Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 2

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.  

You can read part one on this topic of ethical consumption by clicking here.


Last time, we dipped into the discussion about how to go about incorporating intention into buying practices. Consider this: you’re at the store, hands on an item, and you have a decision to make. For me, that decision is, do I buy the cheap coffee, or do I buy the coffee that’s a bit more expensive but is advertised to be made in a fair trade manner? 

It can seem like a silly question, even petty. But whatever it looks like for each of us, purchasing something we want or need (which is an entirely different subject to discuss) does not always have a clear answer, and it’s important that we ask some questions that will help us unpack those complications.

  1. What makes it difficult to consume ethically? (price, convenience, etc.)
  2. What are some possible responses to these challenges?

When we expand our perspective to realize we’re not the only ones impacted by our shopping decisions, we’ll face some tough questions that challenge our generosity, our budget, and our comfort. As I shared in the first post, I don’t have the means to make a full transformation overnight. So, I take baby steps and hope that I can continue to make incremental changes with the awareness of how my actions impact those around me.


Action Steps

The Journal of Consumer Research did a study back in 2014 to answer this question:

“Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products?”

And they made three motivations: “Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.”

This study confirms that it’s necessary to take both positive and negative actions. For me, I knew that I didn’t have the means to completely transform the way that I consume materials, so I narrowed my decisions down to a couple of integral items in my life: clothing and coffee. I made the negative choice of deciding not to support companies that I couldn’t for sure say were operating ethically, so I’ve been doing as much secondhand shopping as I can. On the other hand, I made the positive choice buy fair trade coffee. So a negative choice might look like a boycott – to completely reject a company by withdrawing your support or saying that you won’t shop there until they reform. A positive choice would be one that actively seeks out organizations that are doing good and supporting them in their difficult work.

  1. Brainstorm: What items do you consider to be necessities? Pick one of those items and consider how you might alter the way that you acquire that item.  
  2. Take the Pledge: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/pledge-be-ethical-consumer

The Catch

While it’s important that we each take ownership of our individual choices, action at the individual level is an incomplete answer. Being an individual ethical consumer is not the answer to the problem of unethical production. As Students for Sustainable Stanford point out, “Ethical consumers also need to realize that a change in the way businesses operate doesn’t only come from consumers’ spending habits. Through political advocacy and education, ethical consumers may have the ability to have stores be held accountable for the things they do to the environment.” It’s important to hold the individual and systemic in conjunction. The enormity of the problem doesn’t exonerate the individual, but the acts of the individual are not enough to completely alter the system.


Going on From Here

Clearly, this is a brief introduction to a vast web of interconnected issues regarding how things are made and how we participate in supply chain. At its surface, the discussion is about which t-shirt to buy. But at its core, these thoughts and dilemmas are about our relationships to each other and to nature. What we’re willing to buy directly implies what kind of treatment we’re willing to allow for our fellow human beings, and though the process can seem like it’s out of our hands, we possess both the individual and collective capacity and responsibility to enact change that will wipe out the injustices in the way items are made and dispensed.

You can take this introduction and go in many directions: into a reflection on privilege, on evaluating necessities, on cross-cultural connections, on advocacy, etc. Whichever thread you latch onto, I hope that you’ll be inspired and challenged to continue leaning in and incorporating thoughtful practice into your life.

I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole: “when we consume, we place ourselves into social relationships with all the people who participate in producing, packaging, exporting and importing, marketing, and selling the goods we buy, and with all of those who participate in providing the services we purchase. Our consumer choices connect us in both good and bad ways to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”


Resources

  1. Fashion and Clothing
    1. App: Good on You: http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
    2. Apps: https://mashable.com/2015/04/24/ethical-fashion-tools/#UiXYSGwLFuqa
    3. List of ethical brands by type of clothing:
      1. http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
      2. http://simplylivandco.com/the-list
      3. Alternative organizations: https://theartofsimple.net/shopping/
    4. Shopping 2nd hand? Look for these materials:
      1. http://moralfibres.co.uk/shop-consciously-fashion/

Works Cited

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916111903.htm

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/our-ethical-ratings/oppressive-regimes-and-their-allies 

https://studentsforasustainablestanford.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-ethical-consumerism

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ethical-consumer-3026072

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-supply-chain  

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-myth-of-the-ethical-shopper/

https://guide.ethical.org.au/guide/browse/guide/?cat=700&subcat=702&type=720

https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/fashion-retailers  

http://www.ejcr.org/ 

 

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

The Struggle and Hope of Advent

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Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

It is the end of the first week of Advent, and, as St. Stephen’s wonderful curate, Rev. Shayna Watson, reminded us last Sunday, we light the candle of Hope this week.

Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and joy. But, as one of our Corps Members, Chloe, said recently, it is also a time of facing the darkness of this season and learning to embrace it and the beauty within it, as well as the hope that comes out of it.

We wrestle with the difficult signs of our times- news reports about natural disasters and the realities of climate change, a difficult political climate, and the repercussions of a society that often does not prioritize those in need, to name just a few.

And yet, we people of faith must also find ways to have hope. As Corps Member Elisabeth said in a recent reflection, we wrestle with how to engage with the tragedies of our world, and in wrestling we come into contact with God, just as Jacob who wrestled the angel was touched by God (Genesis 32).

So, we struggle, and we also find ways to act. As author and professor Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Learning to walk in the dark is an especially valuable skill in times like these—or maybe I should say remembering how to walk in the dark, since people of faith have deep pockets of wisdom about how to live through long nights of the wilderness.”

