Thursday, 4 March 2010

every little hurts

I joined in the Whirl at Tesco last Saturday along with a disparate group of local concerned citizens and un-consumers, to try to raise awareness about Tesco’s proposed expansion. It started at 2. We filtered through the line of policemen - who were tipped off - at the entrance and past the rows of arms-crossed managers at each aisle and started our non-shopping, initially nervously and then playfully, eventually ending in a delightful conga line of empty trolleys. At which point we were politely asked to leave. I hoped the red-faced manager would add, ‘For not shopping,’ but he said he didn’t need to give us a reason. We certainly were not, as he claimed, being disruptive. So we decamped to the entrance, where the younger ones started playing music and dancing and gave out leaflets to the shoppers, who seemed on the whole very open and a little alarmed to hear that Tesco wants to expand. Later that day, May’s General Store reported pre-Christmas levels of shopping and another long time Tesco-shopper friend told me he’d stop buying at Tesco if it expanded: ‘Enough is enough,’ he said.

Of course, many Lewesians support Tesco’s expansion but I suspect they don’t have the full facts, and if they did I believe many people would refuse to shop at Tesco and the likes, thus bringing on their demise. The negative impacts of Tesco are well documented and include destroying the local retail networks, local employment, they suck money from the local economy, their food production creates massive amounts of CO2 and waste, they depend on cheap imports and degrade biodiversity, land and water supplies in poor countries. Yet they’re not, nutrient-for-nutrient, calorie-for-calorie, cheaper than local shops. The inconvenient truth about supermarkets is that convenience is their only selling point.

I remembered the words of Joanna Macy, the Buddhist deep ecologist, who says that the Great Turning (from an industrial growth to a life-sustaining civilisation), which is happening now, is taking place concurrently on three dimensions. One is Holding Actions, which slow down the rate of social and ecological damage – such as boycotting, blockages (such as the Tesco whirl) , regulations (let’s hope Lewes District Council planning department has done its research well). The second is Shifts of Consciousness in which old materialist ways of thinking give way to understanding the interconnectedness , interdependence, of all things, such as we see in systems thinking; at that point, shopping at Tescos (and, probably, any supermarket) will be understood to be deeply damaging to the whole. The third dimension of the Great Turning is Structural Changes – which include new economic and social formations – new ways of owning land, sharing housing, measuring prosperity, an example of which is Transition Towns, local currencies and Community Land Trusts.

It seems that people sense we’re in the Great Turning but don’t feel empowered or inclined to do anything. That powerlessness is part of the old paragidm, and some would say, the ‘plan’ to have us all be consumers. Yet, there’s plenty we can be doing, including changing the way we do everything – work, eat, travel, spend our leisure time, relate – to reflect our deep human values. And the very best thing to do now, the most radical action, would be to move away from the global corporate-owned supermarket system that feeds us and start buying food locally, supporting local farmers and shops. Start now, even if it takes a year. Food will become fresher, tastier, more nutritious and simpler - and possibly cheaper. And while you're at it, why not join the Facebook campaign ‘We’ll do Whatever it takes to Stop Tesco Expansion in Lewes’.

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