You can count me among the millions of Americans who are disappointed that we won’t have a chance to elect Bernie Sanders as the next president of the United States. Come November, many of us will be voting in fear of Trump, rather than in the hope that Hillary will change anything for the better.
In the wake of Sanders’ defeat, progressives have been wondering how the massive political energy the senator stirred can be sustained and channeled into a movement capable of addressing the issues he raised — chief among them, income inequality and climate change.
Well, reader, I have wonderful news! There is a movement already well underway that can solve the problem of income inequality and make substantial progress toward halting global warming. It’s a movement you join without doing a lick of political organizing and, in fact, it transcends all political parties and labels, so it’s potentially more powerful than any president.
It’s called Buy Local.
Now, I could bore you with a slew of statistics that support this cause, but the strongest argument in favor of buying local is common sense. You don’t have to be an economist to know that your local economy will be stronger if you spend your money at businesses based in your community, rather than those headquartered in other states or countries. Furthermore, products produced close to your home don’t have to be shipped long distances, burning destructive fossil fuels every mile of the journey.
I’m proud to have been a founding board member of the Portland Independent Business and Community Alliance, the nonprofit that launched the Portland Buy Local campaign 10 years ago this month. The Buy Local movement has since spread to several other communities in Maine, but as it enters the mainstream there’s a risk its message will become mundane — just another slogan on a bumper sticker.
As the Sanders campaign has demonstrated beyond any doubt, the message behind the Buy Local movement is capable of arousing enormous public support. And, believe it or not, the Trump campaign promotes essentially the same points. Republican voters are as angry as lefty Dems about the devastating effects of globalization: shuttered factories, low wages, outsourcing up the wazoo (as The Donald might put it). The opposite of globalization is localization. To “make America great again” is to return the country to a time before multinational corporations used Wall Street to destroy Main Street businesses and sent jobs and profits overseas.
We don’t need a septuagenarian socialist or a septuagenarian strongman (Trump turned 70 this month) to save us from ourselves. The Wall Street fat cats who’ve been suppressing our standard of living for decades and distorting our democracy didn’t get rich by stealing our money — we willingly gave it to them. By the same mechanism, we can collectively turn the tide by doing the same things we’re already doing everyday (buying stuff, dining out, paying professionals for services) and just being a little smarter about those choices.
Every penny sent to a distant corporate headquarters for the enrichment of overpaid executives and shareholders who don’t live in your town or give a hoot what happens there is a penny that makes your community weaker and poorer. When you spend money at small, locally owned businesses, much more of that cash goes to pay employees, suppliers and service providers who live where you live and spend their money locally. In addition, the sales and property taxes those businesses pay to our state and local governments help keep your taxes lower.
Did you hear that, Republican friends? Buying locally means more jobs and lower taxes, regardless of which politician is in office. It’s also inherently patriotic and pro-America, because our nation is a collection of small communities and neighborhoods that stand or fall depending on the day-to-day decisions we, the people, make.
Buy Local campaigns get the ball rolling, but it’s up to us to put the concept into action and spread the word. You don’t have to get preachy or be a purist about it — heck, I’ve drank enough Dunkin’ Donuts coffee over the years to float one of its executives’ yachts — but neither do you have to sacrifice much of anything to do the right thing. The locally made product may be a bit more expensive than its mass-produced counterpart, but chances are it’s also of higher quality. It may take an extra day or two to have an album or book ordered by the local record shop or bookstore, but it’s same album or book Amazon will deliver with zero benefit to your town.
You know that little rush of empowerment you get walking out of the voting booth every year or two? You can feel that same rush several times a day, because supporting local, independent businesses is a revolutionary act.