You might not realise it, but you probably ‘vote’ more or less every single day.
A political election of some sort tends to occur every few years where people cast their official vote in polling stations across the country. By this time, people tend to be so washed up in propaganda, ad campaigns, scare-mongering and false promises that they are rarely submitting a vote of confidence. Many, including myself, are usually guessing what we are actually voting for. Besides, waiting a few years at a time to change or adjust in an increasingly complex world doesn’t make sense.
The modern consumerist society certainly has its drawbacks, that much is clear. However, it also has a much more powerful and undervalued side to it.
Everyone is in control of their money and where they spend it. As the author and sustainable food advocator Anna Lappé put it:
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want
This idea began with the emergence of the consumerist society as the general population started to have an abundance of choice in most given markets. This included not only domestic markets but markets overseas. Companies had to start behaving themselves and operating to set standards, or people could just take their money to the competitors. This is the essence and positive side of the market economy.
Throughout the 1980s, U.S. citizens started to put pressure on American companies that had economic ties to businesses in South Africa. At the time, most of the South African businesses were benefitting from apartheid. People threatened to take their custom elsewhere and as a result, U.S. investors and banks started to withdraw investment in South Africa. Of course, this had a huge knock-on effect for the South African economy. The government had to step in and start negotiating, starting the dismantling process of the apartheid system.
A more recent example that many people are familiar with is the almost global boycott of Nike in the 1990s. It was revealed that they were using child labour in the production of many of their products. What made the company change and immediately look to rectify the issue? It wasn’t people waiting for the next vote and pressuring candidates to fight this sort of thing. They simply stopped buying Nike products. The hit the company took to not only its bottom line but to its reputation was massive.
Funnily enough, since writing the first draft to this post, Nike has been in the headlines again with its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad. This has prompted consumers to once again take their dollars away from the company or to double down on Nike products, depending on the consumers’ own views.
These examples are fairly extreme, but we all face the ‘voting with your money’ concept every day.
Funding the sketchy company vs the credible one.
Funding the caged animal system vs any alternative.
Buying local vs from a global conglomerate.
The list goes on, and you can cast a vote about what you want to see more or less of in every purchase. The story that you want to be able to tell yourself and others. That you are making a positive difference in the world.
It’s often cheaper to fund the bad, but for an extra quid or two on your weekly shop, you can fund the good. That is surely worth it.
You might also think ‘Well, little old me making one different transaction isn’t going to change anything’.
You might be right. You can’t control the whole outcome but you can control your part. It’s about becoming a part of the solution, rather than the problem.