My cousin called me a rabble-rouser and I’m sick of it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a compliment. But ugh.
You see, Wee Frizz, when she called me that, was referring to the fact that she has become involved in the #makefashiontraffikfree campaign after a few chats/links we shared. And I’m so glad. I got teary-eyed when I read her post about wanting to distance herself at first, and then just getting it, there in her laundry basket. I LOVE those moments.
But rabble-rousing is tiring. Because it takes effort. Making noise and creating a stir requires ideals and goals, and living up to them. And really, when it comes to things like slavery and globalisation and the cotton campaign, ‘living ethically’ is so hard. Isn’t it? What does ‘ethical’ even mean? Right? You know what I’m talking about.
We all know that sweat shops exist. But clothes are nice and we can’t afford expensive ones right now.
We all know that children on the Ivory Coast are sometimes forced to make us the chocolate we like. But on our way home from work at 7pm, we just want a Cadbury’s Caramel bar (which sadly hasn’t been certified yet).
We all know that smart phones contain minerals that sometimes involve slavery. But we need them and it’s really up to the companies’ corporate responsibility boards to sort it out.
I think it’s important that we’re honest about the part of us that just says ‘tomorrow’, or ‘let someone else (the rabble-rousers, for example) worry about it’. We all want to…and sometimes, we just forget. Us ‘rabble-rousers’ are really not running through sunlit fields in white, Fairtrade cotton, munching organic homegrown berries with smiles on our faces because we live up to our own ideals all the time. At least, I’m not. I find it hard. It’s a constant choice…and chore. I’ve written about trying to be ethical when planning my wedding on here a little: it’s hard, and as fun as it is to write about, it would be easier to not worry about the fruit decorating our cake being picked by slaves.
But I do believe, profoundly, that we need to make that choice and carry out what can feel like a chore. Because as my cousin pointed out, we are so inter-linked. Our freedom is bound up in that of others. We are human, you and I and them, together. So we do need to care. It would be crazy not to.
And actually just as this should be why we are concerned about these things, it is also why we can take comfort in rabble-rousing others, why you and I can push on. And together we move forward.
Because even though it’s hard, when we do it together, it gets easier. My cousin writing to retailers about the baby grows her little girls wear encourages me – and when we join, we become stronger. You and I and all of our contacts adding our voices to a petition makes our voice far louder. We don’t shout on our own. And together we move forward.
And also because there is no ‘them’ in this. The people who suffer as we delay our activism are not ‘them’, they are us. And the people who sell us things without caring about the people they exploit are not ‘them’ either, they are us. So we don’t boycott. We say ‘let’s work together’. We say ‘we like your product, but we are concerned…let us help you’. And together we move forward.
Ideals are great and shouting them from the rooftops/hippie fields is fun – and kind of easy. But we need to be honest when the ideals are hard to meet. When it’s just hard. We also need to be honest and recognise that humanity does better when it is together, when we are with and for each other – you and I, us and ‘them’ (oops, I said it: see? Ideals are hard to live up to, even in blogs.)
We can do this. The ideals can be met.
Let’s stop talking in big abstract terms. I’m sorry my last few paragraphs were kinda fluffy. I believe two things will help us concretise our desire to live ethically, and help us through the times we are sick of it. And these two things are what I am committing to in my rabble-rousing. You can hold me to it, from now on. This is my job as a rabble-rouser. They are:
1. Looking at the bright sparks, the things that have changed already. Like a rise in recoveries of victims of trafficking. Or Cadbury’s Dairy Milk becoming certified because enough people asked for it. This CAN happen. Retailers are already starting to listen to the voices raised in the #makefashiontraffikfree and chain-check. Let’s focus on the bright sparks rather than only on the big picture ideals. They are signposts along the journey of trying to make the world traffik-free. They show us that it is possible.
2. Taking realistic, practical steps. “Let’s change the world!” Yes, but how? Coordinated and simple actions. The #makefashiontraffikfree campaign for example is asking people to use the hashtag as much as possible. Ok, we can do that. It’s also asking us to write letters to CEOs. Again, we can do that.
A traffik-free world is achievable. I promise.
And together we move forward.
(Move with us, please? This Easter, buy certified chocolate: UTZ, Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade are all great certification labels. And check out the #makefashiontraffikfree campaign: take 3 minutes to write to the CEO of your favourite shop, asking them not to use cotton produced by 15 year olds who are on hormone therapy, locked in compounds in India.)