Sunday, February 07, 2010

Two worthy groups to join.

Relocalization and sustainable economic/agricultural practices that make our communities self-sufficient has been a big theme of this blog for the past few years. There are other groups with these same goals, of course.

First, one that I came across recently is the 3/50 project, and I urge everyone to adopt this program and adapt it to Jewish community support.

Step one: choose 3 independently owned businesses.

The idea is not to pick chain stores or franchises (even though the franchise holders may live locally, a substantial portion of their profits leave the community. The idea is to choose a mom & pop business, farm/CSA, artist or craftsperson who will be spending most or all of the money they earn from you back into your community). Don't fall prey to "greenwashing," where a national chain or transnational corporation tries to pass themselves off as "local" or "eco-friendly," because their entire business model is neither. They are parasites feeding off of your community, lowering the average wages of your area and draining profits away to their national or international executives and stockholders.

Step two: commit to spending $50 there this month.

Join the CSA, shop at the mom & pop store, buy the products of the local artist or craftsperson that you choose - budget your money, only $150 a month total, specifically to support these businesses.

Step three: repeat next month - preferably with the same businesses or with different ones, your choice.

If you decide you don't like one locally owned independent business, by all means choose another. The idea is simply to keep as much of your hard-earned money working for the direct benefit of your community as possible.

Studies show that for every dollar you spend in locally owned independent stores, $68 percent or more comes directly back to your community. If you spend it in a chain store or franchise, 48% or less stays in the community. And if you spend it online, unless that business is actually headquartered and distributed right there in your community, NOTHING returns.

It seems to me that the flip side of this could also be a goal: to choose 3 national chains who have depressed worker's wages and send their profit away to line the pockets of far-off executives who care nothing for your community and commit to not shopping there. Choose any three. If you're not sure if a business is owned by a national or transnational corporation, then google it and find out.

This might also be your opportunity to investigate the wage practices, the environmental record, and the economic patriotism of the companies you are thinking of dropping. A google search will no doubt reveal webpages of groups that are opposed to these companies activities and will tell you all about their predatory, greedy, and destructive practices. Be a good steward of your funds - don't spend them at businesses who are willing to sacrifice you, your health, and living wages on the altar of excessive profits and bonuses.

A second and related project originates in outrage over mega-banking policies that are causing people to lose their homes and not be able to grow their businesses: national banking chains. The Move Your Money project encourages everyone to switch to locally owned and operated community banks and credit unions instead of feeding the fat cat ceos any more of your business.

Your checking account, debit cards, and even credit cards can all now be handled by credit unions and local banks - even online bill paying and importing your bank's data to Quicken and such like programs on your home computer. My credit union provides all these services - the ones in your community do, too. They do car loans and mortgages - responsible lending that realistically assesses your true economic situation. Local credit unions and community banks do not prey on the uninformed, they understand that a healthy community requires responsible lending to people who are actually qualified to borrow. They understand that it does them, you, and the community no good whatsoever to give out flaky loans to people who lack the means to repay them.

Our tradition used to strongly support this idea - but lately Jewish communities have traded traditional thrifty values for crass consumerism and materialism. Giant national banks love these decadent western cultural values because they enrich the executives at your expense. "Too big to fail" means to big to care about you. Why be exploited when you don't have to be? There is a locally owned bank or credit union somewhere near you - move your money there ASAP!

These are small things - little steps - but we need to start reshaping our cultural and economic values toward the good of the community, or the communities will fail and take our shuls, charities, elder care, childcare, schools and businesses down with them. United we stand, divided we fall. Or, as Benjamin Franklin, I believe, rather eloquently put it: "We must all hang together, or we will surely all hang separately."

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