Ethical Consumerism Part 2

I had to write a blog post for the LVC blog so I updated this one and here is the result:


In college, a friend of mine asked me a question about something she'd heard I'd said. "I heard," she began, trembling slightly, "that you think we shouldn't buy TOMS."

What she heard was half-true. I love TOMS (seriously check them out, a definite model for aspiring triple-bottom-line businesses everywhere), especially since they've made an explicit commitment to not only giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that's bought, but to require fair labor practices in their factories.

What I actually said was that buying TOMS was great but it wasn't the answer. My ideology was: If you don't need new shoes, don't buy any. Buying TOMS because it makes you feel good to support the cause plus you get something out of it, instead of buying TOMS as a replacement for another shoe that you were already going to buy because you need new shoes, substitutes one "evil" for another - supporting unethical labor practices for supporting unnecessary consumerism.

It's a tough, weird ethical debate; surely buying TOMS, no matter how many pairs, is better than buying sweatshop-produced shoes, and gets more shoes onto the feet of children in Argentina and South Africa and wherever else TOMS gives shoes. Add to that the fact that the more TOMS we buy means more fair-wage jobs for folks in Argentina. But instead of "wasting" resources with a purchase, your money will be much better spent through a donation, no matter how ethical the company.


Making Words Work

I was recently commissioned to make an "infographic" of sorts for a friend's company. Turns out I don't really know how to make an infographic. This is more of an English Language Cheat Sheet, only somewhat-artistically designed.

This remains unfinished. There were a few more pairs of words, and I was maybe going to change/update some of the examples (what is on there is generally the first thing that came into my head). And unless someone reading this blog is like, "Oh I'd really like to have that printed out on a poster of some kind or something for my classroom; these freakin' kids always get these words screwed up" then it will remain unfinished.

This project one of the reasons I haven't posted in over a week. I've been slowly uploading some other design work I've been doing lately, and some I've worked on in the past, over at the PORTFOLIO page. Thanks for looking. Image after the jump.

On Ethical Consumerism

A couple years ago, I had the privilege of meeting/hanging out with Shane Claiborne, a definite hero of mine. Around that time, I was spearheading an on-campus movement to reduce our campus' consumption of goods made in sweatshops.

I had a dual focus for the movement - I was interested not only in reducing consumption of unethically-produced products, but also interested in reducing consumption/consumerism overall.

A friend of mine (Robbie, pictured above in white shirt on the right) came up to me one day and asked me a question about something I'd said. "I heard," she began, "that you think we shouldn't buy TOMS."

On Citizenship, Terror, and Assassination

Came across this terrifying article on Tumblr today: Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen.

Goodness, that title sure jumps out at you doesn't it? I don't know if it's possible to see that link without at least glancing over the article. It's incredibly troubling that the President/the CIA have the authority to assassinate anyone; it goes against most Americans' core beliefs about the role of our government.

The article mentions it, but remember when all the liberals went up in arms with Bush's domestic spying program (which, by the way, Obama has not done away with)? If the title of the article were accurate, then you'd expect us all to be 1000x more enraged by this.

But as you read the article and the coverage of the issue you learn that the point of contention for most of these people is not that the president is assassinating someone. The problem is that this person is a U.S. citizen. Nevermind that he is an Al-Qaeda operative apparently actively participating in terrorism against the United States:

"The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday..."

Wait, why again can't we kill a terrorist? We kill tens of thousands of terrorists (or civilians, who can tell them apart?) every year. Oh right, because he's both a terrorist and a U.S. Citizen! You can't assassinate a U.S. Citizen.

What is war if not large-scale assassination? Does the CIA have assassination targets that aren't U.S. Citizens (yes)? If so, does anyone care? That's just what war is, right? We are allowed to kill "enemy combatants." But apparently, by definition, U.S. Citizens cannot be classified as "enemy combatants" without due process:

"Even more strikingly, Antonin Scalia, in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, wrote an Opinion (joined by Justice Stevens) arguing that it was unconstitutional for the U.S. Government merely to imprison (let alone kill) American citizens as "enemy combatants"; instead, they argued, the Constitution required that Americans be charged with crimes (such as treason) and be given a trial before being punished."

My question is, if we are allowed to murder on a grand scale (i.e. war) and on a small scale (assassination of high-level terrorist leaders) as part of the "War on Terror," why does it matter whether our "enemies" are citizens or not? The above quote implies that it is constitutional to imprison/kill non-Americans as "enemy combatants." Why is that OK?

New Feature: Five Things

So the "Top ___" is nothing new, especially in the blogosphere. But I liked Naomi's recent Top 10 and was inspired to do my own. Except only five. And I think it's important to say that these are not actually the "Top" five anything; they are more of a "first five" things that come into my head.

Five Places to Be:
  1. In a warm, local coffee shop on a rainy day with a book, laptop, and headphones, and nothing important to do - such a cozy state of mind.
  2. At work, closing out your documents and browser windows at 4:45pm on a Friday - the entire world seems ahead of you!
  3. In bed with your lover at 10am on a weekend morning, just before completely coming to, immediately after having realized that you have a number of hours before any responsibilities kick in
  4. Right up at the front of the stage, a lil' bit off to the right, just as the lights dim and you see the headliners congregating backstage waiting for their cue to come out, and you're just starting to feel the buzz from the beers you drank earlier and the one overpriced cocktail you deigned to purchase at the club
  5. Standing on a ridge at the end of a hike through the Santa Monica mountains looking out as the sun just begins to dip behind the horizon - this is perhaps the only thing I miss about Malibu.

