Some don’t want people to shop at all. Others just want to divert shoppers from big chains and giant shopping malls to local mom-and-pops. And while the actions don’t appear coordinated, they have similar themes: supporting small businesses while criticizing the day’s dedication to conspicuous consumption and the shopping frenzy that fuels big corporations.
Nearly each one promises some kind of surprise action on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.
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In Seattle, protesters are carpooling to Wal-Mart stores to protest with other Occupy groups from around Washington state. Washington, D.C., is offering a “really, really free market,” where people can donate items they don’t want so others can go gift shopping for free.
Others plan to hit the mall, but not for shopping. The 75-person encampment in Boise, Idaho, will send “consumer zombies” to wander around in silent protest of what they view as unnecessary spending. In Chicago, protesters will serenade shoppers with revamped Christmas carols about buying local.
The Des Moines, Iowa, group plans flash mobs at three malls in an attempt to get people to think about what they’re buying.
“We didn’t want to guilt-trip people at a mall,” said Occupy Des Moines organizer Ed Fallon. “We wanted to get at them in a playful, friendly way, to support local businesses.”
Protesters say the movement shouldn’t take away money and seasonal jobs from the working-class majority it purports to represent. The corporations, not the shoppers, are the focus of any protests, they say. But organizers do hope their actions drive people to reconsider shopping at national chains and direct their attention to small, locally owned stores.
That may not fly with small businesses wary of any association with the movement, which presents itself as pushing back against corporate power.
“If you ask, a lot of small business owners identify as business owners, not specifically small business,” said Jean Card, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business. “I would like to believe there is a silver lining, but I don’t picture a frustrated consumer that can’t get into a box store turning around and going to a small business. I see that person going home.”
Trying to shop exclusively local neglects economies of scale, job specialization and other benefits that big, multi-state corporations can bring, said George Mason University economist Russ Roberts.
“Don’t punish yourself by not shopping where you can get the best deal; that’s foolish,” Roberts said.
Besides, small businesses aren’t necessarily better employers in terms of wages, benefits, opportunities for advancement and other measures, said John Quinterno, principal at the public policy research firm South by North Strategies in Chapel Hill, N.C.
He calculates that small mom-and-pops, which he defines as businesses with fewer than 10 employees, account for nearly 80 percent of employer firms in the U.S., but only about 11 percent of the jobs.
“Sometimes we romanticize small business – and I say this as a small business owner myself – so that it skews some of our debates about economic and labor policy,” Quinterno said. “It doesn’t mean they aren’t important. It just means that larger businesses tend to create a lot more value-added per job.”
The protests are largely focused on shopping areas in affluent suburbs home to big chain stores. As with the entire movement, the protests bring with them a litany of causes. In addition to protests of big chains, causes include clothes made from animal fur, McDonald’s, homelessness and, in Las Vegas, the low gambling taxes paid by casinos.
The formula is ideal for the Occupy protests, many of which faced evictions from large-scale encampments in recent weeks. With a large number of people in a confined space, the Black Friday protests present one of the earliest tests for the movement in its new, fragmented iteration.
Most protests plan to make a point and move on, a strategy they’ve implemented in some cities with targeted marches for specific causes since the camps were broken up.
“It’s not about specific occupation camps anymore,” said protester Peter Morales of Austin, Texas. “It’s more of, you know, real awareness of what’s going on in our government.”
Another shop local movement, Small Business Saturday, was started last year to encourage people to shop at small businesses on the day after Black Friday. But the Occupy groups are underwhelmed, since Small Business Saturday was started by American Express.
Last year, small retailers that accept American Express saw a 28 percent increase in sales volume on Small Business Saturday from the same day the year before, AmEx says.
“It’s just another example of the banks and Wall Street trying to take the very real desires of working people to have a humane economic system and twisting it to their ends,” said Peter Rickman, an activist with Occupy Milwaukee.
Pam Newman, 30, of Louisville, Ky., knows well the trappings of Black Friday. A former Best Buy employee, Newman would watch troves of wild-eyed shoppers kick, claw and scrape their ways to holiday deals. She’s coy with the details of the Occupy Louisville protest – “There are some plans I can’t talk about” – but said the focus will be on people who haven’t made up their minds.
“Look, some people have printed out the deals two weeks ago. We’re not getting to them,” Newman said. “While we would like to dissuade the folks camping out and `occupying’ Wal-Mart, they’ve already made their mind up.
“We’re looking for the shoppers on the fence.”
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