By Brent Sandmeyer of Portland, Oregon. Brent is a freelance writer and political activist who grew up working in his family's local, independent bookstore.
Starbucks or nothing - that's the ultimatum laid out in a new series of ads by the union-busting java giant. Hmm. Does nothing come in half-caf with soy creamer? Fortunately, in Portland and beyond, good citizens are rejecting that false choice for something better- progressive local business. Baffled by Portland’s disdain for the best branding money can buy, last year Starbucks shut down three cafes in southeast Portland alone.
Traditional economic political activism is negative, relying on boycotts and pickets to punish bad businesses while doing nothing to reward good ones. But why not use a carrot instead of a stick? Look at Carrotmobbing, where activists “reverse boycott” a local business, sending a swarm of shoppers in exchange for the owner’s promise to spend part of the windfall on environmentally friendly enhancements to the store.
Democrats can use a similar principle to support businesses with a track record of donating to progressive candidates and organizations. BlueOregon readers probably already know those places, but you can also look up donors in your area on sites like OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org. Invite a few friends along as your own mini Carrotmob. You don't have to buy anything that you don’t need- just be selective in where you buy it.
In this recession it can be sorely tempting to abandon local shops to save a little at a big chain, but consider these political implications of where your dollars are going.
For one, spending money at independent shops keeps money from moving up corporate food chains into the hands of lobbyists determined to undermine our common public interests- workers' rights, the environment, fair trade- you name it. With local business, you know where your money is going. You know which stores and owners support Democrats and which ones keep Limbaugh on all day, and you can shop accordingly.
When campaigns begin, they turn to local business and community leaders for donations, endorsements, and clout. You need some flyers, you go to Witham & Dickey, not Kinko's. You need a case of wine for a fundraiser, you go to Lemelson, not Charles Shaw. Put simply, the regional manager of Walmart is not high on the list. Having more successful local businesses means a wider pool of potential campaign support than if an area is dominated by chains.
Some progressive groups are already embracing the local strategy. The Oregon Bus Project has started giving its monthly donors a “Driver's License” that serves as a discount card at businesses around town that support the Bus- a win for everyone. This synergistic karma will help build a strong, local donor base, keeping the progressive Democratic wave rolling during next year's elections, when most of us will still be holding lean bankrolls.
As the Starbucks ads conclude: 'Because compromise leaves a really bad aftertaste.' Yes, yes it does. So shop smart, shop local, shop Democrat.