REI Wins Millions of Dollars in Free Advertising for Treating Its Employees Like Human Beings

rei-optoutsideIf you’ve spent any amount of time on social media in the last twelve hours, chances are good that you’ve seen or heard about REI’s #optoutside campaign. If you’re just now joining the internet (Welcome! Don’t read the comments) here’s the deal: while other retailers are forcing their employees to show up ridiculously early to work on Black Friday—or even in some cases, forcing their employees to come to work on Thanksgiving—REI is closing for the day and urging the public to spend Black Friday in the great outdoors.

As Amy X. Wang reports for Quartz, “The company knows it will lose some money by keeping its doors shut on the biggest shopping day of the year, but, as a member-owned consumer co-up, REI doesn’t need to worry about the disapproval of shareholders.” So they’re in a perfect position to zig when everyone else is zagging. And the response has been tremendous. People are tweeting and Facebooking about REI, they’re signing on to the #optoutside campaign—over a third of a million people so far have committed to opting outside, according to REI’s special site for the program—and they’re publishing stories on news sites. So basically, REI has earned millions of dollars of free, positive advertising with #optoutside for a very low initial investment.

But why did this work so fantastically well? Is it a wave of anti-consumer sentiment? Are Americans upset about our collective lack of respect for the sanctity of Thanksgiving? Sure, those are probably some reasons why individuals are sharing the campaign with friends. But a lot of the excitement for #optoutside comes from the fact that REI is giving its employees a paid day off on the day after Thanksgiving—basically the same benefits that upper class white collar workers enjoy. A chain retailer treating their workers like human beings is an outlier in America today; too many retail chains race to the bottom with low wages, part-time positions, impossible scheduling constraints, and terrible benefits. We know that a better way is possible, that chains like Walmart which enjoy record profits can be better employers. So when we see stores like REI confirming our beliefs, we want to encourage them any way we can.

It’s important for the whole economy that businesses treat their employees like they’re human beings with families, social lives, and other interests. This is why, say, anti-clopening laws are so important. If employers force their employees to work all the time, those people do not have a chance to take part in, say, school functions for their kids. They don’t get to engage civically with issues that matter most to them. They don’t take part in neighborhood events. They do not get to be fully engaged citizens. The success of #optoutside is more than just praise of a marketing gimmick; it’s a celebration of the fact that an employer is allowing its workers the time and space to be whole human beings.

Daily Clips: October 27th, 2015

John Boehner says we have a budget agreement! This could be one of the last times we see John of Orange, so tune into this press conference announcing a (tentative) budget deal. According to Dylan Matthews, it sounds like “spending will increase by $112 billion over two years.”

Think we can’t stabilize the climate while fostering growth? Think again: Heads up to Marco Rubio: the US can make long term-investments in clean energy and create millions of jobs around the globe, says Robert  Pollin. His article essentially calls bulls*** on the claim that “there must be large, painful tradeoffs between climate stabilization and economic growth.”

Lucky or not, the economy does better under Democrats: Hey Jeb! You know how much you want 4 percent growth? Well, if that’s really your goal for America then maybe you should sit this election out. Because according to Market Watch, “economic growth in real terms…averaged 2.54 per year under Republican presidents, but 4.35 percent under Democratic ones.”

Seattle’s home prices continue to grow: The Seattle Times reports that the average price of single-family homes in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties increased by nearly a percent…in just the month of August!

If You’re Sick of Big Money in Politics, You Should Vote “Yes” on I-122

Go make democracy great again, Seattle.

Go make democracy great again, Seattle.

Here at Civic Ventures, we believe in creating civic change on a local level. At a time when Congress is locked up in partisan stasis, we look to our cities to be laboratories of democracy, the places where we experiment with new policies that carry government into the 21st century. This is not always ideal; city government doesn’t always possess the far-reaching authority that the federal government enjoys. But those limitations shouldn’t discourage us. Gay marriage started in the city of San Francisco, grew to a state issue in Massachusetts, and eventually became a federal issue. Cities tend to start these conversations, which then become national issues. And no city in America has been more innovative over the last few years than Seattle. We’ve been at the forefront of the $15 minimum wage fight and we’re engaging in civic conversations that will likely change the way future generations of Americans talk about gun responsibility, criminal justice reform, and marijuana legalization.

