Update: It saddens me greatly that one of my favorite coffee shops in Fort Collins, Tia’s Coffee and Eats closed it’s doors. Tia is moving on to other opportunities, but it is sad that she could not thrive as a small business owner.
Less than a mile down the street, Starbucks is jammed packed, most of the time with the very same people who are always trying to be a part of one social movement or another, yet a place like Tia’s struggles to make ends meet and eventually closes her doors.
We are doing this to ourselves, we keep patronizing corporations we are killing off local jobs and transferring our communal wealth to multi-national corporations. For God’s sake wake up! Stop marching with your feet and voting in booths and instead march with your wallets and vote with the economic choices you make. Or else, each one of us will be forced to make a Tia’s Choice, though not as horrific as Sophie’s choice, continuing to patronize corporations will in time lead to our own economic insolvency. Good luck Tia, you are a wonderful soul, God bless you in your future endeavors.
Before I delve into this topic of “us versus them”, let me first humanize what is often talked about in the abstract. This morning, I fell asleep on the shuttle on my way to Fort Collins. Suddenly I was jarred awake by my name being called and asked by the driver if this was the coffee shop I wanted to be dropped off at. Occupying a space somewhere between REM and reality, I said yes and disembarked the shuttle. I realized at that moment I was actually dropped off a couple of blocks away from my destination. As I shook myself out of sleep, I saw a quaint little coffee shop that had a sign that read “we are open, you are welcome”.
I saw this as a blessing and a stroke of serendipity. What better way to wake up than a morning cup of coffee. The fact that the coffee shop had a eclectic aura to it was a big plus; I decided a long time ago to disavow corporate places as much as possible and patronize mom and pop stores instead. Plus the name, the name was like a siren beckoning me to enter. Tia’s Coffee and Eatery; I am drawn to people more than I am gimmicks, so the fact that the coffee shop was named after someone was immediately captivating. As soon as I entered, I was greeted by a warm welcome and a waft of coffee’s enticing aroma tickled my olfactory zones.
Half-jokingly, I asked the barista at the counter if she was Tia. I was expecting her to say that Tia was a previous owner and for the barista to say she was at the most the manager. Instead the barista affirmed that she was in fact Tia and asked me what I wanted to drink. In that very instant, I realized why I found myself at this little piece of heaven on the corner of Laurel Street and S. College Avenue. I decided to write the article I’ve been meaning to write for a while as I was waiting for the right moment and enough wisdom to discuss the notion of “us versus them” in a way that reveals the true nature of the struggle.
But before I go there, let me recount to you the conversation I had with Tia. As she was making me coffee, which by the way the refill is free unlike Starbucks where they charge you more for a refill than some places charge for the first cup, Tia told me about her business and how she loves to serve her guests. When corporations call you guests, it’s because they conducted push polls and realized that people feel more vested in a business when they are called guests versus being called customers. But Tia is not a poll pusher, she is a kind giver; she actually treats you like a guest in her home instead of treating her guests like customers. Tia works at the coffee shop along with her son Will, they treat customers like family because the business is owned by a loving family.
I was enthralled with the whole experience at Tia’s and told her that I will be repeat guest from now on. It was at that moment that Tia revealed to me that she might be going out of business. Even though she has a solid customer base, as all business owners know, cash flow and debt are the silent killers of all enterprises. Saddened, I put on my business consultant hat and just started to ask question after question. Tia, even though she had enough on her plate opening up her shop for the day, patiently answered all my inquiries. I realized at that moment that the wisdom and timing I’ve been waiting for to discuss the “us versus them” paradigm was just made evident to me. There was no need to talk about injustice in the abstract or “the struggle” in theory, right before me was an amazing business woman who was getting mugged by the reality of incorporated invasion of our community. A couple of blocks away is a Starbucks that is always packed as they thrive selling coffee at markup while Tia is contemplating going out of business. So let me broaden this story from that of only Tia to talk about the very notion of corporations versus community.
I want you to pause and reflect for a minute and really take the time to think on the words I am presenting before you. I want you to just ask yourself this one question, what if we are being led by the nose? What if everything that we are fighting over is nothing but misdirection—a slight of hand you can say—as anger is stoked and divisions perpetuated in order to keep us perpetually distracted. Well I am here to tell you that these what if questions are not theoretical, there is a purpose and an intent behind the ways we are continuously set one against the other. As long as we are bickering and aiming fire at each other, the less we are able to comprehend the ways we are being collectively pillaged.
