how I became a raging hippie
I wouldn’t believe if someone told me, but I swear it started with one of those take-home Sunday school papers. Somewhere between the puzzles and memory verses it said something to this effect: “If your family owns a car, you belong to the richest 8% of the world’s population.” 4th-grade me was flummoxed even before I realized that my family owned two cars.
And I just carried that around for a long time, occasionally feeling overwhelmed and even burdened at how privileged I was. Later in the tenth grade, I suppose I had just begun to know or care what a “sweatshop” was, when the rest of it came together for me. I’m quite sure this wasn’t the intent of the lesson, but we learned about life as a peasant in feudal Europe. I imagined myself as one of hundreds of slaves barely surviving, working to support one decadent family in a castle; and I remembered my childhood fantasies of wearing magnificent gowns, feasting with knights at a roaring fireside. But how could they live amid so much misery, I thought, and still sit feeding delicacies to their dogs?
In the same moment I knew that they were simply ignorant, and in 2004 I might as well replace “castle” with “dollar store”.
Economics is not simple, but this is the simple truth: go into any clothing store – Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, The Gap, Banana Republic – and pick something up. The item you are holding was made by someone who works at starvation wages. She has also touched it. She could never afford it.
In 2004 I was not a raging hippie. I simply came to understand how the developed world’s demand for ever-cheaper goods, and complete insensibility to the origins of said goods, led corporations to oppress people in this way. And, unable to cope at the age of 14, I promptly did nothing. Well, not nothing – I promptly took my babysitting money to Kohl’s as usual, and bought some cheap t-shirts.
But I also continued to gravitate towards the thrift stores in town, and no longer just as a fashion statement. Over the years, the more I realized I couldn’t stop the money I gave to Kohl’s from encouraging the use of sweatshop labor, the more I wanted my money to go to good causes locally. And finally, a couple of years ago, I felt somehow that it was time, that I couldn’t avoid making a commitment not to buy any new clothes, unless I knew they were made by people who had been treated ethically. The same with coffee; I’m working on chocolate. (fair trade chocolate is hard to find right now).
I don’t always manage to keep this commitment, either, but all I could think as I was buying super-cheap leggings* to survive the New York winter was I don’t want to be a part of this system. I’m not against systems, but this one is bringing me down, man. And when an old acquaintance (sorry if you’re reading this, friend) tweeted the praises of Dollar Tree and its Christian ownership, I felt a little bit ill. Maybe if we could bother to pay more than a dollar, someone across the ocean could make more than a couple of cents?
Here is the reading in the Daily Office for the first day of Advent:
Woe to the sinful nation,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him….
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
See how the faithful city
has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels,
partners with thieves;
they all love bribes
and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.
Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;[b]
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness,
the Faithful City.”
-Isaiah 1:4, 10-27
Whether you consume a lot or a little, you are responsible for your choices as a consumer. Whether you give big gifts or small ones, your dollars have consequences.
May you defend the oppressed. May your actions, including your purchases, bring life to everyone they touch.
*these were $3. The cheapest American-made or fair trade I could find were $22. As someone who knows how to sew, I know there should be a middle ground. Someone start this business!