Trump won. Whether we like the outcome or not, the election is over. We don’t get to vote for new congressional leadership for two years and a new president for another four. So—what do we do now?
There are of course always ways in between elections to try to make an impact: calling your representatives, signing petitions, protesting. Volunteering for or giving money to charities. Having conversations with people who feel differently from you. Helping neighbors and smiling at strangers. Those are all good things that matter.
There is another way in between elections to continue to vote for the change we want to see in the world. It’s a way to work around Washington and make whatever happens there increasingly less relevant. A way that people with different political views can come together to make the country stronger and make people’s lives better in ways that almost all of us can agree on. It may be the most underutilized force for change in the world.
That force is the dollars we spend on everyday items. How we spend our money actually has more impact on the world than anything else we do. And it’s completely independent from which party occupies the White House or holds a majority in Congress.
Consider the kinds of things that get debated in Washington: Should we raise the minimum wage? How can we help people get health coverage? Should there be more regulation on businesses’ carbon pollution to help mitigate climate change? Should we alter trade agreements to help stop jobs from moving overseas?
As people who buy stuff, we already have incredible power on these issues no matter what our political leaders choose to do. It’s a supply and demand economy—whatever we demand, the market supplies, including better business practices. If we support businesses that create American jobs, pay their workers well and provide good health benefits, preserve the environment, and are otherwise doing good for the world, the more of those businesses there will be. Eventually even big companies see a financial incentive to change their practices. The world gets better, more substantially, more quickly.
This is already happening. The number of certified B Corps (companies independently verified to be socially responsible across the board) is beginning to explode. There are more fair trade certified products than ever.
The fashion industry is now the second leading producer of carbon emissions behind oil and gas, but businesses like Tuckerman & Co. are producing high-quality men’s dress shirts using 100% organic materials, non-toxic dyes, and sustainable production processes. They’re an example of how apparel companies can reduce their carbon footprint. All Tuckerman production is in Fall River, Massachusetts. All factory workers making the shirts are highly skilled and earn a living wage and health and retirement benefits. There are companies like Tuckerman starting every day.
Even major corporations like Walmart have started to alter their behavior. Walmart now has lines of non-toxic beauty supplies and organic food. Did Walmart executives decide to sell organic because they had a change of heart about pesticide use and its impact on the environment? No, it was because consumer demand for organics has seen double-digit growth over the past decade.
This is a strategy for change that can be embraced by Trump supporters and detractors alike. Generally, Republicans say that market-driven solutions can solve problems and government action is unnecessary. Encouraging consumers to support companies with practices they believe in is a way to prove market solutions can work. A more specific example, Trump has said he wants to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA. That’s a process that could take years and its overall impact is uncertain. On the other hand, buying products from companies that maintain production in the U.S. is a direct, effective way to support American jobs now.
The fact is that we just don’t need Washington to make an impact on the issues we care about. Polarization paralysis has made it less likely for sweeping change to occur there anyway. Technology and access to information has made each individual more powerful than any other time in history. Our actions are becoming more important, while politicians’ actions are becoming less relevant.
The day that every business in the world supports its workers and is environmentally sustainable is the day politicians’ opinions on issues no longer matter at all. It may be a long time until “every” business operates that way (maybe a long, long time). But every time we make a purchase from a socially responsible business we take a step in the right direction.
We only get to vote for federal leaders one day every two years. But with our purchasing power we can vote for change every day.
Cullen used to be a political aide on Capitol Hill. But quit that career to cofound DoneGood—‘cause he really believes all that stuff he said above!