I know there are some who read what I write and jump to the conclusion that I must be anti-business. To the contrary, I am enthralled with entrepreneurship and people who take the risk in life to start their own business. What I am against is the cancer that capitalism has become as cronyism and nepotism is making it nearly impossible for small businesses to survive. At the risk of echoing a particular plutocrat who got elected president circa January 20th, 2017, what made America great was the can do spirit of small business owners and their determination to make a difference.
If you inspect what I have been writing ever since the Ghion Journal was launched last year in the midst of Northern Colorado’s winter deep freeze, you would see a common theme where I implore people to depend less on corporations and patronize local businesses instead. One of the first businesses I highlighted was a restaurant in Fort Collins, CO named FoCo Cafe. FoCo Cafe made it their mission to provide affordable food for Larimer County’s burgeoning homeless population and simultaneously administer a quality restaurant for the general public. They did this by making the menu “pay as you can” and where they let the customers determine the price point for the food they were eating.
The memory of FoCo Cafe is one that will forever remain with me. In the same space where there were homeless people at one table were people in expensive suits at the next—all eating without the division of class or station. The rich were not given a prime cut while the poor given pittance; all ate of the same menu and all ate as much as they wanted. The FoCo Cafe thrived in this environment because people are loath to cut corners or cheat the system when they are given a chance to lead with kindness instead of being charged a predetermined price. In a lot of ways, the reason I was convinced to go with a contribution based model instead of monetizing the Ghion Journal by way of ad space was because I witnessed first hand at FoCo Cafe what is possible when the human spirit is unshackled from selfishness.
Frequently, those who were able went above and beyond and paid double the market price for the food they were eating. Those who were not able to pay at all stayed behind and helped clean up. I don’t know what heaven is like, but I imagine what I witnessed at the FoCo Cafe is the closest we can get to having paradise here on earth. To have rich and poor eating together and being kind to each other was healing to my soul—it gave me hope that humanity is not fated to consume itself. Given the chance, we can actually bend the arc of history towards justice, if only we let kindness instead of greed be our guiding light. Click To Tweet
This is the reason why I am so staunchly opposed to corporations. Do you think McDonald’s or Starbucks would ever do something like this? Of course not; the reason d’être of corporations is to maximize profits first, last and always. The minute a privately held company goes “public”, gets listed on Wall Street and issues shares to equity holders is the minute that company loses its soul and becomes a virus of this earth. This is not hyperbole; my previous employer offered an environment that fostered inclusion and fulfillment until the principals decided to go public. Almost overnight, we went from providing quality service to clients and ensuring employee satisfaction to focusing like a laser on profitability.
When a company goes public, it codifies greed. Systematically, from the CEO down to mid-level management, every incentive is geared towards continuously enhancing profits. Whereas most small business owners are happy to keep their doors open, keep up with overhead and enjoy a comfortable life, shareholder would drive corporations out of business unless they keep generating month over month growth in profits. This is why corporations are willing to do anything in order to uncover the next marginal dollar—the pressure is to keep growing profits.
Layoffs, attrition, stagnant wages, and increasing workloads; all of these societal strains are symptoms of management being compelled to maximize profits at all cost. Corporations have gone from maximizing profits to acting like predators; using immoral tactics like rent-seeking, lobbying and outright extortion, they are set on eliminating their competition by any means. This is a clear and present threat not only to other companies but to our way of life as we know it; our Democracy, our media and our freedoms we cherish are all slowly being frittered away by the excesses of Wall Street.
This corporate fixation on profit growth breeds an culture of omnipresent avarice as greed crowds out kindness, compassion and sustainability. Humanity is thus becoming a tail that is eating its own tail as our reliance on corporations is killing our communities and our planet along with it. For the sake of saving a few dollars and a few percent, we would rather go to Walmart instead of shopping at a locally owned market. This is a noose that we are tightening on our necks as each dollar that we spend at a corporation is a dollar we are taking out of our community. These corporations have no interest in our community, they are like giant syringes that suck out the blood from our towns and transfers our wealth along with it to the richest 1%.
