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'An alternative to holiday shopping'

Tired of consumerism around the big holiday?

So was State Sen. Jeff Golden 20 years ago when, in his long interviews with people as radio host of JPR’s “Jefferson Exchange,” he bemoaned the “shopping stampedes” of Black Friday.

He came up with the notion that, since most of us already have lots of stuff — including stuff we don’t use — why not set up a celebratory community event where we all bring some stuff and give it away?

At the same time, Golden mused, we could wander around the event and spy stuff we like and grab it, either for ourselves or to fill out our gift shopping list — minus the shopping. Swapping stuff can work, he reasoned, because, in our wealthy land, we have an abundance of it, so why not call it the “Abundance Swap?”

With a little help from his friends, Golden launched the event in 2002 and it became a successful, fun-filled community gathering that fills the great hall of the Historic Ashland Armory. This year’s swap will run from 1 to 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8.

As Golden noted at the 2007 swap captured on a Mail Tribune video, “It’s an alternative to holiday shopping that recognizes we all like to give gifts, and we already have a lot of stuff, so we ask people to find up to five nice things, not buy something new, and bring them ... and meet each other and often get a new sense of what the holidays are all about.”

Golden emphasized the gifts should be nice, in virtually new condition, so it feels like something you just shopped for.

One person in the video produced by the Mail Tribune noted that “it’s the most magical direct action (to) help us take our power back.”

Swappers are color-coded with one of three colors, then take turns strolling about, searching tables for things they fancy — and having little chats with the giver, who sometimes can tell them where it came from and how to use it.

“It’s simple — and the most durable ideas tend to be simple,” said Golden, producer of Southern Oregon Public Television’s “Immense Possibilities,” a show about local people putting helpful ideas into action to make a better society.

“So many people have a hunger for something different than shopping. The idea was born during torrents of news about Black Friday, when people were rioting in stores, camping out for 36 hours before the sale, then stampeding as doors opened.

“Something happens every year at the swap. Instead of us trying to deliver some profound message, people get it that this holiday used to be something different and can be again. The items people take are gifted, instead of buying new stuff. Mostly, people don’t keep items but find themselves thinking of what family or friends might enjoy it.”

In the past two decades, he notes, the economy has been through a lot, and the Abundance Swap has “taken on economic importance, with some saying that, without it, ‘we wouldn’t have gifts at all this Christmas.’ When we started 18 years ago, there was a higher proportion of people with a living wage. That’s not the case now, with a lot more people right on the economic edge.”

Black Friday, on the day after Thanksgiving, has almost become a holiday on its own and, says Golden, it’s a big contrast with “what the season is supposed to be about.” Many are opting for Buy Nothing Day, but he says the downside of that is it takes away giving.

“Giving is not the problem. Giving is what the season is supposed to be about, so, hey, I’ve got a lot of stuff I don’t need, so how about we use that to replace the rush to the mall?”

Golden says that, a decade ago, when he ran for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, he was accused of trying to destroy the economy by reducing consumer demand. But on the website abundanceswap.org, he counters, “This will be our own holiday shopping event, a round of giving and receiving that includes no money and no new demands on resources. For some of us it may also be a stretching exercise — a chance to let go of stuff, or let go of worries that we might not get back ‘our fair share,’ or more fully let go of commercially planted ideas that it’s not a real gift if it’s not shiny and new from the store.”

About two dozen other cities in the U.S. have picked up the idea, something Golden says he is happy to see.

“I don’t know why other towns in the valley don’t do it. It’s fairly simple,” he says.

The swap is something children usually enjoy, he adds, and they should be encouraged to find and bring their own gifting items.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Ashland Tidings/file photoChildren express excitement over a toy they found at a past Abundance Swap in Ashland.