Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 1

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  


Growing up, one of my favorite family traditions occurred not on a holiday, but the day after one. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, my sisters and I would climb from our beds, bundle up, and jump into the car my dad had warming up. As we shook the sleep from our eyes, he drove us from store to store where we tracked down the deals we saw in store ads the day before. For a long time, Black Friday was almost as magical as Christmas for me.

I’ve retained my thrifty mentality and the fond memories I have of spending time with family, but I’ve also been challenged to interrogate the mentality that pulled me from my bed so early in search of more. As a kid, I didn’t give much thought to where that coveted Barbie toy came from or how it was made. Similarly, as I got older, it was hard for me to spare much care for anything beyond the price a tank top or cute dress. In the rows upon rows of businesses that stretch across our country, few dedicate attention to the narrative attached to merchandise that ends up on the shelves, and yet a story does exist whether we see it or not, whether we know it or not. Though it’s true that we need certain things to function in our lives, I have begun a journey to scrutinize the way that I acquire those necessities, finding that some of them are not necessities at all. This journey has expanded my network of awareness beyond my place in the aisle of a store, making me see connections I didn’t know about before.


Six Degrees of Separation

In the work, Six Degrees of Separation, playwright John Guare assembles a small cast of characters to grapple with the idea that any person can be connected to another by way of six connections between them. This belief creates a web that crisscrosses between all people, pulling us together from opposite ends of the world. One of the main characters, Ouisa Kitteridge, sums up the idea below:

Ouisa Kitteridge: ‘I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names…I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.

– John Guare

With this in mind, think of yourself as a circle with numerous concentric circles surrounding you. Not only are other people six degrees of separation from you, but so are animals and nature. Aware of these connections, how do we answer these questions:

  1. What does it mean to be an ethical consumer?
  2. Who or what is affected by ethical or unethical consumption?


An Additional Perspective

(Click “Watch on Vimeo” if the link doesn’t show up)

*There are certain views expressed in this video that may be uncomfortable and footage that is not necessarily sensitive. In addition to the main points of the video worth pulling from, I think it’s worth having a conversation about the moments where the producers could have made different choices in their video so as not to enforce stereotypes and to preserve the dignity of people they represent.

Episode 7 – Ethical Consumption from Snodger Media on Vimeo.

Main Points

Ethical Consumption: “Being an ethical consumer means, at least, understanding something about how the products we buy were made and then brought to market.”

Who’s responsible for creating an ethical work environment, and what factors influence those decisions? (Below are some of the actors in the supply chain):

  • Factories
  • Government
  • Retailers
  • Consumers

Follow-up Questions:

  1. How does the video display cultural difference explicitly? Implicitly?
  2. Who has power in the supply chain? How is power handled?

Just One Angle

From the moment you become aware of these ethical problems, it can be overwhelming to think about how to go about changing your approach to consumption. One piece of wisdom I learned from a friend is to alter a little piece at a time. While few of us can completely overhaul the way we shop, perhaps all of us can think of one item that we can begin applying more attention to.

Maybe that’s coffee and tea. Maybe it’s chocolate. When we discussed this topic, my housemates decided to focus on fashion and look at the way familiar (and unfamiliar) brands measured up. You can do that here.

Additionally, you can read about some specific issues affecting the fashion industry below:

There is little or no transparency on the conditions behind common processes in most supply chains in the clothing industry. Baptist World Aid and Not For Sale’s 2013 document, The Australian Fashion Report, identified that out of 128 clothing brands, 61% of companies do not know where their garments are manufactured; 76% not know where their garments are weaved, knitted and dyed; and 93% do not know where their cotton is sourced from.

 

Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. (A global spend of $2.6 billion each year). This is more than 10 per cent of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25 per cent of the world’s insecticides. Many of these are the most hazardous pesticides on the market including aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan. These pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighboring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.

 

Sandblasting is what gives your jeans the worn-out look. Under the sandblasting process the denim is smoothed, shaped and cleaned by forcing abrasive particles across it at high speeds. This fashion however comes at a price: the health and even the lives of sandblasting workers.

