What to do if you’re angry about ‘our new corporate overlords’

Regard your wallet as your daily voting booth.


By now, it should be obvious that cynical corporate interests from the fossil fuel industry have executed a successful takeover of U.S. policymaking. President-elect Donald Trump has named high-powered executives and friends of the industry to run the country, a job he has admitted might be “bigger” than he thought.

Be angry at the sun, a wise man said, if such things upset you. It is done, it has happened, and there is nothing left now but to bear witness to the utter failure of our perishing republic. Right? 

Wrong. Like any reasonable person, I’m worried about what we Americans have done, not just to our world, but to the future world. The human race had only a very long shot to prevent catastrophic climate change, and now we have an administration dead set on ending even those meager efforts. So be it. The sight of such blatantly corporate Cabinet picks leaves me hopeful. They, and their agenda, are now out of the shadows. 

Al King/Flickr user

Joining Scott Pruitt, the proposed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (and a man who is currently suing that agency) is Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of State. Exxon Mobil spent years publicly denying climate science, even as it privately acknowledged the risks of climate change decades ago. Our Western public lands, clean air, water, wildlife — all are imperiled by Trump’s operatives. 

True power in U.S. politics has been organizing itself around the logic of corporate capitalism for a long time. With it so obvious now, we have equally obvious ways to resist: By changing the way we spend. 

Corporations derive power from money, our money, and its efficient organization into political capital. For the hydrocarbon industry, that means fossil fuels and plastics. So use your shopping cart, online and off, as your daily voting booth and buy as little of these things as you can. 

If you want to shake the halls of power right now, you need not fly on a jet-fueled airliner to attend a mass march, or gas up your car and speed to a far-off demonstration. Instead, why not throw a cover over your car and stay away from the gas station for a while? Get some exercise, and a bus pass. Close your laptop, turn off your phone — it takes money away from the giant utilities. Then walk to the store, gather some local ingredients and bake something. Avoid electronics and plastics. Write a letter to a friend, by hand, and mail it off. Gather spare lumber and build a birdhouse. Go to church, join a choir, host a game night. Pick up a guitar. Put on a play. Saw, hammer, chop. Sing, dance, run. Take a moment to wonder at the wild world, the deer in the fallow field, the hare in its winter white. True resistance to the current regime begins with rejoining the slow and local analog world.

This is a great way to regain some of the agency you might be missing, in a world that feels like it’s tumbling out of control — yours, mine and everyone else’s. The less you drive and the less you buy, the more power you siphon from our new corporate overlords. And, maybe not at first, but eventually, you’ll be creating something beautiful. Beauty so created has its own power, a slow power that builds — the power of a handmade bookshelf or a hand-knitted sweater, of homemade chili and fresh-baked bread. These things have a tendency to feel essential, not disposable, and as such they have staying power, and the power to help us understand what’s truly important. Perspective, too, is power — understanding the importance of friends, family and neighbors, of how fleeting and fragile all life is, that all things pass. Trump, too, shall pass.

Yes, be angry. It is infuriating to see the ideal of American democracy so battered, to bear witnesses to a corporate coup. Powerful elites have their hands on the levers of national power, and they will lean hard to maximize profits, to enrich themselves at the cost of our health and well-being. We mustn’t let them.

Why rant on Facebook? Why not channel your anger, put your energy into yourself and your neighbors—or even local politics? I’m sure your county could use a reasonable commissioner. Eventually, the dark cynicism of our nation’s oligarchs will be exposed, as we all move on, leaving them mired in the prehistoric muck they so covet. In the meantime, let’s not empower them any more than we have to.


Brian Calvert is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is the magazine’s managing editor in Paonia, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 12:19 PM
I haven't bought gas from Exxon since Exxon Valdez 25 years ago.
Bryan Johnson
Bryan Johnson Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 08:58 PM
Please stop selling the myth that "voting with your wallet" is an effective method of realizing change. Not only does is fail to address the root of the problem, but it actually presents capitalism as the solution. Time and again we see liberals pull this out to pat themselves on the back instead of doing the hard work of organizing to build a better world.

Obviously I agree that it's good to rely less on exploitative extractive industries, and of course we should buy local produce and have game nights with our friends. But we would be foolish be believe this is any sort of actual solution. In the words of the late historian Howard Zinn, "You can't be neutral on a moving train."

Furthermore, declaring that "Trump, too, shall pass" comes across as pretty callous to those who are actually threatened by the administration. This is what latent white supremacy looks like. Not everybody has the privilege and luxury to sit back and wait it out; particularly queer and trans folks, people of color, and immigrants. This mindset is damaging to any sort of coalition-building that is fundamental to building anything better.

