Hypocrisy: Occupied

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I am not an economist. I don’t know much about politics or Occupy Wall Street save what I read on their Wiki article. But, I do have observations on the effectiveness of protesting. I know when you stand around asking for abstract resolutions, no one will listen. Sure, they may hear you – because, after all, you’re standing on high-traffic street corners with megaphones – but I submit few will care enough to stop buying clothes at The Gap.

I am not against protesting. American History has shown that protesting can lead to change. Women and Blacks attained the right to vote through protest. How was this accomplished? By whittling down the concept of human rights to a clear and definable goal. While both groups were granted the right to vote, the truth was bigger: both Women and Blacks were given equal say, and were therefore not to be discounted as citizens or human beings. The right to vote was merely the chosen vehicle used to change the nation’s perspective.

It seems Occupy Wall Street has some issues with where money goes, and corporations having too much say in how things are run. Fair enough. But, corporations are businesses. How do you take power away from a business? You stop using that business. Think back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. Remember the bus boycott? It worked. People got what they wanted. Now, ask yourself this: how many people in the Occupy Wall Street Movement show up every morning with a Starbucks coffee in their hand? It reminds me of a time a girlfriend dragged me to New York to protest the World Bank. We got on the bus, listened to the leader of the group spout about McDonald’s and other corporations being evil. He was adorned with anti-everything buttons – from fast food, to things I had never heard of. Then we stopped for lunch and he had himself some Burger King.

My point is this: if you have issues with corporations, stop using their services. A friend of mine owns a very cool, very nostalgic video game and comic store called Level Up Entertainment. Customers consistently enter his store, ask for a game, only to then go to the 2nd level of the mall and buy it from GameStop – sometimes for the same price, sometimes for more (Level Up offers $5 off all new releases for the first three days after release). You get a better overall product from Level Up because their business model is more personal. They offer more money for trades, and honor a flexible and fair return policy. So, why do people stick with the bigger business only to bemoan the control and power of the 1%? Do people perceive brands as having more legitimacy and insurance than independent stores?

Before corporations swept across the globe, there was such a thing as a “mom and pop store.” They were independent, and relied mostly on customer service and personal relationships with their clients to maintain business and establish loyalty. That customer-centric model was their legitimacy and insurance. Customers knew they would be taken care of.

I was recently in Chicago and dined at a small place called RoSal’s. It was a small Italian place with only a handful of tables. The walls were adorned with photographs of famous people. The waiter wore a white collared shirt with a tie; he was cordial but conversational. He spoke both as a server and as a long-time acquaintance. We had a bottle of wine at the table and got a complimentary shot of Anisette at the end. The experience and food was beyond exceptional. For lack of a better word, it was “real.”

Level Up Entertainment is the video game/comic equivalent of RoSal’s. You go in, you get an experience, you get nostalgia, and you get a personal touch. There is a RoSal's equivalent to every major corporation. So, next time you choose to go into Olive Garden or Game Stop while preaching “Occupy Wall Street,” consider that the better way to protest would be to give your business to a smaller company.

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