The United States desperately needs campaign finance reform. The system was already in decline when the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision established personhood for corporations and gave money the same protected status we give to free speech. But since then, corporate influence on elections has reached staggering heights. It now takes hundreds of millions of dollars to elect a president in America. The rules that stop candidates from conferring with political action committees are getting blurrier all the time. Politics has become super-saturated with money. That money results in real-world consequences: wealthy people and corporations enjoy greater access to political power than at any moment in modern American history. And Americans understand this; a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll recently found that one third of all Americans are concerned about the influence of money on politics, “more than for any of five other issues tested.” When you weed out Republicans, those numbers go through the roof: “roughly half of self-described liberals and Democratic primary voters ranking it as their primary anxiety as the 2016 White House race gears up.”

This is why I voted for initiative 122, the Honest Elections initiative. Among other things, I-122 limits campaign contributions from big corporate interests, makes it illegal for city officials to take high-paying lobbying jobs right after leaving office, sets modest contribution limits for candidates who receive public financing, increases transparency, increases fines on people who break the rules, and allows people to support the candidates of their choice with $25 “Democracy Vouchers.” This would be the first voucher-based campaign finance reform system in the entire country. The Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal ran a nice profile of the initiative earlier this month.

Locally, this initiative is a good first step toward campaign finance reform. Other state and cities around the country are working on their own solutions. Arizona, for example, is enjoying the benefits of its own clean election laws:

To qualify for a public campaign grant under Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections system, [Juan] Mendez had to prove that he had sufficient public support by reaching a threshold of at least 250 $5 donations from citizens in his district. That meant a lot of initial time spent pounding the pavement and knocking on doors—and not incidentally, it meant energizing democracy. “It’s really hard to start the campaign,” he says. “A lot harder than going to a developer, PAC, or union and telling them what they want to hear.”

Mendez qualified for the public grant and ended up running in the Democratic primary. While this was traditionally a progressive district, Mendez says he wouldn’t have even considered running without the option of public funding. He became the youngest legislator in the state, was re-elected in 2014, and was recently named co-chair of the Arizona Legislative Latino Caucus. He’s been at the forefront of the state’s progressive agenda, calling for immigration reform, the expansion of voter rights, paid sick leave, and a “yes means yes” law to combat sexual assault.

Campaign finance reform is on the ballot in Maine this fall, and Connecticut and Arizona’s legislatures are considering upgrades to their own campaign finance reform laws. Obviously, none of those proposed laws are perfect. But they are certainly better than the alternative, which is what we have now: an alienating, demoralizing system in which average Americans feel voiceless in their own democracy. From its inception, America has always been engaged in the pursuit of the “more perfect,” and that’s what proposed changes like I-122 are about: trying to locally reverse the catastrophic damage done to democracy by the Supreme Court with the Citizens United decision.

This is a battle we have fought again and again in America. When more groups enjoy the right to vote—women, African-Americans—our democracy becomes stronger. When our democracy looks more like our nation, government becomes faster and more responsive and smarter. Now, average Americans are losing their voice to big money. If we allow that to happen, government will become less responsive and more tailored to corporate interests. If this happens, our economy will flag because the true job creators—the middle class—will be penalized by laws that favor big money. Our future is at stake.

Why should you support I-122? Because it will help underserved voices find a platform in Seattle politics. Because our government and our city are stronger when more people are included. Because it will make clear which candidates are working for the people, and which candidates are working for special interests. Because progressive America has learned to look to Seattle for what to do next, and we need to lead on this issue. Because we are the most vibrant laboratory in American democracy, and we can’t afford to do nothing.

The NFL should launch a “Voting Awareness Month,” but here’s why they won’t

Like 49 percent of Americans, I consider myself a pro football fan. I wake up every Sunday, have a cup of coffee, set my Fantasy Football roster(s), and tune into the best sporting experience the world has to offer.

In 2014, NFL games reached 202.3 million unique viewers, “representing 80 percent of all television homes and 68 percent of potential viewers in the US.” If you think that’s impressive, think about this: 45 of the top 50 TV shows last year were NFL games. And all of the top 20 programs were football games. 2014’s most-watched matchup, featuring the Eagles vs. Cowboys, had 32 million viewers alone.

The NFL uses its TV superiority to promote worthwhile causes, too. They advertise their PLAY 60 initiative, “a campaign to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to help reverse the trend of childhood obesity.” And every fan of the NFL knows about the controversial “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and the nationalistic “Salute to Service.” Both of these programs are promoted in order to, essentially, create awareness and solemnity around their respective topics. Oh, and they also happen to sell copious amounts of pink and camouflage merchandise!

