Back in 2001, I was working on yet-to-be-elected Bill de Blasio’s first City Council campaign. The primary for this campaign – which in New York City is essentially the general election due to the fact of there only being Democratic candidates running – happened to take place on September 11th, 2001. I was in charge of the polling sites in Carroll Gardens, which sits just across the river from the Financial District. When the towers fell, the ash cloud crept across that body of water and covered us in a grey, dusty residue. Being a transplant from Colorado, I had a bunch of family and friends reaching out to me, asking what they could do to help us here in New York City.
I honestly didn’t know what they could do. We turned to our elected leaders for their advice, and I’ll never forget what I’d thought I heard President George Bush say:
“All Americans need to do to help is to reach into their wallets and pull out their credit cards and keep the economy moving.”[Turns out he never said this – exactly.]
At the time, this seriously disturbed me. Rather than ask Americans to volunteer in their communities, read books at their local school, clean up their parks, volunteer at hospitals, our only agency was to be nothing but consumers. That stuck with me for several years following that horrible day.
As I witnessed several of my friends and family rack up massive amounts of personal debt, accumulating things that they saw as evidence of their success and entitlement, I started to wonder from where these unnatural appetites came. When I scrutinized my environment, I saw that media played a major role in preying on our insecurities and competitiveness, driving us to buy plastic trinkets we didn’t organically and naturally need.
I felt that if there was a way to reveal the tricks and persuasive tools media employ to convince us that we aren’t whole without that new off-the-rack suit, perhaps we wouldn’t go into so much debt. Perhaps we wouldn’t think so poorly about our love handles. Perhaps our no-longer-in-fashion duds wouldn’t end up in a landfill. This is where The LAMP was born. (Ah, the irony – if I’d been more media literate, I might have looked more closely at the source of the quote. Of course we’d still have The LAMP, but with a different story.)
I was reminded of this just recently when, while waiting on the G train platform, I caught sight of a young lady’s t-shirt that read: “I am not a shopaholic. I am helping the economy.”
Even if President Bush never said these words exactly, the interpretation grew out of the spirit and response to horrifying events, and landed as a slogan on this young woman’s clothing. If you can’t find your purpose, surely there’s a way to buy it.
— D.C. Vito
D.C. Vito is the co-founder and Executive Director of The LAMP. Follow The LAMP on Twitter: @thelampnyc