I’ll be honest, I’m skeptical of any brand or company that claims to be doing any kind of altruistic alternative form of Black Friday. Not that it’s impossible that any are doing so, but that the goal remains to sell as much as possible – be it through traditional or ethical consumerism.
That’s not to say that I’m shaming anyone who is taking part in Black Friday deals, either. 2020 decimated the savings of millions across the world, left millions unemployed, nearly 260,000 Americans dead, and all with just $1,200 to last nine months for those of us unfortunate enough to live in the U.S. right now. A 50% off sale – manipulative though it may be – could be the difference between giving a loved one a gift or not.
While millions of Americans fall sick and lose their jobs, the stock market is thriving thanks to the performance of huge corporations like Amazon and Google who are making more money than ever. Working people and small businesses will never see that boon.
The Washington Post reported that the Dow closed above 30,000 for the first time this week; however, the richest 1% Americans own 50% of stocks owned by American households. If there were ever a perfect example to demonstrate the disconnect between the stock market and the material economic consequences for Americans, this is it.
U.S. billionaires like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk saw their net worths skyrocket over the pandemic. The Institute for Policy Studies Billionaire Bonanza report shows that the 643 wealthiest Americans have stolen a combined $845 billion in assets between March 18 and September 15 from their workers and the American taxpayer. I’d wager that the American Millionaire isn’t doing too poorly, either.
These are the owners, CEOs, and marketing firms that are leveraging woke practices this holiday season to make even more money for the wealthiest among us on the backs of consumers who want to do some good.
So, I implore conscientious shoppers to turn away from corporate altruism, greenwashing, and brand PR gimmicks that borrow the aesthetics of revolutionary ideas and towards their communities in the form of mutual aid.
Mutual aid is not charity; it’s solidarity. Through mutual aid networks, those who can share their resources with those who need support, but unlike traditional nonprofit or charity organizations, there is no ideological agenda and no condescending hierarchy or savior complex. It is quite simply neighbors and communities coming together to support each other in a mutually beneficial way.
The idea of mutual aid was first developed by the Russian anarchist philosopher Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin in 1902, in which he explores the role reciprocity and mutually-beneficial actions have shaped both animal and human societies. It’s a stark contrast to the theory of social Darwinism, which many right-wing thinkers still adhere to today, which suggests the “survival of the fittest” and competition is the natural and correct order.
I’ve organized and participated in a few mutual aid networks since the pandemic started. Right now, I live in the largest apartment complex in Washington D.C., and many of our neighbors are struggling to feed their families after having lost their jobs.
We created a Tenants’ Union not only to organize a rent strike to pressure management to cancel rent but also create a mutual aid fund available to anyone who has an urgent need and facilitate weekly distributions of fresh produce and pantry items. We support each other in other ways as well, from giving away old furniture or clothing to any who wants it, to assisting with translation, and pressuring management to fix problems with mold or other quality of life issues for our neighbors.
Recently, we were able to raise enough money so that three families were able to keep their phones and internet online. And at our weekly food distribution events, we serve about 100 families in the building and dozens of others who come from around the city – that’s how bad things are for many right now.
Kropotkin argues that mutual aid is not necessarily a romantic idealism fueled by altruism, but a pragmatic survival instinct. We all do better when we pull our resources together and fight for our mutual benefit.
On the other hand, charity, especially that performed by corporate-funded nonprofits and millennial-marketed companies, operates as a way for the already-powerful to launder their money, collect goodwill, and maintain control over the status quo. An organization can choose to whom and how to expend their vast resources, and it will never be to groups seeking to dismantle the very systems that allow such gross accumulation of wealth.
While it’s honorable that companies are allegedly giving back to grossly underpaid garment workers who are suffering even more now thanks to canceled orders, you likely won’t find one advocating for employee-owned factories or wages that aren’t just “livable” but help their workers thrive.
Given the state of the world right now, it’s very likely that there’s a mutual aid network in your community already. At our tenants’ union, we’ve worked with the mutual aid network of our corresponding D.C. ward and other groups around the city that organize food distribution that ranges from free produce or homemade vegan Filipino food delivered to anyone in need.
But above all else, whether you give your time, your money, your expertise, or your unneeded items, the spirit of mutual aid is creating a safety net and community that can meet the needs of the people in ways in which the current systems are failing us.
Whether or not you participate in Black Friday and whether or not you buy from brands who are doing anti-Black Friday sales, if you really want to make the biggest impact you can this holiday season, support your local mutual aid network. You’ll do good and receive the benefits of a network of friends and neighbors who will likewise lift you up when you need it, too.
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Cover image of volunteers organising food packages for pensioners and people with disabilities during COVID-19 epidemic in Kyiv, Ukraine via Shutterstock.