A common refrain I’ve heard during the current election campaign is that none of the main parties really inspire voters – we haven’t had a “Yes We Can” moment from any of the leaders in their TV debates and with public borrowing etc at the current levels, everyone seems resigned to the fact that life’s going to be a bit grim whoever wins.
So maybe we should look to our own lives and the decisions we make and the fact that the choices we make can have a huge cumulative impact on society and especially our local communities. This ties in with the new Indiebound initiative from the Booksellers Assocation. Imported from the American Booksellers Association (all members are independent booksellers unlike the BA where my fellow members include Tesco and Waterstone’s) where Indiebound has been running for a couple of years as a grass-roots movement inspiring people to use their local independent businesses. Our Indiebound pack arrived on Friday and both our shops now have the ‘Eat, Sleep, Read’ posters up.
And the Indiebound movement exemplifies what I was saying about how our personal choices can have a political impact, in some ways far more than waving a placard on a anti-globalisation march. How many people have ever ordered a book or CD from Amazon or bought a cheap t-shirt from one of the bargain-basement fashion retailers (who could sell it that cheaply because it was quite probably made in a sweatshop)? We are seduced by cheapness into buying more than we need, often at the price of exploiting poorer communities. Sometimes we are seduced by global branding and advertising into paying more than we need for products – Starbucks became fashionable in the UK at least partly because we were lured by the ‘Friends’ image – as though sipping an over-priced macchiato in a cafe with sofas would suddenly make us beautiful and interesting and surrounded by similarly hip friends. We all do it – I’m as guilty of falling prey to the lures of imported out-of-season veg as anyone else.
Meanwhile, independent businesses – cafes, greengrocers, fishmongers, hardware shops, and – of course – bookshops are disappearing from our communities. In terms of bookshops, when you shop with us you might not benefit from the loss-leader discounting seen on-line and in supermarkets (which is why you won’t see the new Jamie O or Nigella on our shelves – it isn’t worth wasting the space on them and we’d rather find you original and reliable alternatives) but you will benefit from our expertise; our knowledge of local titles and those most likely to be of interest to our customers, the quirky titles and lesser known authors that we search out and the events we run from bookgroups to author events. You contributed to your community indirectly because local businesses donate to local causes in a way that major retailers don’t and you enabled us to create local jobs and pay local taxes.
In brief, shopping local and shopping independent whenever you can shows that you care about your community and that you don’t want to live in a homogeneous world where everything is bland and the decisions about what you wear, drink, eat and read are made by national or even international companies.
Voting is important but sometimes we send out a political message as much by the choices we make on a day to day basis just as much as we do at the ballot box every four or five years. Sometimes it’s our personal decisions which are the most significant political statements.