Following the train of thought that lead to my essay about empowering communities with liberty; I want to write about social change in general. I just had a conversation with a man from Schwan’s, that purveyor of delicious frozen foods.
Did you know that stores may not require a minimum purchase for credit or debit purchases? Some gas stations require at least five dollars for you to pay with credit or debit. Apparently, this is not legal. That fellow from Schwan’s I had a conversation with said that one fellow insisted on paying for a $1.39 pack of gum with his card. When they told the fellow no, he called his bank, who called the credit card company they processed their credit payments through, who then called the company that maintained the register card readers, who then called the gas station company, who then called the gas station and told them to run the purchase for the pack of gum. This story is a mixed bag to me. On the one hand, the man was right and he stood his ground and won. On the other hand, he didn’t change anything. All this man really did was waste a lot of people’s time over a 1.39 pack of gum.
Why do I say he wasted people’s time? Because he didn’t change anything. The gas station will go right back to refusing debit and credit for anything less than five dollars. What could we do differently to make this symbolic gesture into a public display that could change people’s lives? What if this lone man, got 30 other people to each go to say five gas stations on the same day and insist on purchasing a pack of gum with a credit card? Raising the stakes, what if they told some local reporters that they were going to do it and made a public statement announcing to everyone that they all have the right to buy whatever they want with a debit card!?!
This may seem like a trivial gesture that doesn’t change everyone’s life in a huge way, and that is why I like it. Big change is scary. If you talk about abolishing the state or getting rid of all healthcare, you’re going to scare people. For the same reason that they don’t give rifles to recruits on the first day in Basic Training, you have to start small. This trivial and silly demonstration does more than most people will realize. This demonstration shows individual, ‘small’ people that they can influence the world around them. We are not alone, we are not powerless. People talk about the dispersed cost versus the concentrated interest and say that the average individual lacks the incentive and drive to make a difference. That is true, the individual is powerless against big business and big government. Which is why we have to work through our communities? We can make a difference and if libertarians can find ways to remind people of their collective power, our world will change for the better.