Metro Reporter Nathan Domon covers the anti-Black-Friday protests that took place in the heart of Amsterdam. Activists hoped to demonstrate the negative effects this consumer-capital practice has on the city.
Huge discount posters, overcrowded stores and brown paper bags bursting with clothes– on Black Friday, capitalism’s Christmas day, frantic consumerism was in full swing. Amsterdam’s busiest shopping areas, Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk, were bustling with shoppers darting between deals. Yet, the contrast was remarkable just a stone’s throw away on Dam Square. Workers of the department store de Bijenkorf were on strike to draw attention to low wages and poor working conditions in the retail sector. “Discounts for shoppers and fat salaries for the people at the top are only possible because we’re working so hard,” striker Jean-Paul exclaimed with anger. “Without people, no profits!” shouted Senna Maatoug, member of the Dutch Second Chamber for the leftwing party GroenLinks.
A few meters away, a dozen climate activists from Extinction Rebellion set up a stall with free clothes. “100% discount, 100% more fun and better for the planet than Black Friday,” read a banner in front of the stall. The demonstration was organized to shed light on the environmental impact of the fashion industry. “Fashion is the world’s second-most polluting industry,” stated Isabelle, a member of Extinction Rebellion. “What Dutch people are overconsuming today is destroying our planet.” According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the clothing sector is responsible for almost 10% of global carbon emissions, more than international aviation and shipping combined.
“Discounts don’t make you free, because they push you to buy stuff you don’t really need,” explained another activist to people passing by. According to Isabelle, “Black Friday is nonsense. It’s only about buying, buying and buying more. But we buy way too many clothes, only wear it once or twice and then just throw them away, because we are driven crazy with the latest fashion, the latest gadgets.” The activists want to show that buying second-hand, swapping and repairing clothes can help reduce carbon emissions and detach people from the mindset of constantly purchasing new items. Recent research by MilieuCentraal shows that buying new things contributes over 11% to the average carbon emission from a Dutch household.
The protests were meant to provide an alternative to the world that Black Friday represents. Isabelle stated that “Black Friday, and retail in general, is only about being smarter than the rest to get more customers and sell more. But we should start talking about something else: health, happiness, enjoyment, being good to each other and the planet, biodiversity, … This is what really matters to people.” Armed with a megaphone, an activist shouts “We buy too much, but we don’t live enough.”
The protest seemed to have the intended effect; many people stopped by and tried on clothes, and others took photos or debated with activists on the square. “We want to let people understand that we don’t need so much stuff,” Isabelle stated. In this era of the climate crisis and rising inflation, Black Friday has become increasingly controversial. According to a survey by acties.nl, more than half of Dutch people no longer think Black Friday is appropriate to the times we currently live in, and over a third think it should be banned altogether.
Not far from Dam Square, a group of activists from Mokum Kraakt and Extinction Rebellion occupied the second floor of the shopping mall Magna Plaza to protest against “global pollution and exploitation by the fashion industry and the space occupied by large fashion chains in the city center.” In a statement, the group lamented that nowadays “the city center is not for the people, but for consumers; it is set up for dirt cheap, yet living there is unaffordable. The commercial interests of investors count more than the needs of the residents.” They called for a stop to “the sell-out of the city.” Magna Plaza used to be Amsterdam’s main post office. However, in the 1990s, the building was bought by private investors and turned into a luxurious shopping mall. Now, the building is almost completely empty.
Around quarter to seven, the activists quietly left the building on police orders. “They’re right to protest. Today is a very black day for us all,” an onlooker said laconically.
“Health, happiness, enjoyment, being good to each other and the planet, biodiversity… this is what really matters to people.”