Contributed by Jenny Selig
By now (especially if you’ve been following these blog posts), you’ve probably heard of the international Fair Trade movement. For most U.S. Americans who seek to do so, participation means looking for Fair Trade certified chocolates, coffee, sugar, herbs, wine, and other goods to purchase in stores and online. These products are shipped from a wide variety of international locations, and that Fair Trade logo on a package is a sign, we hope, that we are, by our purchases, promoting sustainability in economic markets and supporting international workers who are treated with dignity and compensated well. By extension, when we request and purchase Fair Trade products, we trust it supports the communities in which those workers live and produce their goods.
Purchasing Fair Trade products is economic social justice work that may feel practical even to people who would never consider themselves economic activists.Though it is not an option everyone feels she can afford, it is a way that one person can make a difference. It’s meaningful even on a small scale, but it doesn’t need to be limited to changes in the shopping habits of private individuals and families. Whole communities are banding together to pledge their support of Fair Trade values in an active, participatory way. There are now “Fair Trade Towns” in the United States, where neighbors work through a 5-step process (outlined on the Fair Trade Campaigns’ website) that is designed to link whole cities with Fair Trade values, products, and purveyors. There are Fair Trade universities, congregations (officially launching in “early 2014”) and schools, too. It’s possible that your town already has one or more community campaigns underway.
Pledging to support the international Fair Trade movement with your friends, neighbors, fellow students, or congregants — in partnership with local businesses — is an exciting way to further this international cause. It can be exciting when the actions we take together are organized to connect us here at home, even as we support our foreign partners. Check out this online map to find campaigns near you and get involved — or launch a campaign yourself!
Another way we can work to build community at home is to support the many local and national programs that empower disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and oppressed US residents. To give you an idea of the variety of these programs, here are some organizations I found on VolunteerMatch.org, a great website to search if you feel moved to offer time, money, clothing, or other resources to these sorts of causes:
- The Learning Disabilities Association of New York City provides life skills and job training assistance for older teens and adults with learning disabilities.
- The Youth Employment Network offers “virtual” mentoring to young entrepreneurs by connecting them with online volunteers.
- Genesis Joy House Homeless Shelter, Inc. (Macon, GA) empowers and supports formerly incarcerated women and homeless female veterans transitioning back into their community.
- In Dayton, Ohio, Clothes That Work provides interview-appropriate clothing to men, women, and teens in need.
- The East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (Oakland, CA) is working to end low-wage poverty and expand economic opportunity in the Bay Area.
These are just a few examples, of course, and a list like this just begins to describe the efforts going on all over the nation to lend a hand to those most in need. These programs create community, identify blind spots, and enhance the connections we’ve already formed.
It’s no great leap to suggest our global economy means we are all connected to each other. The strands that link us form a complex web, or net; it covers the earth. Between each point and the next, any person and another, is a relationship, and these relationships are sensitive to both damage and repair — to nurture and neglect. Economic empowerment is a tool; it makes a good gift. With it, we can choose to make each other stronger. We can fill the net, tighten it, narrow the gaps, and reach out to those who are slipping through. When we lend our attention and thoughtful support to those in need, abroad or at home, we work to strengthen the bonds between us all.
This post is part of an ongoing series on economic empowerment in your own backyard. Purchasing fair trade and through alternative markets can have both local and global impact. Click on “economic empowerment” in the category list of this blog to read other posts on the topic.
This blog post has been contributed by Jennette Selig, blogger at snackreligious.blogspot.com. Jenny lives in New York City and attends Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Having been raised by two American Baptist ministers, she enjoys a good potluck as much as any fine dining experience. When not taking pictures of snack foods or her toddler, she works as an audiobook narrator and postpartum doula.