GARNER — On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, about a dozen people stood outside the Walmart on U.S. 401 on Thursday to protest American consumerism.
Patrick O’Neill and others – mostly his family members – celebrated their 10th “Buy Nothing Day” by standing near the road holding signs that read, “Do you really need all that junk?” and “Don’t support sweatshops.”
“Some people like to say this is the beginning of the holiday shopping season, but what they really mean is the Christmas season, and it’s rooted in this idea that Christmas is the time to support consumerism,” O’Neill said.
“I’m not some kind of anti-shopping zealot – in our culture, we have to do some kind of shopping – but the excess of consumerism in our culture is really shameful.”
O’Neill and six others were arrested the day after Thanksgiving last year after speaking against excessive consumption in the food court of Crabtree Valley Mall, although those charges were later dropped.
He has been arrested previously for protesting wars and other issues.
For two decades, activists from around the world have used Buy Nothing Day to protest excessive consumption. The day falls on the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. and the last Saturday in November elsewhere.
The Father Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, where the O’Neill family lives, sponsored the protests. Catholic worker houses are small, intentional pacifist communities.
Bernadette O’Neill, 24, is one of Patrick O’Neill’s eight children. She visited for the holidays from Atlanta and participated in the protest, which she said is a sort of family tradition.
Big-box stores not only exploit unfair worker conditions in other countries, she said, but international products also have negative environmental effects from energy used to ship them here.
O’Neill said she hoped people who saw them protesting consider buying used things or supporting local businesses.
“Ironically, living off the excess of our country now, you can still have nice things. You can buy secondhand and still have a great wardrobe,” she said. “Buying used, you’re not directly contributing to exploitation.”
The youngest protester was Patrick O’Neill’s 7-year-old daughter, who sat on her father’s shoulders while he stood in the median of the parking lot’s entrance holding a sign that read “Give time, not stuff.”
“This is not about efficacy,” he said. “What this accomplishes for sure is that we are a voice of dissent in a world of consumerism gone mad. What we do in matters of faith is very hard to measure.”
Timmy O’Neill was one of the younger protesters at 14. He said this was one of the more public, “almost embarrassing,” protests he’s participated in – and he does a lot of protests, he said – but he reminded himself that he shouldn’t feel embarrassed because he believes in his cause.
“The day after Thanksgiving is not, in my opinion, a time to spend all your cash, but (to) be thankful for what you already have,” he said.