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The Importance of Your Vote

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The Importance of Your Vote

By Lynda Hopkins

A number of people have asked me what to do in the wake of the November election. My answer is: don’t stop voting.

I realize it’s currently January 2017, not November 2020. And no, I’m not referring to the special elections that will be held throughout Sonoma County in the next several months – elections in which residents may determine the fate of a cannabis tax, parks funding, and rent control in Santa Rosa. 

These are important decisions, and we should cast our ballots as we see fit. But when I say “don’t stop voting,” I’m referring to the much greater time between elections, to the choices we make in your daily life. 

Perhaps the most important ballots we cast are not for President or Members of Congress. Perhaps the most important ballots we cast are the dollars we spend, and the ways in which we pass our free time.

I want to start off by saying that nobody is perfect. As Seneca – a Roman who lived approximately 2,000 years ago – wrote: “errare humanum est,” or “to err is human.” Which means that we all have those days (or weeks or months or years) where we forget to bring our unbleached organic fair trade reusable hemp bags to the grocery store, and we instead fork over ten cents for a bag made out of the innards of a former forest. 

So before we have this conversation, let’s shed the guilt of imperfection. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we will never fully realize our ideals. We can, however, aspire to those ideals. And importantly, we can recognize the power we hold in the money and the time that we spend. Once we make that leap, we can consciously turn personal decisions into political action.

Let’s start with money. Do you complain about the influence of Wall Street on politics, then head to the Bank of America ATM to withdraw your cash? If you missed the boat on the recession-era movement to bank local, now’s a great time to catch up. We have fantastic local banks and credit unions ready to help you with that transition. 

Are you frustrated with national agricultural policy, but have a pantry and fridge full of Kraft macaroni and cheese, Nabisco Oreos, Honeymaid crackers, Claussen pickles, Jell-O packets, CornNut snacks, Capri Sun drinks, Boca Burgers, Oscar Meyer weiners, Crystal Light drinks, Knudsen sour cream, Kraft singles, A1 Steak Sauce and Grey Poupon mustard? (By the way, every single one of the brands I just listed is owned by one corporation: Kraft.) 

If we want to see more diversified agriculture in Sonoma County, if we want to see American food produced on small family farms or by local businesses, we must vote with our wallets. If we want to shape the landscape of local agriculture, we must shop at a farmers market or join a local CSA program. If we prefer small businesses to multinational corporations, we must take the time to source local mustards, dairy products, meats, pickles, crackers, and cookies, instead of purchasing the products listed above. (Replacements for the list above could include Annie’s macaroni and cheese, Ariel Crackers, Sonoma Brinery or Preston Farm pickles, Revive Kombucha, Salmon Creek Ranch ground beef, Clover sour cream, Kozlowski mustard, Valley Ford or Weirauch or Bohemian Creamery cheese, and more.)

Do you believe in fair wages and environmental regulations, but still head to big box stores to buy clothes? Yes, they’re cheap. Yes, they’re trendy. But if we believe strongly in workers’ rights and environmental protections, we might want to withdraw our support from an international industry that continues to underpay garment workers and does not match California’s environmental regulatory standards.

The good news is that our county is full of fantastic thrift stores, as well as local artisans who create unique and inspired clothing. (And to combine the two concepts, Multiple Threads, which sells at several local farmers markets, actually repurposes old sweaters into beautiful new clothes.) There’s a “collaborative consumption” economy gaining steam, and if you participate in neighborhood-based social media, you’ll likely hear about local clothing and toy swaps. Diehard internet shoppers can consider a creative company like ThredUp, based out of San Francisco, which offers used clothing via a website with precise sizing information and the opportunity for returns. (And speaking of collaborative consumption, before buying tools or seeds, consider visiting the Santa Rosa Tool Library and Community Seed Exchange.)

Now, about that free time. Do you spend you evenings watching the news, or do you spend your evenings making the news? Newspapers are always eager for human interest stories and political movement stories. If you hold a rally in support for a cause, it will make the local paper. 

And while it might not be your favorite way to spend an afternoon or evening, consider attending a meeting of your local city council or Board of Supervisors. 

People tend to wait to engage with local government until there’s something on the agenda that directly affects them – say, until they are upset with a potential land use project down the street, or an ordinance that directly affects their business. It’s important to speak up then, of course. But consider coming to a meeting during the budgeting process. Offer your elected officials advice on how you’d like to see your tax dollars spent. Suggest initiatives that might make a difference in your local community. Share your passions with your representatives.

Are you a parent, and worried about childcare? Bring your children to the meeting. We owe it to our children to involve them in community decisions. And the community owes it to our children to be tolerant of them as they learn their way around public life. 

If attending meetings isn’t your thing, consider attending a rally or protest. Volunteer for a cause, like Ceres or Food for Thought or the Redwood Empire Food Bank. That’s voting with your free time for a more just and equitable world. 

I admit that none of this is easy. Many of us work long days, and are tired at the end of them. Free time is precious – but there are actions, like signing petitions or drafting a quick email to a local elected official, that don’t take much time. 

I will also admit that many items that are made well – in ways that benefit the environment, and afford decency to workers – cost more than items that aren’t. We can’t all afford to purchase perfectly all of the time. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You’d be surprised at the deals that can be found at local businesses. And remember, this isn’t just a purchase: this is a vote. Cast your ballot wisely.

 

Photo courtesy of personalincome.org/vote