Step into the Blue

Since we’re likely going to be stuck with Citizens United for the rest of our lives, I think we’d be wise to take advantage of it, rather than just suffering on the moral high ground. This is a plea and a business idea for a chain of 500 cafés called “The Blue” branded like Jet Blue — with blue lighting, blue carpeting and blue potato chips — but revolving around the progressive Democratic Party Platform of 2016.

Last summer when I visited the United Democratic Headquarters in Pasadena, supposedly one of the most effective political action committees in the country, I thought, “What a dump!” It was clear that it was a recently vacated shoe store, with half-covered signage in the front and paint scars that indicated where shelves and counters once stood. The activists scrambling about in there, trying to help America avoid the apocalypse, were sweating in their shorts, because it was 100 degrees outside and there was no AC. They were clearly doing their best with the little money they had. Where were all the billions of dollars being raised for this election?

I want an executive at Starbucks or Peet’s or someone else who knows how to open coffee shops across the nation to take this on and do some serious good with them. Make money at it: lots and lots of money, so you can support progressive causes. Get your patrons to check off where they want the money to go on blue, multiple-choice touch screens or paper receipts. Send blue coupons to local Democratic congress people and school board officers and city council people for free drinks, so they make it a habit of coming regularly to connect with their constituents. And design the cafés to include a low stage where they can host speeches and political organization efforts and fundraisers. When progressive candidates are running for office, they’ll have a place they can be heard. When local primaries are being held, they’ll have livestreamed debates. When they’ve got legislation they need support for, they’ll have a place to share it with voters.

And during the next Presidential election season we’ll have cozy, blue environments to gather and mobilize in, with comfy blue chairs and tables; evocative blue lighting; fair-trade coffee and chocolate; blue t-shirts and coffee mugs; and big, blue, inspiring posters on the walls with heroes of the Democratic Party — FDR, JFK, Obama, Warren, etc… Recyclable blue coffee cups and wrappers will feature famous quotes from the past, as well as the titles of bills Democrats have proposed, successful or rejected, so voters know what they’re trying to do for them.

Think about all those millions of people who have been protesting in the streets the past few months. That’s your customer base.

You could hire students in local public policy programs and pay them good wages and benefits, so they can learn how to raise money and gain a strong sense from the discussions around them every day what’s most pressing in society. In their ongoing management training they can be coached on how to handle conflicts between customers, so they can help people keep their discussions productive. And get them involved in scheduling and marketing events there –developing relationships with journalists for news coverage- so they know how organize campaigns. We can be incubating progressive public servants who also understand the pressures businesses face.

Last year Starbucks made $4 billion in profits with 25,000 stores worldwide. That’s $160,000 per store. If we had just 500 Blue cafés operating at that rate, we could raise $80 million a year, guilt-free. Most of the 60 metropolitan areas in the US with more than a million people living in them voted for Democrats, so you know where to put them. If they all just break even, rather than becoming a profitable juggernaut, they’ll be an ongoing, classy advertisement, rather than the half-assed pop-up shops political campaigns currently use. And that’s to say nothing of the bonding between people and their local public servants and the invigoration of our communities.

Let’s do what America does best: let’s make the business of our every day lives more fun. Step up master capitalists! And Step Into the Blue.