On Shopping and Activism

On the bus home one sunny day, I saw an advertisement announcing the stores Winners and HomeSense would donate money to the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s campaign to end violence against women. On the Foundation’s web site, http://www.canadianwomen.org, on the page ‘Our Supporters,’ it touts Winners/HomeSense as one of its ‘Platinum Partners,’ and states that, among other acts of support, the stores host an event called Shop for Hope, which confirmed, for me, that my concerns about shopping as a form of activism are legit.

I know Winners and HomeSense aren’t the only businesses to donate money to organizations (such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation) who aim to do good in the community–and to get some extra advertising (for themselves) while they’re at it. My concern isn’t with them, or with the Canadian Women’s Foundation; I’m concerned about the idea of shopping as activism, and the promotion and encouragement thereof.

I can hear you from here: “We vote with our dollars.” Perhaps that’s true. However, promoting shopping as a form of activism can lull those who engage in it into a false sense of satisfaction: ‘I shopped at a certain store, and donated to a good cause. I did my good deed for the day.’ There’s no way of knowing if shopper-activists will take their good-deed drives beyond the shopping, or if they’ll care enough to–after all, issues won’t be resolved just by spending money on them, or, as in most cases, the symptoms. By promoting the idea that shopping is a form of activism, there’s the danger that that’s all people will do, and that they do it just to make themselves feel better about their lives.

A greater danger in the idea of shopping as a form of activism is that it has the potential to encourage and perpetuate shopaholism. Now, I know shopaholics will shop even without the idea of shopping as activism, but the ‘activism’ part will give shopaholics just one more rationalization for their compulsive spending. Lesley-Anne Scorgie, in an excerpt from her book Well-Heeled: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich, and the book and movie Confessions of a Shopaholic describe the consequences of shopaholism, for shopaholics themselves, the people around them, and the economy; in fact, in Well-Heeled, Scorgie states shopaholism helped bring about the 2008-2009 economic collapse, particularly in the form of unpaid consumer debt. So, is it really a good idea to carry on encouraging people to buy things they don’t need to support good causes?

And is it even necessary? Why not just give money directly to the organizations, and cut out the stores/middlemen? People will still shop at the stores of their choice, and donate to the organizations of their choice, stores and other businesses will still donate to the organizations of their choice, organizations will still get money to their work. So there’s no need for ‘shop for the cause’ events, or to encourage and perpetuate consumer culture and debt just to donate to organizations dedicated to one cause or another. In fact, now that I think about it, the concept of ‘shopping for the cause’ seems to benefit chiefly the stores and businesses who promote it, in terms of publicity, and perhaps revenue, as well.

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One thought on “On Shopping and Activism

  1. What got me to give to organizations helping women was learning about the women from the Cleveland kidnappings, so whether it’s from the news media or a business there’s always going to be pluses and minuses. Kind of like the ice bucket challenge for ALS, it raises awareness but the donations, at least in Canada, haven’t been so forthcoming.

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