Yesterday I read a very interesting post and discussion on the production of fair trade clothing on John Smulo’s blog. He was interviewing Joe Turner of Freedom Clothing I am delighted that more companies are grappling with this issue and the need for more just production of all our goods. At the same time as many of you know I am doing a lot of thinking about community – what does it look like, why does it matter and how do we get there to name jsut a few of the issues that are swirling round in my mind.
Part of what I was reflecting on last night is the ways in which community and justice are interconnected. When we lack community with the people that produce our goods we don’t care if they are unjustly treated. It is only when we start to develop relationships with them and they move beyond faceless entities to members of God’s international community that we really begin to worry about such things.
As we move towards Christmas during this economic downturn I realize that there are more issues here that I need to seriously consider too. One of the easiest solutions for me and I think most of us when we feel purse pinched is to find the cheapest place to buy our goods no matter what the consequences for others. We stop buying fair traded coffee and locally grown produce because it is more expensive. We shop for the cheapest clothing and book bargains. We don’t so much cut back on our consumption as change the pattern of our consumption and often our concerns for those at the margins goes up in smoke too. And often those in power use a time like this to strengthen their power and further marginalize and disempower those who are already unjustly treated.
I was shocked when I read that after hurricane Katrina companies lobbied to cut the minimum wage and disregard environmental legislation so that they could rebuild more quickly. And here in the US when a large corporation goes bankrupt it doesn’t mean it goes out of business but rather that it is restructured to be more economically viable – which usually means that employees lose their pension plans and get cut back on their health plans or else they lose their jobs completely. It is not the ones at the top that suffer the most but the ones at the bottom. I know most corporate execs this year have decided to forgo their bonuses but when you are getting a $10+ million salary does that really mean cutting back?
So I wonder in our concerns for fair trade should we advocate more strongly for trading a few $10 million jobs of corporate execs in order to conserve a few hundred thousand $50,000 jobs? Should we be concerned more about supporting the small businesses that some believe are more the backbone of our economy than are large corporations?
Probably bringing it closest to home for me is where do I buy my books? It is very easy to click onto Amazon.com where we expect that we will get the best bargains. But I know that there is a local Christian bookstore here in Seattle, Harvest Logos bookstore, that has or can order all the Christian books I could possible need and still maintains a sense of Christian identity as well. Their website may be a little out of date but you will never find anyone more knowledgeable about Christian books than Michael Adeney is. I have not spoken to him recently but I am sure that they are struggling to stay afloat as the economy worsens. This is the last remaining independent Christian bookstore in Seattle and if it goes out of business we will lose one of the richest resources of Christian book knowledge in the city and I think in the process we will lose something important of the Christian community here in our Seattle.
Another independent bookstore I would highly recommend is the Hearts and Minds bookstore run by Brian Borger in Pennsylvannia. According to their website:
What distinguishes us most is our enthusiasm for the development of a uniquely Christian worldview where Christ’s Lordship is honored and lived out in relevant ways in the midst of our highly secularized, post-modern culture. We offer quality books for the sake of faithful Christian living. We serve business folk, scientists, artists, college students, moms, dads (and kids!), pastors, poets and politicos. We believe Biblical faith leads to “thinking Christianly” about every area of life.
Keeping independent Christian bookstores alive by recommending people purchase books from them rather than from Amazon or Barnes and Noble may be one way that all of us who review books and love to read can help an important part of the Christian community during these difficult times. All of us cast votes by the ways and the places we spend our money – we can vote for a continuing witness in the realm of Christian bookstores or we can effectively silence that voice by failing to support these independent efforts.
I would love to know do you think about this issue. Do you think it matters where we buy our books? Do you think that preserving independent Christian businesses is an important part of Christian community?