November 16, 2020
Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all in different ways. Some of us have lost our jobs, having to rely on side hustles or unemployment to get by. Others have had health scares, loved ones getting sick, and experienced deaths in our community. The quarantine has made socializing challenging, and mental health and isolation have been a struggle for many. Recently, I’ve moved in with my parents to save money, and fight off isolation for the winter. All of us have had to adjust; we're all struggling in some way. Well, almost all of us.
A few Americans are thriving during this pandemic, making billions off of our collective panic and hardship. Around 57.4 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March (Forbes), and despite all that, according to Business Insider, “billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic.” This includes Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, whose network reached $200B this year. That’s B for Billion.
A billion is hard for me to conceptualize, until I saw this wealth graph that honestly made me sick. What right does any one person have to be a Billionaire in a world where people are starving, without shelter, and dying by the hundreds of thousands from a pandemic? I know, I am just one person, and can’t do much to fight capitalism alone, but I also know ethically, I do not want to continue to line the pockets of corrupt men like Bezos.
So this summer, I broke up with Amazon. Cold turkey. And you know what? It was actually really easy. I mistook convenience for necessity, and now over three months out from my decision, I am happy to report I am living my life without Amazon, and I don’t even notice.
My break up with Amazon also showed me that the convenience of a store that’s always open and the illusion of free shipping made me spend a lot of money on things I didn’t really need. In an age when consumerism is contributing to climate change, I think it’s best if we buy less. Yes, often buying local is more expensive than Amazon, but buying local forces you to only buy what you need, and that’s better for the environment and our local economy.
Because I broke up with Amazon, I am more conscious now of what I spend my money on, and I'm more connected to my community because I am spending more money locally. It’s true, Kitchen Witch in Jamaica Plain has less toaster options than Amazon, but when I emailed them looking for a toaster this summer, they hand delivered one to my apartment. Plus they take Venmo! When I shop at Hardware City on Centre Street, they remember the cart I bought from them six years ago, and they always ask how I’m doing. They remember me not because they are collecting my data, but because they are people. They are a part of my community. No amount of money spent on Amazon can buy you that connection.
Below is a list of suggestions for how you too can cut Amazon out of your life. Whether you want to cut ties altogether, or take your time with your Amazon divorce, adopting any number of these suggestions will help you send less money to Bezos, and more money to someone else — hopefully a more deserving, small business that actually pays taxes in your neighborhood.
This will surprise no one, you have to dig around a bit to find the delete button on Amazon. I followed these steps, and reached out to a customer service representative. They did the same thing that any company does: asked me several times if I was sure, threatened that all my data would be deleted (isn’t that a good thing?), and then made me wait a few days for a confirmation email. But once my account was deleted, I was never tempted to shop on Amazon again.
If you live in the city, what you need, whatever it is, is likely within a mile of you. And when I can, I prioritize shopping local. Jeff Bezos doesn’t care if I shop at Amazon or not — I have basically no effect on his income or company. But when I buy all my books from Paper Cuts instead of Amazon, it makes a difference to the local store. Go on online and take a moment to identify stores in your neighborhood. You may be surprised that everything you need is within reach. Also, shopping local does not necessarily mean it will be more expensive, it just means you have to shop smart. Plus, small businesses are often owned by women and/or people of color, and they hire local people. Take a look at who runs Amazon. Who would you rather support?
Identifying other places where you can buy what you need is crucial for a successful break up with Amazon. While I prefer to shop local, that’s not always possible. But guess what, stores like Target and CVS will have a lot of what you need (and they have free and fast shipping or in store pick-up options). I know, I know, Target and CVS aren’t exactly angels, but any place with a storefront in your neighborhood has to pay taxes in your neighborhood, and likely employs local, community members. Shopping at Walgreen, Lowes, or Grove.co also creates competition for Amazon, ensuring Amazon doesn’t become a giant monopoly.
After Harvest Co-Op in Jamaica Plain moved and then eventually closed, Whole Foods became the closest full sized grocery store to me. Which meant, I started shopping at Whole Foods a lot. At first, I didn’t mind, their values seemed to aline with mine, I want to shop organic when I can afford it, and enjoy their high quality produce. But I was spending a lot of money on groceries. Then I went to the big Whole Foods in the South End, and had a dystopian experience that really creeped me out. I went to the Whole Foods, and the majority of the shoppers were shopping for other people. The store was packed with people of color shopping for rich, white, people who have most likely gentrified the South End. It was an unpleasant shopping experience, because there were shopping carts everywhere, making it hard to get around, but it also made me think: Do I want to support this? Do I want to live in a society where rich people can stay home and be safe, while working class people do their grocery shopping for them and risk getting COVID? No. No, I do not.
