OPINION: Small acts can challenge corporate power


Sometimes it pays to act small. Grab a cup of coffee at Tillie’s Bean instead of Starbucks; shop at your local food co-op instead of Cub; bank at the credit union instead of TCF. The benefits? Small family- and community-owned businesses reinvest their dollars in the community. It’s a win-win for, well, almost everyone.

Multinational corporations, of course, lose in this scenario. As well they should. These last few years have demonstrated how brutal corporate power can be. From blocking health care reform, selling bad mortgages, and forcing home foreclosures to profiteering from war, charging excessive credit card interest, and pushing junk science to obstruct climate control, corporate power is a rigged game that destroys individuals and communities, and is rapidly melting the planet.

Think about it: Our health care is managed by corporations; our homes are mortgaged by corporations; our salaries and standard of living are fixed by corporations; the food we eat is grown, processed and sold to us by corporations; our tax money bails out corporations; our wars protect the oil controlled by corporations and are fought largely by mercenaries employed by corporations; and our politicians are owned by corporations.

America is a corporate state and corporate power in this country is far reaching-it trickles into our personal space and shapes our thoughts and actions. Corporate propaganda invades our homes through commercials for drugs and commodities that many cannot even afford. A recent study showed that children could identify over a thousand corporate logos, but fewer than 12 native plants and foods! Corporations buy air time to denounce health care reform and climate control-and manipulate the message to make it seem like they are doing this for our benefit. The stakes are too high for us to remain complacent in the face of such a gross infringement of our autonomy and human dignity.

What is to be Done?

Using our consumer power to buy local is a small act, but it’s a huge nonviolent statement of resistance to corporate power. In small ways, everyday, we can use the personal boycott to resist corporate power.

Buying local is also a form of environmentalism, in the broadest sense of the term. Small businesses leave a smaller footprint, pollute less, and are more accountable to the community. Environmentalism isn’t just about changing lightbulbs and recycling trash; it’s about sustainability. To “sustain” means to nourish and to keep going. Environmentalism is a way of living that nourishes individuals and communities and keeps them going, generation after generation.

That’s a different way of looking at the world, and it’s in direct opposition to the cult of corporate power. In fact, no other worldview today can challenge corporatism like environmentalism can.

How are Environmentalism and Corporatism Different?

They’re as different as sustained growth and unfettered growth; as people centered and profit centered; as common sharing and elitist greed; as community use and private monopoly; as the culture of life and the cult of death.

Environmentalism fosters an ethic of personal responsibility for community and the planet, in contrast to corporatism, an ideology and way of life that creates an aggressive, reckless entitlement mentality in the “haves” that ultimately leads to financial crises, paid for by taxpayers, and senseless wars that are fought in the battlefield by the “have nots.”

Who is Acting Local?

Minnesota is noted for its long association with cooperatives. Two types of cooperatives most prominent in the state are financial co-ops like City-County Federal Credit Union, and food co-ops like Seward, the Wedge, Linden Hills and the Eastside Co-op.

Like other cooperatives, not-for-profit credit unions are owned by their members-you actually buy a share and become an owner when you open a savings account ($5). So, unlike banks, which are owned by their stockholders, credit unions are owned by members of the community. The lack of a profit motive means benefits for members; like other credit unions, City-County Federal in Nokomis (47th & Chicago) and Phillips (9th & Franklin) neighborhoods can usually offer higher savings rates, lower loan rates and fewer fees.

Currently City-County Federal is offering a low-interest “Green My Home” Loan, which allows members to take advantage of federal tax credits and deductions when making energy-efficient home im-provements. Membership in credit unions is often restricted, but at City-County Federal the only requirement is that you live, work, worship or attend school in the Metro area.

The Seward Co-op (28th & Franklin) is a leader in promoting strong “green” communities. Housed in a new building that is a gold candidate for LEED certification, meaning it will be verified as a healthy and environmentally responsible structure, the Seward Co-op invests in the community by purchasing products from regional vendors, offering fair-wage jobs, holding classes on healthy living, and supporting community organizations.

In 2009, Seward purchased 34.8 percent of its total food sales from local and regional vendors-like Hoch Orchard in southeastern Minnesota and Pastures A’ Plenty in Kerkoven-and donated $39,994 to community organizations, including the Women’s Environmental Institute and the Indian Health Board of Minneapolis.

Anyone can shop at Seward, you don’t have to be a member, but membership ($75) has its benefits: member-only specials, 10 percent off your bill once a quarter, a discount on the many classes Seward offers, and a vote for the Board of Directors. But whether you choose to be a member or just want to shop at Seward, the biggest benefit is the security of knowing that your food is healthy, minimally processed and locally grown.

The corporate state has shaped Americans into consumers par excellence. America’s obsession with consumption reached a new low when, after 9/11, George Bush told the country that going about our daily lives, shopping and playing, was the “ultimate repudiation of terrorism.” There is, therefore, some poetic justice in using those shopping skills to repudiate corporate power and take back our communities.

Janet Contursi is a local freelance writer and can be reached at greentalk@live.com.