The Power of Your Purchases

Guest post by John Burkhart, research director at Democracy at Work

A frequent query to our website is, “What can I do?” People from Plano to Pierre are clamoring to leave their unsatisfying, hierarchical employers to not just work for themselves, but to be a part of something bigger.

We need not be reminded that we are a nation of consumers, but the Powers That Be do a great job of it anyway. If the constant mortar rounds of advertisements descending on us from television, billboards, print and even our personal online radio stations weren’t enough, we also get it from the calendar. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Everything from birthdays to bar mitzvahs to brunch with our friends is an occasion to open up our wallets and offer a monetary sacrifice. It is no wonder that so many of us pursue our shopping sub-consciously; actively thinking about the down-the-line consequences of our expenditures is an efficient exercise in self-exhaustion.

It is trite, but it is true, that we vote with our wallets. In a nation that prides itself in democratic practice, our participation in Election Day pales in comparison to that of our spending. So it should make sense that if we are already predetermined in what we are going to buy, we can be more conscious about who we will buy it from.

This is not as difficult as it may appear. Democracy at Work launched in mid-2012 with the goal to promote worker self-direction. The not-at-all revolutionary premise underlying this economic model is that the workers responsible for production should have an influence in their enterprise’s decisions, and they should receive a just share of its profit. In another word: democratic. When workers call the shots, bonuses are not lavished on dismally-performing executives and board members are not generously compensated for attending two meetings per year. In a self-directed enterprise, a good idea is just as likely to come from the factory floor as it is from the executive office, if not more so. It goes without saying that a worker is not going to close their own factory or dismiss thousands of friends and colleagues because of some decimal point on a stock ticker. These are their businesses, their livelihoods, their communities.

If there is one challenge we overestimated when we launched our site, it was in finding workers’ self-directed enterprises. We found them everywhere and in sectors we never imagined. If you need to get your laundry done in Cleveland or a babysitter in the Bronx or a baked good in Berkeley; a bicycle in Boston or a dog walked in D.C.; a boat repaired in western Washington or website done anywhere, there is a democratic business doing it. The even better news is that more are on the way.

A frequent query to our website is, “What can I do?” People from Plano to Pierre are clamoring to leave their unsatisfying, hierarchical employers to not just work for themselves, but to be a part of something bigger. We are working on ways to get them connected.

A far easier first step is to support the worker-directed or -owned businesses that already do exist. Even if we already have a bicycle and do not need a website, there are numerous daily opportunities to cast our vote for our economic future. We can bank at a credit union, not with monolithic institutions that cashed in at the expense of troubled homeowners. We can join a food co-operative and buy coffee from a worker-owned enterprise that pays fair prices to farmers; it will taste better too. We can do a little research to get the same product or service that we want, only sending those dollars into our neighbors’ pockets rather than some foreign tax haven. We can then tell our friends all about it and change the world one purchase at a time.

Use these helpful links to navigate yourself to businesses:

Democracyatwork.info directory (worldwide)

Solidarity NYC directory (NYC only)

Stronger Together Coops (U.S.)