What if we carried Civic Power in our Wallets?

So, I finally dropped my job to focus on a project aiming to shorten the capitalist-imposed gap between our ‘self-interest’ and ‘shared-interests’. I’ve put off this decision for two years because new ventures don’t pay bills. I now have more determination than I did a year ago, not that determination pays the bills but because higher levels of hope mask impeding fears with courage.

My hope jar overpoured thanks to the latest of several ideas building up since I started the project. It’s the concept of carrying ‘Civic Power’ in our wallets along with our IDs, currencies, photos, business cards, and other personal items. Before you ask how ‘civic power’ can be zipped-up in a wallet and deployed when needed, let me explain why you should carry a ‘Power Wallet’.

Central Power is Failing and We don’t have time

So many good people and institutions are disgruntled of slow progress against inequality and climate change. But why is progress slow?

#blacklivesmatter #fridays4future #occupywallstreet, climate and inequality studies and reports, green new deal, activists speaking-up, CSR, ESG, triple bottom line, social enterprises, #businesscalltoaction, hundreds of Protests, riots, violence, even the recent spike in shoplifting in the US and lately United Nations calls for urgency on #climateaction — “We cannot be late” says the UN Secretary-General. These and thousands of others like them are reactions to slow action against inequality, climate, and ecological ruin. Yet scientists warn of an irreversible chain reaction of catastrophic events if we don’t change course this decade — some argue COVID-19 is a dry run for the catastrophes yet to come.

Ever wondered why despite all these concerns, anger, and frustrations, inequality and global warming are just increasing? You could say, the louder we shout at them, the bigger their wings grow to fly higher. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t the richest bag an extra $10.2 Trillion (27% more) while millions lost jobs and lined up for emergency support, and wasn’t 2020 warmer than the previous year and the previous and previous? And yet each year we protest twice as much as the previous year — (2020 (88) than in 2019 (45). Do we exert all this pressure only to massage the very problems we wish away? Why aren’t we effecting the change we need sooner? Why do we protest today and support the same system we detest tomorrow?

Power Concentration.

All the reasons you will hear are going to be symptoms of the fact that the protesting-many have already ceded power to the protested-few. Power is the ability to influence action or produce an effect. Our power infrastructure optimizes for power-concentration rather than power-distribution. For effective governance, suck power from the many to the few; goes the political narrative. This is the case with electoral democracy and the capitalist markets. As such we the change-thirsty are limited to shouting at power while power is empowered to ignore, or even shut us up with crafty but skewed counter-narratives, teargas, batons, even live bullets. Centralizing power has its merits but if delegating our individual power is going to cost us our shared present and future then not reclaiming it is giving up hope on a flourishing Planet and Society if not your own wellbeing. Before exploring how to reclaim our power, let’s explore how we concentrate it in the first place.

Consumer Apathy = Power Concentration

Through taxes, philanthropy, and jobs, it’s commerce, not electoral democracy that facilitates the power to influence action — commerce is the ultimate source of power.

Under capitalism, the money you have is the power you have. Conversely, if you have a need you can pay for, you have Power over the seller — consumer need is consumer power. The demand-side or markets have power over the supply-side or corporations — let’s generally call this ‘Civic Power’.

When entrepreneurs or Product Managers are creating new products, the first item they research is ‘market size’ or demand for the product. To them, this represents the money and thus power they can extract from a market. If the market wanted its civic power, it would also do research on the company or product, and would first look at how much money and thus power or influence it has over a company or an entire sector.

But because everyone is obsessed with their individual position in the market, the market does nothing, thanks again to the capitalist ‘self-interest over social-interest’ nurturing. As long as I have my iPhone, car, sneakers, I don’t care about its impact on society and the environment — does this product’s value-chain have slave labor, is it wasteful, carbonful, racist, and above all is it profit greedy, consumers just don’t care! As such the relationship between the corporation or sector and its target market is a one-way wealth and power speedway.

