Sunday, September 02, 2007

Where's the Hook?

Bad weather put me about 3 hours behind schedule on my trip toward the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival. I’m not complaining, though, because when it comes to air travel I am very much in the "better safe than sorry" mode. I travel a lot, but no matter what techniques I employ—meditation, crossword puzzles, a cold beer—I still manage to be a little fearful about the whole “trapped in a tin can 36,000 feet above all my friends and family” experience. If that means sitting in airport terminals for hours on end, so be it. Hey, it gives me more time to write my blog, right?.....But you don’t visit this site to learn about my irrational anxieties.

The whole reason I was headed to Georgia was to be a part of a book festival co-sponsored by my alma mater, Agnes Scott College, and recommended by CRS colleague Dorothy Grillo, a recent immigrant to Decatur—by way of New York and Charleston--who delights in the slightly funky, definitely literary event held every Labor Day weekend. Decatur, to help you get the vibe, has been described by its mayor as a cross between Mayberry RFD and Berkeley.

I got a taste of both worlds as I tried to share Fair Trade: A Beginner’s Guide. My day started in the Decatur Presbyterian Church. Anybody who has been involved in faith-based peace and justice work in the States knows that the church basement is site of many a committee meeting, Bible Study, and wedding reception. Festival authors like myself got to watch cheerful Barnes and Noble staff sell our books, and then it was our job to offer up autographs. It is a strange custom, this “signed by author” phenomenon. The most important information, and what makes a book "legit," is the professionally printed matter inside, but for whatever reason folks like inscriptions. I am happy to oblige anyone who wants my ineligible signature, and I’m never adverse to hanging out in church basements to chat with the curious and the committed.

After some nice conversations about book publishing and fair trading, I headed to Java Monkey, a 100% Fair Trade coffeehouse and winebar. This popular hippy hangout was hosting a “Local Artists Stage” that I barely managed to qualify for, as someone who lives in Washington, DC and hasn’t been a Georgia resident for a dozen years. But the good folks of Java Monkey are nothing if not tolerant, so put me up on stage they did, right in the middle of the offerings of poets Chris “Cocktails” Cornel and Ivy Le. There is some kind of “melting pot” metaphor for an African American youth worker, a white Fair Trade educator, and an Asian-American poet sandwiched together on a open-air stage, but it escapes right now. As I've alluded to before, I am many things, but I am not a spoken word artist, so I cut my 15 minute allotment down to a 10 minute eternity.

Because the coffeehouse features Equal Exchange as its java source, I considered reading a portion from my book that recounts how that pioneering Fair Trade business worked its way around the boycott of the Sandinistas in the 1980s in order to offer Nicaraguan blends to solidarity coffee drinkers. But history seemed a bit misplaced in an audience where the average age was 22 (one woman whom I told my Agnes Scott graduation year to exclaimed, “Oh, I was born in 1987!"). I went instead with the profile of COSCURA coffee cooperative in Colombia, who uses Fair Trade principles and profits to coax farmers away from the lucrative coca trade that helps fuel the decade’s old civil war.

Yep, the coffee you drink can be an act of peace building. The jewelry you wear can be more of a culture statement than what you currently find in the "fall fashions are here!" nag-a-zine articles. I’m not sure that this point sunk in at the Java Monkey, coming as it was from an out-of-place, middle-aged Ani Difranco wannabe. But now that I’m flying back from Georgia, headed to my vacation in the Badlands (no blogging for a week friends!), I holding on to my belief that one of the most powerful things about Fair Trade is that it does so much, in so many different ways, for people in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

Whether you are a bookish nerd, a genteel southern belle, a refugee from Vietnam, or a caffeine addict, Fair Trade has a place for you. In fact, Fair Trade NEEDS you because currently too many of the Fair Trade voices are from people like me--white, middle class, American. We need to mix it up a get me off the stage and join the movement.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great entry!

    I hope I am diverse enough in this time of need :) born and raised in El Salvador, educated in Texas, marketing fair trade products from India!

    I started a blog with Handmade Expressions. I invite you to read it every now and then, I'll try to keep it updated with personal stories of fair trade.

    Again, good job with this entry. It's really inspirational :)