Have you guys heard of this? I just read about this little app in a recent Economist article and was intrigued about the concept. Basically, you download this app onto your smart phone and scan a barcode at the grocery store to get the lowdown on a company’s political donation history and/or affiliation. It is intended to empower the consumer to vote with their wallets.
Don’t want to buy Garbanzo beans from a dirty-Commie Democrat? Never fear, BuyPartisan is here. While it is only the latest in a series of “issues-based” shopping apps that provides a company’s political-leanings to Joe Consumer, it gets top billing with those interested in making a political statement at the cashier.
BuyPartisan: How does it work?
- You download the handy dandy BuyPartisan App to your smartphone.
- You are at your local grocery store and are overcome with an urge to know the political persuasion of Dirk Van der Put, CEO of McCain Foods.
- You scan the label of the closest McCain product while you happen to be meandering through the frozen food aisle.
- BuyPartisan swings into action and accesses data on donations from corporate boards, employees, and political action committees1 and provides a succinct summary to you, the consumer, as you’re standing in the freezer section clutching your bag of McCain twisty fries.
- You rejoice in your new found knowledge regarding Van der Put’s penchant for Democrat or Republican2 spending and continue with your curly fry purchase – secure in your knowledge that you’ve supported the cause.
BuyPartisan: The Pros
I really like this idea in theory – its grassroots and gives us the choice to support companies that align with our beliefs and values. I don’t know about you but I don’t always feel like I can affect change within “Corporate America” but this little tool gives us a quick snapshot into things we don’t normally see. Matt Colbert, the brain child behind BuyPartisan, sums this up in a Washington Post interview: “[it] empower individuals so that they can make every day like Election Day in how they spend their money.”
BuyPartisan: The Cons
I don’t know, I really like the idea but there’s something about it that bothers me. I couldn’t really quite put my finger on it until I read this PewResearchCenter3 study on political polarization within America. Apparently, the 10,000 American adults polled showed an uptick in party-partisanship and an increase in animosity towards the opposing party. Of the thousands of Democrats and Republicans surveyed, 27% and 36% respectively believed that the other party was a “threat to the nation’s well-being.” In short, bitches be crazy about their political party.
The study also showed that most Americans are not uniformly liberal or conservative and fall somewhere between those two polarized perspectives. They want their leadership to work together and run the fucking country, not run around grand-standing their special brand of political crazy to their cult followers. The argument here is that if we are already sorting where we live and who we associate with into ideological camps (most of my friends are liberal, for example), this app takes it to the next level with how we buy. We need to be in the business of exploring our differences and working towards a common goal – all of us. Not just our politicians.
BuyPartisan: In summary
For me, I like the idea of BuyPartisan but I hate what it will represent. I hate it with a vengeance. I hate it with the passion of a thousand suns. I can’t say this strongly enough. Fucking despise it. It’s not BuyPartisan itself, I think it could be a cool party trick to pull out during a lull in conversation – let’s see whose craft beer is the most democratic. Hahahaha, good times! It might even be an interesting conversation starter when you’re squeezing melons in the produce aisle and another customer happens along. But I think that’s where it needs to stay.
It’s going to get a little stupid if we try and turn BuyPartisan into a revolutionary tool that empowers the people. Downloading this shit will not turn you into Che Guavera – just sayin. I don’t know how literal the founder was being when he said it will empower people and turn every day into election day but I hope it’s not seriously intended as a corporate cosmic rebalancing – cause it’s not.
You’re probably thinking: “What the hell is your problem, Lindsey?” or “You’re such a sanctimonious cow, Lindsey.” Fair enough on both counts but let me explain.
I think BuyPartisan lulls people into the false impression that politicizing their toothpaste purchase makes them socially conscious and responsible citizens of the world. If you want to make a difference, pick up a newspaper, read a few books, have a couple of intelligent conversations and then go out and make a difference in the world. Whatever that looks like for you. If that happens to be buying certain brands – that’s great. But please go beyond the easy super-instant solution of turning a complex interplay of politics between two parties into a Price is Right Showcase Showdown (“I choose the Tahiti Dream Showcase, Drew!”).
I think we give too much power to things like this. BuyPartisan is cool but it’s an overly-simplistic solution to a complex problem that doesn’t need another Iphone app, another tweet, another Facebook post. It needs an analysis that exceeds 140 characters and a willingness to go beyond talking head tv on 24 hour news channels. It’s fun and interesting but that’s it. Keep it where it belongs – far, far away from real conversations and real solutions.
1This information is collected from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Institute for State Money in Politics and the Sunlight Foundation
2I’m not really sure how Van der Put donates so I just included both American parties.
3Washington Post lead me to this study