Countless Americans spent Monday night glued to their TVs and computer screens watching the nationwide protests that erupted in that wake of St. Louis County grand jury's decision to not indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown. As they watched, many struggled with how to respond.
One tactic was to take to social media to assert the radical idea that #BlackLivesMatter. But, in the hours after the grand jury's announcement, one example of hashtag activism cut through the noise, one that could be directly actionable: #NotOneDime.
The idea is simple one: If you're mad about Ferguson don't buy anything on Black Friday.
Urban Cusp founder Rahiel Tesfamariam created the campaign after she spent hours covering the unfolding events for the magazine. She had seen others on social media argue the best response to Ferguson was economic actions rather than through street protests. When a personal friend posted a message reading "Not one dime for Black Friday" on the magazine's Facebook page, the idea suddenly clicked.
"There's something to saying 'not one dime' because it speaks to the power of the moment—the loss of the life, the complete disregard for the humanity of people of color, how people felt disrespected by the prosecutor's remarks," she explained. "This, like any other moment of great injustice, is a moment of desperation. This is a pain that goes unimaginably deep. You have to do everything you can to feel like you're not hopeless and helpless."
Tesfamariam, who was once a community organizer in Washington, D.C., before staring Urban Cusp, quickly turned the idea into meme and sent it out to social media, where it spread like wildfire.
A study by Neilsen estimated that the African-American community would have a purchasing power of over $1 trillion by 2015. That's a lot of money, Tesfamariam argues, which could be leveraged to make a powerful political point. "African-Americans are a mass consumer force," she said. "In a lot of ways we drive the economy and we drive pop culture, but we don't own it or manage it."Some people suggested one way to manage that power is by spending Black Friday exclusively patronizing black-owned businesses. Tying an economic system that pushes African-Americans into poverty, and a criminal justice system that ensures they stay, is one that's becoming increasingly pervasive. Speaking onstage at a concert in St. Louis hours after the grand jury's decision was announced, politically-minded rapper Killer Mike said:
It is not about race, it is not about class, it is not about color It is about what they killed him for. It is about poverty, it is about greed, and it is about the war machine. I might go tomorrow, I might go the day after, but there's one thing I want you to know: It is us agains the m*****f*****g machine.
Eschewing consumerism on the most consumerist day of the year is nothing new. Canadian artist Ted Dave created Buy Nothing Day in 1992 and the idea was brought into the United States a few years later when it was pushed by the anti-capitalist magazine Adbusters.
Photo by Kelvin Key/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)