Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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The McCain Institute Trafficking Event

mccain-institute-eventA few weeks ago I was able to attend another trafficking event, but in DC this time. So, I’m certainly making headway on my goal for attending more human trafficking and slavery events in 2017!

And this one was definitely unlike any other I’ve attended before. I actually didn’t quite realize to what degree until I showed up. My friend, Becca, is on the email list for The McCain Institute, founded by Cindy and John McCain. I kinda feel like I knew they had a foundation or institute or something, but I didn’t realize it had such a strong trafficking focus. Evidently, it is a real hot-button issue for Cindy McCain. I don’t really align myself with any political party, but I’m willing to listen to anyone who is passionate about this issue. Plus, there were a lot of interesting people on the roster.

Anywho . . . Becca forwarded me the info for this event at the end of December. Once I saw it was in DC, I kinda ignored it for a while. But several weeks later, I was sorting through my emails and looked closer, after I’d made the decision to start attending more trafficking events in 2017. I then realized it was free! So, it quickly moved up my list. 🙂

Plane tickets to DC were incredibly cheap at that time, since early February is not a popular time to visit, and I had hotel points to use, so we jumped on the opportunity. Less than two weeks later, we were headed to DC.

And, of course, you can’t go to DC and not go to any museums, so I decided to fly in the day before to enjoy the city. It’s such a  beautiful place, and there are so many cool things to see. Since I was trying to keep the trip as cheap as possible, I chose a free Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of American History, which was fantastic! It was also a good fit for my hotel choice, The Hamilton Hotel by Crowne Plaza, which I totally recommend. And I was finally able to visit one of the Founding Farmers restaurants that I’d wanted to try since my last visit. I chose Farmers & Distillers because I could use the $20 OpenTable.com certificate that I’d earned. Bonus—it was delicious! So, besides cheap, are you noticing a theme? Yes, I’ve been pretty constantly listening to the Hamilton soundtrack! 😉 In fact, I’m headed to NYC in about two weeks to finally see it after trying to get tickets for almost a year. I’m a little obsessed, and DC allowed me to indulge a bit more.

Ok, back to the event!

I mentioned it was unlike any other event I’ve been to, trafficking or otherwise, and that’s because of not only the people onstage but the people in the audience. There were only about 200 people in attendance, so it was smaller that I thought it’d be, which was actually great. But my friend and I seemed to be two of the only people who didn’t work for a huge government agency or nonprofit, or that even came from out of town to be there. That was also the case for the event I attended in January, but to a much larger degree.

These people were from places like the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Office, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Polaris, GEMS, Thorn, etc. So, these are all people I read about pretty often, subscribe to their newsletter, follow on social media, and look to as experts on this issue. And I got to be in the same room (and table) with them—and talk to them! Cindy McCain even stopped by to shake my hand and thank me for being there. I totally felt like everyone was going to find out who I was and ask me to leave, ha! But it was really cool to meet the people on the front lines of this issue, and that have big voices in the fight, even setting some of the policy and legislation. Ashton Kutcher even pre-recorded a message for our audience since he couldn’t be there. I did sit in on the breakout done by the CEO of the organization he and Demi Moore co-founded when they were married, Thorn, and to hear what they are doing is simply remarkable. (BTW, they are both still on the board, and Ashton is very active. You can see his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from last week here.) What a cool day!

Here are my notes:

  • The use the hashtag #endtrafficking.
  • Panel of survivors
    • Tina Frudnt, founder of Courtney’s House, and former trafficking victim
      • Faith-based and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are key in helping victims. It can’t just be the government that we rely on.
      • We have to educate people at all levels. It effects everyone, and takes people everywhere to invest in the cause.
      • Embassies need to be trained.
      • We need more awareness and victim services.
    • Chicago survivor
      •  Grew up in poor area, and would’ve have trusted calling the police or information on a poster. Taught to be skeptical.
      • Big believer in changing policies and not prosecuting victims.
      • Its hard to provide services when the laws don’t line up! (YES!!!)
    • Shandra Woworuntun, founder of Mentari, former trafficking victim from Asia
      • We need to provide victim empowerment for lasting change. They need to feel like they can have a different life.
      • We need more funding for programs.
      • We need to leave the ego at the door in favor of victims. It has to be everyone working together, and not about the person or organization that did the rescuing.
      • We should wait five years before the victim gets involved due to treatment and some mental/physical distance.
      • We need to have more training and awareness for school-age children. She is using a comic book in Indonesia for this purpose. Lots of hurdles to addressing this group in the US. She is petitioning the Department of Education for this reason. But we can educate teachers and counselors. It takes a multi-prong approach.
    • Victims need to sit on committees and be actively involved because they offer an invaluable perspective, and can say what victims actually need or want.
    • We need more consistency in training. – SOAR: Health and Human Services Training
    • We also need more mental health services and training. Most survivors deal with these issues growing up as well.
    • HEAL network
    • Caring for Victims Handbook
  • Mary Mazzio, Filmmaker
    • Made a documentary, I am Jane Doe, after she saw a Boston Globe article about “Jane Doe’s” going after Backpage.com. #iamjanedoe
    • Backpage.com was formerly the Village Voice, and is one of the largest online perpetrators of sex ads.
    • Section 230 of the law is usually why survivor cases lose against places like Backpage.com because it was written after the birth of the internet saying that sites aren’t responsible for third-party content.
    • She is still hearing from lots of journalists who didn’t know this was an issue, so we still need awareness.
    • They are just starting to show screenings around the country of the documentary.
  • Technology and Trafficking Breakout by Julie Cordua at Thorn
    • There are an estimated 21 million victims, and there were only 6600 convictions in 2016.
    • Their org brings the engineers, creators, power of tech to the issue. Created tech task force to combat this issue rather than just having lawyers and policy advisors do it. The latter is needed, but it usually stops there or takes too much time.
    • Many of the girls actually write their own online ads.
      • Thorn’s algorithm (Spotlight) can detect their approximate age when this happens by reading their emails and keywords. All of our writing creates a pattern that helps identify things like your age through the words you use.
      • The data also looks at their physical movement, and is 90% accurate. Meaning, they posted an ad in Dallas, and later posted one in Maryland, so you can “see” that girls are being trafficked.
      • Currently over 4,000 officers around the US using Spotlight. It’s expanding to Canada and Europe this year.
      • Partnerships are critical.
      • Over 350 million escort images are in their database, and they are now building facial recognition.
    • Business lessons:
      • It’s usually a good idea to pay for things so that funding can move more quickly and not be held up, or dictated by others.
      • It also helps to have your own team to not rely on others for getting the work done.
      • Additionally, fail quickly and move on.
      • Think narrow to begin. Start by solving a problem, even a small one. Then figure out how to expand and scale. If you have a large goal in mind for the end, you may get stuck. Think about what you can do, rather than throwing your hands up. They started by thinking about how a small group of local cops could find just a few girls through their digital footprint.
      • Understand your work and parameters thoroughly before expanding, which is why its been a few years before they move outside of the US. Things don’t translate 100% culturally or systematically. They had field office partners and data to work with.
      • They commit to testing, not implementation, as to not use funding for non-productive projects.
      • When meeting with a tech company, make the meeting small and include engineers.
      • When making the case for companies to get involved, use risk management and corporate responsibility angles, not shame.