But why should the NFL only assist these causes? As the #1 de facto TV program in America, the NFL has the unique opportunity to push other deeply patriotic and non-partisan initiatives. In fact, I’d argue the NFL still has the chance to embrace another extremely important cause:

The NFL should promote voting awareness in order to address our nation’s exceptionally low voter turnout.  

They could call it something like, “Vote for America,” and label it as a program which sought to create awareness around the most sacred and noble right given to US citizens: voting. You can almost hear Al Michaels saying, “And as a part of the NFL’s campaign, Vote for America, we urge all American citizens, domestic and abroad, to participate in our nation’s next election. Remember, you have a voice and it matters. If you are not registered to vote in your state, please visit our website at nfl.com/voteforamerica.” Hell, like their other awareness programs, they can even start selling merchandise that’s red, white, and with a bolded tick saying, “I voted!”

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why wouldn’t they want to galvanize the nation to get out and vote? It’s a righteous cause which makes their organization look mature and sanctimonious (a look that has unfortunately evaded the NFL in recent years).

Maybe they wouldn’t want to wade into the highly partisan nature of our current politics. Fair enough – it is a subject that is dividing our nation. However, that same logic could easily apply to the NFL’s “Salute to Service” program, and as I mentioned earlier, any successful voting awareness program would have to be aggressively non-partisan in tone and messaging.

So why else would they be against this idea?

I fear that the NFL and its owners would be against such an initiative because a vast majority of NFL owners are (almost) all rich, white dudes that (almost) exclusively support the Republican party. Don’t believe me? Read this:

 So far in 2015, NFL team owners have donated $2,827,804 in support of presidential candidates. The vast majority of the money came from two GOP mega donors and went to a handful of Republican super PACs…

Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans…has donated more than $2 million to the presidential hopefuls…hedging his bets by writing $500,000 checks to super PACS supporting four Republicans: former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkerSen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

The second largest contributor, New York Jets owner Robert “Woody” Johnson…has donated more than half a million dollars combined to Jeb 2016 and his Right to Rise super PAC. He also serves as the national finance chairman for the Bush campaign and has held fundraisers for Gov. Bush at his homes in the Hamptons and New York City.”

So herein lies a big reason why the NFL may not want to promote voting awareness: low voter turn-out is usually good news for Republicans and by proxy, their financial backers.

Indeed, this current state of low voter turnout has been a major reason why the modern-day GOP has done so well during midterm elections (though, to be fair, it is not the only reason). Just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a vote in 2014. In 2010, the number was only slightly better at 37.8 percent. Both of these elections cycles were very favorable to Republicans. In 2008 and 2012, where voter turn out was 56.8 percent and 53.6 percent respectively, the outcomes were decidedly less favorable to the GOP. A similar outcome should be expected in 2016.

So it makes sense that a program like “Vote for America” would struggle to garner support within the NFL. But this is a real shame, because the NFL (more than any other organization in America) has a unique opportunity to remind hundreds of millions of Americans about their most sacred civic obligation. If they can annually remind people to thank the troops for their commitment to keeping us free, they should also consider promoting the civic obligations that come along with living in a free country.

At a time when our nation’s people feel so disconnected to the inner machinations of government, the NFL could offer a bridge to help Americans engage with their politics. Nonetheless, for the time being a voting awareness program supported by the NFL seems like nothing more than a Hail Mary.

Daily Clips: October 26th, 2015

Rubio gives up on the Senate: Does anyone else think its highly convenient that Rubio has all of a sudden found a deep hatred for the Senate? It’s almost like he’s seen that his party’s base hates anyone that’s a politician. But are they dumb enough to fall for this 180 turn? Can Senator Rubio convince them that he’s not a politician?

The GOP has a new speaker, but he’s stuck with the same doomed strategy: Matthew Yglesias has a great piece at Vox which highlights the difficulties which (most probably) await the next (probable) Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Yglesias argues:

The core problem that afflicted John Boehner during his tenure in office remains in place — a band of hard-line conservatives routinely insists that the GOP use routine but critical pieces of must-pass legislation (debt ceiling bills, government funding bills, etc.) as “leverage” to secure ideological concessions from the White House. The plan fundamentally doesn’t make sense and can’t work, which most Republicans know but aren’t willing to say. It’s a recipe for disaster, and it hasn’t changed one bit. And in some ways, things may be worse than ever under Ryan, who isn’t really a practitioner of the kind of crass transactional politics that Boehner used to make it work.

