Sometimes with the control that lobbyists, corporations and other external factors have on the lawmakers in this country, it can feel like the direct role of the American citizen in diplomacy is dwindling.
However, there is a very efficient way in which we the people can have an impact on how we want our country to look, and that is the concept of voting with your dollar.
“Voting with your dollar” is a term I learned only this past summer, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest with the organization GIVE Volunteers. As we were winding down one night, one of my guides explained this concept to our group.
“Voting with your dollar” is the idea that the way in which one spends their money directly reflects the way in which they want their country to look, and that it should therefore influence consumerist decisions. Basically, by spending your money somewhere, you’re saying, “This is something I support.”
This applies mainly to the large corporations from which we buy so many different products. Because these products are produced a certain way and every corporation has certain values that they abide by, the idea is that, as a consumer, you also invariably support their values with your purchase.
Take, for example, two stories of major fashion brands that have been in the news recently for the very reasons I listed above.
The first is Shein, a huge fast-fashion brand that has become popular because of how inexpensive its items are. But it has also come under fire for its production methods.
According to The New York Times, it has been accused of violating human rights and child labor laws in the production of its clothes overseas, mainly in China, with little pay and unsafe conditions.
Moreover, because of how cheap most items are, they do not last long for customers and, despite the large quantities bought, will inevitably and quickly end up in the landfill. This perpetuates a linear cycle of fashion that creates unfathomable amounts of waste.
On the other hand, there is the incredibly popular outdoor brand Patagonia, which has been in the news recently due to its founder giving away his fortune in the company in order to help fight climate change.
Patagonia was already known for its quality clothing items, sustainable materials, activism and its Worn Wear program. Now, when you visit its website, you are met with the bold statement, “Earth is now our only shareholder.”
Clearly, this is a brand that has set out to do so much more than creating profit for its CEO. It is a brand that has put the planet, and therefore the people that live here, at the forefront of its mission.
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Consumerism is rampant in America today, and although it is important to do your best to limit how much you consume, one cannot completely avoid it. Therefore, it is imperative to be smart in how you purchase and be sure that what you buy aligns with your own values.
The best way that my volunteer guide explained it is like this: if you wouldn’t want your own country to turn a blind eye to human rights, child labor, neglect of the environment, or any other ethical issue of sorts, then why would you buy from a brand that is okay with that?
However, it is no secret that often the more ethical and sustainable brands are more expensive. It is an unavoidable part of consumerism, but it can be looked at in a different way.
Rather than buying five shirts that were made in a cheap and wasteful manner, why not buy one or two higher-quality pieces of clothing? Think of it as an investment — not only for the planet, but also for yourself.
Instead of hopping from one fashion trend to another, buy good clothes that will last you years and always be exactly what you want.
This does not just apply to clothes and environmental issues, although they are the most obvious examples. Look for companies that drive social and economic justice, that are charitable and that are known for fair treatment of workers. Donating to charities yourself is also a great way to vote with your dollar, even if it is just a small amount.
Corporate America has incredible sway over the political landscape, and corporations with lots of customers can funnel the most money into shaping the country in a way that helps them. If we, as citizens and consumers, start being more selective about what brands we support with our dollars, we can display what we want our country to look like.
Elections only happen every couple of years, but Americans spend over 25% of their income on consumer goods. Consumerism is such a large part of the American identity, so why not use it to push for good?
As a republic, the voters of this country must show our representatives in the government what we prioritize, and voting with your dollar may be the most important way to do so.