A New Tactic for Change

We do not have a functioning democracy. Too often the will of the majority is ignored. The politicians and their big money donors do what they want. This article was originally about stopping the march to war in Korea. I finished writing it as the latest school shooting in Florida hit the news. Like war, guns in America is another issue where the will and well being of the public is being ignored. Money rules. Corporate lobbying trumps public opinion. Voters are apathetic. Crazy reactionaries succeed and common sense reforms go nowhere. Too often we organize, march, write letters, contact our legislators, sign petitions, seemingly to no avail. It is time progressives try new methods. We need a new protest tool that will demand attention. I believe we need to use our economic power as consumers to demand sensible change. 

How do we stop another military disaster from happening? How do we get guns out of our schools? What can one person do? What can we all do to resist the many outrages happening in our country? I believe we need to use our collective power as consumers to demand change.  
Since war and guns are ultimately about making money (for the few that do) then money has to be at the center of stopping a war and getting guns off our streets. Economic actions must be used. In a consumer based economy, people do have real power. What we buy, or do not buy, does have an impact on what is produced, imported, and sold. This gives us collective power. Why don’t we use this power? Can we demand change by stopping, or reducing, our consumer spending? I think it is worth trying.

Ultimately all governments require the acceptance, or at least acquiescence, of the people. No government can function if enough of the governed refuse to obey. This principle is clear but getting enough people to act is the problem. Massive civil disobedience would stop the march to war. A general strike that shut down the country could force policy changes on gun control. But civil disobedience and strikes ask people to risk losing their jobs and whatever small financial security they may have. Strikes, civil disobedience and even peaceful protests can get you beat up, jailed, or even killed. Most people can’t, or won’t, take these risks.

We need actions that will hurt the powerful and that every citizen can take. We need a tool government can’t stop with intimidation, social pressure, arrests, and police violence. We need a tool so easy, and risk free, that everyone can participate. With some 70% of the economy depending on consumer spending, a spending reduction could be that tool. 

I would suggest two coordinated actions. The first action would be a general reduction in purchasing. There are many ways most of us could reduce our spending without significant sacrifice. In fact it would probably be good for our own family budgets!  Most of us could get by with less. We could stop all the “impulse” and “recreational” buying. We could cancel or delay major purchases. Many of us could cancel the cable TV or weekend get away. We could stop eating out, postpone buying a new car or remodeling the kitchen. Everyone could contribute to the effort in ways that fit their situation. 

Too often only a very few people suffer or are called on to sacrifice. Only a tiny percentage get sent into combat. Only a few are directly affected by gun violence. People who fall through the economic cracks, or are victims of for-profit healthcare, suffer alone. We must share the sacrifice more widely. We must make the owners and bosses feel the pain as well. Let’s make sure that austerity and sacrifice trickles up to their pocket books.

There must be no ambiguity as to why spending is off and business is down. We need to “connected the dots” for the business owners. The second action dramatizes the reduced spending and makes it VISBLE. I call it the “Family Values Weekend.” The first weekend of each month people simple stay home with their families. DON’T GO ANYWHERE OR BUY ANYTHING. The goal is to create a reduction activity that is VISIBLE enough to upset the power structure. As more and more people stay home, as the mall becomes less crowded and as the traffic is less congested maybe the power structure will wonder what is going on. Maybe they will get concerned about their profits. Maybe they will decide the endless war and unlimited guns are not in their best interests either.

The Family Values Weekend, combined with reducing unnecessary, discretionary spending, are easy to do, sustainable, and expandable. EVERYONE can do it from ANYHERE. Families are not placed at risk or asked to sacrifice anything significant. The government can’t stop it using the police. It can grow each month as more people participate. It can be maintained indefinitely. 

To be honest the chances of stopping another war are not good. Every war in U.S. history has had protests and anti-war activists. But none have been prevented by public opposition. The public has always swallowed the propaganda about “keeping us save,” defending our “freedom” and there being “no other choice.”

But it is also historically accurate that past empires have fallen because they overextended and bankrupted themselves with wars. We can not continue to go down the road of endless war. We must stop the march to war in North Korea. We must get out of the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At some point the rest of the world will have enough of our arrogance. Starting a war in North Korea may be that tipping point for the American Empire.

George W. Bush, after 9-11, exhorted us to defeat the terrorists by going shopping. Lets defeat the war mongers, and the gun industry, by NOT SHOPPING.