The concealed carry fantasy: The New York Times editorial board used their platform to discuss the delusion surrounding carrying guns and keeping yourself “safe.” Read what they have to say on the matter:

This foolhardy notion of quick-draw resistance, however, is dramatically contradicted by a research project showing that, since 2007, at least 763 people have been killed in 579 shootings that did not involve self-defense. Tellingly, the vast majority of these concealed-carry, licensed shooters killed themselves or others rather than taking down a perpetrator.

They’re not done. They then turn their anger towards the gun lobby:

More complete research, unimpeded by the gun lobby, would undoubtedly uncover a higher death toll. But this truly vital information is kept largely from the public. A Gallup poll this month found 56 percent of Americans said the nation would be safer if more people carried concealed weapons.

Still no health insurance? Do not fret! Ever since that blood-sucking, liberty-snatching Affordable Care Act took effect Washington state’s uninsured rate has dropped 40 percent. That’s good news, but that also means there are roughly 600,000 Washingtonians living today without health insurance.

Thankfully, open enrollment starts November 1st as “state and federal officials launch the ACA’s third open enrollment period.”

You Should Read This Story About Seattle’s “Minimum Wage Meltdown That Never Happened”

This morning, Puget Sound Business Journal published an extraordinary cover story by Jeanine Stewart. The headline? “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the cuts that never came.” The story is right now hidden behind a paywall, but PSBJ managing editor Steven Goldsmith has outlined the piece as an “Editor’s Pick.” Here’s the front page:

You don't see this kind of thing on front pages of papers very often.

You don’t see this kind of thing on front pages of papers very often.

I encourage you to go out and pick up a copy, because it’s a rare case of the media making a clear-eyed assessment of threats levied by small business owners when local government starts discussing a minimum wage increase. As an autopsy of those threats, this is top-notch work.

Stewart quotes Tom Douglas’s prediction, published by The Stranger, warning that “I don’t know that [a $15 minimum wage] would put us out of business, but I would say we lose maybe a quarter of the restaurants downtown.” Of course, anyone who has visited downtown Seattle in the last few months knows that we’re not hurting for restaurants. Stewart puts Douglas’s claims up against the facts:

Dozens of new restaurants have opened in the city since April 1, including many new eateries run by the law’s fiercest critics, such as Douglas… King County has issued 5,227 permits for food service establishments in Seattle so far this year, which new and existing restaurants must get each year. That’s well on the way to surpassing the 5,458 permits issued all last year and the 5,415 issued in 2013.

So Douglas’s prediction in that Stranger story was entirely wrong. In fact, Stewart notes, “Douglas has now changed his mind about the law, saying he was ‘naive’ to think that restaurants would raise pay on their own.” Douglas’s restaurant empire continues to expand—my favorite Douglas restaurant, Cantina Lena, opened after the minimum wage increase was approved—and his employees are happy about both developments. Stewart quotes Dezi Bonow, a head chef at another new Douglas restaurant, as praising the increase for “legitimiz[ing] cooking as a craft.”

So Tom Douglas fell on his face in public. That’s okay; if I had to eat crow, I would want one of Tom Douglas’s chefs to prepare it, because it would likely be locally sourced, organic, and entirely delicious. It’s fun to boast a little when a prediction falls completely flat, but we also have to remember that the important thing is that Douglas—and other Seattle restaurateurs—are seeing the light on this issue. It’s easy for business owners to threaten doom with scary, unsubstantiated comments when they face the prospect of paying their staff a little more. But for a business owner to admit that they were wrong when their claims don’t come true? That takes a lot of guts.

The thing is, raising the minimum wage isn’t about us vs. them. It’s about all of us. Sure, a few owners will take their unsourced cries of restaurant armageddon to the media, and sure some reporters will simply publish those threats without checking the facts. But in the end, once the minimum wage is raised, the fact is that more people will have more money to patronize those businesses. Restaurant workers in Seattle are now making enough money to eat at Tom Douglas restaurants. That’s good news for all of us.

