Saving the Kingdom (on the Day of the Coronation)

I'm avoiding news sites today in order to avoid seeing coverage of the GOP love-fest in DC. I hate to see my former home overrun with these weasels. But I will finally comment on the Not One Damn Dime! thing.

The idea, in case you've missed it, is that we will all show our outrage by spending no money today.

Boycotts are a powerful tool. Boycotts, as part of the overall activism about South Africa during the apartheid era, were helpful in getting companies to stop investing in that corrupt nation - and as a result today we have a South Africa that's not free of problems, but which at least has some kind of democratic framework to deal with them.

Boycotts helped draw attention to Nike's appalling practice of using sweatshop laborers making wages below what was needed for basic sustenance in their home nations, working in dangerous conditions, and helped them improve (if not really fix the problem).

And so on. Howeve, boycotts are also limited in their usefulness. In the Nike case, people went out and bought Reeboks, but Reebok was nearly as bad. Companies can muddle the issues so much that, for example, in the case of gay bars boycotting Coors over their anti-gay and anti-labor policies, no one is sure what the hell is going on these days.

To work, a boycott needs a few things:

  • A clearly defined targed

  • A "good guy" to spend money with instead

  • Some way of measuring results - that is, the impact on the misbehaving target

  • A clear statement of why the boycott is taking place and under what conditions it will end

"Not one damn dime" lacks all of these. It will be impossible to measure what money didn't get spend because Bush was being inaugurated vs what didn't get spent because it snowed somewhere and everybody stayed home vs what didn't get spent because a bunch of people's jobs got moved offshore this week (as is happening to a number of my old coworkers this week - about a third of the company from what I hear).

That's doesn't make it bad or dangerous, just pointless. If it makes you feel happy, participate. But don't for a second harbor the illusion that you've done anything concrete or made any kind of statement or changed anything. If you'd like that feeling, spend your non-shopping time on some other activities:

  • Write some letters about the issues that concern you - social security, gay marriage, Iraq, etc. Use the stuff out there on the web as the start and then add your own personal voice to it so it's clearly not a form letter. Print them out and mail them to your elected representatives - this will have more impact than an email.

  • Call your members of Congress (sorry, DC) and tell the people there that you are very concerned about your member's stance on these issues and would like to meet him or her the next time they are in your local district office.

  • Plan a vacation day to drive to your state capital and meet with your reps.

  • Join an organization that fighting the day to day battles on these issues - for example, the ACLU.

  • Volunteer with your local Democratic party. Even if you don't love the Democrats, recognize that they are the most credible opposition out there, and by getting involved you can not only help Democrats get elected in your district, you can help shape the direction the party goes.

  • Join a neighborhood association to deal with the day to day issues that affect the place you live. All politics starts on your block.

  • Take the money you would have spent and write a check to a good candidate for office in your area.

  • Call the members of your local school board and tell them - personally - why you don't want your schools to start teaching religion instead of science, and how important it is that the kids in your area come out of school with an actual education.

  • Go to your local paper and the news stories where they gloss over the lies of the administration. Write to them and tell them that they need to be reporters, not press-release retypers.

  • Find an independent local or regional newspaper that actually does journalism and get a subscription.

  • Read some foreign news sites. Then write to your local media again and ask them why their is so much information available in foreign publications that we don't see here.
Is that enough for one day? If you want change, it takes real actions, not pointless gestures. My problem with things like "not one damn dime" is not that what they do is bad in itself, it's just that it's like an anaesthetic for progressives - we do something pointless and feel good. Meanwhile our opponents are registering voters, running candidates for school boards, etc.

Today's a great day to do something. Make it something that matters.

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