This summer, I decided I would shop at the farmer’s market twice a week, and then go to City Feed in Jamaica Plain to get other things. The Farmer's Market is small, but offers a lot of options. Stillman’s Farms is the main attraction. This summer I bought almost all my produce from them and it saved me money. That’s right, buying local produce was cheaper than buying produce from Whole Foods (and Stop & Shop). I felt safer shopping at Stillman’s, because it is outside and much faster than going to the grocery store, and shopping indoors. I also occasionally bought fish from Red's Best’s farm stand, which had a wide range of locally caught fish for many prices. Eating local this summer, I was healthier than I had been in a long time, it was also better on the environment, and supported the local economy. I made several big trips to stores like Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop, but for the most part I enjoyed eating fresh produce, fish and meat from the local farmer’s market and corner store. City Feed has a customer loyalty program, and I often got $10 off my entire purchase through using it.
Audible is an audiobook company, owned by Amazon, it starts at $7.95 a month. I love audiobooks, because I am dyslexic and a busybody, so listening to a book while I’m doing chores or walking really appeals to me. I’ll let you in on a little secret, it’s really easy to avoid using Audible, because your local library has tons of audiobooks FOR FREE. The app Libby connects to your local library and allows you to download and listen to thousands of audiobooks, sometimes there is a wait for new and popular titles, but I listen to about a book a week on Libby. Libby also has ebooks, and it’s very user friendly. Hoopla is another free service that lets you consume comics, books, TV, and movies through your library card.
I used Alexa for several years. I had a small speaker in my bedroom, and relied on Alexa to wake me up in the morning, tell me the weather, and play music for me. But unless you put her on mute, Alexa is always listening. Yikes. I spent less than $10 on an alarm clock, and now use my phone and WBUR, my local NPR station, to check the weather. And you know what? Meteorologist David Epstein is always more reliable than Alexa ever was. Alexa is just another reminder that not only is Amazon evil, but they are also collecting data about you.
Several years ago, I realized that Black Lives won’t matter if there is not a healthy planet for us to live on. As a part of my activism, I decided to do two, small, eco-friendly things: 1. Waste less food, and compost (I like Bootstraps) for the food I don’t consume, and 2. Try to cut out fast fashion by buying second hand clothing and high quality clothing that will last a long time. Amazon has a lot of clothing options, but again, this leads to consumerism, which feeds capitalism, and creates waste. Boston and its surrounding cities have endless thrift, vintage, and boutique clothing stores for every budget. I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, which is fun and honestly works best with my freelance, artist budget, and for things like shoes, I try to buy high quality brands that will last me many years and keep my feet happy.
So, have I convinced you yet? Maybe you can’t go cold turkey like me, but checking in with yourself and shopping consciously is very important. Your money is your voice, and every time you shop somewhere you are making a choice. This break up can be replicated with companies like Starbucks (local coffee is cheaper and tastes better), or even Google! I use Firefox, a nonprofit for a browser, and Ecosia for a search engine (they use their ad money to plant trees). As I slowly decouple from the big organizations in my life, I’ve found that I buy less, save more, and support businesses that support my community and my values.
At the heart of this break up, the question is: what type of future do you want to live in? I want to live in a future where the hardware store is owned by people of color, where I can walk to the local, woman owned bookstore and browse the shelves, where my community is thriving because local taxes are being paid. I want to live in a future where I know my local farmer, and where my grocery store isn’t collecting my data. Amazon does not support my vision of the future, do you?
Naomi Westwater (she/her) is a singer-songwriter, producer, tarot reader, and spiritual leader from Massachusetts.
Check her out on Instagram @naomiwestwater
I’ve lived in Jamaica Plain since 2014, here is a list of local businesses I love. But I encourage you to do your own research, and find stores in your area that you love.
Botanica San Miguel (spiritual)
City Feed (groceries)
Deep Thoughts (record store)
Hardware City (hardware store)
Happy Market & Spirits (groceries)
Kitchen Witch (kitchen goods)
Lucy Parsons Center (bookstore)
On Centre (clothing & gifts)
Paper Cuts (bookstore)
Polkadog Bakery (pet store)
Red’s Best (fish market)
Stillman’s Farm, at farmers markets around Boston (groceries)
WBUR (local news)
WGBH (local news)
Yumont True Value Hardware (hardware store)
40 South St. (clothing)
Korostoff, Matt. “Wealth shown to scale.” 2020.
Mull, Amanda. “Stop Believing in Free Shipping.” The Atlantic. 2020.
Paul, Kari. “Amazon says 'Black Lives Matter'. But the company has deep ties to policing.” The Guardian. 2020.
Ponciano, Jonathan. “Jeff Bezos Becomes The First Person Ever Worth $200 Billion.” Forbes. 2020.
Su, Jeb. “Why Amazon Alexa Is Always Listening To Your Conversations: Analysis.” Forbes. 2019.
Ungerleider, Neal. “Free Shipping Is A Lie.” Fast Company. 2016.
This piece was made possible through the Boston Arts and Culture Covid-19 Relief Fund. Thank you for supporting our local writers and creators!