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Damn Dimers

Four people have sent me the e-mail. It’s making the rounds, imploring us to protest Bush’s inauguration and the war in Iraq by spending “not one damn dime” on Thursday (Jan. 20). The idea is that if the capitalist machine grinds to a halt, Bush and company will finally wake up and smell the patchouli, ushering in a thousand years of peace and love. If I had one damn dime for every cockamamie scheme my fellow liberals cooked up, I’d spend them all this Thursday, in one impudent shopping spree.

The 10-cent posse suggests you print a flyer, available on its Web site, and give it to businesses you do not patronize that day, so that, for example, Aquarius Records—a locally-owned San Francisco record store—will know that you did not buy any CDs that day to show support for the troops in Iraq. I have a couple of problems with this whole plan, beginning with the act of making local merchants pay for a federal policy they may not even support. If the protest amounted to an inconvenience, say, creating noise by shouting or blowing horns in front of a store that happened to be right next to the White House, I would be more sympathetic to the protesters, but their acts will cause calculable harm to their neighbors, the people, frankly, who serve them and add in a quantifiable way to the quality of their lives.

I live in one of San Francisco’s most progressive districts. I’d bet we have more members per capita than car owners. My neighborhood is called The Fillmore, home to the Fillmore Auditorium and once a center of the West Coast jazz scene. Today it is a community ever struggling to recover the ground it lost when the city pushed black-owned businesses and African-American and Asian-American (mostly Japanese) homeowners out so white people could move in.

Kevin, one of the sons of Bea’s and Sons, always gives me a neighborly hello, even if I’m just walking by the grocery that’s been in this neighborhood longer perhaps than I’ve been alive. You think I’m going to walk up to the counter on Thursday and, as those damn dime people suggest, hand him a list of all I’m not going to buy that day, and expect him to commend me for fighting the power that’s turning the world in a way I don’t like? He’d have every reason to tell me to shove my change, that same and every other day after.

There are many shops in the Fillmore—barbershops, hair weave salons, hat stores and nail salons—that won’t feel a loss when indignant liberal-arts grads hold off, one damn day, from buying blue dye for their blond dreads. Salto Angel is another story.

The two 20-something sisters who opened the Nicaraguan-Venezuelan bistro a month ago will suffer if just one of the five or so parties they seat on a good night
doesn’t show. Any patronage Salto Angel loses on Thursday is gone—people won’t come back and eat two dinners on Friday, and if a damn-dimer who stumbled on the place Thursday never happens back again, their patronage is lost altogether.

The morning coffees not purchased at Fillmore Street Café, a hub of the local Ethiopian community, would constitute an abject loss on Thursday, too. The café is already taking lumps from a certain Seattle chain that moved in two blocks away—but hey, what’s a little pain, when we’re giving the Republicans what for. We’re in it together, right? But can our neighbors survive this kind of solidarity?

Here’s the messages these tactics send: we’re a bunch of antibusiness loonies who want to change the world, and we expect the rich to pay for the remodel—but they still can’t make too much money! The people who devise and execute these half-baked schemes may call themselves progressives, but I won’t because their tactics are regressive. And confounding. We can’t just redistribute the wealth available now; someone’s going to have to keep making money to keep things rolling.

And these nationwide cure-all campaigns are a new kind of pissing contest: “I can change the world faster and better than you can, so there!” It seems to me that progressivism has become too much grass and not enough roots. We need to put the “rad” back in radical, stop being just plain ridiculous.

A truly radical stunt to pull on Thursday would be for the 11 people who cooked up this dime-bag ploy to sell their cars and pledge to live car-free until the federal government reinstates real clean air laws, devotes people and money to developing renewable energy systems that will reduce our dependence on oil, and stops its rapacious land policies. If they further pledged to recruit more people to join their auto boycott, I would advocate building a Hall of Social Justice and dubbing them the Super Progs.

It’s difficult, but we must acknowledge that we who have ever known the luxury of contemplating whether or not to buy something have all bought into some kind of lifestyle and mindset. It appears that some of us, feeling guilty, perhaps, about their particular purchase, think they can redeem themselves by taking one day off from spending, by penalizing the entire supply side of the economy with their arrogant abstention. This imperious PC-oisie completely misses the painful irony in protesting American imperialism in the Middle East by causing hardship to, among others, Arab-Americans who keep their shops open all night so the righteous can buy cat food on their way home from the latest Burning Man benefit.

I wish some people would, for once, just stand there and not do anything. Observe. Take in the landscape more fully before they rush out to attempt to mold the whole wide world into their own image.

So, rather than leaving your wallet at home, how about starting Thursday you keep it in your pocket every time you pass that famous coffee company whose predatory business practices squash local entrepreneurship and extinguish individuality. How about you wean yourself off your car. How about vowing not to give one more dime to nightclubs and restaurants where you can drink a great mojito, but the brownest person you’ll ever see is either part of the service crew or a stick figure just back from South Padre Island. How about listening to the people in your immediate community, rather than talking at them, because maybe you don’t know what’s best for everyone. Take the time and make the effort to invest yourself smartly in your community, rather than divesting yourself blindly from it.

This Thursday, please join me in dropping some coin at home-owned, family-operated, community-building businesses, and in so doing, support the proprietors’ presence in our neighborhoods. A few of us can accomplish so much more by promoting local, diverse economies than the misguided many will ever do nationally, hoarding their damn dimes.

—Judy B.


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