Thursday, March 17, 2011

1995: What Is To Be Done?

The Internet of 1995 offered far fewer tools for the socially conscious shopper. These days, Shopping for a Better World or the Fair Trade Federation are good places to consult in order to reduce your overall level of liberal guilt. There's also an iPhone app named CauseWorld that allows you to feel better about using a device assembled by exploited workers. The point is, it's impossible to live and spend without having a negative impact somewhere, but awareness of where your money goes gives you some leverage. The more informed you are about your impact, the better able you are to make the right choices.

Occasionally I'm asked to speak to small groups or appear on the radio. I talk about the Comic News and its motto ("dedicated to saving the planet from the power-addicted greedheads before it's too late"), and about the burning issues of the day, as well as the topics of my first two books, Richard Nixon and the CIA.

Usually these talks tend to get kind of bleak, touching as they do on the corruption of our major institutions and the uncertain outlook for the planet. Invariably I'm asked the question, "What is to be done?", as if I had any idea. In order to have something to say, I generally recommend three types of action.

First, educate yourself and others about the power-addicted greedheads, since knowledge is power. Second, lend your support to some sort of organization working for justice, like Greenpeace or Amnesty International, since there is strength in numbers. And third, participate in electoral politics (if only in self-defense), since if you don't, it will be left to the Christian Coalition and their ilk, with predictable results.

Lately it occurs to me that there's a fourth avenue, possibly more efficacious than the other three combined: withdraw your support from multinational corporations.

Not all of them; just the nastiest ones. But if you believe, as I do, that the abuse of corporate power is at the heart of economic and environmental injustice, it behooves us to identify the malefactors and spend our money elsewhere, preferably locally.

Which is easier said than done.

I heard back from a dear friend who found my Rant in the March issue, on why I became a vegetarian, insufferably self-righteous. The message he took from it was "I'm saving the planet and you're not." So rather than tell you how to live your life, let me just confess my own sins.

I've been driving my girlfriend's car all over Tucson (placing newsracks), giving my money to rapacious oil companies. I bought shirts from the department store, made in Chinese sweatshops by workers earning 50 cents an hour. I ate at a Pizza Hut, thus helping to add to the millions of dollars earned by that notorious liar, Rush Limbaugh. And I've bought beer from the RJR Nabisco company, thus adding to the campaign coffers of that dangerous bigot Jesse Helms.

It's not always easy to arrange your life in such a way as to avoid contributing to oil companies, agribusiness, timber giants, pharmaceutical concerns, and other corporate criminals. We all do what we can, and I'm determined to do better. It makes little sense, after all, to complain about corrupt politicians while ignoring the less accountable institutions that corrupt them.

If you do want to save the planet before it's too late, the best thing you can do is behave as if every dollar you spend makes a difference...because it does. The boycotts against GE and Nestle did have an effect. And not to be too self-serving about it, but virtually every advertiser in this paper is feeling the squeeze from national or multinational chains. Some cities have experimented with locally-based currencies; maybe that's an idea whose time has come.

Nobody says this is going to be easy. But, hey, you asked.

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