Advocacy in the Time of COVID-19

Kylie Nealis April 6, 2020

By Billy Linstead Goldsmith, Director of Fair Trade Campaigns.

As we all grapple with the upheaval to our everyday lives, our attention is naturally becoming hyper-focused on the things and people immediately surrounding us. For students, campuses closing with little warning has interrupted close friendships and campus initiatives. New learning styles are now required and graduation, summer terms and Fall registration are all up the air. And all on top of the logistics of an unexpected move home. For the lucky ones in the workforce whose jobs have moved into our homes, we are learning to work remotely while becoming home-school teachers and full-time childcare providers with little-to-no preparation or training. For others – the fear of economic uncertainty has become a reality as hours have been reduced, furloughs put into place and for far too many, jobs eliminated entirely.

Against this backdrop, it is natural for us to put our full attention on what is right in front of us. But this pull of our attention is a trap that we all must resist if we are to ensure that we maintain the progress that we have made over all of these years. If we are going to keep moving the sustainability needle in the direction that we must to save our planet and the people living on it, we have to up our game. Moments like these – when things seem impossibly difficult and terrifying – are the moments that define us and our movements. With two kids under five and two parents working full time from home, I can’t imagine making it through my day without copious amounts of coffee. And with each cup I think about how terrified the farmers that are putting in tremendous, physically-demanding work to provide those beans must be, knowing that markets are shrinking, that ports are closing, that social distancing means no help in the field, and unharvested coffee rotting on the branch. With each cherry that drops to the ground, less financial stability for their family, their health and well-being.

So too for the businesses in our communities who have been invested in Fair Trade and are now faced with shrinking or disappearing retail sales. Those who live the connectivity with artisans, with workers and farmers, who – even in a world with no pandemic – operate on the slimmest of margins and are now facing the double reality of their own financial uncertainly linked with the plight of the people behind their products that they fear they are letting down. It would be so easy to for us to throw our hands up and stick with what is right in front of us – scheduling zoom meetings and study groups, getting our kids fed, washed, taught and in bed, figuring out the complexities of filing for unemployment, navigating health care, and so much more.

But this is also the easiest time to see, and to deeply feel, the interconnection and interdependence of our communities, our world and our movements. Never in modern history has this been more evident than right now as the fears and hopes of our global community are so closely aligned. The resiliency we are seeing around the world is inspiring, and a reminder that we must keep up our efforts while recognizing that the way we advocate must change. 

And so Fair Trade Campaigns will change. We are hard at work formulating new advocacy models that will allow us to keep our voice strong. Strategies that we can each activate from our homes to both keep the momentum going on the specific efforts we were each working on in our communities, schools, places of worship and campuses, as well as new ways to ensure that we can support the businesses and producers at the heart of Fair Trade, and send clear and resounding messages to those not engaged in Fair Trade that now is the time. Just as we re-orient the way we campaign, so too are companies re-orienting what sustainability means from a business perspective.

If there was ever a time for us to make sure that the business community understands the importance of sustainability and Fair Trade, that time is now. Every single business in the world is actively trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in this new reality. Part of that calculus will inevitably be to review their sustainability commitments. Some will double down on those commitments and others will consider if they are financial drains. It is on us to make sure that we very vocally reward the former, and just as loudly reaffirm the consumer-cost of backtracking to the latter. In times of crisis and upheaval, sustainability commitments are even more important and must be non-negotiable. This is our moment, and Fair Trade Campaigns will rise to the challenge, because of all of you. Fair Trade, now more than ever.

Updates and resources will be coming soon. In the meantime, please see below for some quick and easy ways to live your values from home now, and send a signal to others of the importance of staying engaged as advocates, activists and consumers. We are grateful for all of you – our community and our movement. Know that we are all with each other as we grapple with how the world looks and feels in the face of COVID-19. We see you, we are with you. While we stay home to save lives, we are working had to provide the tools and resources we need to keep making them meaningful and impactful for our families and our global community. Stay home, stay safe, stay connected.

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Kylie Nealis, National Organizer for Fair Trade Colleges & Universities

Kylie brings over 5 years of community organizing and non-profit experience to Fair Trade USA, previously working with Global Exchange and Sierra Club. At Global Exchange she took on a variety of roles including Community Rights Program Associate, Fair Trade Campaign Coordinator, Fair Trade Store Sales Associate and Interim Director of Operations. For the past two years she worked in the Executive Office at Sierra Club providing support to C-level staff and the Board of Directors. Kylie is knowledgeable and passionate about Fair Trade, climate and energy issues, human rights and social and economic justice. Kylie graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Community Studies and Politics. She also lived in Thailand for 5 years and is conversational in Thai and learning Spanish. In her free time, Kylie enjoys being outdoors, hiking and traveling.