Our Everyday Chance to Politicize Our Purchasing power

I saw this video from Fusion Network, on Facebook, and it made me think about how many choices we make, every day, that we don’t realize have direct links to class warfare and the devastation of poor or developing communities.

In fairness (not to Monsanto, but to reality), the situation is more complicated in India among small farmers than being solely driven by Monsanto. Mother Jones provides an excellent summary of research on this topic, demonstrating that GMO crops are good for large, heavily industrialized, commercial farms, but bad for small Indian farmers. Which actually (since there are those who get angry and rush to defend Monsanto and the rest of big farming) amplifies the situation, because there are known harms of big farming that are not directly linked to Monsanto*. By, erm, well, exposing the panties we wear, the video highlights how intimately the damages of industrialized farming touch us, but it also teaches us a decision we make — what, a few times a year, maybe once every month or two? — is tied into a larger political context. Of course, all the other clothes besides our panties, and obviously, the groceries we buy, play large roles in this, but it emphasizes that, just like we choose to recycle, we choose to limit overconsumption, we choose to take energy saving actions, we have meaningful choices to act in humanitarian ways, when we do consume, as well.

This provides additional context to something I already knew about — I knew about the farmer suicide crisis, and I am attuned to, but admittedly don’t make purchases regularly based on, the dangers of big farming. But it re-emphasizes for me how small purchase decisions add up — last year, we went through this with a big purchase decision, in that we decided early that I didn’t want an engagement ring that meant that some kid in Africa had lost his arms in the blood diamond trade. There are more and more options emerging to avoid this, but we liked the idea of an old ring as a solution, and the one we found, from 1760, older than the Declaration of Independence, made before Jane Austen was born, fit the bill. In this case, I ended up with a ring that I love more than I could ever have imagined loving any jewelry.


Getting to spend my life with Teri is what matters, not any ring… 

Just last week, we were dealing with our furnace, which had broken down due to a problem for which Carrier faced and settled a class-action lawsuit**, and a news article that showed up on Google News, about Carrier driving jobs out of the Midwest to low labor foreign markets came up.

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The thing is, I really, really like being warm.

Which makes me ask, who is being devastated so I can be warm? In the case of our furnace, we had the lawsuit-related work done, and we didn’t find downstream damage at this time, and so we decided to keep it. We did pro-actively get two quotes yesterday, and one more coming on Monday, to know what our options are. It had occurred to me only that the relative merits of continuing to use a 93% efficiency furnace from 15 years ago (because a lot of the environmental harm from products comes from creating them in the first place) might outweigh the benefits of jumping to 96% efficiency in a new furnace, but it had not occurred to me, again, that my decision was not loosely tied to class politics but much more directly tied. Interestingly, even the National Review is angry about this, although, predictably, they see a conspiracy in green company stimulus, on which Carrier “dined and dashed” in accepting these funds and later moving jobs from Indianapolis to Mexico.


Without having to engage in jingoism, it is true that there has been a huge outflow of manufacturing jobs in the US, and that these jobs were replaced with service sector jobs at much, much lower wages, and often altogether without benefits (source: heritage.org)

Now I perceive the geopolitical questions involved in “American” jobs vs. overseas (or over-border) jobs as complicated, and as I’ve mentioned, after only driving cars, for instance, made inside the US, I currently drive a Prius made in Japan (primarily because of concern over global warming and the link of air pollution affecting early brain development) and an EOS made in Portugal. But it had really not occurred to me at all that there might be salient differences in the employment practices of these companies, even though, for instance, I know like the back of my hand, from my diversity consulting and training work, that certain durable goods manufacturers (Whirlpool and Maytag being examples) see aspects of hiring practices as strategic.


So obviously, I knew about this — I’ve even used this Maytag ad in presentations as an example of the evolution of companies embracing gender and sexual diversity (source: Maytag)

The point isn’t that I’m better than other people when I succeed in thinking about these things, or that I’m worse when I fail to think about them, but more that these opportunities to politicize our lives and our voices are actually all around us. When we stop and think about them, we’re cognizant of them, but in my case, I haven’t trained myself to think quickly enough about the implications of my choices in the everyday.

And while people bemoan things being politicized, I want my voice to be politicized. Because, back to Fusion’s point, there’s so much more at stake than panties. And even if they aren’t going to save the world, how I talk about how I buy them, who knows? It just might.

* One thing I want to be fair about is that there is a lot of rhetoric in this conversation, particularly around GMOs and claims of direct health harms that have not really materialized. I am mostly concerned here not with the possibility that the GMO food you might eat (or wear) might make you sick, but with the probability that the farming practices used to make it are making communities and countries sick, economically.

** Of course, this also generated response pieces like this one — for what it’s worth, our furnace is diligently inspected annually, and all the HVAC people we spoke to about the problem agreed that, in their experience, this was a design issue with the furnace and not primarily a care / maintenance issue.

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