The markets or consumers wield a lot of power against corporations but fail to self-organise for their demands to be respected and effected, in fact, they can’t even make demands. The failure for markets to self-organise against corporations leads to a failure for individual consumers to care beyond their personal-needs, this then creates a huge power deficit in favor of corporations.

This consumer apathy empowers corporations to do all sorts of injustices unchecked; pay lawmakers, academics, and think tanks to skew and control narratives; go to tax havens and do tax-deductible laws; pay below living wages; sustain wasteful, carbonful, slaveful, and racist value-chains; and perpetuate a destructive profit growth over ‘planet and people’ narrative. Our obsession with personal interests and civic apathy towards a flourishing Planet and Society is the cause of a power imbalance in which we are limited to barking at power without biting at it, and no doubt the reason capitalism was doomed to fail at its social promise.

Capitalism has a simple promise to Society — “a better future”. We might be better off today than yesterday but the environmental and social cost is increasing. A systemic solution if well executed will reverse the current trend and put us on course for sustainability. And this has everything to do with balancing corporate power and civic power, by tooling the markets to self-organize to reduce consumer or civic apathy towards Planet and Society.

Doubling the number of protests and riots, and inequality/climate research each year and then going back to giving corporations more wealth, power, privilege and control is counterproductive and only gears up the problems we protest against.

Like it or not, even if they could, only a handful of corporations are going to willingly rid their value chains of carbon, of modern slavery, of racism, of wastefulness, and certainly no corporation is going to willingly stop treating Planet and Society as externalities and give them their due share in the value creation process — not without markets self-organising to reclaim their power to make demands. Not that they can’t afford to change, but they have nothing to lose in disrespecting our demands — reclaiming our civic power makes it clear they have everything to lose if they don’t act.

The supply-side sees the demand-side only and only as a profit mine. In a levelled negotiation both sides have the same power otherwise the more powerful side has no incentive to agree to a fair deal. Self-organising empowers the demand-side to make demands the supply-side will respect because not doing so reduces their bottom line, valuation and share price. How do we self-organise then?

Power Distribution

So, what if we carried the ‘power to influence action’ in our wallets along with other personal items? How, why? you ask. Think about it — we carry wallets to satisfy our personal needs, but none to satisfy our need for a flourishing Planet and Society.

There’s more to this obsession with our personal-interests and neglect of our social-interests as consumers. In fact, it’s the core reason capitalism has succeeded at satisfying our personal-interests and succeeded at destroying our social and environmental interests. Capitalism is designed to satisfy our most immediate personal-needs with little regard (if any) for our need for a flourishing Planet and Society. This is because corporations or businesses are following our lead that we won’t care how much they extract Planet and Society to bring us material comfort and luxury, and that our wallets won’t care about the future but only our present.

The opportunity is that, capitalism is also designed to adapt to changing consumer demands — businesses that don’t adapt die out, eventually.

So, if we upgrade our need for a flourishing Planet and Society into our personal-interests as well, if we start caring about the future as we do our present, if we update our wallets with our social-interests, corporations will adapt or die out.

When a cat is falling from high up a tree, it distributes the shock to contain the fall. Are we falling? Well, if we doubling down on protests, earth is warming up year on year, the rate of cyclones increasing, bees and other species reducing, a third of the world’s land no longer productive, yet the global population is exploding — if that’s not falling it’s Planet and Society trading back our disrespect for them or both.

In increasing protests, we are distributing concern but what we need to distribute is action and this also means distributing the power to influence action. The state can only do so much in influencing corporate action against inequality and climate change yet there’s a lot to be done within a short time window. And this is why we have to start experimenting and improving the neglected but potentially effective Civic Power.

The way I envision this working is; consumers communitise around the brands they spend on, this gives them the power to make demands — even ultimatums to corporations. The profit-hungry corporations we know will do everything to meet their consumers’ demands for fear of losing profits, market share Wall Street valuations, and share prices.

Currently, it’s cheaper for them to pay for policies and regulations that are unfriendly to Planet and Society because there is central control. When the demand-side self-organizes and makes demands, it will be cheaper for corporations to satisfy the demands than pay for destructive narratives, policies and regulations.

