JUST CAUSE MAGAZINE
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My distaste for fashion labels, brands, icons and whatnot has more to do with my distaste for being told what to do, than anything else. Even as a child, if someone said to me, “you have to wear a dress,” I would immediately go put on a pair of pants and heaven help the person – no matter how big or “authoritative” - who tried to tell me to take off the pants.
So when I see people spending thousands of dollars on designer clothes and handbags and jewelry I tend to scoff, and think to myself, “really? You can’t think for yourself?” It’s just my nature. Don’t get me wrong, if I find an item truly beautiful, then I don’t care who made it, I will want it. So although I tend to live in my red converse sneakers, I coveted and purchased a pair of Pucci Hi-Top sneakers too. I assure you, I am not a “life off the grid hippie” by any stretch of the imagination.
Beyond my refusal to let Madison Avenue tell me what to wear, I also really question any value system that places a logo on a handbag as being somehow more important than all of the other things we could do with that money. I will not own something that has a big logo on it – I am not a billboard – but more than that, I refuse to evangelize for a value system that I find destructive and misleading. I would no more carry a Louis Vuitton handbag than I would wear a giant cross – it represents a value system that I think is very destructive and needs to be questioned.
But how do we begin to dissect media and marketing messages that have permeated our culture so pervasively that we don’t recognize them any more?
Sometimes we have to do it really REALLY graphically. Which is why I am currently in love with the Simple living t-shirt that artist Nadia Plesner created to raise awareness and funds for Divest for Darfur. The t-shirt shows a naked and starving African child carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag and a little Chihuahua. This clash of superficial values and ironic icons simply asks, “which one do you value more?” We know more about who Paris Hilton is having sex with than we do about the nature of the human catastrophes happening by the thousands in Darfur as we speak. As individuals, we are more consumed with fashion icons and the acquisition of status symbols than we are the nature of human suffering with entire populations of people who are not photographed by the Paparazzi. By bringing attention to our consumptive habits, she is helping us to look at them, which is a perfect match for the mission of Divest For Darfur.
The idea behind Divest for Darfur is interesting.
Divestment is the sale of stock in companies most culpable of funding the genocide in Darfur. Divestment also includes a commitment not to buy stock in these companies until the genocide ends. There are about 25 such companies. Almost all of these companies work in Sudan’s oil sector. Without the revenue from the companies operating in the oil sector, Sudan would not have the resources it uses to carry out the genocide.
They suggest that most of us don’t know where our money really goes when we spend it on everything from handbags to mutual funds. They have put together a Divestment Guide to help you choose carefully.
Fortunately, the government has made this easy on everyone also. Without saying anything good about the current administration, I congratulate them on the creation of the SADA act:
On December 31, 2007 the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act of 2007 (SADA) became law. SADA is vital legislation that protects the states’ and investment firms’ rights to divest from companies with connections to the government of Sudan. SADA also prohibits federal contracts with such companies.
Other noteworthy efforts include:
Rugmark.org, which works to end child labor used in making “oriental rugs” that are so coveted while also raising money for education and other efforts to support children in South Asia.
Ethical Shopping is a site that helps consumers keep up-to-date on issues related to child labor and other destructive manufacturing around the globe. Part news, part resource, it’s a good place to start.
But, back to the US and the streets that I walk down every day. I am not a communist or socialist or anything else. I am a hard core capitalist and believe that people can spend their money on whatever they want. HOWEVER, I wish that we wanted to do more with our financial and human capital than simply acquire things.
When we define “success” and “value” by the acquisition of material items that are out of the reach of most people, we devalue those who don’t have them and can’t get them. Yes, it’s subtle, but it is pervasive and creates a system that is hard for all people to fell valued and respected.
Every day I see people standing in line at the food bank by my house. Young mothers, still children themselves, with babies in strollers and a fake Louis Vuitton handbag slung over their shoulders. They know what we value as a society. They can’t afford food, but my god the acquired the fake status symbols that we require for someone to be valued. But I don’t expect anyone to put that on a t-shirt.