Wildcat Pride. Proud of my Cats. The Big Blue Nation. I bleed blue. These words echo around the University of Kentucky campus like a bird caught inside a barn, bouncing against walls at a breakneck pace. “You’ll look good in blue” proclaims our website to potential students and partners. With so much confidence, we, like most other people, tend to wear our emotions on our sleeves.
My first week as a freshman at UK, I was given 10 free t-shirts, mostly from different organizations promoting their missions as well as introducing us to Wildcat Pride. In the weeks that followed, I’d be encouraged to purchase t-shirts for the organizations that I joined, the departments that I enrolled in, one for each sports team I would support, and of course for the various tournaments and bowl games we would win (or hope to win) over the next 9 months. I could stock an entire department store with the number of t-shirts I’ve been given or purchased since arriving at college. Multiply that by 29,000 and you’re talking some serious business.
Unfortunately, not all of the business that UK does is as award winning as our sports teams. We contract the Fair Labor Association to independently verify the (un)ethicality of our corporate partners, but the FLA has been criticized many times for being too lax in it’s reporting and for serving the big business interests over those of students. See the United Students Against Sweatshops’ official critique of the FLA’s practices here.
Fortunately, we are doing some good business. Our campus bookstore, a franchise of Follett Books, carries a small amount of Alta Gracia Apparel. Alta Gracia is many things: it is a union factory in the Dominican Republic, which pays a living wage to its employees and makes an effort to treat each person as a real human being; it is a college clothing (t-shirt) line, certified by the Worker’s Rights Consortium, to be ethically sourced, traded, sweat-free and just plain old awesome; finally, it’s a success story, a lullaby to us active-ists, that non-violent, horizontally-organized, action by students can make tangible, sustainable differences in the lives of people who need a little lift in the world.
Alta Gracia is a success story, a message, and a method. One which I want to see spread around UK’s campus like peach jam on a croissant.
Here’s a fantastic video one of the USAS members created which details the long path students and workers walked to win their battle.
What does this have to do with active-ism?
Everything! Not only was this victory for unions achieved through an equal exchange of energy and knowledge between students and factory workers (between the Global North and South, you economic/social scientists might say), but continued contact across the Caribbean has allowed
a) communication about the progress/benefits of unionization for workers and their families,
b) continued public pressure by students/other allies on Knight’s Apparel to invest in worker’s livelihoods,
c) dialogue about how to make this success happen at other factories in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.
It is this crucial continuance that ensures sustainability and humility in projects and their coordinators. In the old paradigm, the USASers would have walked away after “solving the worker’s problem” and not looked back. With an active-ist’s mindset, however, the “project” is never over, because a person’s life is more than a set of demands and time tables: people are complex, on both sides of an issue, and deserve a sustained effort to understand and negotiate the most beneficial circumstances for all.
So there you have it folks, it all comes down to t-shirts. Some make them, other’s wear them, but we’ve all got a vested interest in making sure our apparel doesn’t perpetuate inequality and strife. And I want my university to be a role model for other institutions to put aside childish ignorance, and take up the standard of Trade Justice.
Alternative Food Networks: Knowledge, practice, and politics
M.K Goodman, Melanie DuPuis, and D. Goodman.
[Well, more of a personal synthesis than a book review, however this was an excellent read and I recommend anyone interested in the politics of food give it a read. 5 stars!]
The authors have taken three (four, including locality products) well-known, alternative food “movements” and examined their knowledge practices, structural/processual alerity, and their politics in/of place. Referring to knowledge practices as “how we grow food and how we know what we are eating,” Goodman et al reveal that consumers and producers mutually construct not only the supply-demand flow of goods, but also how we define what is alternative and the social practices that accompany those meanings (8). By using a politics in place rather than a politics of place lens to talk about the process of creating AFNs, the authors are able to highlight the juxtaposition of local, global, and national rather than reinforcing normative ideas of what each alternative system is and does (18). In doing so, the emphasis moves away from standards, labels, and formal acceptance into rigid groups towards a more holistic understanding of the ways in which people and institutions interact and build their landscapes.
The final section focuses on Fair Trade Networks as globalized Alternative Food (Goods) Networks. Goodman et al begins with a retelling of fair trade’s movement from a clearly processual, alternative, and “against-the-market” methodology to a commercialized, economically integrated “brand” in many cases. Beyond simply the disturbing trend of allowing MNCs to license the FLO fair trade label (Nestle), is an equally disheartening pattern of replacing the moral economy of fair trade (the emphasis on producer livelihoods and equality) with the “moralities of the market” (taste, quality, consumer-centric) (239). Yet how important is this critique when producer communities are still receiving a markedly improved profit? The authors argue that when looking to the future of globalized AFNs, the ability to maintain an independent existence outside the influential sphere of MNCs will determine whether fair trade moves beyond commercialization to forcefully challenge neoliberal dominance or will be pacified as yet another quality control label on supermarket shelves (244).
New for you! I’ve added a links page: Active-ism in Lexington, KY.
This page includes a sampling of some of my favorite projects and organizations in Lexington to showcase the great work that Kentuckians are doing everyday. I encourage everyone to check out these websites, because being inspired isn’t a geographically isolated experience!