Daily Clips: October 23rd, 2015

Lincoln Chafee ends his campaign: Who saw this one coming?! Evidently, some dude grocery shopping in Rhode Island:

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 8.51.44 AM

The Day the GOP Turned Benghazi Into a Farce: Joan Walsh has written a compelling summary on yesterday’s 11 hour fiasco, which was full of mansplaining, heated attacks, and desperation from Republican members of the Benghazi committee. Walsh points out the obvious: Clinton looked presidential and her answers show a growth of character and of coaching since the last Benghazi hearing. Her tough summer is officially over.

Jeb! campaign starts cutting salaries and staff: Jeb Bush’s campaign has published a memo which says that it’s payroll costs are “being slashed by 40 percent” and that staff at his Miami HQ are being transferred to early voting states.

“We are making changes today to ensure Jeb is best positioned to win the nomination and general election,” the memo said. “It’s no secret that the contours of this race have changed from what was anticipated at the start.”

Your delusional article of the day – 20 REASONS WHY IT SHOULD BE DONALD TRUMP IN 2016: During my daily perusal of Breitbart, I came across this gem of an article. The points made by the author are borderline insane; here are some of my favorites:

1. Trump is not your ordinary politician.

4. Trump speaks for us little people.

8. Trump is pro-women.

12. Trump’s policies are spot-on, particularly immigration.

Did You Know That Washington State Made Great Strides in Low-Income Education This Year?

So much noise has been made about the Washington State Legislature’s bumbling of K-12 education this year. This is for good reason, obviously: our state constitution demands that we consider education to be our first and highest priority, and our lawmakers in Olympia have failed that charge again and again.

But here’s something you likely haven’t heard: the state legislature celebrated two enormous educational successes this year. First, a bipartisan group of legislators came together and passed the Early Start Act, which helps ensure that every child in Washington has access to high-quality early learning. And second, the legislature fully funded the state’s College Bound Scholarship program, which provides financial aid for low-income students. Together, these two programs help low-income kids earn the same opportunity to live productive lives as any other child born in Washington state.

levlogoFrank Ordway is the Director of Government Relations—“that’s just a dressed-up term for political strategist,” he demurs—for the League of Education Voters, an organization devoted to giving “all students an equal opportunity for success from cradle to career.” We met at the League’s headquarters on Lake Union to talk about Early Start and College Bound, which Ordway characterizes as “a pair of bookends that are really quite transformative.”

Early Start “ensures that by 2021, every low income child in Washington state will have access to all-day high-quality early learning,” Ordway explains. (By low-income, the law means children living up to 110% of the federally established poverty line (PDF), which right now totals roughly 30,000 kids in Washington—a number that could climb to 40 or 45,000 by the time the law is implemented.) He says this makes us the first state in the union to accomplish such a far-reaching goal. Ordway admits that the legislation is “complicated” to describe, but it’s packed with thoughtful flourishes that ensure these early learning programs will not be a race to the bottom.

For one thing, Ordway says, “We’re paying providers more. We’re not paying them like babysitters. We cannot have a workforce that’s paid less than a parking attendant” taking care of our children. For another thing, the law enforces regular assessments to ensure that the education providers “reflect the communities in which these families live.” In other words, Ordway says, the goal is not to encourage a fleet of upper middle class white providers to be airlifted into, say, Somali immigrant communities, it’s to “see a richer reflection of our communities and a cultural responsiveness.”

Many people and organizations helped push this through Olympia, but Ross Hunter deserves a lion's share of the credit.

Many people and organizations helped push this through Olympia, but Ross Hunter deserves a lion’s share of the credit.

Early Start also streamlines the process for eligible parents, increasing ease of use between government agencies and providing continuity of care. Once you’re eligible for Early Start, Ordway says, “You don’t have to keep applying,” even if your income goes up or down during the year you’ve been approved for Early Start. “Short of winning the lottery, we’re not going to take away the care for those children,” he says. Early education laws were weighted down by burdensome regulations to prevent fraud, but Ordway says the idea of “low income women stealing daycare” is ridiculous on its face and it prevents the children from the developmental assistance that they really need. “Even if the parents are screwing up, we shouldn’t be keeping those kids out of daycare.”

“Lots of legislators deserve credit,” for this accomplishment, Ordway says, but he cites Ross Hunter by name for wrangling bipartisan support and understanding the issue from top to bottom. “There were a lot of Republicans who voted for this bill.”

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