Sandblasting causes silicosis which the World Health Organization states leads to lung fibrosis and emphysema. In later stages the critical condition can become disabling and is often fatal.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation launched its campaign to eliminate the use of sandblasting in the garment industry in 2009. In 2010 both Levi’s and H&M jointly decided to eliminate the process from their supply chains representing a major breakthrough in the campaign.

 

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton, and the fifth largest exporter. For decades, Uzbekistan has used the forced labor of its schoolchildren starting in the early primary grades, college and university students, and civil servants, to harvest that cotton by hand. The human rights concerns surrounding Uzbek cotton production has lead to a ‘call for a boycott’ of Uzbek cotton from Uzbek and international activists. Around 70 per cent of Uzbekistan cotton is sold to Bangladesh and China, where it is turned into fabric to be used in clothes, sheets and other cotton products to be sold into countries such as Australia.

There are 14 countries where cotton is produced using child labour. Child workers in the cottonseed industry are often in a state of debt bondage and work at least nine hours a day. Pesticides used during production cause health problems for the children and they report experiencing headaches, convulsions and respiratory problems. The long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals have not been measured.

 

There is little transparency as to which clothing items are made by workers who are paid fairly and which clothes are made in sweatshop conditions. Modern-day slavery, which currently affects more than 30 million people, is used throughout the production of many clothing products sold on Australian shelves.

WORKING HOURS. Long working hours and forced overtime are a major concern among garment workers. Factory managers typically push employees to work between 10 and 12 hours, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day. A seven-day working week is becoming the norm during the peak season, particularly in China, despite limits placed by the law.

WAGES. The majority of workers in the global fashion industry, rarely earn more than two dollars a day. Many have to work excessive hours for this meagre amount and struggle to properly feed, clothe and educate their families. The problem is complicated further when the millions of piece- rate workers and homeworkers within the industry are considered. When workers are paid by the number of garments they produce, rather than the number of hours they work, it becomes near-impossible to earn a living wage during a working week.

Women in El Salvador are paid just 29 cents for each $140 Nike NBA jersey they sew. To pay them a living wage, they would earn 58 cents per shirts, 4/10ths of one percent of the retail cost of the shirt.

*From Shop Ethical



Just the Start

We’ve come a long way from the aisle of the store, expanding out to see how many forms of life —people, animals, nature— are affected by the choices we make in the marketplace. But it’s not all despair. Even with giant corporations and government influences on the way the market runs, we should not underestimate the power and responsibility we have as consumers. This is just the start—next week we’ll continue the discussion as we consider just how much power we do have, how we can use it, and some other complications that factor in to the way we can change this system to no longer do damage to those around us, to those with whom we are connected.

Please join the conversation in the comments below. Have I missed something or misspoken? Please let me know!


Above image by Neon Tommy, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Environmental Injustice

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Madi continued the series by sharing about Environmental Justice.  


Environmental Injustice

In February, Madi presented on the topic of environmental injustice. Many people think of environmental justice as passing policies for cleaner oceans or signing the Paris Agreement. In actuality, environmental justice deals exclusively with the intersection of race, class, and public health.

Environmental injustice takes many faces:

Toxic waste sites

Lack of natural resources sovereignty

Lead poisoning

Garbage dump and incinerator siting

Occupational hazards

Air and water pollution



All of these different types of pollution and access to environmental resources are disproportionate when the majority race or socio-economic level of a community is considered. Households of color and those that are labelled as low income are more likely to live beside sources of pollution and health risks, like toxic waste sites, while also more likely to lack access to clean water, air, and land rights.

The history of environmental injustice is rooted in land access. When Europeans colonized America, they stole land from the Indigenous peoples. This land was then co-opted by wealthy white men, some of whom forced slaves to work it. Even when slavery was abolished, black Americans did not have the wealth to own land and were forced to work it again through sharecropping. When black soldiers returned from WWII a few generations later, they too were not allowed to participate in the benefits of the GI Bill (free education, access to a good home, etc.) like their fellow white soldiers were.