      • Don’t try to build a system. Try to solve a problem. And define your problem completely, and on a human level.
    • Women Seeking Men and City Vibes are where Backpage’s escort ads have largely moved to. Also dating apps/sites like Plenty of Fish, because they have less requirements than other sites.
    • Dark web is less prevalent because it relies on anonymity whereas trafficking relies on face-to-face.
    • Now moving more into legislation.
    • On the East Coast, the I-95 corridor is a hot spot.
    • Check out the Money Now App which promotes transparency for workers. The Labor Voices App is for employees to report anonymously about their employers.
  • International Trafficking Breakout Recap
    • Global awareness is spreading.
    • Policies are developing and changing.
    • More resources are now invested, leading to more success.
    • 3,000 orgs working on the issue report to the Global Slavery Index.
    • Still an infant movement in a lot of ways.
    • Collective action is needed (public, government, NGO)
  • Labor Trafficking Breakout Recap
    • Department of Labor report from September 2016 offers a lot of comprehensive info.
    • Public needs to pressure companies for better standards and reporting.
    • Need more data and resources to act on.
    • Labor trafficking laws and statues are needed to expand and find ways to compound on each other than what we have currently.
  • Domestic Trafficking Breakout Recap
    • Foster care desperately needs to be revamped. There are too many victims and perpetrators in this system.
    • Systems of care need to be better linked and cooperative.
    • 16-18 year-olds are at a gap in resources. There is less available to them, and we need therapeutic foster care centers.
    • More preventative services are needed.
    • Need more effective response to demand.
  • Lunch program – Cindy McCain and Emanuel Medeiros, CEO of International Center for Sports Security (ICSS) Europe
    • The trafficking/slavery issue is no different in the world of international sports. Victims are promised a new life, and they are then trafficked, usually for labor.
    • We need to create a mindset of transparency, accountability and responsibility.
    • This is the moment to do what’s right!
    • To acknowledge that this issue happens in sports is to give it validity.
    • We need to build toolkits for action and also bridges.
    • We can all make a different through small, humble acts, but we must keep moving the issue forward.
    • Name and fame, but also name and shame.
  • Molly Gochman, Red Sand Project
    • Vulnerabilities are all around us. We just have to take the time to recognize it.
    • Vulnerabilities can lead to exploitation.
    • People are trying to take care of themselves and their families, and sometimes they find themselves exploited over a lack of basic access.
    • Her project uses red sand to fill in cracks. People take pictures and upload them to represent this issue.
  • 2 pm panel: Bradley Myles of Polaris, Ambassador Swanee Hunt, Malika Saada Saar of Google and Carol Smolenski of ECPAT-USA
    • We must name the violence for what it is. Then we must enforce (or create) laws that punish. Rape is rape, whether its paid for or not.
    • Norms have to be changed, as well as laws.
    • We need a roadmap for how to prosecute using existing laws to better ensure success. also, we need all states to adopt the Washington laws that actually prosecute commercial exploitation and trafficking.
    • Most people who purchase sex are upper middle-class white men with an average income of $110,000.
    • Racial justice needs to be a bigger part of the issue as these girls are often asked to grow up earlier than white girls. They are “not afforded a lengthy childhood.”
    • Black and brown girls are often looked at more as prostitutes than white girls, even when underage.
    • One survivor said her phone was most active on Monday mornings, often after the man has spent the weekend with his family.
    • Bradley Myles – Use the privilege you’re afforded to support and educate others who don’t have the same ability.
  • Panel: Senator Bob Corker (TN), Senator Amy Klobauchar (MN), Congressman Ted Poe (TX)
    • Corker is working on international combatting efforts.
    • Klobuchar worked on bill for flight attendants training, Safe Harbor bill in MN, and working with Truckers AgainstTrafficking and also in the hospitality industry. It is also try to urge more public pressure.
    • Poe helped legislate laws that target demand (ex: Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act)
    • Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) is up for reauthorization again this year, but shouldn’t have any problems.
    • Poe: Government needs to zero in on faith-based orgs to work together. And fathers need to be role models for their sons.
    • We must continue to inform and have relationships with ambassadors who have relationships with other countries to help spread the message.
    • TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report does carry weight and is helping to bring about change.

