OPINION | Support the 99%


The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that have swept the world have brought important questions into focus. But probably the most important question raised is “Just how much control do we have over our own lives?” The one percent control our banks, our jobs and our government. But, even more important, around the Holiday season, we allow that one percent to control our retail spending.

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: “Studies have found that locally owned stores generate much greater benefits for the local economy than national chains. Big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, are depressing wages and benefits for retail employees. These studies look at how the arrival of a big-box retailer displaces sales at existing businesses, which must then downsize or close. This results in job losses and declining tax revenue. Because many of the employees at the big box retailers do not earn enough to make ends meet, states are reporting high costs associated with providing healthcare (Medicaid) and other public assistance to these employees. The expansion of big-box retailers has been financed in part by massive development subsidies and tax advantages provided by local and state governments. These studies document that those subsidies have failed to produce real economic benefits for their communities.”

The young people in downtown Minneapolis and around the world are showing us the injustice of the current economic system. They are challenging us to change the world. But what they are asking us to do is actually very simple and really very easy. They are asking us to Shop Locally and share with each other.
Before all the hustle and bustle, the Holidays used to mean getting together with family and sharing home-made food and gifts. There was a simpler and more innocent time before credit cards, Macy’s, the Mall of America and Target. The gifts were more genuine and they seemed to last longer.

It’s still possible to have an “old fashioned Holiday.” Instead of going to a big box to do your holiday shopping, think about supporting your local businesses, your local artists and your local churches.

The Art Shoppe just opened at the Midtown Global Marketplace. It’s a collaboration of eight local artists doing fashion design, jewelry design, visual art, pottery and sculpture. They were initially funded with a grant from A Minnesota Without Poverty, Mount Olive Lutheran Church and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

And be sure to make it down to the Global Market on Saturday, November 19 for the Green Gifts Fair—70 local vendors, sustainable and organic. And check out AnDes’ jewelry and (if you want to go global) Tibet Arts and Gifts. Across the street is Chicago Lake Florist, a local store that’s been on Lake and Chicago for 50 years. Another local florist is Anthony Shane at 34th and Cedar, and his wonderful eclectic Flamingos Gift Shop is chock full of antiques and garage sale treasures…

Walker Community Church at 31st and 16th almost always has a craft show of local artists in time for the holidays, and Nokomis Square Cooperative at 50th and 35th Avenue South has a craft show as well. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors, make new friends and keep your money in the neighborhood. Dollars you spend there will stay in your community. Money you give to your credit card or Macy’s or The Mall or Target fly out of the neighborhood and end up in some politician’s pocket who wants to take away our right to collectively bargain in unions; who wants to weaken air and water pollution standards; who wants to crush the living standard of working people; and make sure the rich don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.

The kids downtown are doing their best to point out the problems with the present economic system. They demand a return to strict regulation of investment banks; they demand easier credit for homeowners and small businesses; and they demand taxes on the rich and on the transfer of stocks and bonds. They want an end to corporate personhood and they want to get money out of politics. They are criticizing capitalism, and they are making demands on politicians who are corrupted by the system they are trying to change, but it is up to the rest of us to build a cooperative commonwealth. The reforms they ask for will only be piecemeal and they will be compromised. The real revolution is the one we must make in spite of the government.

Food cooperatives are only the beginning. The Wedge and Seward are great. They are models of social organization, and they show us what is possible. But we need smaller coops on a neighborhood level. Community gardens need to be expanded to every block, large gardens in every neighborhood. We need cooperative health clinics, cooperative electric generating plants, even cooperative neighborhood policing. This work has already begun. Check out your neighborhood organization. Our revolution is happening now.

The least we can do this holiday season is to support our local artists and businesses. They are us. We are the 99%