Buy Nothing Day November 29th: Whirl-Mart Revisited

Whirl-Mart is a participatory, anti-consumerism, performance trend started by the Breathing Planet Troupe. A group silently pushes empty shopping carts through the aisles of a superstore, wearing Whirl-Mart smocks. Utilizing tactics of occupation, Whirlers call this symbolic spectacle a “collective reclamation of space that is otherwise only used for shopping and buying.” Averting outright protest of the “emptiness of material consumption,” they mimic the absurd shopping PROCESS instead. When asked by Wal-Mart employees what they are doing, and knowing that protests are not permitted inside Wal-Mart, they respond that they are participating in a “consumption awareness ritual,” confusing store employees and shoppers alike. And the good news is, Whirl-Mart is coming to a superstore near you! Buy Nothing Day on November 29 has been declared a global Whirl-Mart day of action.

Whirl-Mart began outside of Troy, NY, in response to a challenge from Adbusters magazine to do something foolish on April Fool’s Day, 2001. Inspired by that successful action, Whirl-Mart rituals began popping up all over the country, and even in the UK. By 2002, many groups in many states were whirling. On March 3, 2002, rituals were performed at Wal-Marts in NY, TX, AZ, PA, and more.

The Austin, TX ritual had 8 whirlers and 2 documentary filmmakers. For the first 45 minutes, they walked alone and in pairs with their carts. Then they formed a parade of empty shopping carts in the jewelry section. As soon as they heard a call for help in jewelry, they disbanded. Shortly thereafter, one Whirl-Marter was cornered by the manager, who wanted to know what he was doing. He said he was trying to decide if he should buy something. When the manager asked what he was looking for, he said “something.” The manager took the cart from the shopper and forced him to leave. All of the Whirlers were told to leave except one. He went into the longest checkout line possible with an empty cart, and at the end, thanked the cashier and left.

At a Wal-Mart in Indianola, Iowa, in April 02, Whirlers tried to enter Wal-Mart with a live chicken. Their plan was to grab a pair of men’s pants made in El Salvador or Pakistan or India, and then to go to the cashier and try to barter the chicken for it.

At a Wal-Mart in Austin, TX, in 2002, Whirlers entered the store one by one, and in no time had a Whirler on every aisle. After 10 mintues, they formed a train around women’s wear. Suddenly, the store’s loud speaker repeatedly announced “Managers, Code Sunshine” and told shoppers to secure their children. One Whirler said he feared the Wal-Mart SWAT team was being activated, with big yellow smiley faces on their riot shields. They disbanded into pairs again, yet the manager took one Whirler aside and asked “What exactly IS Whirl-Mart?” She feigned being a completely spaced-out hippie, saying it was a peaceful, nonviolent meditation she did where she didn’t buy anything for one hour a week.” He responded by saying, “Well, as long as it’s nonviolent, then you can do it for the next 20 minutes. What the heck—today’s free.” So does it cost money to Whirl on other days?

In the Bay Area, whirlers wore “Hi, My name is Whirl-Mart” stickers because they did not have matching shirts. Some of the Bay Area whirlers waxed philosophical about what they think about while whirling. One whirler said he liked to think, “How am I like an empty cart?” during the ritual.

For more info: www.breathingplanet