I do really wish that more people like me would’ve been there. It was amazing to meet the people there, as I mentioned, but I hope more and more citizens, small businesses and nonprofits, and those interested in the issue will be able to take part in the future. It will take us all, at all levels, to fight this issue. The McCain Institute has some other pretty cool events coming up, so I hope to be able to join them again in the future. Sometimes they even live stream their events. I’d encourage you all to find an organization you can learn from and get behind!

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Tapestri Human Trafficking Event

tapestri-trafficking-evenJanuary was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so there were a number of local and national events in which to attend. It was a goal of mine to be at more slavery and trafficking events in 2017, since I feel that has been lacking from my schedule over the past couple of years. It is a subject near and dear to my heart, and was my first, formal introduction to social justice in 2006.

I was privileged to attend my first event by the local organization, Tapestri. They do outstanding work here in Atlanta, and while I’ve heard of them for a number of years, I’ve never actually participated in any of their events or programs.

This turned out to be rather different than things I’ve attended in the past because I was one of the few people there that wasn’t with the government or other nonprofit. That made it really fun and interesting as I got to know the people around me.

Outside of Tapestri, most of the presenters were with the FBI, so it was also incredible to hear about their involvement. There were also several lawyers speaking, so we were able to hear about their work and the state and national legal system as it pertains to this issue. So, there was a huge focus on the legal and law sectors, and how all those worked together and separately to combat this issue. Those weren’t topics I get to hear a lot, so it made for a really fascinating day.

Here are my notes:

FBI

  • The FBI has 122 victim specialists in 56 field offices, and works with 41 Indian reservations, across the US.
  • The Trafficking Victims in Persons Act (TVPA) passed it 2000. It provides protection, prevention and prosecution. It also includes both sex and labor trafficking.
  • One of the new trends is that victims could be the kind of kids that you see selling candy in public places. This is another form of revenue.
  • Exploiting transgender kids and adults is also a new trend.
  • The T-Visa (trafficking visa) is only one year to start. Their the victim’s lawyers and reps petition for them to stay.
  • Proactive: federal, state and local partners working together.
    • Task forces and working groups
    • Non-governmental meetings
    • Events and partnerships
  • The FBI has special people trained to work with youth and get their testimony so they don’t have to be in court.
  • The FBI has to follow the legal definition rather than how a victim self-identifies with the issue. (Sometimes they don’t even see themselves as victims.)

Homeland Security Investigations

  • They fall under ICE.
  • They are an investigative department of Homeland Security.
  • They are similar to the FBI but it involves immigration as well.
  • Trafficking effects every people group.
  • HSI also puts victims in touch with resources like Tapestri.
  • Referrals come from raids, partners, civilians and professionals like doctors who come in contact with victims, schools, other NGOs, and hotlines like Polaris.
  • There are not enough beds, so sometimes HSI has to rely on domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, especially for men. There are no places for men or labor trafficking victims, in particular.
  • They also provide training for law enforcement at all levels.

US Department of Labor

  • Enforces legal compliance for welfare of citizens, and includes some immigration. (ex: migrant workers)
  • Priorities include agriculture workers, food services, hospitality industry, construction, etc.
  • Doesn’t investigate but protects and refers to other agencies and service providers.
  • Also provides back wages owed to victims.
  • Participates in task forces.
  • Can also issue U (abuse victims) and T (trafficking victims) Visas.
  • Usually dealing with labor victims (including seasonal workers) that are recruited under fraudulent circumstances.
  • Often the victim’s families are threatened to keep them in line.
  • Provides training for industry groups like hospitality, nurses, etc.

Breakout: FBI Advanced Training for Working with Victims

  • Mostly works with sex trafficking girls from other countries.
  • First case study is in Suwanee, GA, a suburb about an hour north of Atlanta.
    • The woman perpetrator was wealthy and connected.
    • She was from Nigeria, and went back there to find a girl to come back with her. The pretense was as a nanny, and she said she’d also put the girl in school.
    • The girl was mistreated every day: beaten, made to cut the grass with scissors, bleach the fence. Wasn’t given a proper bathroom, just a bucket to go to the bathroom in, despite the large house.
    • The first girl ran away, and the woman did the same thing to a second girl.
    • The woman told her friends the girls were her slave and she could do whatever she wanted with them. The friends sometimes gave the girls gifts behind the woman’s back. Neighbors sometimes saw the girls being mistreated, and so did people, including government officials, who attended her parties. Finally, her best friend turned her in because she couldn’t take it anymore. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!!!
  • Second case study is an international sex trafficking victim.
    • Started in Tenancingo, Mexico, which is notorious for this crime. Families are raised to be victims and perpetrators. Kids even aspire to run these types of businesses because they see that money can be made.
    • A guy made a girl (“Tere”) believe that he was her boyfriend. Bought her things she’d never had, acted innocent for her, and convinced her to come to the US with him on a fun trip. There, he trapped her in a brothel.
    • The perp family had brothels in Marietta and Norcross, Georgia, suburbs outside of Atlanta..
    • Typically girls work in the brothel or are driven to the John.
    • Charged $30 for 15 minutes with the girls, and they may see up to 50 Johns per day.
    • Tere worked for two years and was forced into almost 1,700 sex acts.
    • She was beaten, threatened, put into deprivation, etc.
  • Sometimes victims families are brought to the US and protected if it looks like the family in another country will be threatened or harmed.
  • They return to a lot of the same places. Gwinnett County is big and growing.

