I’m going to change my bank this week.
I have decided, despite knowing that this will be a pain in the butt, I’m moving my bank accounts to Vancity, a British Columbia credit union with more than 500,000 members. Vancity is everywhere in my community; sponsoring local community events, offering innovative business partnership opportunities, supporting environmental initiatives and stimulating the development of affordable housing. Vancity also returns part of its profits to members. They WORK at being a positive member of my community.
So what? Is that worth spending the next few months rearranging every account I have to transfer my banking to Vancity?
My answer is yes, an emphatic and hopeful yes. I’m a little late to the party, thoughtful people have been doing this for years – rewarding positive behavior with their consumer dollars.
Again, I’m late but I have come to the conclusion that the largest threat to civil society is the enormous gap between the rich and the poor – the obscene aggregation of wealth by a small percentage of people and the growing impoverishment of the rest of us. This aggregation of wealth is fuelled by the growth in large corporations, the power of these interests to dominate markets and dictate prices, wages and government policies to benefit the richest few – owners, senior executives and shareholders – whilst impoverishing other stakeholders.
Permit me one example; Walmart. The Walton family’s net worth is estimated by Forbes magazine to be in excess of $140 billion – yes, that’s right BILLION. Bernie Sanders describes it this way, the Waltons own more than the bottom 40% of Americans – about 130 million people. In exchange for convenience and cheap goods, consumers have created a behemoth that rolls over competitors, overpowers suppliers, kills local business wherever it goes, impoverishes it’s own employees, and hollows out communities while making its owners fabulously wealthy.
Every time I shop at Walmart, I contribute to this economic carnage, to the hollowing out of my community, to the impoverishment of workers and the enrichment of the Walton billionaires.
Add any number of famous brands to the list; Amazon, Google, Apple, Costco, the warehouse food-stores, the big banks, big oil, the Hollywood film industry… the list is endless. Monopolies are in, competition is out. Unrestrained capitalism is turning ugly.
Such a concentration of corporate power fuels the concentration of wealth and income for the top 1%. The impact on others is obvious; 40% of workers are now “independent”; piece work, gig work, projects, part-time hours – no job security, no bargaining power, no health care, no benefits, no security.
The middle class is shrinking, poverty is growing, the stresses on civil society are becoming more and more evident. Governments around the world are less willing to legislate, regulate and control these monsters; the 2008/2009 world financial crash showed starkly that banks and other large institutions were too big to fail and, even in the face of obvious legal culpability, were immune to prosecution. Even Obama blinked when he faced Wall Street and the banks.
Amidst all the evidence and the resulting dystopian predictions, I struggle to find my own strategy to respond. There’s not much I can do but that doesn’t mean I am powerless.
Here’s what I am doing. I am going to try to use every dollar I spend to fight this growing inequality. I’m a bit late to the party but, it is a battle worth fighting.
As Confucius was reported to have said; “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
I have vowed to never shop at Walmart. Instead, I’m going to buy locally – there’s a little hardware store where I can find all I need; and I am welcomed with helpful advice and service by a member of my community.
I’ve just cut up my Costco card. I don’t like their excessive packaging, their foreign ownership and the effect my shopping at Costco is having on my little community – all for convenience and some small saving. Besides, every time I go into Costco I come out with more than I need. I cannot resist buying a year’s supply of some sugary, chocolatey forbidden “treat” and consuming it all in about a week. They give back nothing that I can see to my community.
I’m adding Safeway to my no-go list. Whole Foods was never on my list – that is misleading marketing and empty promises over common sense and always has been.
Instead, I am going to shop locally. There’s a local green grocer in my hood, Aria; a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, run by a family – real people who say hello and know who I am. They stock their small store to the top with fascinating stuff; real sardines from Portugal, more interesting breads than I have ever seen, foodstuffs from all over the middle east.
I’m going to the local butcher, Tango’s – sure it’s a bit more expensive and there’s a smaller selection but It is more than adequate for my needs. I can special-order lamb shanks, incredible tenderloins and much more. They pay attention; they are joyful to see me and to serve me.
I’m trying to wean myself from Amazon, my local library branch is helpful and Indigo is a Canadian company. I use Canada Post whenever I can; it’s part of the connective tissue of this country – Amazon never was and never will be.
I don’t buy coffee at Starbucks, my local hangout is Delaneys. Locally owned by nicer people who treat their staff well. The coffee is better too!
I’m going to fewer big Hollywood movies, I’ve found the Vancouver International Film Centre instead; more indies, more international films, more diversity, more windows to the world.
I’m also going to talk to my Liberal Government friends about why they are not taxing Netflix, Amazon, Google and a host of other monopolists that suck money out of our consumer pockets without paying any taxes.
This isn’t going to amount to much; but I work with the tools I have at hand; my wallet and my feet. It gives me some sense that I have control over my actions, that they align with my values and my growing anxiety about the direction we are headed, the future we face.
I’m sure Vancity won’t increase their stakeholder payout based on my enrolment but I will feel a bit like I’m rewarding them for their hard work. At least I’m not helping the Waltons. I am also sure that Vancity plays a more positive role in my community than my current big bank. That means something and they deserve to be recognized for their work.
So, it’s a few small stones that I’m moving but I feel better about it – it is worth the effort.