Monday, December 11, 2006  

Don't get mauled at the mall this season...

Taking the "Maul" Out of the Holidays

(a reprise of an essay I wrote last year- still somewhat valid)

I'm sitting on the I-5 in Southern California on my way to drop off something to a friend when it hits me: this whole holiday shopping season I haven"t set foot in a mall, in a conglomerate or in a major chain. I haven"t joined the throngs of intense masses sitting in their cars for miles waiting to get into parking lots with finite numbers of parking places and infinite possibilities of fender benders.

And I'm not going to.

Lest you think I"m some sort of liberal, anti-holiday scrooge, I must assure you that I have bought the requisite offerings for relatives and friends.

I just didn't go there.

And to an extent, my decision was quite deliberate.

For one, it was economic, since I am working in a different job than last year, I have to be a little more creative about gifting.

But that is not the only reason. Instead of getting mauled at the mall, I decided to plow my buying power back into my local community. Walmart, Starbucks, K-Mart and others have metastizied over the Southern California landscape, slowly but stealthily driving out local businesses. In my city alone (San Diego), Starbucks has set up shop within 50 yards of not one but three locally owned coffee shops. Megastores have spread over the land, eating up architecture and the local economy. Walmart was recently fined for not giving its California employees their federally mandated lunch hours. This on top of already questionable employer practices.

I don't see why I should support this kind of rapacious economics.

Instead, I looked around and found great deals at my local college bookstore, local art galleries offering special deals on clearance stock, friends seeking to move their specialty goods and happy to help other friends acquire amazing buys.

Instead of sucking fumes from the umpteen cars in some lot, I sipped a coffee at my local coffee shop. I had great conversations with friends I hadn't seen in some time, and got to meet other local artists.

And another thing I did was pay cash- not that I recommend it, but all this talk of government surveillance got me thinking. Radio Frequency identification chips (RFID) are being inserted in products stocked by the major chains, including Walmart, K-Mart and others. Not only do these chips track your purchasing habits, they also track you. As does your credit card and your ATM card. By tracking your spending habits, and linking your economic decisions to ideology, the government has more information on you than it needs. It can tailor ads to prime you for new governmental decisions. The government is grooming you for additional surveillance. We must keep the terrorists at bay- go shopping- oh, and by the way- we know where you are going to do it. And with every purchase made with a traceable item of tender, with every microchipped purchase, the cocoon of surveillance is slowly, slowly rocking you into compliance.

And I discovered something else. By patronizing local stores such as small local bookstores, folk art stores and grassroots galleries during the year, I got something for my holiday shopping dollars no mall is going to give you: community spirit and gratitude. Galleries and small bookstores send or hand out coupons to loyal customers. The staff makes an effort to help you find that really special something. Small services are rendered. And you? You support a local artist, help a bookstore with a wide reading list stay in business, actively contribute to the diversity of your community. And you get to go back to these places during the year and continue knitting the thread of community.

The very community which will stand with you to safeguard your economic and civil rights. Trust me, with all this talk about domestic surveillance, we are going to need it.
And you won't be able to count on that smiley face at Walmart for this one.

Yay you're back..I'm glad that we can stop worrying now..I'm on my way out but wanted to quickly stop by to say, hiya girlfriend..good to see you back!
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