For once I don’t have a movie recommendation or article or anything else to go with the topic. It also has nothing to do with the food industry, GMOs, or activism. It’s got nothing to do with health or the financial crisis in our country. It’s really got nothing to do with any of that. This week’s topic is about giving a message about your own beliefs, and teaching your children how to do the same.
Okay, maybe I won’t be completely without a movie recommendation. I was watching The Corporation this week and I kept having thoughts about that ridiculous Occupy Together campaign. I had a bunch of people telling me how that was proof that we can’t get what we want from our government because obviously they shut down that movement pretty quickly. Personally I thought that whole protest was a joke because their demands were far too diverse, but that’s a different subject for a different day. It got me thinking about how Americans can make their voice heard in the face of things they can’t change through democratic means. After all, companies aren’t held to the same standards as our elected government officials. We don’t elect the owners of Coke, Dell, Walmart, etc. We have no real way of determining what those companies do through some sort of “democratic” means.
This comes back to the idea of “vote with your dollars”. I’ve heard this a lot over the past five years or so. If you don’t like what a company is doing, vote with your dollars and don’t support them. Give your business to a competitor that upholds to things you do believe in, and if you can’t find one, really assess whether or not you really need the product. Stage a boycott. Show the company that you don’t support their actions by refusing to give them you’re money. Businesses are capitalist ventures, which means they will do whatever it takes to ensure they keep making money. If that means changing policies to ensure they make that money, so be it.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t really seem to get how this process really works. Say, for example, you decide you don’t like…I don’t know…Walmart. You don’t like Walmart because their products aren’t as high quality as other retailers, you don’t like their company policies, they drive too many local businesses under, and they destroy local economies. I haven’t actually researched any of that to know how many of those claims are true, but we’re using it as an example because those are complaints I’ve heard before. So, you decide you’re anti-Walmart. Great! You’re making a stand and not shopping there. However, if you really want to tell the company you don’t like their practices, you’ll also stop going to KMart. They’re owned by the same company. You’ll also go online to find out which companies are owned by Walmart. You won’t shop there either. How about Walmart’s parent company? Is there one? What companies does that parent company own? Do you want to boycott those too? Will it still send the same message if you boycott Walmart and everything related to it, but still shop at their little organic food store or a clothing retailer? Will the parent corporation care? They still get your money either way. What product lines are related to Walmart? Don’t buy those either. If you boycott the whole family associated with Walmart you’re telling the whole company, “I don’t like your practices. I refuse to support you because you allow this to happen.”
Sometimes this can be tricky just by the product lines a company owns. For example, if you boycott Coke you’ve also got to boycott Monster and Full Throttle energy drinks, Peace Tea, and a whole list of fast food chains and restaurants that are all owned by Coke. Personally I would boycott any restaurant that sold Coke products. I wouldn’t go so far as to boycott grocery stores and convenience stores that sold Coke, as long as Coke didn’t have an exclusive monopoly on the soda provided at that store. However, if going there you’re left with the choice of a coke product or nothing, it’s worth boycotting. After all, that company or restaurant may not be owned by Coke, but they certainly are good bedfellows. Making a boycott actually work takes some serious education on the product you’re boycotting in the age of big-box corporations.
It’s even more complex when you get on the subject of boycotting certain providers. Let’s say you decide to boycott my all-time favorite company to vilify these days, Monsanto. You think that the practices of Monsanto are completely unethical and you don’t want anything to do with the products they make. Well, at a first glance that’s pretty easy. Don’t buy roundup weed killer or any of their other products, but the reality isn’t that easy. Not only do you have to boycott their products, but you’ve also got to boycott any company that exclusively uses their products. For example, you need to boycott processed foods. Why? Most processed foods use at least some quantity of GMOs produced by Monsanto, such as high fructose corn syrup or soy bean oil. You have to boycott corn-fed animals. Why? The corn they eat is largely GMO corn. You need to avoid rBGH dairy products. You need to avoid GMOs, which is tricky because many of them aren’t labeled. It means researching the places your food comes from and knowing what chemicals are used to treat those foods and where they’re made. Cutting out a company like Monsanto could mean making everything from scratch, gardening for whatever you can possibly grow at home, and doing a lot of research on Monsanto-free products. It’s a lot of work.
I know a lot of people think voting with your dollars won’t do much, especially if you’re poor, but the truth is it will. Sure, it’s not going to make a difference to Walmart or Monsanto if you take your business elsewhere. Your contribution will only make a slight dent in their overall profits, probably so small they won’t even notice it. Then again, if everyone made their small contribution by only buying products they could truly support, companies would be influenced to do what they public wanted them to do. If the majority of people ate organic, companies would begin transitioning to organic products as the bulk of their business. Non-organic foods might disappear entirely. If most people refused to buy clothing and goods made in sweat shops then companies would start to tailor their businesses to match. There’s a lot more votes out there and some people may get more votes than you do, but every dollar you spend is like sending in a vote, it’s letting your voice and your opinion be heard.
Better still, this can teach a valuable lesson to our children. By showing your children the reason behind your choices you can teach them to vote with their own dollars. Maybe they could care less about buying products made in foreign sweat shops. That’s their choice. Maybe they’ll boycott a company you put your full support in because they take fault in the company where you don’t. However, they’ll learn that where their money is spent sends a message. If they buy junk food they’re telling the food industry that junk food is okay and it’s what they want to buy. If they only buy expensive, designer jeans they’re sending a message to the clothing industry about valuing brand name over price point. They are sending a message about what they’re willing to support and where they draw the line with every dollar they spend, and they should be aware of the message they are giving.
Most Americans that I’ve met don’t think about what they’re saying with their money when they spend it. They’ll drop money on televisions and video games without much care for where or how those products or made or who gets the money for it. They shop at Walmart to buy cheap clothes because they value cost over quality and often don’t want to think about who makes those products or how they’re made. However, the convenience, cost, and pride of buying new keeps them shopping there even when they hear about the clothing being made in sweat shops, even though you could likely buy something of equal or greater quality for less second-hand. Thrift stores still come with the same stigma of being for people too poor to buy new, which often is a part of the reason why people go to cheap big-box stores instead of supporting a better industry. They can’t afford to support more positive practices, but it’s better to own up to buying at Walmart than to buy at a second-hand store. You still sound poor, but not as poor as shopping at Goodwill or Salvation Army will make you sound. That just makes you sound like a charity case.
I am at least trying to raise my own awareness of what I buy and what industries I’m supporting. I might not be able to afford to support all the industries I like, but at least being aware of what I’m supporting changes my thought process. When I can afford to make better choices, I do. I would rather buy second-hand or use Freecycle than to support many of the industries with practices I can’t get behind. I may not have much money with which to cast my vote, but every dollar I can put in a more positive direction makes a difference.
Isn’t it time you started to take a good, solid look at where you’re money is going and what each dollar goes to support? You might be surprised at what you’re telling the world is okay in your book.