We’re all taught that in order to be good citizens we must turn up every 4/5 years and place our vote. We’re doing our bit for democracy, ensuring we respect the memory of our ancestors who faught for our right to vote. Cue Land of Hope and Glory and Churchill’s “We’ll fight them on the beaches” speech. Feels very patriotic doesn’t it? Very British. Very democratic.
Now let’s cut the nostalgia and get back to reality. 21st century reality that is. It might have been that once upon a time that’s what it meant to be democratic. To be a good citizen. But nowadays it’s not enough.
We now live in a society run by banks and corporations. Ergo, if we live in a country ruled by the banking and corporation elite then is turning up at the voting booth really the most effective way we can ensure the society we wish to live in? Unlike Russell Brand, I’m not suggesting we don’t vote. I actually do believe we should vote (topic for another blog). But voting alone isn’t enough.
In my opinion the true voting of the 21st century takes place at the checkout. Every time we spend money we vote for the world we want to live in. Want more supermarkets and less independent local shops? Shop in Tesco. Want less small independent bookshops? Shop on Amazon. You want the banks to invest in oil and war? Leave your money in the ‘trusted’ hands of the high street banks. You get the picture.
It’s a relatively simple political action we can all take. Every time we decide to spend our money elsewhere we withdraw our consent for the current corrupt, destructive system and support a healthier alternative. Either way it’s a spiral. Either a spiral of erosion or a spiral of creation. We can blame the system as much as we like, and I agree it’s flawed and manipulative, but one of the main reasons we have so many supermarkets, and so few local independent shops anymore is because we have chosen to spend our money there. We have removed the alternative because they can’t afford to exist. Of course, the head of the retail association will tell us this is a great idea, telling us that we get a greater choice of products and a lower price. But the reality is that the true cost of the items we purchase is externalised onto others (again, the subject of another blog). For evidence of this look to the current situation for dairy farmers. We may get access to cheap milk, but they are taking the brunt of that action; struggling to get by and feed their family.
It’s not always easy to find the alternative shopping options, because we have conspired in destroying the alternative, but they usually do exist. And where they don’t we can look to create the alternative ourselves.
Options include buying clothes secondhand, shopping at local bookshops, visiting your local butcher, or buying food from your local co-op (in Wales you can visit this site, unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a similar site for the rest of the UK, please let me know if you do though).
If you want to remove your money from the big high street banks (and therefore their destructive funding of war, oil and other nasties) why not consider the local credit union? Most parts of the country have one. And if not, Nationwide or Metro Bank are more ethical than the big ones – according to the Ethical Consumer.
Some people may baulk and say that these are small changes, and I agree, they are relatively small, but they’re ones that we can all relatively easily make, and will make a real difference. In the transition from our current globalised society to the more local economy that will exist in the future, these changes will help to create the infrastructure that we will all need. It’s a small, simple way of helping to re-build local communities.
Please don’t read my comments above to say that I completely blame ‘consumers’ (shudder at that word) for the current situation, but when we shop in places we know support destruction, and place our money in banks we know support the continued degradation of our eco-systems, we are complicit in the consequences of those actions. It’s time for us to take our share of the responsibility. After all, if we don’t take responsibility for the future who will? Through responsibility comes power. That’s required of us to be a ‘good citizen’ in the 21st Century.