Every Day Is Election Day! (if you vote with your dollars)

May 1, 2024 | Uncategorized

Though I have only one vote to cast on Election Day, opportunities to vote my conscience come along every day of the year: every dollar I spend is a vote for some commercial enterprise eager to supply my demand. Just because I hand that dollar over to strangers in exchange for goods or services doesn’t mean I am no longer responsible for it. It winds up in someone’s bank account, stock portfolio, campaign contribution or lobbyist’s paycheck. It’s my sweat and toil they’re spending, not theirs.

“Politics,” as the eminent philosopher Frank Zappa once remarked, “is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.”

Ever the consummate entertainer, Zappa seriously considered an independent run for president before his premature death in 1991. But at first glance, his tongue-in-cheek aphorism might imply that it’s pointless to vote.

Some boycott voting because they consider electoral politics a charade behind which business-as-usual grinds on, no matter who’s in office. Others feel that voting for either party would make them complicit in the bipartisan evils perpetrated by our elected officials.

Personally, I’m mighty curious to see what might happen if every single non-voter showed up to vote. But Dwight Eisenhower’s term “military-industrial complex” gives Zappa’s quote a subtle subtext. Whether or not you go to the polls on Election Day, if you participate in our militarized, industrial-scale economy you can’t avoid complicity in the horrific crimes of what Lewis Mumford labeled “the Megamachine.” Every time you spend a dollar, you are casting a vote. If you consider the ballot a false choice, your dollars represent a very real one.

Money is an imaginary concept, you see, until someone’s labor makes it real. When the bank makes a loan, it is simply transferring digits from one column to another. But when someone works at a useful job to pay that loan back, plus interest, the digits are magically transformed into material wealth. Not for the one who labors, but for the bank. The bank’s stockholders can then use their dividends to buy a yacht, a casino, or a politician.

Whatever we have left after paying our debts is ours to spend. But whether we buy necessities like food, water and electricity, or non-essentials like beer, candy and entertainment, a certain mark-up goes to the retailer, the wholesaler, the manufacturer, the investor. Our sweat and toil – along with the natural wealth of the Earth – is the source of all of the wealth of the One Percent. This is the basic mechanism of the Machine. To the extent that we benefit from the global economy, as workers and consumers we are all moving parts in the system that is wrecking the planet. It could not function without us.

Unfortunately, not every dollar we spend represents a free choice. Everyone must eat, but not everyone can afford to eat 100% local and organic. Everyone must work, but not everyone can get there by bicycle or bus; many of us have no choice but to commute to work by car. If we are well-off enough to drive a Tesla, to charge its battery we pay whatever company powers our home. But if our vehicle burns gasoline, we have a glittering plethora of choices. Their billboards and TV commercials beg for our votes.

Since the military-industrial complex is a Machine that runs on oil, there is no local or organic option when we shop for gasoline. Any brand we choose supports an oil company that despoils the Earth and its climate. But all brands are not the same.

Does This Corporation Deserve Your Dollar?

Starting in the 1960s, Texaco drilled hundreds of oil wells in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Under the protection of a military junta they dumped an estimated 16 billion gallons of toxic runoff into rivers and soil. In 1993, a team of attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit in New York state on behalf of the area’s indigenous tribes and migrant farmers. In 2001, Chevron purchased Texaco, absorbing the company’s profits while denying responsibility for its toxic past. But in 2003, Ecuador’s Supreme Court unexpectedly awarded the plaintiffs $9.5 billion. Chevron retaliated with multiple lawsuits and even RICO charges against the plaintiffs, the lawyers, their funders, their scientific consultants, even their volunteers. The company has spent $2 billion so far, supported by corporate-friendly judges and media, not just to dodge accountability but to demonstrate how costly it will be for future plaintiffs to take corporate polluters to court. I do not shop at Texaco or Chevron.

Exxon‘s 42-million-gallon 1989 oil spill in Alaska is commonly blamed on a drunken skipper. In fact, the Exxon-Valdez ran aground not because of human error but because its $2 million GPS system – the first ever installed in a ship – was malfunctioning. The Chugash tribe had granted Exxon and BP permission to navigate their coastal waters on two conditions: that the ships use GPS, and that oil-spill remediation equipment would be stored onshore in case of a spill. Both companies signed a document stating that this had been done. But the remediation equipment was never delivered, and when the tanker’s GPS system failed, Exxon – one of the world’s most profitable corporations – decided it was too costly to repair. The Chugash saw their culture and livelihood destroyed; their coastline is permeated with petroleum to this day. Exxon appealed a jury verdict all the way to the Supreme Court, which cut the damages the jury had awarded by 90%. In 1998, Exxon merged with Mobil. I do not shop at Exxon or Mobil.

