New York's Consumerism

Consumerism is what they call a "totalizing system." It expands outward across the landscape and simultaneously into the individual's psyche. It must expand.
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Consumerism is a deadly invention that came over our American culture in the last 30 years, dating back to Ronald Reagan, but getting much worse in the Clinton and Bush eras. It's how most of our society is organized. Our church defines Consumerism in the classic way: It is economic power of corporations converting all human activities, all the earth's resources -- everything it can find -- into the market. Everything is monetized, from intimate love all the way up to full-scale war and explorations in outer space. Everything we do, everything we make, everything we dream -- must make money for unseen investors.

Consumerist society controls individuals through media marketing, product packaging, transportation systems to go shopping, hypnotic credit systems and so forth -- until it dominates our waking hours. Consumerism is what they call a "totalizing system." It expands outward across the landscape and simultaneously into the individual's psyche. It must expand. It is the modern version of empire. How far have the corporations gotten? History will call this the corporate era -- all policies, laws, enforcement, elections -- all the functions of government are now a matter of buying and selling. However, the corporations surround their control of government with a wrap-around marketing campaign that uses as its imagery the thing they are destroying: Democracy.

The average New Yorker deals with thousands of selling pitches each day, from six story high Kate Mosses down to the logos in the litter. The corporation has overwhelmed whole cultural traditions -- the arts and religion and education and journalism. This "soft" side of society is now fully corporation-dependent. Anyone who opposes this take-over is called a "protester," or "controversial." We think we are full of energy and change because we believe the ads designed by corporate media reflect our own lives. The truth is that we are suffering a time of passive Consumerism reminiscent of American culture in the 1950's. Everything we do in public life is thoroughly de-politicized.

And yet we live in a time where we can dream of freedom from Consumerism. As we say in the church, there is "Life After Shopping!" Consumerism, based on its false idea of prosperity -- imploded in 2008. We call it "The Shopocalypse." Here is one form the downturn took in New York: The bulldozers destroying our neighborhoods suddenly ran out of gas. And now families are coming out of their homes and looking around as if a bombardment has paused. We're talking to each other on the corner. As the gleaming buildings stand over us, half-finished and frozen in space -- we look back at the Bloomberg economy standing there and feel our true feelings rise up.

And in this city-wide common sense talk we rediscover our old American radicalism, a lot like the long-ago reaction to taxation without representation. It's more obvious with the construction crane's unmoving shadow on our street. Such events that we had normalized into our understanding of Consumerist government, like the killing of rent controls by City Council President Peter Vallone and the realtor lobby in the early 90's -- this looks like dramatic corruption now. Some of us believe that we can resist the evictions and foreclosures because of regular conversations that suddenly all New Yorkers share. I'm talking about the moral force of the grand phrase, "We wuz robbed."

All of New York's Consumerism, whatever form it takes -- from $900 baby strollers to Target crap -- is fixed in place by the old corruption of real estate speculation. It's NYC's mother of all consumption. Land and buildings. So, will we take advantage of this current opening in the economy to re-define our relationship to real estate power, and create lease protections for home-owners and neighborhood shopkeepers? This means confronting the old idea that real estate is to New York what oil is to Texas. This fundamentalist code -- what's good for real estate is good for the city, and therefore developers should dominate our government... this old New York devil must be cast out...

And so we come to our campaign slogan, "The Rise of the Fabulous 500 Neighborhoods." Lots of our smaller communities within the bigger Gotham had good economies before Consumerism attacked with its chain stores and luxury condos. Bloomberg runs our city thinking it is his corporation, New York City, Inc. Until last year, he was leading an assault on the neighborhoods like a military operation, creating an epidemic of high-rises, evictions and homelessness. He has turned over all that is best about our city to his market transactions. Mike Bloomberg's persona is so comically a demonstration of Consumerism, that his illegal grab for another term and his spending $100 million on it -- making the mayoralty one big product that he is buying -- gives us the chance to demonstrate in unforgettable fashion how our Democracy needs to resist Consumerism. Let's preach!

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