Organizer Spotlight: Joe Michon – Claremont, CA

Courtney Lang October 1, 2012

This blog post comes from Fair Trade Claremont’s own Joe Michon. Read on to follow Claremont’s journey to its declaration as a Fair Trade Town!

It’s All About People

Fair Trade house parties in the fall of 2010 laid the groundwork for a Towns Campaign. Friends gathered with refreshments, a video (“Fair Trade: The Story”) and conversation.  A small group committed to action emerged from these sessions. They began by selling Fair Trade coffee at a local Catholic parish, added chocolate and eventually staged a Work of Human Hands/SERRV sale of crafts.

And Partners

Sweet Justice: A Fair Trade Desert Party

How to leverage the limited time and energy of a handful of persons and make a significant impact in the community presented a challenge. Partnering with well established community organizations that are natural allies of Fair Trade extended outreach well beyond our limited sphere of influence. Once leaders of these groups were made aware of the synergy between Fair Trade and their own mission a win-win collaboration quickly developed. We have forged partnerships with local environmental organizations, diverse faith communities, peace and justice groups, the anti-trafficking movement and visionary leaders in the business community. The partners incorporate Fair Trade messages in their bulletins and newsletters, and involve Fair Trade Claremont in their events.

Tabling at large community celebrations such as Earth Day and Fourth of July  generates hundreds of conversations and is another avenue that has rapidly expanded the network of supporters. We have a clipboard so that visitors can sign up to volunteer and/or to receive the “Fair Trade News Briefs”.

Audiences at presentations are generally receptive to the Fair Trade message. The practical issue is how to make Fair Trade part of every day life. A “Where to Find Fair Trade” handout lists shops, cafes and restaurants, detailing the products available at each; this has proven extremely popular. Setting out a table display of Fair Trade products, from coffee and chocolate to sugar and wine, invariably attracts a crowd and triggers productive dialogue.

The millennial generation is enthusiastic about Fair Trade and we have forged ties with students and professors. Collaboration with a Fair Trade intern from Pomona College sparked a town-gown event, “Sweet Justice: A Fair Trade Dessert Party”. The name says it all. Party goers ranged in age from 18 to 94 and the common refrain of the evening was “Let’s do this again”.  Celebration brings good energy to the effort– and we’ll do it again.

Fourth of July: Uncle Sam supports Fair Trade

And Staying Connected

“Fair Trade News Briefs” is a simple tool that allows us to keep the Fair trade message out front. The Briefs are emailed monthly to subscribers and feature news about products, merchants and events, such as the “Go Bananas Campaign”.

Surmounting the Obstacles

Building a diverse Steering Committee proved difficult. Many potential members had trouble adding another meeting to their calendars. To solve the problem we created a “Steering/Advisory” Committee. Membership criteria: passion for Fair Trade; willingness to advise, make connections and lend a hand when able; no required meetings. This flexibility has added “Advisors” who not only offer counsel but devote significant hours to Fair Trade – on their own timetable.

Passing a resolution presented other challenges. We knew none of the Council members and so relied on persons in our Fair Trade network to arrange individual meetings. We encountered questions about the legitimacy of Fair Trade and the wisdom of a resolution. We explained, clarified and fielded tough questions. One meeting lasted an hour and a half. We believe that addressing these concerns prior to the public hearing was critical. In the end the Council supported a Fair Trade resolution by a vote of 5-0.

And Moving Ahead

The buzz surrounding Fair Trade Town status has created momentum. We are taking advantage by visiting merchants and organizations already involved with Fair Trade to say thank you and re-energize them. And by visiting those not yet part of the movement to make the case! Our target: one FT organization and one FT merchant for each 1,000 residents by the end of 2013.

Presentations and events continue: The Dark Side of Chocolate is scheduled at the Claremont Forum in September. Fifteen exhibitors and a Fair Trade speaker will be featured at the annual meeting of Sustainable Claremont in October. Tabling is scheduled at a regional Religious Education Congress in October.  We’re planning another Town-Gown Desert Party with the colleges. Several professors are in the hunt for a Fair Trade intern. We have a request from a college prep school to talk to eight classes, 240 students, this semester. We’ll join the Go Bananas Campaign and we have a team of 4 registered for the national Conference in October. Hope to see you there.

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.