Take this to the bank, behind most of society’s inequities and social injustices is economic unfairness. From crime to broken families to the current political climate that seems to be teetering on the precipice of societal conflicts. But these things are not happening by accident, the way our economy is structured, the health of the system depends on the continued suffering of the masses. The reason for this is simple, imagine our system as a cancer where profits are the invasive genes and the people are the healthy cells. In order for profits to be realized, the system (cancer capitalism) has to feed on the people. This is not just an off the wall theory, corporate capitalism depends on what is referred to as year over year profits. The health of a company is determined solely on whether or not they are continuously growing and whether or not their bottom line is compounding.
It is this one principle, the fact that “public” corporations demand year over year compounding profits is the reason why more and more people keep falling into the chasm of poverty and dependency. Corporations, in order to meet the demands placed on them for continued profit growth, seek above all to minimize cost and increase their margins. The way that corporations minimize costs is by “eliminating inefficiencies”. Eliminating inefficiency seems so benign and virtuous, this is why words can be deadlier than Ebola when they are used to obfuscate the sinister ploys of the powerful. The “inefficiencies” they are eliminating is our livelihood. I can give you corporate jargon after corporate jargon that is used to mask the greed and avarice of a system that prays at the alter of profit maximus.
Corporations are nothing more than a cohort of one collective loop that is slowly suffocating us and asphyxiating the entire world. I was just talking to Sal, guy I met over here at Tia’s and he passed along this nugget to me. Do you know that 8 people own more wealth now than the bottom 40% of people throughout the globe. Read that again, eight people have more money than 3.3 billion people combined. Not too long ago, during the 1950’s, the average CEO of a corporation in America made four times as much as the average worker. To be honest, even that number seems high considering that it’s the workers who do most of the work—that is why they are called workers. Now the average CEO makes upwards of 400 times as much as the average worker.
I could cite statistic after statistic that reveals how we as a society are headed right into the abyss. The market crash of 2008 is child’s play compared to what is coming next. The Achilles heal of all empires has always been debt; debt is the silent killer that euthanizes companies and countries alike. Well my fellow Americans, the United States has racked up a debt of over 20 trillion dollars and that number keeps growing on a day to day basis. But this is not about just America, the totality of the world has been interwoven into a devilish system where currencies are intertwined and pegged to one another. Considering the fact global currencies are run by central banks and the central banks are all interconnected, what you have in reality is truly a one world government which is run not by our governments in capitals but by godlessly rich billionaires who reside in places like Zurich and Copenhagen. Democracies in this way are laughable, they are just giving us a pretense of control when in reality the powerful—what we can now start calling “them”—run the world by way of their weaponized bank accounts.
As we fight over the most banal things, literally acting like children taunting and bullying each other, the next crisis is around the corner. This is why demagogues are paid handsomely to peddle grievance and stoke up anger. They are constantly ginning up anger and antipathy because it is hard to find solutions or be aware of the problem as long as we are stirred up into a tizzy. Emotions do not beget solutions, anger and hatred only perpetuate anger and hatred. I know it’s easier to gaze into the navel of despondence and resentment but trust me there is no profit to be made there. What if though, instead of a big bang approach to solving these complex issues and somehow wrestling control back from the hands of the powerful, the solution was something actually quite simple. The answer has been before us all along, it doesn’t even require that much of an effort other than maybe paying a few dollars more. Ready?
Here is the solution. Stop supporting the corporate pricks and actually start patronizing local businesses. I’m not writing this as some sort of a fufu feel better endeavor or some act of good will. What I am saying is that corporations are a clear and present danger to all of our livelihoods. Think this is some sort of hyperbole? Do you know close to 50% of Americans are no longer employed full time? Do you know that the rate of homelessness is literally overwhelming towns and cities throughout America? The more our jobs are being shipped overseas and we are being turned into indentured servants—read serfs of the “sharing economy”—each day more and more of us will become a statistic. This is not theory I’m writing of, I myself once had a job two years ago working at Booz Allen Hamilton where I was a consultant at the Pentagon and Department of Treasury. Now I’m submitting resumes for minimum wage jobs struggling to stay ahead of indigence.