Prosecuting Trafficking Cases

  • Federal case study:
    • Found girls with similar tattoos on Backpage.com
    • These girls were recruited by pimps because they already had Backpage profiles.
    • The pimps also recruited  girls that were down on their luck. (ex: abused, poor, bad home life, addiction – all teens and young adults, various races)
    • Guy said he was a party promoter.
    • Bought things for them, and then later said they owed him for these things, and that he owned them.
    • Also recruited girls on Instagram and Facebook through long-term cons.
  • Sex trafficking of a minor is one of the easiest charges to prove, and it carries a 10-year minimum sentence.
  • Second federal case study is international:
    • Mexican men recruited women to come to the US.
    • Only the main guy was tried and sentenced to 40 years.
  • Third case study pertains to the state:
    • Georgia doesn’t have to prove knowledge of age. A perp doesn’t have to know she/he is underaged. If she/he is, then that punishment is carried.
    • Prosecuting pimps: 10-year minimum for adult victims and 20-year minimum if victims are juvenile
    • Georgia has good prosecuting laws. Teams try to work together to see if state or federal has the strongest conviction changes, and the one with the harshest convictions takes the lead.
  • Had another case of a pimp who got life + life + 114 years. Sadly, this is rare.
  • There are apps that allow pimps to track ALL phone usage on his account without the girls’ knowledge so they are tightly monitored.
  • Victims stay with them out of shame, personal threat, violence, family issues, threats to families, they don’t feel like they have other options, money, “love,” legal threats, drugs, blackmail, and loss of freedom. And younger victims just have less knowledge about the world and legal systems to understand how things work.
  • Victims are usually young, come from a dysfunctional family, have a history of abuse, etc.
  • Trauma victims often form bonds like Stockholm Syndrome.
  • Georgia also has an added mental disability clause for harsher sentences.
  • There are international treaties for gathering evidence and seizing assets abroad.

Legal Remedies

  • Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) referrals come from law enforcement, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and sometimes people inform them directly.
    • Free for clients.
    • Represent immigrants and trafficking victims who have little ties to their current location or families.
    • Work in partnership with others to make sure all services are covered.
  • Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) works for the rights of vulnerable populations, mostly hate crimes.
    • Distributes free education and literature.
    • Fights for justice in legal system.
    • Have now worked with a number of trafficked victims.
    • Civil litigation can also prosecute for pain and suffering, unlike criminal law, for higher victim payouts. Restitution is tax-free money.
  • Visas are non-immigrant status that allow you to stay in the US. They can also sometimes apply to families.
  • T-Visa: Only 5,000 per year allowed
  • U-Visa: Only 10,000 per year allowed
  • Trafficking victims must be willing to cooperate with the law/investigators.
  • U victims must also be helpful to law enforcement during cases and suffered in some way.
  • No statue of limitations on trafficking crimes, but not enough people come forward.
  • People coming from other countries, especially third-world countries, often mistrust law enforcement and don’t come for them for help because their own legal systems are corrupt.
  • Can take up to five years to obtain a T- or U-Visa. But victims can apply for work authorization in the meantime, but that can also take one or two years. Minors, however, can work regardless.

 


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I’m Buying HOPE, JOY and PEACE This Holiday Season

This is a repost of a blog I did last year about this time because it’s a message that still resonates strongly with me, and I hope it will with you too. May your holiday shopping be full of hope and happiness for all.

 


 

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A few months ago I read Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma. I wasn’t expecting the book that it turned out to be, but it was still very good. It sort of turned out to be a Bible study on justice. I would definitely recommend it, and not just for those passionate about the issue like me, but even for the mildly curious. I learned a lot and will be marinating on it for a long time to come.

There were a few things mentioned in the book that stuck with me, but none more than what I wanted to share with you now. Did you know that it costs approximately $21 billion to get clean, safe drinking water to everyone in the world? If you weren’t aware, almost 1 in 7 of the world’s population doesn’t have access to this most basic need. $21 billion. I know, right, it sounds like a lot—like a whole lot! It sounds like scratching our heads and calling summits and raising money and finally reconciling ourselves to the fact that $21 billion is impossible to find in a world drowning in debt. Sometimes it sounds like giving up.