I had the privilege of meeting two local business owners today in Northern Virginia. While I was printing some business cards at a Kinkos (insert irony), I ran into Michelle, the owner of the Farm Brewery in Haymarket, Virginia. She was there printing posters for a mini-concert that a local band will be performing at her brewery. We started talking about the challenges of running a business and she invited me to the concert and told me how she loves to support local musicians. Now ask yourself this, do you think this transaction would ever have happened with the owner of Budweiser? Of course not, the CEOs of Wall Street are a disconnected bunch and they only time they even feign care for communities is when they are handing out water in the shape of beer cans—self promotion anyone. A few hours later, I stopped by Enatye, a family owned Ethiopian restaurant in Herdon, to pick up some injera. I struck up a conversation with one of the owners named Berhan. I jokingly asked him why they don’t have more of a party atmosphere with loud music and assortment of non-cultural appeals that a lot of Ethiopian restaurants have adopted in order to cater to the crowd. Berhan told me that their focus is on providing quality food and a relaxing ambiance for people to enjoy Ethiopian cuisine. Berhan said, “we have a responsibility to each other and to the future and that is our primary focus”.
What started off as a statement said in jest became profound at that exact moment. Berhan was telling me that they are willing to forgo additional revenue if necessary in order to take care of their responsibility to the community and to future generations. His brother Eskinder Kifetew reiterated the message as he told me that he along with his brother Berhan and his sister Mahlet Getachew, opened up Enatye in order to provide quality food to their community and pass on the Ethiopian tradition of kindness and sharing food in happiness. How fitting, Enatye means “my mother” in Ethiopia.
Corporations always say they care for the community as they suck jobs out of our nation and ship them overseas. I’s small business owners and private companies who live where they do business that truly care about their neighbors. If we are to arrive at a new day for humanity, it will be when we let love lead the way. We have tried for centuries upon centuries to defeat hatred with hatred and each successive generation sees us taking incremental steps into the abyss. Hate to break news here, but there is no Moses coming for us. We have to lead ourselves instead of waiting for the rich and wealthy to the firm ground of coexistence.
Although the problems of the world seem insurmountable and it seems insufficiency will always be with us, we can make big strides towards ameliorating the injustices of the world if we somehow decentralize power and retain as much of our resources and governance locally. Community is natural; corporations are an abomination. The more we let a few concentrate all the wealth, power and governance in their hands, the more all of us will suffer. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, though we might never see peace on earth, we can at least see less conflict if we empower our communities instead of letting bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians—some of whom don’t even live in our country—dictate to us how we lead our lives.
By the way, what I am presenting before you is an issue and a solution that transcends politics. Conservatives can get behind entrepreneurship and empowering ourselves instead of depending on the false charity from big government. Moreover, true conservatives hate crony capitalism and the rent seeking ways of multinational businesses. Likewise, liberals can get behind #CorpXIt for a whole host of reasons; chief among them being that I am asking people to stand by small businesses and local entrepreneurs and stick it to big corporations that keep sticking it to us.
All of us can agree that we are better off empowering local and regional businesses instead of giving our hard earned money to Wall Street corporations who live to eradicate competition and destroy markets can’t we? Is this not an idea that is beyond race, gender, religion and the endless ways we are splintered and instead focuses on the one thing we have in common?
I hope all of us really reflect about our shopping decisions. Instead of protesting every two seconds and depending on politicians to do for us, the change we are looking for could arrive if we actually empower ourselves. While it is impossible to do away with corporations anytime soon, we can at least start the process of weening ourselves off. How about this, for every $1.00 that we spend, can we make a commitment to spend at least 50% locally by patronizing small businesses who are based locally or regionally? Let us start to divest from Wall Street and reinvest our dollars in entrepreneurs who live among us. #CorpXit
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss the very notion of entrepreneurship and how each one of us can turn dust into diamond.
In Good Company
(support these two wonderful businesses)
Enatye Ethiopian Restaurant Twitter: @EnatyeR
(click picture to visit page)
Farm Brewery in Haymarket Twitter: @TheFarmBrewery
(click picture to visit their page)
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.