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.
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.