle is wrong or bad or unsustainable – but simply in giving them something easy and low involvement to do. To me this campaign is about Awareness and Participation, not Activism. The biggest journeys start with one small step and all that. Hopefully this campaign plants a “Perhaps consumerism is not everything” seed in the minds of people who otherwise would not be exposed to it – and it is this that I think is positive and needs commending, not negative criticism.

    Re: “When i said that I don’t think consmerism is inherently wrong, I meant that i don’t believe that the act of buying and selling is fundamentally harmful.” – again, I agree with this statement – but what you are describing here is trading or exchange, not consumerism.

    Thanks for a good article, great to get some good debate going around the real issues facing us. Keep it up Mahala.

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  19. Buy Nothing or Do Nothing? says:

    If you liked “The Story of Stuff”, you might like “Wake Up Freak Out then Get a Grip”:

    http://www.wakeupfreakout.org/film/tipping.html

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  20. danni says:

    Buy Nothing

    ah, yes, semantics.
    thank you for your reply
    thank you for taking umbrage

    one last comment:

    ok yes. awareness must indeed start somewhere. and if BND achieved that then by all means more power to it. but we must caution against awareness for awareness’ sake. That is, we must not only ask whether something is making us aware of its existence or not, but what exactly it is making us aware about. To me, BND raises awareness for Buying Nothing, as opposed to awareness for the issues surrounding consumerism. It makes one aware of the fact that certain people are buying nothing for a day. Not why you should buy nothing. Or what effect buying nothing will have. Or how buying nothing can make a difference, whether real or ideological. To take it out of context of BND (cuz im sick of writing the word ‘consumerism’), it’s like saying this:

    to make a stand/raise awareness against child abuse, i am going to wear blue for a day.

    Yes, the sentiment is there. but how the action relates to the cause, and whether the action is beneficial to that cause is another matter entirely. Remember Red Nose day. Same kind of thing. Do you remember what it was for? Or about? I just remember the red noses. Although, that said, at least it raised money towards its cause, and therefore achieved something (whatever that cause may be. hungry kids? street kids? child abuse? clown rehab? who knows).

    and that, i hope, is case closed.

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  21. Mahala: 2 - Earth: 0 says:

    Mahala, what are you doing?

    The world is in a sorry state. People are confused. They don’t know what to think or do. They need to be informed, educated, inspired. Instead, once again, confusion has been created, doubt has been sown. The end result will likely be apathy and continued inertia.

    You have a powerful voice. Use it carefully.

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  22. Andy says:

    worse yet, people might think clicking “like” for Buy Nothing Day on Facebook is equivalent to doing their bit for saving the planet. Read the article again.

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  23. Alex says:

    Great piece Ms Diana. Hits that new-age nail sqaurely on its hypocritical head. If those wool-gatherers really wanted to give themselves a challenge they would commit to CONSUME nothing day. That means no contact with anything whose existence had anything to do with any economic activity whatsoever. That means no clothes. No water. No food. No stepping on tarred roads. No standing under streetlamps. No accidentally inhaling someone else’s deodorant. If you got the entire human population shivering naked in the forest for a day eating bark and grubs you might be making a point. The point being that we couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of the forest and burn it to the ground to make grazing-land for burger cows and basically just play russian roulette with nature by seeing how long we can gorge ourselves at the trough before detonating. When Huxley wondered if Earth wasn’t perchance some other planet’s Hell I don’t think he was kidding.

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  24. psy says:

    Wow, you people are waaaaaaayy out there hey?

    the point of this buying nothing is a demonstration of power. can you imagine what would happen if nobody bought anything for a whole day???? think a little deeper than usual…

    the countries entire economy would stand still. market shares would fall and the seemingly unstoppable money machine would take a very hard knock… so now who has the power??

    but then again, on the other hand, if we are using the issue to get good hit rates on our website instead of convincing everyone to try to work together on one fucken thing in their entire pathetic lives… then i guess the point is lost long time…

    its actually got fuck all to do with conusmerism by the way, geniui… and actually all about making the impossible possible – when the people who have no voice can work together on one single project, with one single goal, the people suddenly become much more aware that they have a voice only in unity.

    BND is actually a pretty good idea, minus the empoverished single moms, etc, who probably wouldnt buy very much on that day anyway. because if we can do it on that day, we can do it again for two days, and the people will literally bring the country to its knees and hold their government to ransom – power to the people…

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  25. danni says:

    a “demonstration of power”?
    “hold the government to ransom”
    “bring the country to its knees”.

    this is hardly a means of giving power to the people. Surely, if “the alternative way” is so good and beneficial and viable, it should be able to speak for itself and gain momentum and become a new order within its own right; without childish point proving. That is, if anarchistic displays of power indeed a point a prove.

    and “psy” if you actually read the article, it is very much a call to action to people to work together and DO something, as opposed to online ideological wanking. Ah, funny I should say that….

    And no, this is not to “get hits”. As you can see, my viewpoint caused a fair amount of debate and forced readers (including myself) to refine their opinions and question their stance. And that, my dear, is more “power” to the people than any hypthetical global economic standstill could offer.

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  26. BND says:

    “…if you actually read the article, it is very much a call to action…..

    What a piss-take! You’re clueless as demonstrated by your above statement. No wonder we’re in this predicament when well-meaning (I guess) writers think that an article like the one above is a call to action. Fuck me

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  27. Julia says:

    True nuff… and reminiscent, no you’ve put it this way, of Paul McCartney’s stunningly tepid exhortation for people to institute ‘one meat-free day a week’.

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  28. A - Rock says:

    All Buy-nothing-day allows you , is to enter a space where you can feel what it feels like to not be a consumer – Try it – its actually quite rad . Gives some perspective and some angles on choice. Simple , no self-righteousness involved or holier than thous – Your experience do what you will with what you have.
    THATS LIFE – CHOICE MUTHA FUCKERS~!!~!!
    BITE THE BULL BUY THE PENIS ….. and see what happens…eish

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