On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country organized to move their money from predatory big banks to smaller local banks and credit unions. After 650,000 Americans joined credit unions during the month of October alone—more than in all of 2010 combined—even more people organized to make November 5 the beginning of a collective blow to the corporate financial institutions that crashed our economy.
Is there a move-your-money equivalent for corporate power? Can we organize to actively—and sustainably—move our money from the corporations that control our political systems to sustain their greed, and invest in more just and sustainable economies?
A few Americans have chosen to live full-time at occupations—enjoying the free food, medical care and childcare in the “ideal” society created by the Occupy movement—but most of us are still living and working in a capitalist society, where we need to buy things. What we buy, and more importantly, where we buy it, could be a collective, quiet revolution that begins to fight corporate control and infiltrates our broken economic system with the beginnings of a new, conscientious economy oriented around economic justice.
1. Buy Local
Corporate chain retailers homogenize communities, taking what was once local money and transforming it into corporate revenue. Supporting locally owned businesses does not only preserve communities—it makes the difference between local economic growth and fueling corporate greed.
For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 remains in the local economy. If this money is spent at a big-box mart or chain store, only $14 remains while the rest is redistributed at corporate headquarters. This works because local businesses typically follow what has become known as the “local multiplier effect”—instead of outsourcing labor and redirecting profits to the corporate machine, local business owners invest in local labor and keep their profits in the local economy.
Introducing a chain retailer to a community—for example, a Barnes and Nobles in a town that already has two local bookstores—diverts profits from the pre-existing stores and severely reduces local economic impact. Though merchandise sales increase, over half of the revenue that would have been enjoyed by the local bookstores is pumped into the corporate chain, ultimately forcing the smaller retailers out of business and seriously limiting local economic growth.
This is easy to change. The 3/50 Project calls upon people to choose three local businesses, and spend their $50 at these businesses instead of at chain retailers. The campaign even recently released an iPhone app, Look Local, to help people locate and support nearby small business retailers.
2. Buy Union Made
It is not news that corporations often eschew labor regulations in favor of maximizing profits, outsourcing manufacturing jobs overseas to workers who are willing to work long hours for minimal wages. For many of these products—cars, clothing and other manufactured goods—there is an alternative brand that is manufactured in the United States by a unionized labor force. Supporting these union-made products, instead of foreign-made products of unregulated labor and sweatshops, fuels American jobs, and supports the unions that organize and fight to make sure these jobs have fair pay, benefits and proper working conditions.
There are many different ways to support union-made products, and several resources listing what is and isn't union-made.
If you are in the market for a new car, consider American brands such as Ford, GM or Chrysler. Though they sell less than half of the cars bought in the United States, two-thirds of their parts are manufactured here. These cars use significantly more domestic parts than foreign car companies—which translates into over one million jobs in the domestic manufacturing sector. Here is the 2011 Union-Made vehicles list.
There are many other Web sites advertising union-made products, union-made clothing and even union-made political campaign buttons. In addition to boycotting mega-corporations, purchasing these products finances an economy that supports good jobs and sustains the middle class.
3. Buy Green
Occupy Wall Street is already protesting corporate disregard for environmental regulations and justice by integrating sustainability and consciousness-raising initiatives into its greater model for economic justice at Liberty Plaza in New York. Recycling bins are set up. The sanitation group specifically uses and requests environmentally friendly cleaning products. Chefs at the kitchen station hold signs warning against the dangers of genetically modified organisms. Just this past week, after the NYPD stripped the occupation of its generators, occupiers invested in bicycle-powered alternative energy generators, harnessing pedal power to stay warm and power their daily lives.
The majority of us are not actively occupying Zuccotti Park, but we can still follow their example and support green and alternative energy to both lessen our environmental impact, resisting and eventually replacing corporate power.
Buying local and buying American-made is already buying green by default. Transporting goods a short distance, rather than flying merchandise around the world reduces fuel consumption and environmental impact in addition to divesting our money from corporate power. This dualism can be enjoyed in many ways—supporting local farmers’ markets rather than genetically modified corporate food products is healthy, reduces fuel consumption and generates local economic growth. Purchasing products that are made in the United States reduces carbon emissions through international travel, and when union-made, generates and supports good, local jobs.
There are many other ways to support sustainability initiatives. Using a car-share program, such as Zipcar, resists consumption and pollution, while investing in a transportation economy based in utility and sustainability. Simply driving less, and using less gasoline, and diverting this money toward public transportation, is as much an anti-corporate statement as an environmental statement.
Buying local can be as minimal as patronizing your neighborhood coffee shop instead of Starbucks. It keeps money in the local economy, rather than lining the pockets of a CEO. Buying union-made is the difference between investing in a Ford or a Chrysler instead of a Honda or Toyota—and keeps essential manufacturing jobs in the United States. Buying green can be either the decision between two cleaning products, shopping at a farmer’s market instead of a grocery store, or purchasing a bus pass instead of driving to work—it keeps money out of big oil companies and invests in an economy that values environmental health and sustainability over corporate profit.
Those at OccupyWallStreet, OccupyAmerica and OccupyTogether are united by both our demands and our conscience, and understand that a sustainable future is built on the economic justice that has been ignored by big banks and behemoth corporations. As long as we are still caught in their system, it is time that we organize to put our money where our mouths are and invest in a more just economic future.