Power Wallets

Communitising around brands means inspiring individual consumers to upgrade their shared-interests into personal-interests — i.e., their need for a flourishing Planet and Society is added to their need for good quality, durability, customer care. This evokes us to care about and protect our shared-interests as we do our personal-interests in the now and not relegate them to the uncertain future. And this is where a Power Wallet comes in to empower the individual and thus community with the tools and information, they need to demand action.

Our wallets contain items we need to go through the day, things dear to us, things we care about and protect or don’t want to lose, it’s why they are in a protective case — the wallet. To go through the day;

· do we also need unpolluted air and waters, good weather, productive land, pollinator bees? — we are losing these to corporations like ExxonMobil that had accurate data on the negative impact of its products on climate but chose to shelf it and continue business as usual for profit when they could have innovated cleaner energy if we had demanded 40 years ago.

· do we need a gang-free neighbourhood, a market where people don’t point guns at us or shoplift to access the value we create but willingly pay for it? — we lose this when the system instead of giving a hand up, forces people into survival mode while a handful swim in luxurious wardrobes, jets, boats, etc.

· do we need a world less prone to war, terror, violent conflict, and deadly pandemics? — we get more of these when our wallets send more and more billions to billionaires while have-nots scavenge pathogens from wild food.

· do you need a workplace with well-parented workmates, not jerks to stress you into mental depression? — you get more jerks when low pay or work-demands force parents to spend three-quarters of the day at work?

Even if you are an opportunistic narcissist you need a productive Planet and Society to go through the day, you need the power to care about and protect them, you need them in your wallet — a powerful wallet.

Wallets also carry the things that identify the individual to access certain resources. But can you identify an individual without Planet earth’s matter that shapes her body and the Society that shapes her mind? The individual is an atom of Planet earth and a thought of Society, the self is Planet, the self is Society. The self’s identity is half earth and half society yet our systems and tools exalt the self far, far above earth and society. For the self to let corporations destroy our Planet and Society is to let them destroy the self’s identity. If our wallets carry the things that identify us, shouldn’t they be carrying the power to preserve our identity?

Adding Power to our wallets means we don’t have to rely on but augment governments to safeguard our future. It means we take matters into our hands — the way we do our personal-needs, it means we upgrade our need for a flourishing Planet and Society into personal-needs because they are eventually personal. A power wallet is of course a digital wallet and below are highlights of how it could work in practice.

Join a community

People create brand communities, preferably by location, others within the same location join in, the system auto-creates a tree from village to national and global levels. So, for example, iPhone, Amazon, Shell, or Toyota customers at the parish, district, county, country, region, and global levels. For privacy and profiling concerns, the possibility of a zero-knowledge-protocol may be explored — on your end you know you’re a customer but the system only knows anonymous x customers in a location.

The binding glue of each community isn’t to consume but to nurture each member’s need for a flourishing Planet and Society into personal consumer needs that producers can respect and adapt to.

Why? Because our inequality, climate, and ecological destruction problems are symptoms of how we produce and consume. The consumers currently influence producers only by immediate personal consumer needs, communitising around brands empowers consumers to influence producers beyond personal needs — to satisfy their shared or civic need of a flourishing Planet and Society. A community of consumers has the power to influence action that a single consumer can’t.

Get Power

Communitising switches on the unexploited power of the demand-side levels corporate-power with civic-power, and empowers us to make demands that will be respected by corporations.

Make demands and ultimatums,

With help from experts, we can design practical and achievable demands for different industries and sectors. Whether it is investing in zero-carbon value-chains, paying living wages, respecting personal data and privacy, digital advertising corporations designing humane technology that doesn’t suck our attention and productivity to optimise their profits, and treating Planet and Society not as externalities but as fellow investors in value creation, we can make socially and environmentally friendly demands and ultimatums that corporations will respect almost overnight using our new earned civic power.

One of the key and probably the first demand we will be making is the idea which probably brought my hope jar above half. Premised on the fact that, like corporations, Planet earth and Society invest in value creation and are entitled to generated wealth, the Planety diversion will divert Planet and Society’s share of wealth right at the counter and spend/invest it on neglected grassroots social and environmental issues. Like corporations have a duty to innovate, planet has a duty to sustain us and society a duty to cooperate, denying them their fair share of wealth is denying them the right and incentive to execute their duties.

Track and react to demands,

When companies produce and market low-quality products, we instead choose better quality alternatives, when their customer care is bad, we drop them for better care, when their prices are exorbitant, we go for fairer deals.

Likewise, our power wallets can be designed to track the implementation of our specific demands by corporations and at industry and sector levels. Where corporations disregard our demands, we flex our civic muscle to disregard their ‘offending’ products, because they don’t satisfy our personal and civic need for a flourishing Planet and Society — the rational response for any business is to honor the demands. Especially if power wallets are connected to a civic resource of corporations and products that do and don’t respect our civic demands.

Celebrate victory.

Emphatically showing corporations and businesses in general that we ‘customers’ care not just for product quality, and good customer service, but also for a flourishing planet and society sends shockwaves across industries and sectors. Producers will now compete to satisfy our new civic demands beyond our personal consumer demands because doing so gives them the edge over those that don’t.

Conclusion

Downsizing and separating our social/environmental needs from our personal needs is the only reason they are trampled on, and disrespected by corporations, and now ourselves, it’s the only reason capitalism extracts Planet and Society to satisfy our personal needs for profits, and it’s the only reason our shared future is now on a downward spiral as scientists have accurately proven. Our future isn’t in pressuring governments to reign in on corporations but in; 1) turning our need for a flourishing Planet and Society into personal needs 2) self-organising to get the power needed to make demands and ultimatums, and 3) making the sacrifices needed to enforce the demands and ultimatums.

Interstellar (2014) glimpses into 2057 when Planet has had its fill of our disrespect for its generosity, and us allowing corporations to treat it as an enslaved externality. 2057 is dusty climate causing lung complications, no other food can grow but corn, specialisation disrupted as everyone is focused on feeding the world, daily nomadic migrations to no-where — a bleak tomorrow for the world. We now know from the corona pandemic and the climate predictions made 40 years ago by ExxonMobil scientists that this bleak future isn’t entirely fiction but a possibility.

One line in Interstellar says evolution is yet to transcend ‘self-interest at the expense of social-interest’ — a declaration of a hopeless humanity. How do we overcome this evolution-old barrier to a flourishing Planet and Society? More than anything we need hope that things won’t bleak out on us, at least not beyond our control or beyond what we see with a global pandemic — but you can’t hope to get out of a pit when all your energies are focused on deepening the pit, hope without action in hope’s direction is hopeless. Using power wallets to self-organise fills our hope jar and puts production and consumption on a path to a balance between our self-interests and social-interests, between our immediate present and future, and between our products or wellbeing needs and the wellbeing of Planet and Society.

UN Secretary-General says ‘2021 is a “make or break year” “Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need”. This is the voice he used last year and the previous and probably he will use the same voice the next five years and the earth will be warmer and inequality wider. Until the people self-organise to also demand immediate action, the current inequality and climate trend will be hard to reverse. The longer we take to self-organise, the emptier our world’s hope jar gets and vice versa.

…..

Before my hope jar starts drying out, let me say this was my long pitch to any individual or organisation that might be interested in experimenting with the ideas in here. This is something that needs a network of actors but first, a home to host its execution — which is why am actively looking to join an agile team of like-minded multitalented individuals to refine, develop, test, learn and refine these ideas. I think the future of work will involve people posting what they want to work on for aligned organisations to consider them.

I’m currently completing an updated proposal including UI/UX prototypes for web and mobile, execution workplan, operation models, campaign strategy, and prospects.

Please reach out at asemakula@elmot.ug if you are or know an individual or organisation that would like to engage and see this work in everyday life.

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