Mr. Calvert is implying that a vote in 21st century American democracy is rooted in how we engage with capitalism. Take a moment to really think about the implications of that argument. If that's the way you want to effect change then please get out of the way - that method is obsolete and some of us are trying to get shit done.
John W Stephens
John W Stephens Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 05:59 AM
Your solution makes those of us already doing these things powerless.
Michelle Varrin
Michelle Varrin Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 08:30 AM
What a breath of fresh air this is. Thank you for the reminder that as we go forth in our newly formed (for most of us) resistance groups, writing our senators, marching against destruction, defending the defenseless and standing guard against the perilous Goon Squad, one more thing we can do as a political act is stop spending and start creating. Great perspective
Charles Fox
Charles Fox Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 11:05 AM
I agree with the basic premise of this article. (Although baking something will probably require the use of some kind of fossil fuel as well. Solar cooker?) Voting with our dollars is what we do every day, so much more frequently than voting for president every four years. In a sense, our vote for president becomes almost trivial compared to the thousands of votes we cast every month (median income) through our consumption habits. If Americans constantly demand more oil/gasoline/diesel and pay billions of dollars for it every single day, we are voting for big carbon and it doesn't really matter who is in the Whitehouse.

As I watched the brutal treatment of people protesting the construction of yet another oil pipeline (in this case the DAPL), I wanted to support them in some way without actually going there (and burning yet more oil in transit). Reducing demand for the toxic product is key. The price of oil is already low and any reduction in demand will quickly undercut the need for more drilling, pipelines and other infrastructure. Anyone who cares even a little can reduce their consumption of oil by 5-10% or more without compromising quality of life. Any reduction in demand will help undercut the economic and political power of big oil.
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 11:38 AM
My word, what a paen to return to the "good old days" unfortunately, they didn't really exist. "...that means fossil fuels and plastics..." by all means shop on line and walk to the nearest store but don't forget everything you buy online must be shipped using fossil fuels and often plastics. "Throw a cover over your car and stay away from the gas station..." forget paying for fuel and saving time. Use public transportation so your friends, neighbors and even perfect strangers are taxed for your travels. After all, you will have plenty of time on the bus or train to read, catch up on letter writing, maybe even make up some of the sleep you lose when you add an additional 2-4 hours to your daily commute. By all means walk to the store it's only a mile or so away and gee! with global warming it is a balmy 30 degrees outside. Nothing like a brisk walk to keep you in shape.

It appears that few today have any idea what capitalism with all its warts, has done to advance innovations and afford the average American the leisure time to" write our senators, marching against destruction, defending the defenseless and standing guard against the perilous Goon Squad," There is an old cliche that is very descriptive of pre-capitalistic times, "A woman works from sun to sun but a farmer's work is never done".
Walter Brown
Walter Brown Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 12:03 PM
In my opinion, the Resistance to the corporate takeover of our government should take the form of (1) voting with our wallets (both quietly and quite publicly via organized national boycotts, e.g., Exxon), (2) actively supporting organizations that are the spearpoint of the Resistance, (3) actively engaging in local and state politics, and (4) communicating a simple, powerful, and unifying political message that resonates with a diverse array of urban, suburban and rural voters. So, in my opinion, the form that the Resistance takes should be all of the above and more. Arguing about which path is the perfect one is a recipe for indecision, disunity, and failure.
Ruby Ram
Ruby Ram
Jan 03, 2017 01:51 PM
Something is seriously off with our culture when suggestions of the only way we can be 'heard' is by shutting up and just not buying stuff. The reason people rant on Facebook is because they want to see that they're not alone on their grief, find solidarity, and maybe mobilize. I saw a TED Talk a while back that really resonated with me. What stuck with me was that Capitalism as an economic 'tool' is fine, but when capitalism becomes a 'culture' where everything (including people) are for sale than we have a problem. Go ahead, tell people to stop buying stuff and just stay hushed, some have the good fortune of pulling something like that off but for others there is no other choice but to survive day by day by buying what they can only afford (like cheap foods contained in cheap plastics). Why should we let bad foods and plastics stay cheap? This is the reason people mobilize and seek reform in the form of policy. They always say those who don't speak up don't get heard. I don't completely disagree with you, yes boycott goods with your wallets but also share your anguish with everyone, find like minds, become the change, seek change, change your culture and views.
Jon Maaske
Jon Maaske Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 03:37 PM
Excellent article. I agree, especially, with Walter. There are multiple ways for us to fight and cope with all the mess and some will suit some more than others. Fighting about which one way is correct, which ones are hypocritical, that my solution is the best, really distracts, divides and wastes energy. I will, however, encourage everyone to SPEAK UP. When the supermarket only wants to sell you what they want to sell you in the quantity they want to sell you, SPEAK UP. When someone says without DAPL we'll all be sitting in the cold and dark, CORRECT THEM.

The more information the better, e.g., easy access to what banks to divest from, etc.

The water protectors are still standing strong in North Dakota, though the mainstream media seems to have lost what little interest they had. Ask your local (and other) media to cover the situation and events more, and more truthfully.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen
Jan 03, 2017 09:38 PM
Ruby I agree that capitalism when used as a tool is fine when it becomes a religion is when it becomes scary. The capitalism of my father who was a high school educated blue collar worker in the ears of the late 40's to late 70's was one where he was able to provide a good home, good schools and life in a good neighborhood for his family.
In the capitalism of today this is less and less true.
We have become a plutocracy/Oligarchy which is the final result if capitalism is left untethered. A nation of super rich, a diminishing middle class that sees no future and free falling into poverty. The Republican party has now become the white nationalist party which is causing our country to down spiral into a Fascist state .
Yes the new state religion is a warped form of capitalism whose creed is social darwinism and god is Ayn Rand