And then I found out…

The National Retail Federation estimates that over $600 BILLION will be spent in November and December this year. I’m sorry, what? That’s just this season. When I think about it, that makes me sick. In fact, the contrast in those two numbers has literally haunted me since I’ve read the book.

I think about people I know that rush around trying to buy gifts, any kind of gifts, for the people on their Christmas list. Mostly those are close family and friends, but usually there’s at least one obligatory gift on there as well. I think of gifts that aren’t bought out of need, but out of courtesy. I think of the stress so many people feel when it comes to the holidays. It seems to be more about putting anything under the tree that caring about what it is, as long as you’ve checked that box.

Something. Has. To. Change.

I love the holidays. I love the chill in the air, and the warm drinks. I love watching Christmas movies. I love decorating my apartment. I love seeing twinkle lights go up everywhere. And I love buying gifts. Gift giving is one of my love languages. It makes me happy to see the look on people’s face when I give them a gift. In fact, the anticipation of seeing their faces when I give them the gift makes me happy! I have always tried very hard, whether it’s a birthday or Christmas, to find the perfect gift that will make the recipient smile. It’s a challenge that I relish.

And, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it. But the last few years, ever since pursing justice myself and learning more about supply chain and slave labor, I’ve tried to challenge myself in a new way. I try very hard to find not only gifts of meaning, but gifts that do good or do not perpetuate slave labor. I’m also an environmentalist, so I try to cut down on packaging and reuse when possible. So, really, I thought I could pat myself on the back from up on my high horse—until I read those statistics.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to do more. I can’t completely give up gift-giving, because I love it so much, but there is more I can do. For one thing, I can help educate you. What if we all started buying differently? What if we started contributing more and consuming less? What if we took a hard look at the real difference between shopping and giving? What if the presents had real meaning, not just for the recipient you know, but those who created it or will benefit from the purchase? What if?

Here is an awesome video by Advent Conspiracy to help illustrate. In fact, they have a lot of great personal and church resources to help you explore this idea. I’m looking forward to reading their book this season.

As I said, I don’t have this all figured out, but I’m trying. I want to contribute, not just consume. I want buy better and think better and live better. And even more, I want that for everyone else. I want it for you, and those you know, and those around the world who don’t have clean water or adequate shelter or who live in fear. We all share this world.

The holidays are a season of hope. Hope, joy, peace—we see those words written on everything this time of year from cards to commercials. What if they weren’t just platitudes? What if we added those to our Christmas list? What if, when we started buying gifts, we kept those three words in mind? Will the things we buy this season promote hope or joy or peace? If not, then let’s not buy them. Find a better alternative. I bet there’s one out there.

Here are a few places to help you get started:

Purchasing on Amazon? Use Amazon Smile

Purchase with Purpose

Free2Work

Not For Sale Store

Better World Shopper

Greater Good

Free to Shop

World Vision Gift Catalog

Fair Trade USA

Ten Thousand Villages

Charity Water

Kiva

Living Water International

International Justice Mission Gift Catalog

Notes From a Thoughtful Life

The Good Shopping Guide

Ethical Consumer

 

There are so many more, though, so keep looking! And if you need to go the department store route, you could even institute your own TOMS-esque one for one model. For example, if you give someone a shirt, donate one as well. Challenge each other to be better, think creatively and give more.

Give gifts that tell stories, and write yourself a new one in the process.

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And here’s a great article from the TODAY Show about families who try to put more meaning into gifts and the holidays.

Here is another from LearnVest, a money budgeting site if you’re looking for a more frugal point-of-view.

One more from journalist/activist, Nick Kristoff, whom I greatly admire.

 

DID I MISS YOUR FAVORITE RESOURCE? PLEASE ADD IT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION! I’D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT.

 

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)


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Book Reviews: Where Am I Wearing? Where Am I Eating?

WhereAmIWearingBookJacketIf you like social justice, you’ll like these books. If you are the teensiest bit curious about the origins of your food or clothing, you’ll like these books. If you like to learn, you’ll like these books. If you like to read, you’ll like these books. In short, a lot of people should give these books a good read.

I’m not quite sure how he did it, but author Kelsey Timmerman has done a smashing job of blending information and humor with an overall narrative you want to continue long after you’ve put the book down. I loved both of these books, and have recommended them to a mess of people since reading them.