Rev. Shayna also reminded us that, though we are overwhelmed by the problems of the world, we must take small steps. We join in evening prayer each Wednesday evening in December in solidarity with LGBTQ individuals. We are present at the anti- white supremacy rally at the Capitol that occurred on Sunday. We meet with others concerned about climate change at St. Stephen’s and the local community. We invite friends, neighbors, and church members to join with us and celebrate the season at “Cookies, Cocoa and Community” last Friday evening. And we keep the long, slow work of change through our Friday formation times and at our partner organizations: Capital Area Head Start, the Episcopal Diocese of Central PA, Beacon Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club, The Pennsylvania Utility Law Project and the Community Justice Project, and the Messiah College Office of Public Humanities. The work that each of these organizations is doing contributes to our hope, and helps us to keep going.

 

May we continue to struggle and hope throughout this Advent season.

-Micalagh Moritz, Program Director

Meet the Members: Katie

Hi, y’all!

My name is Katie Lamp, and I came to Sycamore House by way of small town Alabama. I graduated from the University of South Alabama in December 2016 with my Bachelor’s in Social Work. Before arriving in Harrisburg, I worked in community mental health as a case manager. This year, I will be serving with Capital Area Head Start. I am excited about this opportunity because I have always loved working with children and I am looking forward to being a part of early interventions that will benefit these students for years to come.

Whenever someone finds out where I’m from, the first question is always, “Why Pennsylvania?” The answer is that Pennsylvania is home, too! I was born here along with my mother and three of my grandparents. I fondly remember many summer vacations here and always told my parents growing up that I was going to live here one day, even if just for a year. I’m happy that my statement was correct!

In my free time, I love exploring my new surroundings, reading, and listening to music and sports radio. I love watching football (NOT an Alabama fan!), baseball, and hockey. I am also very interested in genealogy and have composed a substantial family tree archive. When I’m back home in Alabama, I spend a lot of time with my Godson who is almost 4.

Serving with Sycamore House is a dream come true, and I cannot wait to see how being a part of the house, St. Stephen’s, and the Harrisburg community over the next year will impact my life for years to come!

Make Us Ready

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A misty morning view from the upper riverfront path

When the weather is nice and I don’t have too much to transport, I hop on my bike and ride along the riverfront path to get to my office in the Chapter House at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Despite the forecast for rain later (which has now come to fruition), this morning was one of those days. On my commute today, I felt particularly thankful to have a workplace I can bike to. I noticed things along the way that I wouldn’t have noticed in a car: a goldfinch perched on a sparse branch, the misty river view, various interesting people running, walking, and biking along the way to smile and nod at. I got to enjoy my city!

In the past few weeks, we have accomplished much at the house. We have said goodbye to our last crew, and our board and other volunteers have been diligently painting, dusting, purging, washing, sweeping, scrubbing, vacuuming, sweating, gathering, making space, praying!

Our new group arrives in 2 days, and we are just about ready. All of this work has been necessary to prepare us, both practically and mentally, to embrace a new season. I’m thankful that this has been a community effort on the part of many people in the Cathedral.

I feel excited and hopeful to welcome this new group to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and to Harrisburg. I am looking forward to sharing this quirky, complicated, wonderful small city I love with a new group of people, to get to know this new group and begin our journey together. I know I’m not the only one!

A fellow ESC Program Director shared this prayer a few days ago, and it resonated with where we are in our Sycamore House life:

Prayer- from Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE
Be open for what is new, for what God is wanting to birth in your life. You may need to detach from something of your past. Something new wants to happen, and that new requires space. You may even be able to identify with the Blessed Virgin Mary who, on hearing of this new thing God had for her to bear and give birth to was first afraid, and then she was perplexed, and then she was ready…. God made her ready for this new thing. Amen. 

My prayer is for our Episcopal Service Corps program, and ESC programs all over the country:

God, make us ready for this new thing. Amen.

 

-Micalagh Moritz, Program Director

 

 

Holy Saturday

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Today, on Holy Saturday, I have been reflecting on the in-between times of life. The times when we are waiting, when we are hoping for something more that we cannot yet see. The times when we are stuck in a season of life that we don’t love, when we are working on a problem that is unresolved, when the hard things seem too hard.

As I have the privilege of meeting with organizations all over Harrisburg to learn about what they do, and to determine how the Sycamore House might be able to collaborate, I think about this a lot. I meet with people who are working hard for justice, and who see little victories here and there, but who are often working, hoping, and waiting in faith for change. Change for immigrants and asylum seekers locked in a detention center in Berks County- men, women and children who don’t know how long they will be there, and if they will be sent back to their countries of origin (which many of them left fearing for their lives). Change for individuals in poverty who don’t have the resources to turn their electricity back on or to pay their heating bills. Change for those living in food deserts in Harrisburg, who hope for more affordable and fresh options. Change for parents hoping for an education that is equitable and will offer their children more opportunities and alternatives to “running the streets.” Change for youth in Harrisburg and all over the U.S. who want to be able to go to school without the threat of gun violence.

The time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday sometimes seems to stretch longer than we’d like it to. Waiting is not an easy thing to do. And yet, God works within us and around us, even in the waiting period.

As people of faith, we know the final outcome- God’s grace and love wins. As I once heard Tony Campolo say, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” Well, today, we are one day closer.

Let us join together, work, and pray faithfully, and say, “It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming.”

-Micalagh Moritz, Program Director