This is the future that is in the offing for more and more of us if we continue to feed the cancer of corporate capitalism. Look, I’m not anti-business nor am I a “communist”, I am pro-business and don’t have a bone of class envy in my body. But I realize evil when I see it and what we have before us is as evil as the worst days of communism in the USSR. The masses, we the people, are being pillaged into impoverishment as college students are faced with the prospects of living with their parents instead of chasing their passions. The American dream is being nullified and turning into a nightmare for all of us. It doesn’t have to be this way, if we support our local businesses who live and work in the same communities we live in, we can begin to reverse the tide of economic warfare that is turning into a tsunami the likes of Phuket.
This is the reason I decided to write this article today, for I realize that there are endless Tias out there who are serving their customers honorably but are daily being forced out of business. It’s not “us versus them”, the whole thing is backwards. The true struggle is “them versus us”, as in they—the elite, the status quo, the 1%, the globalists or whatever else you want to call them—are enriching themselves at our cost. We are all Tias in this way, whether we work at corporations or at mom and pop stores, whether we are the entrepreneurs or the employees, we are all seemingly living paycheck to paycheck trying to keep up with the bills. We can blame the “powerful”—the plutocrats who are funneling wealth from us to the fractional 1%. But maybe it’s time to stop blaming outward—regardless of how deserved the condemnation is—and actually look inward and be accountable for our own actions. We are the ones who keep feeding into the fire as we continue supporting corporations over small businesses. Only to then we get mad when the fire comes for us as more and more people keep getting fired—why do you think they call it fired.
Corporations are like viruses, their main purpose is to grow their bottom line by eliminating “inefficiencies”. Ah these corporate jargon, they use words like increasing productivity, reducing overhead, cutting out redundancies, and of course eliminating inefficiencies. Breaking news ladies and gentlemen, the inefficiencies they are eliminating is our livelihood. The minute your boss starts talking about reducing overhead and cutting redundancies, watch out! That just means your job is about to be on the chopping blocks so you might as well start working on your resume. Maya Angelou said it best; when people tell you who they are, believe them. Well corporations are telling us daily that they have no use for us as they keep getting rid of our jobs and eliminating our means to acquire a modicum of happiness.
It doesn’t have to be this way, if we start supporting local businesses like Tia more and stop patronizing Starbucks or Walmart, the benefits would be tremendous because business owners like Tia live in the very communities that they serve. Thus, there is a dual purpose in supporting Tia and her fellow community based local businesses. Not only do we support the livelihood of one of our own, a fellow struggler, but we also feel the benefits of ensuring the jobs stay in our communities instead of the jobs being sent overseas. Want to know how to make America great again or how to restore hope and change in our nation, stop listening to the empty rhetoric of duplicitous politicians. Instead support our local businesses for their welfare relates directly to how our communities fare as well.
You know, in a lot of ways, this day in a lot of ways was amazing. Inspired to write this article, each time I took a break from broadcasting on air or writing this article, I met one business owner after another as I ventured about Old Town Fort Collins. At a local FedEx Kinkos, I met a hemp paper manufacturer by the name of David who is small business owner based in Loveland—doing his part to make a difference by offering a sustainable alternative to forest destroying paper products. When I told him what I do, that I am a writer and that I have an online radio show, he told me about the local radio station KRFC FM and told me they were two blocks away. I got on my bike and let Serendipity lead me again and I found myself at the lobby of KRFC FM. The office manager Andrea greeted me with the same warm welcome that Tia greeted me with and went above and beyond that simple act of kindness by actually giving me a tour of the radio station. Now ask yourself, what would be the treatment I would receive if I walked into ABC radio’s office and asked to speak to the station manager.
My aim here is not to make feel people who work at corporations feel bad. At the end of the day, all of us work for corporations for the supply chain that small business owners depend on flow through the big corporations. Heck, I would not be able to reach you with these words and with the Ghion Cast if it was not for corporate gatekeepers by the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter. There is no big bang immediate disconnect from the corporate world. Maybe in time we can become less dependent on corporations as a society but for the time being what is needed most is incremental weening away from the corporate agenda. We do this by being more communal and less corporate in our day to day lives. Protesting and marching are useless unless we are able to sustain our communities through reinvestment.