In Where Am I Wearing?, Kelsey travels from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China to find out the genesis of his favorite clothes: jeans, boxers and flip flops. He takes you through the process of tracking down where his clothes are made, and then into the factory themselves. He speaks to the workers both on the jobs and in their homes.

Eating-Cover1In Where Am I Eating?, his follow-up book, Kelsey explores the humble beginnings of his family’s favorite and most common food and drink. His adventure takes him to coffee fields in Columbia, a cocoa plant in Ivory Coast, a banana plantation in Costa Rica, a lobster boat in Nicaragua, and the apple orchards of Michigan (via China).

Both books are completely eye-opening. I definitely had some thoughts, opinions and preconceived notions going into these books. And they changed me. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of researching supply chains (the process by which goods are made), but Kelsey helped me go deeper. Now, I must admit there are some areas where I have more questions than I’d previously had answers. But I believe I have also created some better habits. If these books do one thing, besides make you laugh, they’ll make you think.

I’ll give you two examples:

  1. I was Miss Western Culture holding up my picket sign for “No Child Labor!” before Wearing. But, his book makes you realize that there is so much more to the face, however young, of the issue. It’s a systemic issue, not fixed over night by the banning of goods or mandates set by those on the other side of the world. In cultures where it is normal for kids to work because the adults have already passed their prime, families could starve. Well…that’s not an outcome I want either. There are layers to this issue. I don’t like it, but they’re there. There are so many things that need to happen in those societies before/during/after children are pulled from the work force. Mindsets have to change. Hearts have to change. And people fear change. So, what am I to do? You know, I am still not 100% sure. I know one thing that has to happen is that I have to be informed. So, I learn and I research, and I make the best choices I can with the information I have. And that’s where I’ve landed…for now.
  2. I used to work at an eco-organization, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on food supply. I know what harsh chemicals are used to grow and treat food, and what we label “food” which could more adequately be described as a science experiment. So, I thought I was ahead of the curve on this one. But again, I realized how short-sighted I had been. It made so much sense when reading it. It felt more like a “duh” moment than an “a-ha” moment. And that was because I’d been buying regular produce for thick-skinned items because the chemicals hadn’t reached the food. I’d buy organic for thin-skinned because they were treated with chemicals. Well, despite my efforts and proclamations to be a good global citizen, I’d completely neglected that the people working in the fields with the thick-skinned items (ex: bananas) had been doused in chemicals. I hadn’t given them a whole lot of thought. But I certainly don’t want anyone to be harmed in the process of getting food to my table. I want to know that these items improve their lives, not send them to the hospital or lead them to an early death. So, what do I do now? I buy organic and local as much as I can.

 

You may be reading this thinking that it’s all well and good for me, but it costs a lot of money to buy organic or a lot of time you don’t have to research clothing. And I get it. I do. I was there once upon a time. But friends, ignorance isn’t bliss. I know the decisions I make when I purchase impact others, and I want those to be good decisions. I do the research and I buy organic because I have personally made it a priority. We all find time, energy, effort and money for the things we decide to make a priority. That’s a fact. Start small.

This is not a guilt trip. It’s just an attempt at a conversation I feel needs to happen. Like I said, these books are funny and honest. Kelsey doesn’t set out to provide you answers and three steps to better buying decisions. He is curious, and he takes you along for the ride. You’ll feel like he’s a friend by the end. I honestly think you’ll want to be a part of the conversation after reading these books. (By the way, Kelsey is very active on social media, so yes, you can actually have a conversation with him. He’s awesome.)

There is good news, however. There are more and more companies who care. I think by making these more informed decisions, we are telling businesses that we want to see more ethical production take place. And I think that’s the best way to move forward.

Besides Kelsey’s books, here are some other resources to get you started:

Free2Work (Website and App: The website has reports on clothing, coffee and electronics)

Purchase With Purpose (Web link: I helped author this one.)

Better World Shopper (Website and App)

Good Guide (Website and App)

If you know of others, please fill me in!

 

And thank you to Kelsey, for these amazing books. I can’t wait to see what you write next!

 

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)


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February Atlanta Events

459993477Ah, amore! It’s may be cold outside, but hearts remain warm inside. However, whether you’re flying solo or part of a duo, there are plenty of things to keep you busy in February.

Stay cozy out there!