My American Dream: Democratic Consumerism

Have you ever imagined your own version of MLK Jrs”I Have A Dream” Speech? What would you risk your life for? Raise your fist and PROCLAIM?

If you are like me, then not too much. His radical faith* may have changed our country for the better forever, but it also ended his life.

I am not that brave.

I can’t imagine taking a bullet for a world view.

I CAN however, spend time and money investing in what matters to me. For several years our family has been eating locally. Our freezer is full of local squash puree, our bread drawer stocked with local flax-y bread. Our chickens have strolled through more acerage than our suburban home sits on. When I go to the grocery store I am a democratic consumer. I put my money where my values are.

What about companies that are doing business with values that mirror mine, but happen to be located in the Midwest. Should I never support them if there is a local option? What if there isn’T? Our family still buys orange juice, avocados, coffee, and sugar (although we have switched lately to maple sugar and that is NOT a scarafice.)

Nicole Ravlin from PMG introduced me to Janice from True Body less than a month ago and we have  formed a partnership which you can read about in today’s edition of the Burlington Free Press.

What are we trying to do here? We are building a platform that allows growing, local valued business to have their customers fund their inventory.  Why is this necessary? It turns out in the world of consumer packaged goods, a certain level of success leads to failure.

Imagine working away in your kitchen making “Bay Bites” teething biscuits. With you, your stove and your friends you have been plugging away producing natural, effective and beautifully packaged biscuits for discriminating moms. Next step, your local co op. This is great. A few extra bake days, scaling up is working. Now Whole Food wants you. This is the exact pick up you have been waiting for. Your community is forward minded enough to have a community kitchen, the ingredients, kitchen rental, and crew comes to $20,000. You scrape together the money from friends and family. You make the money back and then some… three to six months later. Whole foods quadruples its Baby Bites order on week two. Uh oh. The CSE platform allows the teething biscuits that are on the shelf now at whole foods to help fund this next inventory production.

Customers buy through the CSE mobile app or website and the money lands directly in your pay pal account. Susie, a CSE shopper, received a push notification through her phone that Baby Bites is a CSE product. She paid through the phone, added the biscuit to her cart, and used her mobile coupon at check out all during her normal weekly shop. This was not a deal for her, she purchased full the biscuit at full price, because she is a democratic consumer, and uses her normal shopping routine to support companies that she believes in.  She chose Baby Bites because it is a CSE company and has been vetted on a 20 point checklist ranging from employee practices, to production emissions, to whether or not you carry liability insurance. Susie  can’t always shop at her local farmers market.

I don’t always vote with my wallet. I buy candles from China at Homegoods, and  mass-produced note cards (which generally stay in my drawer since I seem to have a phobia of the post office.) I know how it is. But if we make it pretty easy to buy a great candle at Healthy living in Vermont maybe I will. That candle company may be from California, but those candles have already been shipped here, and the CSErtification lets me know that their company values align with my personal ones.

This CSE coupon for product effort is the first step to allowing community members to truly invest in companies that they believe in. Legislation is changing that will allow up to $10,000 worth of individual investment in companies that are not yet registered with the SEC. It is our goal to sell stock as well as soap.

It will take a change in our purchasing patterns. But not a huge one. It reminds me of the “What color is your parachute?” career change advice. You have a job in a field. You can do the same job in a new field or stay in the same field and do a new job, but it is pretty much impossible to change both. If we imagine America as a land of indiscriminate shoppers…we can’t just jump to being democratic producers. We could be indiscriminate producers…or with CSE and other simple changes we could become democratize consumers. Or at least I can.

So that is my dream. A nation of democratic consumers. I won’t take a bullet for it. But I will build it a website.