| This Weeks Column:
by Dennis Loy Johnson
15 December 2004 For book lovers out there who are still stubbornly insisting that the rise of Christian fundamentalism homophobic right wing government is not necessarily a good thing, I bring glad tidings: You can do something about it and simultaneously take care of all your holiday book shopping needs, thanks to a new website that reveals the political donations of major retailers.
For example, wondering whether to buy books online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com? Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N's corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon's went to the Republicans?
Or maybe you'll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an oldfashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?
Those are some of the revelations to be found at Buyblue.org, a new website founded by a group of people who met through the political blog The Daily Kos.
"It is about corporate transparency, but it is also about bringing political power back to individuals," one of the founders, Raven Brooks, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Brooks, a computer systems analyst in San Francisco, says, "Where you spend your money every day matters. Nine times out of 10, corporations act contrary to consumer interests, but we still patronize them and don't hold them accountable."
Innumerable retailers are listed at the site, from WalMart (red) to Foot Locker (blue) to Costco (blue) to Sears (red) and The Limited (red).
The Amazon numbers may be the most surprising on the site, however. As one entry on Buyblue's blog notesan entry entitled, "Say it ain't so, Jeff""It seems counterintuitive for a company patronized by so many progressives to turn around and donate their money to causes antithetical to their constituentsą values."
The entry also details what those constituents can do about it, however, and as it turns out, there's quite a bit more that can be done beyond merely shopping at a competitor whose views are more simpatico.
For one thing, Buyblue provides visitors with a list of alternative retailers. And what if an Amazon customer, say, "also wants to lodge a protest at this company he has been supporting for years thinking they espoused progressive values?" There's information about how to do that, including the email address of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
And what if Bezos "chooses to respond with Amazon's customary 'don't let the door hit you on the way out' form letter as a reply"? Information is available about the companies that invest in Amazon, and how to contact them, too. There's also information about groups gathering to "protest Amazon's finance of a right wing agenda," and info about the boycott those groups are planning "in a couple of weeks."
As the site explains, the theory behind Buyblue is that "when politicians and corporations collude to form policy very rarely are the long term effects on individuals taken into account. We need to change that and this is our seat at the table."
Reasonably enough, the theory continues, "Corporations are profitmaking machines that have no allegiance to law or country. The only way to make them act ethically is to make it profitable to do so. By withholding and subsequently returning our revenue we will provide the financial incentive necessary for to move corporations toward sustainability. By aggregating our effort through Buyblue.org we will be able to show them the exact amount of revenue they stand to win by acting ethically. This is no different than any other free market business negotiation."
Of course, Amazon has avoided the seemingly logical dictates of sound economic principles beforethey've survived for ten years without making a legitimate profit, after all. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if their clientele is reduced to the folks they've been donating money toyou know, the ones who only read that one book.
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Previous column; MOODY IN SOLITUDE ... What happens when you ask Rick Moody to judge a fiction award contest? Our intrepid reporter goes down river to find out.
All material not otherwise attributed ©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.