A policy of austerity is a means of nonviolent protest through economic noncooperation. People practicing austerity as noncooperation volunteer to abstain from using products and services of a luxurious and opulent nature to support a cause. The effects are similar to boycott, but the implications are more extensive due to the psychology of people doing without for the greater good.
The Stamp Act of 1765 provides a good case in point. British Parliament passed an act taxing all paper materials in the American colonies such as licenses, legal documents, and newspapers. In response to unfair taxation without representation, colonists made a shift to simplify their lifestyles by dispensing with products made in Britain. For example, elaborate mourning customs involving the purchase of fancy garments from England were eliminated. The First Continental Congress recommended curtailing “frivolous” entertainments such as horse racing and theatrical events in protest. British merchants that were hurt economically also protested the act. As a result, new local businesses began to prosper in the colonies, and local replacements were found for products such as tea and cloth. The Stamp Act was repealed the following year.
In the 1960s, peace activists engaged in a policy of austerity by living simple lifestyles to lower their incomes and pay less tax that could be used to support the war in Vietnam. Today, austerity is a way that consumers can express their moral choices via their shopping habits. Large groups of people can effectively take on austere lifestyles to oppose negative practices by corporations and governments that cause harm to people, animals, or the environment. As an austerity movement progresses, new people will join to emulate their peers, and ostentatious displays of consumerism will look out of place. Conscious consumerism and voluntary simplicity will mean that people will have more time to put into the movement, and long-term austerity will cause economic harm to the opposition.
How to plan for a successful austerity movement:
- Identify the policy to be protested.
- Determine the economic as well as the psychological benefits of the action.
- Determine luxuries or conveniences to be given up that are representative of the protest.
- Suggest curtailing entertainments such as fireworks, speeches, or gift exchanges.
- Encourage participants to share ideas for austerity, such as freebies, bartering, making do, and yard sales. Start a blog.
- Seek out influential people to visibly support and practice the austerity.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.