Who of us is not familiar with the men and women who stand outside the grocery store with a bell and a little red kettle? They are the holiday time volunteers who pace back and forth in the bitter cold, ringing their bells harshly against the backdrop of normal life, drawing attention to their cause and a slew of emotions from those around them. Some of them stare off; some stare at you. Some will walk right up to you and ask you to donate.
Here in the United States, these Salvation Army workers have become a staple of the holiday season. You can’t escape them. Their standing in the cold, begging for pennies for the less fortunate, as you push your cart with two weeks’ worth of groceries out to your car, is all designed to make you feel guilty.
Personally, they annoy the daylights out of me. Where I come from in the South, there’s a lot of bible-beating, and more than one Christian organization standing outside the Wal-Mart soliciting donations. I’ve gotten into the habit of offering one simple response when I’m asked to donate to organizations like these: “I don’t donate to Christian organizations.” Maybe it’s the little rebel in me looking to get some kind of a response, or just the Wiccan who is being truthful and honest. The concept of not supporting Christianity is foreign to a lot of people; I’ve gotten more than one jaw-dropped “What?”
I don’t think the general public views people or organizations who undertake this kind of fund raising with anything warmer than indifference, and yet individuals keep lining up for it. For one, it’s inefficient. A successful online campaign is much more likely to bring in needed funds than exposing people to freezing temperatures for hours at a time. For two, I take exception to the Salvation Army’s discrimination against gays and lesbian. For three, I don’t like their bells. Bells play an important role within Wiccan and Pagan rituals and spells, and their constant, harsh use turns the little magic-working devices into nothing but noise designed to get attention.
For all that these Salvation Army volunteers bother me, and I dread grocery shopping around Christmas, there’s little any one of us can do. I’ve thought about trying to talk to one of them, or start a conversation, but what will it accomplish, really? At best, you will talk to someone who agrees to disagree, and at worst you will have caused a scene. There’s no scenario in which you won’t be viewed as an attacker, and even if you walk away the victor, you won’t have changed the way the company works and you won’t have represented yourself or your beliefs well.
And yet, silence is not an acceptable course of action, either. Silence is condoning, silence is allowing others to speak for you; silence enables continuation. So this year, I will be giving the volunteers these vouchers instead of money, controversy, or any potential for public attention. They will probably throw them away at the end of the day, and I will probably not change any minds, but I will have exercised a subtle protest to the things they represent.
How do you respond to the Salvation Army workers? Do they bother you any more or less than anyone else soliciting donations?
Here is a YouTube video that sums things up well.