Shell Oil‘s operations in Nigeria produced over a thousand oil spills, releasing 17.5 million liters of petroleum into the Niger Delta. The Ogoni tribe, fishermen for generations, organized in protest. Bankrolled by Shell, Nigeria’s dictator sent in troops, who killed over a thousand protesters and burned Ogoni villages, rendering 30,000 homeless. Shell itself deployed a unit of undercover police to conduct surveillance on the resistance movement. On Nov. 10, 1995, internationally known writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged on trumped-up charges. Shell denied any culpability, but eventually settled with the families of murdered activists for $15.5 million – and the spills continued. After two massive oil spills in the village of Bodo in 2008 and 2009, Shell admitted it had lied about the size of the spills and ended up paying £55 million. I do not shop at Shell.

British Petroleum‘s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 spewed petroleum for 87 days, peaking at over 200,000 barrels per day, covering 57,500 square miles of ocean with an estimated total of 4,900,000 barrels. Recovery efforts captured about 800,000 barrels. The oil contaminated 1,100 miles of shoreline in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, devastating fishing and tourism, decimating populations of seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and more. A panel of scientists attributed the disaster to negligence and time-saving measures on the part of BP and its partners, exacerbated by a lack of government regulation. BP’s emergency plans for oil spills were found to be rife with omissions, errors, unrealistic projections and arrogant overconfidence. Several company officials were criminally charged with lying to investigators and destroying evidence; none did time. After a civil trial, BP paid a $20.8 billion settlement, much of which the IRS allowed it to claim as a “business expense.” I do not shop at BP.

On top of their specific crimes, all of these companies are now implicated in a well-documented conspiracy to suppress evidence that the use of their products would inevitably overheat the planet. As early as the 1950s, company scientists predicted the exact scenario we now face. Yet the entire industry continues to smokescreen the evidence and greenwash their culpability to this day. Their control of federal and state legislators and regulators has locked us into a fossil-fueled economy that is enormously profitable in the short term and a lethal threat to human civilization in the long term.

Your Dollar, Your Decision

So where do I buy my gas? For decades I have shopped at Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan government. After it was nationalized by Hugo Chavez, Citgo’s profits were diverted from Norteamericano stockholders to health and literacy programs for the poor of Venezuela and foreign aid to other Latin American nations. For this Chavez was maliciously smeared in the U.S. media and survived two CIA-supported attempted coups. Under his successor, Hector Madera, a U.S. economic blockade has brought the Venezuelan experiment to its knees.

Like any oil company, Citgo extracts its oil from indigenous lands, displacing tribal villages and leaving ruined landscapes behind. But under Chavez its profits no longer fed predatory investors and executive bonuses in the U.S.A. Even the incompetence and corruption of the Madera administration pale in comparison to the cynicism and greed of the petroleum cartels that run the rest of the world. I know every Citgo station in my area, and when traveling I watch for the triangular orange-and-blue logo. Though I have no choice but to buy gasoline, choosing Citgo allows me to cast my puny vote against the Machine.

Or it did, until recently. Thanks to the the U.S. embargo, Venezuela’s unpayable foreign debts have given its creditors a green light to auction off the company’s assets in the U.S. and seize its revenues. I have regretfully expanded my gas purchases to any of the smaller independent chains.

I shop at my neighborhood food co-op and my local independent pharmacy. I buy as little as possible at chain stores and restaurants, and nothing from Amazon. Whenever possible, I vote with my dollars for the world I want to live in, a world where a just and sustainable future is possible. I do this not because I expect conscious spending to overturn the global corporate order any time soon, but because these are my dollars, and I take responsibility for the work they do in the world any way I can.

On the other hand, I am mighty curious to see what might happen if everyone on the planet understood that every dollar is a vote, and decided to start voting for the world they want to live in.

Note: For a more in-depth description of the oil company crimes cited above, here are the links: Texaco, Exxon, Shell Oil, British Petroleum.

These are my personal opinions and do not represent any organization I’m involved in. If my words resonate for you, please share widely. You can subscribe at StephenWing.com.






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