Small Business

September 10, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

The American Left, divided on many issues, maintains one deep division not often talked about.  Many in the American Left despise business.  Doing so, they alienate supporters, making it more difficult to accomplish goals.

In high school and in college, I harbored a deep prejudice against business.  I’m not talking about just corporations but small businesses run by a single person or a family.  My father ran a girdle and bra factory on the west side of Chicago, on the fourth floor of a factory building that is now art studios for the University of Illinois.  The factory had maybe 50 employees.  My father was passionately dedicated to achieving respect by running a successful business.  His whole life revolved around the factory’s health.  He worked six days a week.  When business was good, my dad was relaxed.  When business was bad, he was preoccupied and irritable.

Dad’s politics revolved exclusively around his business.  What he perceived as good for the factory was good for him.  He would never consider voting for a Democrat.  He concluded that Republicans wanted him to succeed and Democrats wanted to use him to support those that didn’t have the resources or ambition to have their own business.  Dad saw the world through what he did to make a living.

Dad was not some Dickensian employer.  Several attempts to unionize failed, with Dad seeking to provide enough that employees would trust him.  Dad hated the union.  He saw several apparel businesses disappear after unionizing, unable to compete with foreign competition.

When I was about 16 years old, he and I polarized.  This was 1968.  A view that I acquired was that business people in general were enemies of egalitarian democracy as they trumpeted selfishness as the most important thing in life.  I didn’t differentiate between institutionalized, corporate Social Darwinism, which strategically sought to undermine challenges to an established, wealthy few, and local business people seeking to make a living without having to be someone else’s employee.

My father is in his 80s and is more open minded.  Part of this is mutual respect for each other’s perspective.  He still has never voted for anything other than a Republican.  Yet he listens when we discuss politics.  Listening is not something either of us used to do.

There is a lot of not listening on the left.  One of the things that many on the left fail to pay attention to is that an enormous number of small business people support Left/Progressive legislation, even when it negatively impacts their small business.  I work with hundreds of these little firms.  Yes, they are usually preoccupied with what is going on inside their business and their personal lives, but they are often deeply friendly to single-payer health care, withdrawal from war, strict environmental intervention, corporate accountability and civil/woman/gay rights.

I live in Evanston, a mixed-raced community with many blended marriages.  Almost 90% of the population voted for Obama.  Yet, many businesses in the heart of some of the most affluent communities in the world, Lake Forest, Highland Park, Glencoe, Winnetka, Wilmette, support the work I do in empowering local peace, justice and environmental organizations across the country.

Over 70 of the almost 350 businesses that I work with made product or service contributions to a silent auction to raise money to help the Peace, Justice and Environment Project.  An emailed 20% response for contributions is an astonishing figure.

The Left, small and larger organizations across the country, would do well to consider this often abandoned support.  The independent streak that makes up many small business people can be understood as citizens tired of listening to conservative calls to cooperate with a top-down agenda without question.  Many are looking for a way to make a difference.  The Left needs resources.  Many business people are seeking a way to know that they have had a positive effect.  Let’s get creative.  Let’s give small business an opportunity to be involved.


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