Finding the capitalist spirit this season, the good kind

Yes, capitalism can feel like a dirty word today.

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During a brief break in the rain last Friday, Bay Area youth and their allies gathered in front of BlackRock’s San Francisco headquarters. In fiery speeches and chants, protestors called on the investment firm to stop funding fossil fuel corporations, the burning of the Amazon rainforest, and private prisons and detention centers. If BlackRock divests from these harmful business practices, it could influence a more systemic change in our country.

“We’re embedded in an economic system that is focused on destructive practices,” Greg Spooner, a citizen activist, told me at the protest.

While most of us recognize this truth, breaking free from harmful companies can even be hard on an individual level; especially this time of year. It’s easy to go to Amazon for gifts, Nestle for chocolate chip cookies and pies, Tyson and Smithfield for meat and Wall Street banks to help pay for it all. These major, multinational corporations are seemingly everywhere, thanks to the subsidies and regulatory breaks our Santa-like leaders deliver.

People must continue to pressure elected officials and big investment firms, such as BlackRock, to reduce the impact corporations have on the environment and communities. But San Franciscans can also create their own miracle this holiday season by embracing the choice and innovation inherent in our capitalist system.

Yes, capitalism can feel like a dirty word today. Centuries ago, however, it spurred creativity and autonomy as people left their feudal lords and flocked to urban centers. This capitalist spirit is still alive in the City’s numerous farmers’ markets, small-batch chocolate and beer producers, local businesses and cottage industries. Instead of profiting on the destruction of communities and the planet, these entrepreneurs aim to profit by offering new and better ideas.

Some of the Bay Area’s finest businesspeople, many of them women, were present at the second annual plastic-free market at Fort Mason last Sunday. Glass reusable straws and jars for bulk, grocery shopping sparkled in the sunlight. Stands with bamboo toothbrushes, shiny reusable razors and paper-wrapped highlighter and Sharpie alternatives filled the center. Each new product felt novel and necessary — impossible to resist purchasing.

The people selling the goods seemed inspired by each others’ innovations and excited to provide consumers with choices that could help reduce waste and improve health.

“You can do good for the world and get paid,” Friday Apaliski, a sustainability concierge who helps people reduce and avoid toxic products in their homes, told me. “If we insist that people helping the environment not make money, then change will always be led by a narrow group of privileged people.”

“This is meaningful to me,” added Stephanie Ciancio, founder of Handsome, a business that provides goods and services that help people reduce clutter and waste. “I can reach more people utilizing scale, which the exchange of money makes possible in this case I believe.”

Although the people hawking their goods and services at the plastic-free market were clearly capitalists, they are not part of the destructive economic system that’s wreaked havoc on the environment. San Francisco’s small businesses serve as an important reminder that it’s not capitalism that’s gotten us into this mess — it’s the unchecked greed of a few, powerful corporations. These corporations have stalled imagination, strangled consumer choice, dampened growth and subjugated the will of the people.

“Right now, we are a democracy of companies,” Finlay Norton-Lindsay, a 17-year-old activist with the youth-led Sunrise Movement, told me at the BlackRock rally. “It’s time to become a democracy of the people.”

San Franciscans can nudge this dream closer to reality by continuing to protest BlackRock’s investments and call on politicians to prioritize people instead of corporate profits. The federal government must stop awarding businesses for their bad behavior with subsidies and political favors. We need our leaders to enforce antitrust laws, reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and enact necessary regulations to protect communities and the planet.

But this holiday season, simply supporting local businesses can also help people push the market to a healthier and more sustainable future.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

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