What is Economic Activism?
At the Portland reading for the 2012 anthology, one of the questions that was asked to myself, Daniel Pinchbeck, Kal Cobalt, and Paul Levy, was how people can curtail or otherwise control the actions of such companies as Monsanto. My own response to that question and a later one, which asked how we can show people who have different ideologies why it's important to adopt our causes, is that we need to focus on more than overt political activism or subversive activism driven toward sabotaging a company or the ideologies of other people. We need to adopt a plan of economic activism. Such a plan is needed now more than ever, with the current economic state of not only the U.S. but the world in general. In such an economy it is much more tempting to cut corners and not consider the ramifications or consequences of cutting those corners, but the reality of cutting corners economically is that those cut corners inevitably effect the environment, standards of living, and most importantly whether we humanely take care of each other or simply devolve into a fight for survival.
Economic activism focuses on the idea of using one's wealth to represent one's values. For the purposes of this article wealth is represented in two different ways. The first way is the financial resources, savings, stocks, bonds, etc. that a person has. The second way is the resources a person has such as food, trade skills, networking, and other related every day activities which are used to navigate the maze that is called life.
Economic Activism through Financial Resources
Economic Activism through financial resources occurs through charities and through socially responsible investing. Monetary donations to charity can fund many different projects and can be an effective way of representing your ideology. Certainly it can be abused, as is the case where rich people will donate to charities in part to avoid paying as much tax, but a charity does provide a person the opportunity to financially support causes that s/he believes in.
The other form of economic activism, which is becoming increasingly popular is socially responsible investments. Socially responsible investments involve investing in companies in order to leverage your influence as an investor and push for social changes which emphasize humanistic values, while also making money in the process. Landier and Nair explain this kind of investing in the following quote:
"As societies become affluent, they experience a migration of values. As constraints on persons' existence are relaxed as a result of economic growth, there appears to be a shift away from 'materialist' values, emphasizing economic and physical security, and toward 'postmaterialist' values, emphasizing self-expression, and quality of life concerns." (2009, p. 12)
Readers will undoubtedly gravitate on the word affluent, arguing that this kind of investing is only done by rich upper middle class people. However, this kind of investing can be done by any of us, provided we have money to invest and a desire to influence companies on relevant social issues, which are reflected in the portfolio choices we make. Socially responsible investing is a form of economic activism because it involves investing our money wisely as a way of making money, but also speaking to the values that we feel need to be expressed in the companies we invest in. And any company, even Monsanto, has to respond to investors, because it is investors that those companies ultimately rely upon in order to be a viable force on the market. Investors can leverage their influence when it comes to social issues, and if enough investors speak up, a company does need to change its policies.
All this said, we shouldn't just rely on socially responsible investments as a way of making companies change their policies. Socially responsible investments is just one tool among many that need to be used to change the policies of companies such as Monsanto. The value of public protests and other activities is just as important for making visible economic policies which are detrimental to the planet and to each other. To learn more about socially responsible investing, I recommend reading Investing for Change: Profit from Responsible Investment by Augustin Landier and Vinay B. Nair.
Economic Activism as a Collaborative Use of Resources
Economic activism can also involve a collaborative sharing of resources. Giving away old clothes and other items to charity is one example of economic activism. Instead of letting those resources go to waste, they are donated to charities where those items can then either be bought at a much lower price or given to people who need clothing or other items, but don't have the money or means to get those items. However, while charities are important and should be supported, there is much more we can do to be economic activists within our community.
Learning to share resources and barter services is absolutely essential to do in this economy, and it occurs when we start to network. Networking isn't just professionals suited up, drinking wine, and exchanging business cards. Networking really involves learning who has what skills and matching those people up with people who need their services. Likewise, good networking can involve bartering services or skills that each person has. By learning who has what skill and creating a relationship with that person, you create a community, which supports itself by actively reaching out and helping each other when help is needed.
Sharing resources is probably the highest form of economic activism. Creating a community garden not only teaches everyone how to garden, but also teaches people to share the resources and foster a relationship with the environment that is healthier, because each person working in that garden recognizes just how s/he is connected to the Earth as well as to each other. The collaboration involved makes the garden something which is sustained by each person involved in working on it.
Economic Activism and Magic
Magic can also play a role in economic activism. The magician who is a socially responsible investor can use the investments as a vector or path to work with the entities of a company s/he is investing in. Since the investments are "life energy" for the company, the entity of the company will be more receptive to magical workings, which can be used to communicate and influence it toward focusing its energy on policies that are more socially responsible and environmentally friendly. Use an evocation technique with your investment papers to call it up and converse with it.
Another approach to integrating magic into your economic activism can involve providing magical services to members of your community as one of your skills to barter with. I do this in a small community I belong to in Portland. By offering my magic as a skill to be traded, I can do some magical works that can help a member of my community, and benefit from the exchange of services or barter in doing so.
Economic activism starts with us. We can't wait for a federal bailout and we shouldn't wait. Nor should we rely on the myth of the rugged individual and assume we can get survive without anyone's help. If we want to manifest positive changes for everyone, as opposed to just for a few, all of us need to make an active effort to be activists in not only the political or environmental sense of the word, but also as economic activists. We need to learn to use our money to leverage our values onto corporations so that those corporations pursue policies that are more people and Earth friendly. Likewise, we need to actively network and collaborate with each other. Whether it's helping someone find a service that person needs or working together to create a garden or share some other resource, it is up to us to create the communities we want to live in. Learning to use and share our resources wisely can help create a community where we actively work to improve the lives of everyone, and learn to collaborate in a way that promotes humanistic values in our culture and on all levels of society.
For more information, see: Landier, Augustin, and Nair, Vinay B. (2009). Investing for Change: Profit from Responsible Investment. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Image by Darren Hester, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet