Meet the New Left: Small-Business Owners | The Nation


Meet the New Left: Small-Business Owners

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An employee counts money from a sale at Chagrin Hardware in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

A promising new force is finding its voice in progressive politics, though it is still widely ignored or misunderstood. These overlooked progressives are small-business owners and entrepreneurs who are not usually confused with left-wing activists. It does seem improbable: roughly half of small-business people are Republicans, only a third or so identify themselves as Democrats, and some certainly fit the old stereotype. The GOP idolizes business folks as free-market, small-government conservatives. On the left, they are frequently dismissed as small-minded right-wingers. 

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William Greider
William Greider
William Greider, a prominent political journalist and author, has been a reporter for more than 35 years for newspapers...

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Doug Hughes is not a dangerous fruitcake. In fact, he is a small-d democratic idealist who went out of his way to alert the authorities in advance of his so-called “Freedom Flight.”

The thought leaders of the Next System Project want to move past the narrow debate about policy and toward a conversation about the deeper structural change required of the political system itself.

But if you listen to them more closely, you will hear jarring expressions of distinctly liberal opinions. And they express salty disgust for the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, which claim to speak for the little guys on Main Street. Actually, these little guys accuse the US Chamber and the NFIB of identity theft. 

The American Sustainable Business Council, along with several other like-minded groups, is determined to counter this corporate-financed propaganda by enabling small-business owners to speak for themselves. Simple as that may sound, it has great potential to alter political alignments and clear the way for a future economy based on very different principles and values. The old stereotype has lost its relevance. 

The ASBC was created four years ago by progressive activists and thinkers on both coasts, supported by a couple of progressive foundations that saw missed opportunities for political development. The idea was to hook up scores, even hundreds, of local groups already forming and build a broad network of kindred spirits. The council would cooperate with two allied groups, the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority, to create a provocative new presence in national politics: citizens campaigning for a new economy who are poorly represented by both parties. 

Indeed, the ASBC quickly discovered that the Small Business Administration, a federal agency created to speak for the little guys, had been captured by the corporate big boys and used to spin convenient myths about what small-business people think of government. 

The forward-looking agitators surrounding the ASBC are quite diverse, but they are the natural allies of those fighting to address climate change and for other progressive issues. You can glimpse the possibilities in a sampler of the opinions that the council has collected to educate the media and politicians. 

Camille Moran, president and CEO of Caramor Industries and Four Seasons Christmas Tree Farm in Natchitoches, Louisiana: “Wall Street wheelers and dealers would get no sympathy saying that ending the high-income Bush tax cuts would hurt them, so instead they pretend it would hurt Main Street small business and employment. Don’t fall for it…. That’s a trillion dollars less we would have for education, roads, security, small business assistance and all of the other things that actually help our communities.” 

Joseph Rotella, president of Spencer Organ Company in Waltham, Massachusetts: “As a small business owner and as an American, I support proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $9.80 by 2014…. Not only is increasing the minimum wage the right and fair thing to do, but it will also help stimulate our struggling economy by putting more money into the hands of workers who need to spend it.” 

ReShonda Young, operations manager of Alpha Express, a family-owned delivery service in Waterloo, Iowa: “We’re not afraid to compete with the biggest delivery companies out here, but it needs to be a fair fight, not one in which big corporations use loopholes to avoid their taxes, stick our business with the tab.” 

Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: “Our way of protecting consumers from toxic chemicals is broken. The chemical industry shouldn’t be able to market chemicals to manufacturers and retailers unless we know beyond a reasonable doubt that they are safe. They made the chemicals, they should be held responsible.” 

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