RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Time for Resolutions

Happy New Year, Dear Reader! For farmers, the deep winter is a busy time even if the fields are dead. Lambs and calves and colts come in January and February. At the same time, predators are hungry and active. For livestock owners, chores on ice and snow take three times as long as in the summer. And, when we go inside, we have accounts to get in order and plans to make for next year. And new year’s resolutions.

These resolutions, by the way, are supposed to be about self-improvement. Let’s face it: it’s easy to resolve to improve somebody else. I do that every couple of days.

But we only have ourselves to fix, and that’s the point of New Year’s resolutions. My son-in-law, John, is one of the best resolvers I know. One year, he resolved to buy nothing new. Except food, of course. When he needed something, it was off to the thrift store or the yard sale circuit. He became an expert, and remains one. That’s the best resolving, when it becomes a habit. So if you need one, John’s is a resolution you can use.

This year, I’m picking up on another friend’s comments. After meeting the winners of the 2013 food sovereignty prizes, who are fighting corporate control in their homelands of Haiti, Mali and the Basque country, my friend said, “so we have to do more than just buying local ...”

True. It’s time to kick it up a notch. We have to talk to the corporates on their own turf. My resolution for 2014 is to become a discriminating corporation owner. Do I know how to do this? Not a clue. But I’m ready to learn.

My generation — the American baby boomers — have enjoyed perhaps the easiest years on the planet, and we used our privileges well. We stopped — after too many years — the War in Vietnam, insisted on Civil Rights for minorities and women, and campaigned for endangered species, including US workers. Now, as we reach for a few years of leisure, we’re wondering why corporations are blowing the tops off mountains to get coal and why retail workers have to get food stamps to feed their kids. The changes we worked for haven’t derailed that military-industrial complex that Eisenhower talked about. We don’t have that Great Society that Kennedy dreamed of.

Instead, there are new opportunities for activism. We may keep on marching and writing letters to the editor, but for some lucky folks, the opportunities to promote change lie in retirement accounts. You don’t have to be one of the top 1% to have a piece of this game. I’m talking about the IRAs, 401Ks and wads made from selling Aunt Ida’s farm in Tennessee. Did that money go into the internationally destructive stock market? Or did it go to build your own community?

The stock market is heating up ... a 30% rise in 2013, they say ... 30% in money. Somehow, the media and the government believe that means the US economy is growing and forget what that means for the planet or the people. Those “p’s” take away from profitability. If the employer has to pay fair wages, for example, dollars in profit goes down. If the employer has to clean up the pollution he causes, well, that’s a cost.

So that’s how stocks and mutual funds are sold — according to profits, regardless of the planet or labor. It’s a pretty easy game. 10% is better than 3% and 3% is better than 1%. As Bernie Madoff proved, nobody really looks much farther. The only person the buyer deals with is the broker. And, if the corporate offices are far away, you can’t translate the returns into employment or pollution. Unless you live close to the factory or the mines, you don’t really see where the money comes from or goes.

It’s even more difficult if your investments are in mutual funds, which are almost completely sold on the basis of returns. Maybe, peace lover, you’re invested in Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart. Those are just three of the hundreds of disrupters of peace and manipulators of policy. Maybe, democracy lover, with all your railing against the corporate takeover of our government, you’re benefiting, bottom line-wise, from the takeover.

There are a few companies catching the wave on what’s called triple-bottom-line bookkeeping. They control waste streams and pay for employee college classes. These companies put the three P’s — profit, planet and people—in their mission statements. Some of these may be operating in your town, and may even be locally owned. Helping them out is sometimes called “impact investing.”

Whether you celebrated Christmas, or Hannakuh, or Eid, or Kwanzaa or nothing at all, the winter solstice and the turn of the internationally recognized fiscal year calendar says we’re all in this together.

And we have resolutions to make!

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2014

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