The ecstatic release from shopping hit our church picnic like a hallucinogenic prairie wind.
Children, listen to me. Have you ever seen a Wal-Mart manager run out of his big box with a red face and a baffling orange tie and actually take a city bus hostage? He screamed at the driver that she could not take our little church group on board. Why? Because he insisted that we be interrogated by the police for actively not shopping in his store. It must be illegal, somehow, someway. Our ‘ritual resistance’ required a full review by the authorities.
We had just whirled and while he pretended that he, and Wal-Mart, had the legal authority to boss around the city employees of Lawrence, Kansas, we giggled mildly in the bus shelter – just a misunderstood cult of devout anti-consumerists in a post-whirl glow. Children, you must learn to whirl – slow dervishing in a fluorescent mall full of sweatshop products. An immaculate conniption for our banal times. Nothing quite like it. Go to Breathingplanet.net and learn how now.
On the day in question, 20 of us walked into the Lawrence Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart is the largest retail company in the world, with an economy twice the size of Scotland's, and is fully to blame for more paving-over of fields and draining of swamps than the New York State Thruway). We each took a shopping cart and walked silently and slowly in an unbroken line up and down, down and over, pushing our empty carts through endless canyons of products.
Sometimes the line got split up by a real shopper, or a curious child, or a near convert, but the line always reformed, rejoined – moving randomly, inexorably toward… toward what? Toward the sex of our church picnic, children! Toward the mouth-frothing, eye-rolling, religious fervour of sheer not-shopping!
About 30 minutes of imitating an anti-consumerist zombie you, in fact, become an anti-consumerist zombie. Staring straight ahead, wheeling your empty cart, the products on the shelves start dancing hard, the colours on the labels bleed, the celebrities on the packaging begin to snap at you with their bleached teeth. It turns out that the products are very thin-skinned. They are upset! And very easily shamed. After a half-hour of pushing an empty cart you realise that you've happened upon a fantastic somatic picture-show.
And then out came our little footballer, tap-dancing out of the gyrating products, the manager of the busted con. Oh my, what a bantam rooster of an affronted mall-keeper he was. Telling us to leave. 'Right now!' Then he followed us. His sweating face contorted in the great plains' sun. And while we traded secrets at the bus stop – 'what happened to you in the forest of panties and bras?' 'Was that man flirting?' – the top salesman was raging at the bus, and the driver was quivering with fear, and even as the police cars sirened up it seemed sure that Wal-Mart was the real government around Lawrence.
The cop finally approached us. He had the shaved head and reflectokill sunglasses and the gun, and we were tentative with our entreaties. 'The church officer, the church, the Church of Stop Shopping.' He came to understand that we had simply and lawfully worshipped in a Wal-Mart. Maybe we were Odd. Maybe we put the Odd in our God. But he understood we were just celebrating buylessness. And does that really threaten law and order and smooth sales? He smiled when we advised him to try it, to put his meaty grip around the neck of a bottle of detergent as if to buy it but then… No! Not buy it! Let it go, and back away from that product, and notice what thoughts come with the reprieve, with the changed buying state. We urged him and he regarded our wide eyes.
He didn't say that he would, but we heard him murmur something to himself. Then a pause, silence. He looked across the street to the big-box-no-man's-land and said: 'Well, our founding fathers did say that every healthy democracy needs a little revolution once in a while.'
Revolution, children? Revolution? Who said anything about a revolution? Let's just stop shopping!
This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2003