This weekend I had a flashback to this same time last year when I was working at Greenheart Shop, a fair-trade boutique based out of Chicago, and we were doing tons of holiday markets every weekend at churches and synagogues in the city to sell fair trade goods. It was a very unique experience and opened my eyes to know that the religious community is one of the few mainstream arenas that understands and promotes fair trade and supporting basic human rights.
This weekend I went to a market in Gretna, Louisiana to sell fair trade clothing for my current company. I was running late, absolutely frazzled, brought my boyfriend to set up and he had way too much coffee. While I was smiling at folks and selling Fleur de Lis block-printed scarves, he was googling the cheapest countries to travel to and random statistics about Gretna.
At one point he pulled on my sleeve and said “Hey, did you know Gretna is the arrest capital of the United States? A black person is SIXTEEN times more likely than a white person to get arrested here. They arrest more people here, where we are right now, than in any other part of the country.”
No, I did not know that.
The morning continues, I sell various scarves, I feel elated to talk to the church organizer about fair trade chocolate and coffee and worker-owned companies and fair trade documentaries. I’m just full of warmth and fuzziness thinking “Hey, I don’t have to be religious to see that this is beautiful.”
And then this lady comes up and loves a scarf. She’s rambunctious and kind, cannot choose between two fabrics. She picks one and gestures to her husband, “He’s got the money over there.”
He comes over and we begin chatting. I’m ringing up his purchase and out of no where he begins rambling about the election. To quote, “People kept saying that Hillary does so much for women, but that’s only the women that she lets live! My wife and I are travelling around the country promoting pro-life, I have little pins in my car that are the size of baby’s feet in the womb, I have pins in blue and pink, would you and your boyfriend like one today? One pink for you and blue for him!”
And I’m just standing there stunned. Stunned at how we got here and stunned at the fact that, while I didn’t realize it because I was trying to sell scarves, there are people walking around the church in red t-shirts saying “Fighting for the natural life of children, Pro-Life” etc.
I tried to keep the smile on my face as I keyed in his credit card saying no, I’m okay for today but thank you very much. Tell me about your motorcycle. Tell me about your truck. Oh, you got into an accident? How did that happen? You get fifty miles to the gallon, huh? Wow.
My boyfriend’s family is Catholic and after the market as we drove across the West Bank back into New Orleans, he said how confusing it still was to him that I was shocked by Catholic values. My family was never religious, we never went to church, we never even talked about it.
I cannot describe how exponentially lonely it feels to know that while there are kind, decent people around you who support social missions of THIS kind, they blatantly and unapologetically do not support values that are core to your personal beliefs.
I am never going to get into a grand debate with someone about abortions and the ethics of them. I won’t do it. The thought of someone dictating that information to me about the sort of choices I can make makes me feel like I am a slave, a thing, that I do not have the proper brainpower to make decisions for myself. Among many other harsh, dark feelings.
Being in the middle of a big blue dot in a sea of red is tough. I can’t imagine people fighting for big blue dot causes in the middle of that sea of red in Louisiana. I don’t know if I could muster the courage to ever do it.
Funny thing, I thought I would write a blog about my new job or solar energy or composting but I became swept away instead. I feel a thousand miles from Chicago but I can’t tell if I prefer this blatant brand of honesty or not. Did all of those people in those markets this time last year feel the same way, but didn’t have little pins in their gloveboxes to distribute?
I’ll never really know, but I have a hunch.