Sunday, October 25, 2009

Happiness, The Inner-Activist, and the Collective Community Quest of Fair Trade and The Sustainable Movement

As a young activist one of the first things I notice in social justice circles is the significant absence of an understanding of the necessity to link the struggle for social justice with that of environmental justice. There is also an overinsistence on political change with insufficient weight granted to the subsequent need for economic change. It is unrealistic to expect political progress without first targeting capitalism for what it is; a system based on capital, money, and profits. And, it is equally as impossible to weaken that foundation of capital and profits, without first seriously questioning and altering our consumption habits in western society. How can we claim to be activists, or revolutionaries for great political and social change internationally without first changing the most basic and fundamental elements of our lives? These fundamental aspects of our lives such as the products we buy, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat must necesarily be the starting point. Before we change the world, we must first change ourselves, change our lives, and change the habits that define us as uninformed and unconcerned consumers.

These two factors, the environmental emphasis, and the necessary focus on our consumption habits, bring the question of fair trade into context. Supporting and understanding fair trade can generate a lot of personal happiness and satisfaction in living a non-corporate, and sustainability oriented lifestyle. It is not just a matter of figthing against the system, but of rejecting the most basic elements that bind us to it. On a daily basis, if we are drinking Tim Horton's or Starbucks coffee, or handing out plastic bottled water at solidarity events, then we are simply not identifying the problem at its roots. By keeping our corporate life habits unchecked and unchanged we are supporting NAFTA, we are supporting free trade, we are behaving hypocritically as our indifference and disregard continues to feed the system of consumption that perpetuates the very injustices we are fighting against in the first place.

Free trade by nature enslaves people into dependence, and fair trade by nature liberates people; it liberates people not only because it pays them exponentially higher prices for their products, but because it gives them a choice, a choice to offer their children a quality education, a choice to always have enough to feed their families with no concerns.

Part of our political position must be a staunch opposition to free trade, and fair trade is the exact opposite, the direct alternative to free trade. Fair trade, however, more than a poltical philosophy, is a lifestyle choice, almost a spiritual choice. And so because our alternative lifestyle choices are relevant at such a personal level, whether that be buying fairtrade, living green and sustainable, boycotting corporate products, or even making the move to being vegan or vegetarian, they allow us an opportunity to be proud about the way we live, and to be happy in the struggle. Being an activist or revolutionary, fighting for social justice of any kind, or simply living a progressive lifestyle often requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice, and sometimes that level of committment can be very difficult. But our dedication to social justice should not be a committment beyond recognition of our happiness, and it is not selfish to want things for ourselves, as long as they are not ignorant or detriment to the greater good. Being happy is the first step, first and foremost because it is human nature to desire it, and because happiness is humanity's most valuable gift, but also because we can never be fully effective in the struggle without it. We have to fight for what we believe in with dedication, but we have to attain fulfillment while doing it. It is the happy and complementary union of two elements in physical and intuative expression through our daily routine.

We must appreciate and embrace the beauty and richness of this social justice struggle, and we must take the challenge of the 'inner revolution' as a quest for personal change, as "an opportunity to live a future-self now, a future-self that offers a deeper acceptance of our humanity." That personal connection with the movement, provides us with comfort, and happiness that is almost necessary to making the full leap, the full committment to an alternative life and/or revolutionary activism. It is something lodged within our psyche, something spiritually tangible that we can identify with directly at anytime, perhaps when nothing else seems within reach, or when the struggle is at its most difficult moments. This binary ethos bridges the inner-self with outer challenges, like a sort of crossbow that combines the spiritual with the ideological. It is reaching a level of inner peace and comfort in the transition from treading water to dwelving into the deep. Our inherent lives begin to sync in harmony with our social, political, and humanitarian aspirations.

Another very important characteristic of the sustainable movement is its strength in existing through a collective identity and orientation. People love to, and want to feel like they belong to a greater common entity. That is why we must talk to neighbours, we must discuss with our co-workers, friends, and family on a daily basis, we must exchange ideas, stories, and solutions to help broaden the fabric of our social project. All of our social justice, environmental, sustainable living, anti-corporate initiatives, etc., must be based on complete and uncompromised inclusion. Fair trade is a socio-economic model rooted in community building at the local, national, and international level. Fair trade theory often talks about creating a link between northern consumers and marginalized southern producers, but we also need to emphasize the more simple connection from people to people, the action of an equal, reciprocal exchange. We must be a people of community and togetherness who complement the growth of each other's livelihoods in tangible and positive ways. Fair trade is proof that a smaller-scale, grassroots, and symbiotic economy can not only sustain, but enhance the collective threads of our human community. The sustainable movement, while creating a very profound and deep-rooted sense of belonging, participation, and community, allows us to become the living agents of what we believe in.

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