Reflections on a Fair Trade Road Trip
16 June 2009
As I had the opportunity to visit a number of Fair Trade Towns in the North East, and meet with over a dozen local organizers and activists over the course of 12 days, my optimism for the path of the Fair Trade movement continued to grow. As the National Coordinator for Fair Trade Towns, USA I was thrilled to get to know the true faces and personalities that have driven this initiative to the point it is at today. My role is to be a resource and facilitator to our local activists, and provide the tools to aid their success. As my background consists of over seven years of grassroots organizing, campaigning and fundraising, I know that there is a special and unique quality to be found in community organizers.
While statistics continue to demonstrate the growth of the ethical consumer among the general public in the USA, it is important to recognize the most motivated and inspired among them. These activist consumers know that their work does not stop with the purchasing of Fair Trade Certified products or with frequenting Fair Trade Federation businesses. They are truly moved by the understanding that every dollar that we spend in the US goes to either support a global trade model based on corporate wealth and personal gain, or one which prioritizes global justice and equity. These consumers feel the responsibility to make sure that we all are aware of this daily choice. They have the vision and the drive to move others.
True movement building must be viral and horizontal. It must be peer-to-peer and network to network. This is impossible for any movement to achieve without active participation and buy-in at the grassroots level. We are lucky and privileged to have that in the Fair Trade movement through our vibrant network of Fair Trade Towns organizers and coalitions.
My first visit was to Media, PA. This is only appropriate as Media was the first Fair Trade Town in the USA. The movement began in the UK and in Media found a home in the United States. Theirs is a story of strong dedication to social and global justice and a long history of activism. I met with the dynamic team of Elizabeth Killough, Barbara Bole, Stephanie Gaboriault and her two sons, and one of the true heroes of the Fair Trade movement, Hal Taussig. They know that until every farmer and producer in the Global South is afforded the opportunity to control their own community and have fair and equal access to the basic needs of any community, their work is not done. Upon successfully meeting the criteria to become a Fair Trade Town in June, 2006, the organizers in Media moved quickly to stay engaged in the movement. They used the opportunity that all of their organizing provided to continue reaching out to their community about the importance of Fair Trade. In addition to regular newsletters and website communication they have hosted farmers from Central America, sent people on trips to “origin” (visiting the cooperatives, farmers, and producers in their native country), had a Fair Trade concert (Fair Trade Live ‘08), held a Fair Trade Prom, give annual Fair Trade Awards, and have gained recognition by their Borough Council as an official committee of the town government. It was an inspiration to meet their team and a great opportunity to learn about their process.
I next traveled to Burlington, VT where I met with Sandy Wynne and Courtney Lang, two passionate organizers who are in the final stages of declaring Burlington as a Fair Trade Town. They have had an incredible amount of success with raising awareness in their town and are infectious in their excitement and motivation. We met over lunch at a local cafe filled with Fair Trade Certified products and it was there that they described their process to me as well as their plans for a celebration later this summer when they meet their goal. They have done an impressive job building momentum and have been hugely successful in involving the business community. Their local co-op, the City Market Onion River Coop, has been an enthusiastic supporter and has given everything from publicity and marketing to meeting and event space. They have engaged the local agricultural community and have made “Buy Fair, Buy Local” a unifying battle-cry in the push towards becoming a Fair Trade Town.
In Northampton, MA I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from three different campaigns, Yuri Friman, Alexandra Mello, Dan Finn, and Al Sax. Amherst, MA was the 4th town in the USA to achieve Fair Trade Town status. They were followed by Northampton, who, five months later successfully completed their campaign. Since declaring, Amherst has been one of the most active Fair Trade Towns in the US. They have reached out to surrounding communities to enroll them in the movement and have mentored Greenfield, MA on their journey. Greenfield is in the process of their efforts and has built an active and dynamic steering committee. I met representatives from all of these towns at a cafe serving all Fair Trade Certified coffee and tea and learned so much about the value of regional outreach. The members of these teams have done such an admirable job of sharing resources and experiences. They all bring different perspectives and areas of expertise which is incredibly valuable on any individual steering committee. Expanding that to a regional level and reaching out across towns has brought out a model that is not just successful, but replicable across the country and can serve as a central concept in our national outreach.
I concluded my trip in Boston. The lead organizers there, Sandy North of the Boston Faith and Justice Network, Anne O’Laughlin of the Autonomie Project, and Jen Garay have taken on a major project in working to make Boston a Fair Trade Town. Boston is unique in its geography and neighborhood breakdown. By starting outreach through the faith-based community, Fair Trade Boston has built a large coalition with a solid backbone. This network combined forces on Saturday, June 13th to host a huge event at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter aimed at celebrating Fair Trade and raising awareness in the Greater Boston Area. The event was a major success with consistent traffic in and out all day long. There were booths and tables focused on educating attendees on the principles of Fair Trade as well as movement stalwarts like Equal Exchange serving Fair Trade Certified products and representing major leaders in the Fair Trade business community. There was live music, performances by break dance and stomp teams, acrobats, and speakers. There was a Fair Trade Fashion Show and activities for kids. It was a wonderful event with great turnout. The event was evidence of the continued growth in interest and importance placed on Fair Trade by the general public and it was the perfect way to wrap up my Fair Trade road trip.
I want to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to meet with me and to share their journey. Our feet are on the right path and we will move forward together to ensure that those responsible for producing the wealth of options we have as consumers in the United States are guaranteed their fair return on that wealth.