Every year on Thanksgiving, 20 to 30 members of the DeRose clan descend upon one cornucopia-adorned suburban Chicago home for turkey(s), mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Each year on this particular holiday, I am reminded of the many blessings in my life, especially the blessing of family. I am overcome with gratitude for the community and all the chaos that these folks bring to my life. (Roll around with a toddler on the floor for 30 minutes after turkey and two glasses of wine, and you will feel both exhausted and filled with pure joy.)
Many family traditions for Americans mirror my own. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate all that is bountiful in our lives and give thanks for the gifts we are given. It is also a time to honor that bounty by sharing abundantly. Thanksgiving provides my family with a renewed understanding of why it’s important to act on behalf of one another, particularly those who suffer or are treated unjustly.
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. — 2 Corinthians 9:11-12
Why follow a holiday rooted in gratitude with a day rooted in consumerism?
I write less affectionately of Black Friday, a spectacle many Americans celebrate just hours after drying the dishes and sending leftovers home with relatives. On Black Friday, we shed our gratitude and replace it with a hunger for consumption. It is a celebration of a value that is not taught by our faith traditions or our culture of neighborly love. Consumerism teaches us to adore what is “cheap” on Black Friday.
Americans hit up stores as early as midnight on Black Friday (or even in the evening on Thanksgiving, as many retail workers learned last fall when their time with family was cut short). The entire day celebrates the merchandise gathered and the deals and discounts amassed in order to score gifts at low prices.
During the day itself, employees on the sales floor and at registers will work tirelessly to help assure America’s largest corporations will end the year “in the black.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” — Exodus 32:7-8
Should this sort of celebration fall on the heels of a day deeply rooted in gratitude for all the gifts bestowed upon us?
Make Black Friday about our values
Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States. The retail giant employs nearly 1.4 million associates in its stores. The corporation continues to see record profits while paying workers poverty wages; nearly one half of Walmart’s store associates earn less than $25,000 annually. But when workers confront management about low pay and insufficient hours, they’re often intimidated or retaliated against. Walmart relies on government programs, charity, and church assistance to subsidize workers’ low pay and insufficient hours or irregular schedules.
Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected — the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
Rather than celebrating the “cheap,” this year I plan to celebrate my values on Black Friday and honor those who fall victim to an economy that worships the golden calf and a corporation that puts quarterly profits ahead of the livelihoods of the very employees who make the business possible.
On Black Friday, let’s honor the needs of God’s people, be generous in support and aid in their struggle for justice. Let’s bring the sentiment of gratitude to Walmart stores across the country and share our support with workers in need of better wages, stable hours, and honest working conditions.
Supporters of Interfaith Worker Justice and our allies will be praying and advocating for dignity and respect at Walmart on Black Friday. You can join actions or vigils in your community or you can download free resources to host one in your community.
It’s a simple way to affirm your values, upholding the dignity of work on a day steeped in consumerism and consumption.
It’s the abundance we receive that calls us to be a blessing to others. Together let’s let Walmart executives and managers know that we care about the way they treat their workers more than we care about special Black Friday deals and savings!