North Beacon Hill - a Gentrification Pseudo-Case Study

"Gentrification" has lost some of the cultural cache it once held. One commenter even told me she had to look up the meaning of the term...

I had the privilege (the right?) to address the Seattle City Council last month. We went to voice our opinions about the recent craziness regarding development in South Seattle (the link is to a great article the Stranger wrote about it).

Basically what's happened is we have a big empty lot that we want to build affordable housing, an open community space, a large events space/community center, and some retail/office space - and we can't, at least for another year, because some neighbors object. If you open the link to the article the first comment is mine and you can read some of my views on the issue.

I was somewhat enraged to hear about the appeal because this is one of the most incredible opportunities that I can imagine happening in a city. How often does a city have a community-oriented, non-profit organization as a developer? Of land that they own, across the street from a brand-new transit hub? In an up-and-coming, middle-income, incredibly diverse neighborhood that is less than 10 minutes from downtown? Not often, is my bet.

The most important part of El Centro's plan, in my opinion, to develop the property is affordable housing - and this is because, as a neighborhood with the characteristics I mentioned above, it is rapidly becoming gentrified. By people like me.

When you walk/bike/drive through North Beacon Hill, you can see the initial signs of gentrification immediately. Fancy new condos and apartment buildings dot the landscape every few blocks, and more are under construction (though it's been slowed by the recession, they are still being built). The rest of the neighborhood is small, one-story houses, in various stages of disrepair:

One of the most attractive aspects of Beacon Hill is its diversity; White people are a noticeable minority. I think that's what "Bayview on Beacon" is advertising: a "vibrant, growing community." All of the relevant statistics are interesting; Beacon Hill is basically just below the city average on almost all measures of affluence: median home prices, median family income, median rent, etc. Probably not for long. 

Gentrification happens in neighborhoods like Beacon Hill for obvious reasons - cheap rent, close to downtown, diversity, etc. It's not so poor that it's hard to adjust from the lifestyle you want, and not so far away from more affluent areas of the city that you can't go do the expensive things you want to do without too much trouble. I would much rather live in Beacon Hill than in a snazzy, hip neighborhood like Ballard. And that's why I moved here. I like this neighborhood.

When I spoke to the Seattle City Council, I identified myself as a gentrifier, and explained that one of the most important reasons I believe affordable housing is necessary in the new development on N. Beacon Hill is that if people like me keep moving to Beacon Hill, which we will, especially because of the new light rail station, all these condos, and if the development that El Centro de la Raza wants to do on their lot goes through, housing on Beacon Hill will no longer be affordable for the people who have lived there for years long before I came.

When, in middle-income neighborhoods, developers build condos and develop squalid properties, cities revitalize public spaces, and somewhat-to-very affluent (often White) people move in, property values go up. This inevitably pushes out the non-White, middle- and low-income original denizens of the neighborhood. That's just what happens. And it's called gentrification.

gen·tri·fi·ca·tion[jen-truh-fi-key-shuhn] –noun

1. The buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.
Well, here's the rub - this definition seems to place the onus of responsibility on these upper- or middle-income families or individuals. But because I am one of these upper- or middle-income families or individuals, I want to throw the blame because I don't want to feel guilty for what I'm doing. The chicken-or-egg question then is, which happens first - the gentrifiers moving in or the city and developers making it attractive to?

Silly question; no answer - much like the question of gentrification in general. Unless there's a contingent of folks convinced that White people move into these neighborhoods with the explicit intention of displacing poor people, what's the problem?

I recently listened to/read some of NPR's coverage of gentrification (IRONY???) and all of the normal frustrations were expressed - police/city services only seem to come to a neighborhood once White/rich people move in, the "character" of a neighborhood changes, new big box/chain stores lack the cultural component of old local stores and create a boring, "monocultural" aesthetic and, of course, poor folks are priced out of the neighborhood. What I realized is that, aside from the displacement issue, this sounds a lot like NIMBYism too, doesn't it?

What I also realized is that "gentrification," when looked at in the following way, would perhaps be better termed "neighborhood redevelopment" - it has a lot of positive aspects. More city services/policing. Cleaner streets. More business investment. Increased revenue for local businesses as a result of higher-income residents and more density overall (if these businesses aren't forced out of the area, that is). Neighborhood pride as a result of being a "destination" neighborhood (in most of the talks about developing Beacon Hill, the idea of being a "destination" neighborhood is brought up. The underriding assumption is that nobody that's not from here ever comes here, and why would they? It's probably a fair assumption).

Gentrification seems to me to be, in itself, a case-study in ethics - if you do something that you want to do without any conscious malice (move, as an affluent non-minority, to an up-and-coming neighborhood like Beacon Hill), are you responsible for the negative consequences of these actions (you help increase property values thus pushing poor people out of the neighborhood)?

Are you a gentrifier?
Is that such a bad thing?
Besides advocating for affordable housing in your neighborhood, what are you supposed to do about it?