Saturday, March 25, 2006

Revolutionary Shopping I: Charity Begins at Home

This piece was originally published in the WRENzine.

Revolutionary shopping.

One of the features of life in a northern latitude is that the seasons determine the way we think about certain things. In Iowa, as in the north country, January bears the signs of life quickening despite the iron grip of winter. It is time to get the new seed catalogs for the garden and start thinking about getting plans and equipment in place for the season that will be here in a few short weeks. It’s also time to do some applied thinking about who we are and who we wish to become, which is where I started thinking about what I call, for lack of a better word revolutionary shopping.

For starters, the issue of economic justice is an important one. Senator John Sherman, during the floor debates on the subject of the anti trust legislation that bore his name, opined that the only true freedom people have is to enjoy the fruits of their labor. If people do not have this freedom, then all else is meaningless. Political, social, moral, religious freedom-all depend on being able to support ourselves by labor. Remove the ability to earn one’s bread and you have struck a body blow at the foundation of an ethical and a just society. Justice is not served when workers earn enough only for rough grub, a bed in a flophouse and drink enough to self medicate-and if our dollars support that, we have failed in our duties as people who could have done better but did not.

Brother David Andrews of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference has done a great deal of thinking and speaking about the ethics of eating, and eating as a moral and political act…..Michael Rozyne speaks of the dignity price paid for farm products-that is, paying a fair price that allows our neighbors to stay in their chosen occupations and that which supports rural communities-all of which got me thinking the other day-why are we limiting this notion to eating and food?

It stands to reason that where and how we spend our money is the highest form of political statement many of us will routinely make. If I buy a jacket at Walmart that came from Bangladesh, someone is benefiting to be sure, but we do have the right and the responsibility to ask that our dollars benefit our friends and neighbors first. Sustainable lives build sustainable communities.

So how does this notion of revolutionary shopping work? First, it starts with the recognition that when we fix or salvage something useful rather than discarding it we are working for economic justice. Second, when we buy something from the secondary market or from local sources of supply we are not contributing any more than is necessary to the trade imbalance that is destroying our cities and workshops. Third, when we pay as little as possible for the things we do have to buy at the big box store, we benefit ourselves because we keep more of our money in the local community. Fourth, when we minimize consumerism and all that it entails we are lightening the burden we place on our mother earth.

So how does this translate into our daily lives?
Ultimately, charity begins at home as the saying goes, and home is where we live and work, not among strangers half a world away. Eating, drinking, shopping for the things we need and want and filling the grocery cart are as much a political act as voting on election day-we vote with our dollars every day, and how we spend them may ultimately determine the fate of our fellow countrymen.


Post a Comment

<< Home