It might feel good for the moment going on social media and partaking in the latest hash tag revolution or the meme that aims to eradicate the ills of the world. But these things, from protests to hashtags to the endless ways we keep letting the elites stir up our indignation, all these things are empty calories that induce stress and nothing more. Yes we have an idiotic president but feeding into his ignorance is exactly how the status quo wants us to act. Outrage and emotional outbursts don’t solve injustice, they just perpetuate the brokenness of this world. The only way to defeat hate is with love and the way to overcome ignorance is through knowledge. So let love and knowledge be our moral compass, the knowledge that investing love among our own is the only way to lift communities out of the trap of generational and cyclical struggles. When I mean “our own”, I don’t mean that in a tribal sense but in a communal sense. If you want to rid the world of global injustice, let us start by first casting our buckets into the system of injustice in our neighborhood and draining the local swamps that swallows lives. Instead of letting crooked orange and jack ass (read Trump and Democrats alike) politicians promise to drain the swamps of DC as they make their chalets in those very swamps they speak against, let us drain DC by keeping as much of our water (resources) in our communities we live in.
This message I proffer to places like Chicago and Baltimore and Boise to Wichita, at the core we are all asking for the same thing. We just want a fair shake. So stop letting politics and labels divide us and shake us apart; how about we fight less and invest in our communities more. The same way that corporations are the problem, corporate politics is even more nefarious. What I mean by corporate politics is the prison of thinking in the broken paradigm of “Democrats” or “Republicans”. Both parties are lackeys of the corporate agenda; both parties dependent on the pay checks of billionaires and corporate plutocrats in order to enrich themselves. The answer will never come from places of concentrated power because concentrated power is only interested in accumulating more power and retaining their status. The answer truly resides in decentralizing power and empowering communities and localities instead. This is not a Republican talking point, the GOP is full of bunk as much as Democrats, they just use talking points to obfuscate their malevolence the same way corporations say guests when they really are counting customers.
Let me wrap it up this way, stop being customers to corporate plutocrats and corporate politics alike and instead be a guest in your own community. This article in a way is self-serving, this I won’t deny, the same way I tell you to patronize local businesses, I am asking you to get your source of information and news from journalists and writers like me and Ghion Journal for our primary aim is seeking truth instead of maximizing profits like our Mainstream Media yellow press hounds have perfected. Invest in businesses which are based in your own neighborhoods or in your own area codes instead of being customers of companies who have global ambitions. That is the difference between global companies and small businesses, something about accumulating too much money feeds into the basest aspects of our egos as ambition to get more trumps the need to be kind and make a difference. We can either be ground into dust by the powerful or become diamonds by being entrepreneurs in our own right and empowering other entrepreneurs in the process (refer to video below to get motivated to be audacious).
Small businesses care because their ambitions are smaller than that of global giants. So instead of patronizing Goliath, be a guest in the homes and businesses of endless Davids in the towns and cities we all live in. Like I said earlier, I’m not offering this message and beseeching you to patronize small businesses for the sake of making you feel better about yourself. Corporations have become a public nuisance for their continued success depends on our continual struggle. Each time a Walmart drives a mom and pop market out of business or a Starbucks eradicates coffee shops like Tia’s, it has a direct correlation to the rate of homelessness, poverty, crime, and education in the communities we all call home. But enough blaming corporations, snakes bite that is what they do, instead let us—the people—make intentional choices to be less corporate in our actions and be more communal in our practice. Or else, we too will be faced with our own Tia’s choice as we mull losing our homes or jobs to the Goliath of Wall Street. #TiasChoice
The choices we make have correlation on our future happiness, either we become communal and thrive locally or we will become corporate slaves and suffer globally.
Let’s do our part to support Tia, there is an Indiegeogo account at this LINK, contribute as you can and help Tia meet her fund raising goal so that she can stay in business and continue giving back to the community that she serves. A broader article about this very notion of patronizing local businesses over major corporations will be written using this space so check back as I present a business case for supporting the Davids of this world instead of shopping at Goliath companies. If you are in the area, definitely stop by on this snowy day and say hello to Tia and get a fresh cup of coffee as well. If you say the word “Free Buna” (buna means coffee in Amharic) you will get one free cup of coffee anytime throughout the day. Share this article using #TiasChoice
Visit Tia’s Coffee and Eatery on Facebook
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij 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. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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