While the Civil Rights Movement and the Environmental Movement diverged in the 1960s, the fight for environmental justice was quickly growing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cesar Chavez and the rest of the United Farmworkers fought for fair wages and the banning of certain deadly pesticides while Memphis garbage workers, led by Dr. King, went on strike to demand safer working conditions and wages paid for hours worked. Lois Gibbs brought attention to the severe health risks of living beside toxic waste dumps in Love Canal, NY while an African-American community in Warren County, NC protested a landfill proposal marked for their backyard. Even up until today, we still see high rates of asthma in black children living in urban neighborhoods, the fight to stop the building of pipelines running through water sources of marginalized communities, and the bombing of Pagan and Tinian. The fight for environmental justice is not a chapter of American history that is about to close—in fact, it is only just beginning.

The Church has a huge role in this fight. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” We often forget that in the Creation story, we were created second. God created the rest of the earth and saw it as good. Our first task as humans was to be stewards and caretakers of the garden—and God never told us that our job was finished. We also need to “Rescue the poor and needy: deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). This is not equivalent to the paternalistic holier-than-thou tone that the Western church has often had. Rather, this requires working side by side with our neighbors who are suffering, giving them the mic so that they can be heard, and choosing to do what’s best for the health of all of our collective future generations.

If you’re interested in learning more about environmental justice, check out the writings and work of Berta Cacares, Dr. Robert Bullard, Wangari Maathai, and Winona LaDuke.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Elisabeth about ethical consumption of clothing and other items.


Above image by Lorie Shaull, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Chloe

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


My service placement this year is with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. As a national grassroots environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club is largely volunteer-run. The majority of my work supports the state’s Ready for 100 campaign. Short for “Ready for 100 % Renewable Energy,” Ready for 100 is a national movement advocating for clean and equitable energy. Volunteers throughout the U.S. join the movement to urge their local legislators and decision-makers to make commitments to renewable energy and offer action plans to back these resolutions.

As the Chapter’s Ready for 100 Organizing Fellow, I provide support for new and existing Ready for 100 teams throughout the state, particularly the Eastern half. I co-coordinate the statewide team, planning and facilitating calls along with my co-worker Kelsey, an organizer for Western Pennsylvania. These monthly calls are a space for volunteer leaders from across the state to join, share updates, workshop issues, and plan state efforts. I also on-board new volunteers and help start new teams in places throughout Pennsylvania. Part of this means scheduling calls with volunteers, workshopping any issues they may have or connecting them with resources, information, or online trainings. And part of this means brainstorming or helping volunteer leaders plan events in their own towns and cities to build momentum or relationships with community partners. A goal for my position is to work alongside other staff and volunteers to create a Ready for 100 “toolkit” to provide easily-accessible, Pennsylvania-specific resources to teams so that the state team can move towards greater self-sufficiency before my position ends.

Over the past six months, I have greatly appreciated the way the Sierra Club as an organization and Ready for 100 as a campaign are both so dedicated to equity as part of a holistic approach to environmental issues. Ready for 100 commits to follow the “Jemenz Principles” for democratic organizing, which emphasize the importance of equity at all levels of a campaign or organization. They hold that there is no shortcut to just action and that justice is only done when all voices are heard.

In light of these principles, I have been challenged to model equity in the meetings that I host.  I am constantly learning new ways to facilitate discussions that allow all voices to be heard. And I have also been challenged to speak up myself, coming forward with new ideas or solutions.

The threat of global climate change and the ecological degradation of places I love have often made me feel anxious, terrified, and full of despair. I have realized that individual actions, no matter how honorable, are not enough to halt the patterns of destruction that our human greed has created. This year, however, I have learned a new way to address the destruction of our world. And that is, to organize: for the local communities, places, and people that we love.

Thank you.

-Chloe

Link to Jemenz Principles


Above image by Ken Lund, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Ben

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello everyone!

