Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dialing For Change

Many on the left are angered by any hints of compromise with corporate interests from the incoming Obama Administration as well as congress. Meanwhile, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is scheming to block and/or dilute any economic recovery plan put forward by the new administration. McConnell’s obstruction efforts are likely to be aided by the Blue Dogs Caucus recently formed by Indiana Democratic Senator, Evan Bayh. One may also surmise that Bayh’s new caucus will be the recipients of considerable corporate cash now that Republicans are no longer the majority party.

So how should activists respond to the situation? Admittedly, many of us, including me, are burned out after an intense election campaign and want to decompress.

However, a consumer activist named Dennis Baer has a website in which he urges citizens to take the fight to the source: corporate America itself.

According to Baer,
“Because corporations have taken over the legislative process, we citizens should join together and use our purchasing power and withhold our purchases from some of these major corporations and demand the legislation from some of these companies that have blocked progress. To this end I have formulated these telephone campaigns.”
Baer has three primary corporate targets for this telephone campaign to lobby on behalf of change or threaten a customer boycott:
  • Rite Aid Pharmacies – 1-800-325-3737 – Specifically, Baer hopes to pressure the retail giant into lobbying the president and congress into enacting universal healthcare. Rite Aid is known for contributing to politicians dedicated to obstructing efforts at health care reform.
  • General Electric Corporation – 1-800-386-1215 – General Electric is one of many companies engaged in war profiteering and Baer hopes to pressure them into lobbying the president and congress into ending the Iraq War sooner rather than later. There are far more companies then General Electric profiting from the war (Halliburton, Bechtel, etc.) but since they also control the NBC television network, this is as good a target as any.
  • Wendy’s Restaurants – 1-800-443-7266 – Baer hopes to pressure the retail giant into supporting a minimum wage of $10/hr.
For good measure, Baer adds the office of Senator Mitch McConnell (telephone number 202 224-2541) and suggests we tell his office that no filibusters or we’ll boycott Brown-Forman of Kentucky, the maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey and a McConnell contributor.

Conceptually, Baer’s concept is a simple one: convince companies such as Rite Aid Pharmacies, General Electric Corporation and Wendy’s Restaurants that they either support progressive change or lose customers. In turn he hopes such a campaign will have an impact in the corridors of power.

Baer has his critics and was banned from Daily Kos as well as the social networking sites Facebook and My Space for aggressive promotion of his agenda. And one can argue he is being overly simplistic and naïve.

Nonetheless, I give him credit for trying to make a difference instead of simply using his computer keyboard as a soapbox to rant. Baer is asking people to not only make these calls but recruit others as well.

So, I’ve made my telephone calls, waited patiently and navigated through the 800 number vortexes to speak with a human being and express myself. The Wendy’s customer service representative insisted on directing me to their website to get me off the phone. The reps at General Electric and Rite Aid were merely flummoxed but dutifully promised to “pass on” my views. McConnell’s office also politely “noted” my telephone call.

Change is hard work. Often it’s not glamorous or exciting. Whether it’s knocking on doors or phone banking to elect particular candidates or slogging away like Dennis Baer against corporate giants. People are cynical; call you naïve and often just laugh. Yet those very same people will then proceed to whine when politicians such as Barack Obama are compelled to compromise and make no effort to provide a counter-weight from the bottom up to help facilitate progressive change.

The “system” is powerful and even politicians with their hearts in the right place have to navigate it. Therefore, the change we want won’t come from contenting ourselves with merely having elected Obama and congressional Democrats and then complain when his appointments are not 100% satisfactory. What did you expect? Did you really think the system would just disappear?

We have to remain engaged on all levels and keep pushing. That’s why I made those calls and will again. That Wendy’s rep hasn’t heard the last from me! I hope readers here will do the same, enlist your friends and even promote other companies to boycott/pressure as Dennis Baer has done.

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