Purchasing Power

One only needs to turn on the television, read the newspaper, or look at their Facebook newsfeed to know that there are a lot of disgruntled people in the United States.  Whether you’re angry because the President wants everyone to have health care or you’re pissed at the conservatives threatening to push their views on everyone, whether you recently camped out in a park or not, we can all agree that our nation is not moving in a direction that is helping its citizens.  The Republicans are campaigning to get the Democrat president out of office.  Even if they succeed, in four years, the Democrats will be up in arms trying to get the Republican out.

So, what can we, the average citizens of the United States of America, the victims of a capitalist economy, do?  First, we need to understand just how the process of choosing our government works.  Secondly, we need to understand that complaining loudly for four years about whoever is President will not actually accomplish anything.  Thirdly, we need to realize that we make choices every day that can make a difference.

Allow me to summarize briefly how our electoral process works.  At the local, regional, and state levels, the candidate with the most votes gets the position, whether they win by a landslide or one vote.  At the presidential level, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state receives all of the state’s electoral votes.  Electoral votes are based on the number of representatives a state has in Congress (so, two votes for the senators, and however many votes for the representatives).  Furthermore, most states do not split their electoral votes, so whoever wins the popular vote in that state receives all of them.  For example, the state of California has 55 electoral votes.  If Candidate A receives 42% of the popular vote, Candidate B receives 8%, and Candidate C receives 50%, Candidate C will receive all 55 of California’s electoral votes.  Therefore, if you voted for Candidate A,   you may feel that your vote has no meaning.  Particularly if you are one of a Republican minority in a Democratic state, you may not bother voting at all, since you know there is little hope.  What is one to do? Wait until the next election?  Write angry letters to their representatives?  Complain and degrade the government at every dinner party?

I’m suggesting a much simpler, much more effective, and much more direct approach.  After the recent Occupy movement, the dramatic influence that large corporations have over our government policies has come to light.  We took to the streets, the parks, the internet, and protested that we were part of the 99%, damn it! Perhaps I’m just out of touch with some current events, but as far as I can tell, the Occupy movement has resulted in no sweeping social change.  It’s easy to change your Facebook status.  How many of these do we see a day?  Someone posts something about supporting a cure for cancer, or another disease, or against a political policy?  How many of us stood in parks with signs opposing the 1%?  I don’t know if we realize that simply voicing your opinion is not creating change.  It can raise awareness of the problem, sure.  How many people who post those cancer awareness Facebook statuses make concrete life changes because of them, though?  How many donate money to cancer research, join any number of Races for the Cure, or examine their own lives and health to see if they are at risks for cancer? (Using sunscreen to prevent melanoma, eating healthy foods that boost the immune system, etc.)  How many people in the parks protesting truly understand the functioning of the United States government and can offer solutions?  Just kicking people out of office won’t do it.  There needs to be a plan for positive and lasting change.

The Occupy Movement has largely died down, and though I didn’t follow it terribly closely I can’t help but wonder what the 99% actually gained through living in parks for months.  I’ve heard of no sweeping changes in legislation, no dramatic crackdowns on CEO’s and corporations.  In fact, the world seems to be moving along just as it was before anyone occupied anything.

The thing is, changing the world requires a lot more than making some signs and living in a park and posting things on the Internet.  It means taking a hard, long look at yourself and seeing what things you might change about you and your choices.  There is a very simple way to fight the giant corporations: stop giving them money.  These corporations are wealthy and powerful because we buy their products and services.  We buy stock in their companies.  We put our money in their banks. We buy gasoline, drugs, food, cars, cell phones, and cars.  And in turn, these corporations employ people called lobbyists, whose job it is to take the interests of the corporations to Congress.  These corporations spend millions of dollars on lobbyists.  Who do you think Congress will pay more attention to: a bunch of people in a park or well-dressed, highly-groomed people who know the ins and outs of the political dance like the back of their own hand?

That’s a sobering thought.  Your choices in buying your car, your computer, your prescription medications, your internet and phone service…these all directly impact the political landscape of the country.  You might be morally opposed to everything happening in Washington, yet be unknowingly contributing to it, if the corporations who manufacture your products pay lobbyists.

According to The Better World Shopping Guide by Ellis Jones, the following corporations spend the most money on lobbyists to promote their interests:

  1. General Electric
  2. Kraft
  3. AT&T
  4. Exxon Mobil
  5. Blue Cross/Shield
  6. Verizon
  7. General Motors
  8. Pfizer
  9. Ford
  10.  Microsoft

For me, it’s a shock to realize that my health insurance, my cell phone and internet service, and the gasoline I buy for my car all contribute to this.

So, I challenge you all: If I’ve said anything that resonates with you, even a little bit, do post this on Facebook, or Twitter, or the internet medium of your choice.  Talk about it with your friends.  And then, the next time you go to the store, don’t buy anything made by Kraft.  Stop using Internet Explorer and download Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome for free.  Buy a copy of The Better World Shopping Guide and really evaluate your purchasing choices.

We get to vote for Congress every two years.  We vote for the President every four years. But we buy things every day.  Change what you buy.  Make a difference.  In fact, it just might be the only thing that does.

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