It’s crazy to think that my year of service is about halfway done. So much has happened, and I hope to carry the lessons I have learned with me as I embark on my next journey. Many of these lessons have been through my two service placements, which are at Habitat for Humanity and Beacon Clinic. Both service placements have been incredible so far, and I love the work that I am doing for both organizations.

My role at Habitat for Humanity is to lead efforts in grant writing and grant research. As you all may know, Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that focuses on neighborhood and community revitalization. Due to the nature of the organization, they rely heavily on grant funding to support their proposed programs. Many different types of organizations, whether they are private or public, offer many grants, and it is my responsibility to research and figure out which grants we are eligible for. After researching and finding the right grants, it is my responsibility to start writing drafts for all of the grant questions and compile all the necessary documents for the grant application. It’s been really great to work on my writing in this position and to also see how the work that I have put in for these grants has transferred over to help with the revitalization of Harrisburg.

My role at Beacon Clinic is more people-oriented. Beacon Clinic is a non-profit health clinic serving those who are uninsured. The clinic takes in a wide variety of patients, and it is my job to conduct eligibility interviews with the new patients to determine their eligibility status for the clinic as well as help them go over any insurance questions and potentially guide them to other avenues of medical support. It’s been really great to work with patients and help the clinic with its needs. I also work closely with the director at the clinic, helping her with any administrative duties that need to be done. Serving in a health clinic has always been something that I am passionate about, and it’s been great to be a member of Beacon Clinic and to serve the underserved populations of Harrisburg.

Overall, I have been immensely grateful with the two service placements that I am in. Being in two placements means that I can experience different ways of serving the community each week, and I appreciate the diversity that comes with the two placements. I’m glad that I can do more administrative service at Habitat for Humanity, and then focus more on patient service at Beacon Clinic. It’s been an incredible journey so far here in Harrisburg, and I am excited for what’s to come!


Above image by jfcherry, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Elisabeth

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Although my journey with the Sycamore House began in August, my relationship with the Center for Public Humanities started all the way back in March of 2017. While studying abroad in Thailand, I snuck away to a quiet corner of the house and made a call for an interview. On the other end was Dr. Corey and the then Program Coordinator and former Episcopal Service Corps member, Jonathan Barry Wolf. As we chatted, they explained the various facets of the Center for Public Humanities, and how, as a fellow, I would get the chance to work with young students through poetry and participate in the humanities symposium that provides a venue for many brilliant minds. I served a year as a student fellow when I returned to campus, and I’ve now had the wonderful opportunity to continue my work with the Center for Public Humanities as Program Coordinator!

My role involves many moving pieces. One of my favorite programs, Poetry in Place, invites middle school students from the Harrisburg school district to explore different aspects of the city. Whether we’re walking through the State Museum of Pennsylvania or riding on the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, I’m constantly learning new details about Harrisburg’s past. Perhaps one of the most sobering discoveries for me was about the Old 8th Ward in Harrisburg. Because of the efforts to make Harrisburg a more beautiful city, that entire community was uprooted and displaced from their homes. Now, the Capitol complex stands there. Thanks to the research conducted by Digital Harrisburg (another branch of the Center), students got to hear the names and learn about the lives of people who lived there all those years ago, and they wrote poetry to reflect on that experience. They blow me away every time as they connect deeply with issues like social inequality and also dream boldly to envision a better future.

In addition to Poetry in Place, I also work on campus at Messiah College, helping to coordinate the student fellows who work with the Center. During the fall and spring semesters, 8-10 students from various humanities backgrounds come together to have discussions, work on projects, and further our commitment to making our studies beneficial to and in partnership with the public beyond our campus. Last semester, several students coordinated interviews with elderly community members who shared their perspectives on education in Harrisburg. A couple of fellows have worked diligently on the Digital Harrisburg initiative, documenting the past of this city. Another team worked on cultivating a curriculum that could serve as a resource for Harrisburg school teachers, and yet another team documents this work to keep people updated on what we’re doing. I’m honored to be a part of the group, assisting where I can and learning from the students who have so much to offer.

