Spend Money Like an Activist: A Guide for Politically-Conscious Buying
It’s no secret that money is exchanged at uncomfortably high rates throughout all of the United States. From the political sphere utilizing lobbyists, pay-offs, bailouts, and under-the-table bribery, the system seems almost too far gone to even try and correct.
But with all of the political corruption focused around money (along with the knowledge that money owned by the rich stays with the rich, as evidenced by how their wealth has been growing while everyone else’s wealth has been dwindling), the more politically savvy among us begin to wonder in spite how our dollars, petty in comparison, can make a difference for social change.
So, if you, too, want to make sure that we’re minimizing support of companies that actively and knowingly exploit their workers and instead support businesses that are showing support for lower-class needs and progressive interest, there are ways to do this.
Thankfully, several effective strategies exist for us to pick and choose from, depending on our own personal situation, needs, and how we best want to activate a plan.
Money Is Political
In the state of our political sphere, where corporate executives can have heavy-handed sways in the way that our government makes decisions, it becomes an unfortunate truth that money has at least as much say as a vote.
In fact, equating these two has been a major point of criticism for many years, leading to the popularization of slogans like “Vote with Your Wallet” or the ever-controversial (yet painfully accurate) “One Dollar, One Vote.”
Though enraging, conceptualizing your spending in this way can also be extremely useful when deciding where and on what to spend your money.
If your monthly pay is instead viewed as a series of votes that you can cast, would you rather vote on the success of a monolithic mega-corporation that has been called out on treating pregnant workers unfairly? Or instead vote on the success of the shop on the corner owned and run by the single mother with two children?
Under this scope, it becomes clearer where you should spend your money.
And just as with politics and voting, it’s necessary when deciding where to spend your money that you prioritize who you want to succeed and why.
Is supporting same-sex marriage most important to you? Or is supporting contraception availability? If you can’t live without either of these (as you shouldn’t want to), what companies or stores can you invest in that will reflect that?
Each business around you has a set of their own ideologies that they will support with your money, much like a politician, and should be treated accordingly.
The theme and concept of a community working together toward a common goal is a vital one that should be well-understood in order to create action for a cause.
This concept of focusing on a local community’s needs first is what has been driving #OccupyWallStreet to so many non-Wall Street avenues and creating successes in those individual communities.
Many people, when considering how they can make a political change with their spending habits, get overwhelmed because they recognize the sheer number of people who frequent major corporations every day.
Our refusing to spend ten dollars on a teapot pales in the face of the thousands of dollars everyone else is spending together in their local Walmart that day alone. It starts to feel like no more than a drop in the bucket.
But in that same vein, it could also be recognized how many people aren’t spending money at Walmart in that same time. This counteraction becomes even more embellished when we have a full group of people committed to the same cause, such as when we can be in solidarity with a publicized boycott or a worker’s strike.
The first important step in becoming politically conscious with your money (and continuing to be so) is to make sure that you have a community that aligns with your beliefs and with which you can further the cause you’re passionate about.
This strategy has been utilized by organizers with the Occupy movement, such as on Bank Transfer Day back in 2011.
Reassuring yourself that you’re not the only one taking on a challenge for your politics and that other people are just as passionate as you can have a monumental effect on your success.
This is especially true when you and your group of activist friends also commit to diverting that unspent money to more ethical outlets.
So Where Am I Supposed to Buy From?
There is a simple answer to this, and then a not-so-simple answer.
The “simple” answer is this: Boycott all corporations and buy locally. It’s almost always better to buy locally than to buy from a chain store.
Time Magazine reported that a study following money spent within both local stores and large companies showed that shopping local kept about twice as much money in the local economy as the alternative, and we are actively watching Detroit rebuild itself post-bankruptcy much in part to Black-owned local businesses.
This means less money invested in upper-class safes or spent on politicians and more money given to the farmers, laborers, and other vital members of the lower-class backbone that keeps your neighborhood up and running.
If you’ve been desiring a hands-on way to help break down class stratification, this is by far the most effective strategy for an individual to pursue within the scope of our larger society.
Obviously, the names of shops and availability of services vary from town to town, but many organizers from various cities have compiled a directory of local businesses, found by searching “Local First” or “Think Local First” along with your city’s name (like this, for example).
For food, most towns offer several different options for buying local, usually in the form of farmer’s markets (best), co-op grocery stores (great), or just a local town grocery store (good). Co-op stores are also your best bet for finding ethically produced goods, such as those that ensure fair wages, humane working conditions, and so on (though these can sometimes be found at farmer’s markets as well).
Unfortunately, shopping locally isn’t always viable.
It may be difficult or impossible to find basic things like kitchenware, appliances, or cleaning supplies in your neighborhood. And since local businesses are smaller and may not have the same privileges or opportunities that large corporations do, there may be a significant price gap that many of us in the lower classes simply cannot afford to live on the higher side of.
While this is an unpleasant life situation, it’s perfectly okay if politically conscious shopping isn’t within your realm of possibilities.
Discriminant shopping is a privilege that not all can access, meaning those of us with that privilege carry the burden of constantly assessing our buying habits to make sure that they serve the greater good while also ensuring that we aren’t standing on our privilege to police others’ budgets and spending.
The More Complex Answer
Unfortunately, once you jump from the realm of local to that of corporatism, you’re entering a world of spark words, invisibility, and half-truths regarding the ethics and policies held by a company (told ya money was political!). Therefore, we’re going to have to rely on a handful of tools to help us in our decision-making.
In terms of eco-friendly products, the Federal Trade Commission has already had to wag their finger at corporations for making marketable (but unverifiable) claims about how eco-friendly their products were.
The best tool for being able to bypass this particular marketing mayhem is to look for third-party verifications on specific products. You may be familiar with “Energy Star,” for instance. A full list of these third-party verifications can be found on the Greener Products page on the EPA’s website.
Shopping in a way that’s savvy of social issues, however, becomes a little trickier due to the open door to the House and the Senate – though, thankfully, a few tools do exist to make our expenditure fact-checking a little bit easier.
The website Buy Back Your Vote, for instance, lets you search individual companies to find where their political leanings have historically sided. If we search “Facebook,” for instance, we can now discover numerous facts about how Zuckerberg (and company) have spent the massive ad revenue they garner on the site, including that they donate approximately two-thirds of their political money to Democrats and the rest to Republicans.
However, by clicking on the Candidate and PAC (Political Action Committee) tabs, we can also see that they were apparently quite fond of putting John Boehner in the Speaker’s seat where he then made questionable decisions regarding the financial health of our country.
Another tool useful for analyzing a company’s ethics is the HRC Corporate Equality Index, which looks at individual companies’ formal policies for LGBQ+ and trans/GNC non-discrimination, while also factoring in any past history the company has had with dealing with queer issues in order to give the company a rank from 0 to 100, a rating of 100 being the ideal ranking for a company to have.
With this knowledge, making politically-conscious decisions with your money should be much easier, not to mention more effective, than the pay-and-pray method that many of us have gotten accustomed to.
It may seem like a sizable amount of work at first, but knowing that you’re “voting” responsibly makes it all worth the while.
Kaylee Jakubowski is a writer and a trans, Queer feminist with specific interests in ecofeminism, anti-imperialism, Queerness, and statistical approaches to social justice work. Xe is pursuing a B.S. in Statistics with a minor in Women’s & Gender Studies. Feel free to like xyr Facebook Page, follow xem on Tumblr, or see what xe is up to musically. This article was originally published in Everyday Feminism.