The Companies We Keep

Something is going on in America, and it’s exciting. Things have finally come to a point where citizens are angry, and we’re finally channeling our anger outwards and upwards.

What’s especially interesting is that out of very similar senses of frustrations have come both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. They have similar complaints, and yet wildly different ideas on how to improve things.

Naturally, I’m throwing my weight behind the Occupy movement. But it’s been a little difficult for me to figure out where I fit it.

I’m in the midst of moving our banking to a credit union, which feels very liberating.  And my wife was instrumental in the recent passage of the Multnomah Country ban that ends selling baby bottles, kids’ sippy cups and water bottles containing the toxic chemical BPA. It’s been inspiring to watch her testify against the chemical industry and make herself heard to the Oregonian, local news channels and our elected officials here in Portland and Salem.

But where do I fit in?

I’m not prepared or even particularly interested in camping out in a park across the street from a very sympathetic mayor.

So when I heard about the rally Pink Martini recently organized in Pioneer Square that felt like a better fit. While the music was nice, and it was awesome to see such a big crowd, the speakers are what really inspired me. Imam Mikal Shabazz was particularly stirring.

He’s a very, very good speaker. But what made his message particularly impactful is that while he echoed the familiar charge that Corporate America is capable of great evil, he took pains to remind us that it’s also capable of good.

I think that’s a really important point to make if this movement is truly going to represent the 99%.  After all, a majority of us work for or indirectly for corporations. Hell, I bet a good number of the 99% run corporations. Not huge multi-national corporations, but incorporated compaines nonetheless.

If the movement fails to incorporate those of us who for whatever reason aren’t living outside of Corporate America, it will fail to resonate beyond a thin sliver of the left. And even that thin sliver, I’d argue, can’t escape Corporate America when it comes to purchasing things. After all, there are very few DIY tent and blue tarp manufacturers that I’m aware of.

So the point I really took away from Imam Shabazz’s speech is that we each have a personal responsibility to spend our money with companies who are doing good and conducting business in a way we want to support.

It made me think of a website I loved back when Kerry was squaring off against Bush. I think it was called Buy Blue.

The site broke down, by category, how much money every major corporation had given to each campaign.

So you could look at gas stations and see that Exxon, Mobile and BP all had given 100% of their campaign contributions to Bush, whereas Shell was the lone gas station hedging their bets by giving equally to both campaigns. To this day I seek out a Shell station whenever I need to fill up.

But after the election the site went down. Or I could never find it again. And I’ve wondered every since why someone hasn’t filled the vacuum.

So here’s the pitch. Someone should create a website that shows us where companies are spending their money. Not just on presidential elections, but on senate races, ballot measures, and tax levies.

And why stop at percentages? Let’s publicize how much companies are spending to affect elections and whose paying for which lobbyists. Let’s see what the CEO’s, VP’s and Board of Directors are doing with their personal campaign contributions.

It would also be nice to know when companies are hiring new workers, becoming more sustainable and building manufacturing plants in America. And whose giving money to support education, the arts, cancer research and all the good things companies do but feel sheepish about promoting.

Not only would it provide a much-needed service to Americans desperate to send a clear message to corporations that corporate actions matter. It would be also be a one hell of a start-up.

Surely there must be something in the works, or perhaps a site that does some of this already out there that I’ve missed. I’ve seen maplight dot org, which focuses on where politicians are getting their money. But nothing that focuses on corporations.

So I’m toying with the idea of starting something, perhaps just a tumblr for now to promote some of these facts. So please comment or reach out by email if you have any thoughts as to what something like this might called, how it could be built or organized, or if you’re a designer that would like to take a crack at turning a statement into a poster that might tumblr to other tumblrs.

Or take the idea and run with it. I think there’s a huge idea in here somewhere. Just remember to send me an invite to your IPO party and let me buy a few shares before the Wall Street fat cats get in there first and drive up the price.

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