Both as a fellow and program coordinator, I’ve been able to experience the challenges and rewards of collaboration. As we tread further into February, we prepare for the Humanities Symposium for which every member of our team has worked hard to prepare. This year’s theme is The Common Good, and we’ve been inspired by the Key Note speaker Marian Wright Edelman to learn more about education and how we must continue pushing for equity for children.  

I truly love what I do because it allows me to pursue meaningful work in a creative way. I’m thankful for the people that I work with, like Dr. Jean Corey, who has taught me so much about humility and dignity and hard work, and though I don’t know what step I’ll take next, I hope that I’ll find myself in a similar environment where creativity, social consciousness, and collaboration thrive.

– Elisabeth


Above image provided by the Center for Public Humanities.

Behind the Placement: Katie

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hi, everyone!

Hard to believe that the Sycamore House year is halfway finished! Seems like just yesterday I was moving into the house and arriving for my first day of work as an Associate Teacher at Capital Area Head Start (CAHS).  The goal of CAHS is in its name – we are giving children a head start in life. CAHS serves low income children and their families in Dauphin, Perry, and parts of Cumberland County. I work in the Paxtonia center, a new classroom site for Head Start this year. It consists of four classrooms, and I rotate classrooms approximately every two weeks depending on needs. When I arrive in the morning, I help the teachers with last minute prep for that day. As the children arrive, I join the teachers in welcoming them to school and supervise them as they go through their arrival routine. I help serve breakfast and lunch, facilitate small group, and function as an extra set of eyes and ears (and hands!) in the classroom. My favorite part of the day is “work time,” when the children can choose what centers they play in. They have the best imaginations, and I love hearing their new ideas every day! When the children leave, I wash all of the classrooms’ dishes, then help any teachers who need to prepare items for future lesson plans. If everyone is caught up, I read about our Highscope curriculum and Pennsylvania learning standards so that I can be more aware of why we do what we do. I also attend training sessions at our main office monthly. Working with preschoolers has its own unique set of challenges, but at the end of the day, I know I am making a difference. There is nothing better than seeing a child learn and grow right before your very eyes and knowing that you played just a small part in it. I love my job!

– Katie


The above image by Brian Hart, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Shannon

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello everyone!

We are now five months in to the Episcopal Service Corps year, and so much has been going on around the Sycamore House. As we started the New Year, a lot of us spent time thinking about 2018 and changes or growth we want to achieve in 2019.

I am currently placed at the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop’s office in downtown Harrisburg. My role has me doing many things around Central PA and has given me the opportunity to meet amazing clergy and lay people.

As an events coordinator, every week and month can look different, depending on what events we have coming up on the horizon. For instance, every month we do a “Bishop Out of the Box,” where Bishop Audrey Scanlan and Canon Dan Morrow plan ways to get out into our communities, meet people, and have meaningful conversations with those who may not want to go to church.  So far we have done things such as a Live Nativity, a walk around Lancaster central market asking people what they are grateful for and what they hope for, and an Agape Love Feast.

Occasionally, I have bigger events on my docket that take longer to plan and require a lot of conversations. For instance, currently we are in the throes of putting everything together for the June 2019 Appalachian Camino and the Bishop’s Open Golf Tournament in May 2019.

Besides making phone calls, researching information, and answering emails, I get to take part in more coworker community time. Every week we have a staff meeting where we discuss what’s on all our plates, have a Bible study together that we take turns leading, and then take communion together.

Of course, we can’t forget one of the best perks of the job at the Diocese – Lily Grace and Rey. Our office has two adorable barn cats turned spoiled office cats that keep us all on our toes. With their playfulness, cat naps, and need for attention, we always have entertainment and kitty cuddles on hand for breaks.

Overall, working at the Diocese has taught me how to push the good boundaries, reach out to people in faith, and allow spirituality and church (meaning the community of believers) mingle outside of Sunday settings.

– Shannon


Above image provided by Shannon.