Mild In the Streets

Interconnectedness means somehow if you spend some money in Newport Beach—on cheap Exxon gas, a new pair of Nike Shox, a Coke at a McDonald's, or even an iPod—you're buying Ken Lay another solid-gold rocket car or a kidney for Osama. Mmm, kidney.

It's just a little hard to cram that message of impending doom into a palatable, easily digestible phrase shoppers can swallow the day after Thanksgiving. Yet they tried: nearly 50 activists—from a Who's Who of groups like Veterans for Peace, Corporate Swine, the Orange County Peace Coalition and Code Pink—materialized outside Fashion Island to mark what they called Buy Nothing Day with a two-hour tromp through the mall.

Buy Nothing Day happens just once a year, but its aim is to freak out the squares by hitting them square in the pocketbook—and send a message to The Man that the people are onto his little finance-hate-crimes-through-retail-sales game.

Maybe it works in Santa Cruz.

Newport Beach is where activism must have died a long, long time ago, its gravestone the giant Stratocaster outside the Hard Rock Cafe where everyone met—activists, mall security, cops with mullets—to angry up for the march. Actually, they all but hugged, even as Island retail-ops director Joseph Woldenberg clambered up on the guitar monument with a devil's deal. There'd be no sign carrying, no slogan shouting at golden retrievers in Christmas bows, no handcuffing oneself to Santa, he said. In fact, he'd recommend activists consider manning a table outside the place with literature.

“What we'd prefer,” the avuncular Woldenberg choked out, “is for you to contact our office Monday through Friday.” On everyone's mind: What would Che—or Cesar Chavez or Julia “Butterfly” Hill—have done? Apparently, they would have marched silently through the mall for nearly two hours. Deal with the devil, n'cest pas?

“I didn't make any deal with the devil,” said recent Green Party congressional candidate Tom Lash, who was wearing a Veterans for Peace T-shirt. “I had no plans to carry a sign.” Instead, he and others made do with the slogans on their shirts—at least half a dozen bearing the “Buy Nothing/Bomb Nothing” legend—and fliers explaining the whole semi-complicated premise, which they handed out one or two at a time to bemused shoppers. Some were quietly thoughtful; others were noisily peeved.

“Quit staring,” a woman poured into a hot-pink “Thou Shalt Shop” T-shirt snarled at her toddler daughter, who'd glanced at the marchers.

“Can't we have peace and still buy stuff?” her girlfriend wondered. It made “Thou Shalt Shop” mad: “On the busiest shopping day of the year!” she hissed at her friend as they ankled off with the stroller.

It must have sounded more radical on paper or in the e-mails that went out last week—but even going in, there was scant talk of actually taking down the capitalists. This was just about making people aware, everyone said—starting to spread the news in Republican Orange County, in Democratic California, a month after the presidential election. Wasn't it a little late for that?

“It's for theater. It's to freak people out and make them think,” said Emily Hell, who marched with her mom, Kathy Hundemer. “I don't like to be combatative.” Combatative is so Chicago 1968: protestors yelling, running around, handcuffing themselves to things, getting arrested, changing the world. In 2004, less is more. Much more, apparently.

“We get a lot of attention,” protester Jarret Lovell of Costa Mesa said, explaining that last year, a bunch of strolling mariachis actually joined the Buy Nothing protest. Well, not really.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *