Drew Tulchin

The Holiday season is upon us, with the barrage of advertising inducing us to buy, buy, buy! What’s a socially minded citizen to do to still enjoy the giving season while being sensitive to the Earth and community? We turn to Occupy Wall Street for potential clues.

Occupy, the people-powered movement, has spread to more than 1,500 cities globally. In New Mexico, people continue in tents in the Santa Fe Railyard—a salute to dedicated folks as the weather gets colder. As part of “the 99%,” Occupy encourages us to work collaboratively, bottom up, minimizing the role of big business and government, and to remove greed and corruption.  Such “demands” could also translate into humane calls for civility, neighborliness and kindness towards others. What does it look like to live Occupy-ly, living the movement in our daily lives?

Use Your Money Well

An Occupy call is to stop corporate greed. What’s local action for that? Take control over what we buy and from whom we buy. Know or find out where products come from, what they are made out of, how they are made and who benefits from the purchase.

“I think the single most important thing people can do to bring OWS into their daily lives is to stop for a minute and make a decision: Is it local?”—Vicki Pozzebon, Executive Director, Santa Fe Alliance

Shopping at local stores builds connections in your community. Beyond the single purchase, buying locally circulates a dollar in the community an estimated seven times. Making more connections within our own neighborhoods, schools and organizations has the added benefits of being fun, healthier, and you might find truly outstanding, unique items to give away or enjoy for yourself. Charitable, local work is also more rewarding as you get to participate and see the results personally.

“My personal approach is to locate and support ‘trusted providers’—local individuals and businesses that I patronize for reasons beyond price that include, among other things, convenience, trust, good quality and the opportunity to invest in the local economy.” – William G. Sommers, President, Permaculture Credit Union.

Communities are gaining momentum with local alliances like Santa Fe Alliance at the center of the Local First movement but there are lots of communities who don’t have such hubs of local economic development. “Spread the word to others in communities outside your own. Occupy Main Street!” says Pozzebon.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Every local purchase helps create jobs and tax revenue that pays for the services we all enjoy: public safety, parks, roads, etc., are all dependant on the revenue created by shopping locally.”—Simon Brackley, President and CEO, Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.

Actions anyone can take:

Re-Gift

Got something you didn’t like, but others do? Re-gifting is okay by me. Got stuff you don’t want or are you looking for that special something? Try Freecycle and Craigslist. At the very least, try nice packaging to something mundane—it is supposed to the thought that counts.

Make Stuff Yourself

Find re-gifting gauche? Make art yourself. Take things otherwise destined as landfill and convert them into beauty. Santa Fe’s recent Recycled Art show had hundreds of fantastic examples of art, student projects and vendors doing fantastic workhttp://recyclesantafe.org.

Buy Local Art

Okay, not all of us have the time or skill to be Martha Stewart. What else? Buy local art and artwork. Support our artists. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Carol Ware, a local artist who uses recycled materials, suggests attending local art events like the Wage Urban Art Fair or Axle’s Ye Olde Holiday Shoppe for finding local artists’ work that is affordable, fun and often “green” to boot. “Taking things destined for the landfill and changing them into beautiful objects to wear or use is fun. When people smile and say “That used to be…whatever? Really?” That feels like success, ” says Ware.

A purchase at The Museum of New Mexico (hyperlink www.museumofnewmexico.org) supports local artists, our great creative community and the culture of New Mexico. In Santa Fe, go to the plaza and buy from the Native American artists there. Yes, “real Indians.” You can’t get more direct and authentic than that.

Donations

The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to share a positive Occupy message in your consumption and giving. What’s the real intention of this season—the spirit of giving?

What do you give? Religious folks often tithe, giving 10%. According to industry data, giving in the U.S. is down. So, every little bit counts and matters. You can check an NGO’s reputation at websites like www.charitynavigator.org (there are others). Some items that caught my eye: 350.org (www.350.org) and 1% for the planet (www.onepercentfortheplanet.org).

Make donations to local causes. The Santa Fe Community Foundation SFCF (www.santafecf.org) holiday letter encourages people to consider a gift in honor of your relative, friend or co-worker, or how about a group office gift to a common cause that everyone can support? That’s better than the usual office gifts no one keeps. Also, SFCF has an effort called Future Santa Fe, bringing together folks who want to collaborate to make a better tomorrow (http://www.santafecf.org/Page.aspx?pid=335).

Feeling like you don’t have much money this year? A gift of your own time to a local nonprofit is valuable. Find local nonprofits via United Way of Central NM’s database: www.nmnonprofits.org, Idealist (www.idealist.org) or Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org).

Have Your Money Do The Talking

The Move Your Money campaign (http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/) encourages individuals and organizations to take power into their own hands by moving money from the nation’s largest Wall Street banks to local financial institutions. Do you know the record of your financial institution? Switching can be a pain, but many good institutions help you. If you choose the right one, you only have to do it once.

Put money in local credit unions that care about the Earth and people. For instance, Permaculture Credit Union (www.pcuonline.org) applies the financial resources of people to Earth-friendly and socially responsible loans and investments. Or find other credit unions and local banks via www.creditunionsonline.com and www.findlocalbanks.com. [Disclosure – the author is on the board of the PCU, and his company is a B Corporation.]

Earn a return by “doing well and doing good.” Invest in green and community efforts. Have socially responsible investments at the community investing site: http://www.socialfunds.com/ci/index.cgi. Check out Root Capital (www.rootcapital.org), Calvert Foundation (www.calvertfoundation.org) or RSF Social Finance (http://rsfsocialfinance.org/). Interested in international microfinance? Try Microplace (www.microplace.com).

Move Occupy-ly

Travel less and travel more carbon footprint friendly. Reduce the number of flights you take. Or at least carbon-offset your travel. Support a conservancy organization in New Mexico (find a bunch at www.wiserearth.org/) or buy a carbon emissions offset through purchase of renewable energy certificates. One organization is Bonneville Environmental Foundation. (hyperlink www.b-e-f.org). These offsets support clean, renewable energy production, including wind and solar power.

Walk or bike to your location to reduce carbon emissions, and exercise more. Use the bus, a train, or car-share to work rather than your car. These actions improve neighborhood livability, vitality and sustainability.

Take Action Continuously

It’s valuable to live Occupy-ly during and after the holidays. Do what is good for you. Every little bit makes a difference. A few easy things that can be done anytime:

  • Share worthwhile information with friends and family
  • Sign online petitions
  • Attend local meetings

I hope you have a happy holiday season and can take some Occupy actions that have the added benefits of being more fun, healthier and meaningful for yourself.

Drew Tulchin lives in Santa Fe. He is Managing Partner of Social Enterprise Associates (www.socialenterprise.net), a boutique consulting firm helping businesses, NGOs, government and foundations achieve financial performance, social impact and environmental sustainability.