The Votes We Make Every Day
With the 2020 presidential election only days away, voting is at the forefront of our country’s mind. Almost 80 million early ballots have already been cast as of October 29, 2020, far surpassing the 55 million early votes in 2016 (New York Times). This can only reflect the growing consciousness of American people, as well as how much is at stake in this Presidential election, especially for the most marginalized groups. It may also indicate a tide turning among Americans, hopefully to carry over beyond the contentious Trump-Biden split and onto future issues as well as local and state matters: a reawakening of Democracy.
Northwestern specifically leads the country in voter engagement, with one of the highest student-voting rates at 90% of students registering to vote in 2016 (Northwestern). This could come from any number of reasons that make Northwestern unique, such as the culture of discussing important topics among peers, the stake many students have in the presidential outcome, or the mobilization of Northwestern students on platforms such as social media. NUVotes and the passionate students who devote their time to helping others vote is one of those groups and makes me proud to be a Northwestern student (check out NUVotes’ resources if you still need help voting!).
As unparalleled as the presidential election may seem, especially in 2020, voting isn’t just something that comes around every 4 years. Voter engagement extends beyond the presidential election and towards down-ballot candidates, by taking the time to research local elections that have a meaningful effect on our everyday lives.
But voting also means the choices we make each day: what to eat, what to wear, the people we surround ourselves with. This means voting with our wallet, voting with our actions. By doing research into the companies we buy from and purchasing with purpose, our money becomes a ballot and a vote for what we believe in. Consumers have tremendous power to push corporations, if only we choose to take it. Whatever issue hits closest to home for us, we can vote for it with our wallet: purchasing from local business, minority- or women-owned businesses, or companies that devote a proportion of their profits to issues we believe in, or supporting student entrepreneurship. For example, when I look to buy clothes online if not purchasing second-hand, I always research the company’s sustainability practices and workplace treatment. Bonus points if they’re a Certified B Corp or disclose on their products’ carbon footprint.
Even beyond shopping for goods, we vote with our wallets at least three times a day when we choose what to eat. Studies have shown the growing consciousness of these choices, as 73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, higher than any other generation (Nielsen). While paying a premium for organic or fair-trade products is not always an option for some, especially for those who don’t have access (read more about food deserts in Chicago), doing our best to purchase from local grocers or farmers markets whenever possible can have an impact.
Though our influence seems small in the shadow of so many unethical multi-billion dollar corporations, we have to continue to believe that our choices make a difference. And precedent proves it does: a study from our very own Northwestern researcher Brayden King shows that when firms are targeted by a boycott, the company saw an average decline of nearly 1% for every day of national media coverage the boycott received (Northwestern Kellogg). Capitalism is incredibly imperfect, but in the absence of a complete restructuring of the economy (presidential candidate Bernie Sanders indicates a shift among some towards democratic socialism in the belief that extractive capitalism is failing us), conscious capitalism offers us a wonderfully imperfect solution. I like to think that meaningful elections don’t just come around every 4 years, but that every choice we make is a vote for what we believe in. And of course, it never hurts to ponder these choices over a cup of cold brew that supports local students.
There’s a lot of research and writing out there that discusses these concepts much more eloquently and thoroughly than I’m able to, but I hope this blog served as an introduction to voting with your wallet and conscious capitalism. I encourage you to read more about these ideas, and here are some resources I found very helpful: