by Carol Spearman, Becketwood Member
Barely had we adjusted to a life of social distancing, Zoom, face masks and FaceTime, when we found ourselves confronted by the anger and civil unrest arising out of George Floyd’s death. Some have responded to the pandemic with fear and feelings of hopelessness; others tried to cope with the loss of contact and socializing with neighbors, friends and family by taking on projects long delayed or finding joy in time for well-loved activities. Again, some responded to the protests and subsequent violence and destruction with fear and hopelessness. Others saw this uprising as a moment for significant change—one from which we cannot turn away.
Both situations spread around the globe, with opportunities for reaching out to others in solidarity, in ways that have never happened in our current times. From small acts of kindness to a 99-year-old man raising millions of pounds for the National Health Service by walking in his garden to support front-line workers, people took action. From one person standing in support of another protesting in Minneapolis, to the widespread removal of statues that honored those responsible for repression, action replaced complacency. People have responded worldwide, experiencing the most powerful antidote for overcoming hopelessness. We so often feel that the issues are far beyond our control. We want to see economic, environmental and social justice, but feel how little we can do. We need to explore what actions we can take and how we can create a way forward for future generations. I challenge us all to look at the ways we can impact the economic, environmental and social justice areas of our lives.
ECONOMIC JUSTICE – Economic justice requires a new way of measuring economies, not on the GNP (Gross National Product) but on Quality of Life measures that touch all lives. We need policies mandating corporations, wherever they are incorporated, to pay their share of taxes. We need a society that values and rewards its key workers, the teachers, nurses, nursing aids, cleaners, grocery store workers, garbage collectors, bus and taxi drivers—rather than celebrities and corporate executives. These are huge changes that need to be made by wise leaders, who do not have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. So what can we do?
If we have any investments, IRAs, CDs, mutual funds, stocks and shares, retirement funds—it is our right and our responsibility to find out where they are invested. Then we can ask the deeper questions, Do I want to support this company? Does it treat employees fairly, pay a living wage, provide health care and benefits? Is it creating products that support quality of life, using sustainable materials, eliminating waste and pollution? Are their executives paid high salaries and large bonuses for the success actually created by all of the team? Are suppliers and immigrant workers fairly treated, or do companies take advantage of lower health, safety and environmental standards in developing countries? It is amazing what one voice, asking the right questions can make happen. Children have stood up to McDonald’s executives.
I listened to the first woman stockbroker in the UK, at an Economics Conference in 1987, and have never forgotten her admonition—if people would pay attention to where their money is invested we could change the world. Responsible investment funds are one alternative, and we can demand that companies and organizations promote economic justice, not add daily to injustice by desire for profits at any cost. Prince Charles addressed the World Economic Forum this spring, with a challenge to the 3,000 world leaders to save the planet by investment in sustainable products that can help us to deal with climate change. He has formed an investment group to design and develop new products for consumers, offering choices that will not harm the earth.
If we find information about unethical and/or unsustainable company practices, we can write to company executives or boards of directors, post on their webpage, comment on their Facebook page and tell others. We can do the same for companies that are acting responsibly.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE – As we know, all issues are interrelated and the fight for environmental justice is facing off with economic systems. Companies and political movements have tried to suppress sustainable development, rather than look at climate change warnings as an opportunity to support renewable energy, create closed loop manufacturing processes, and redevelop a regenerative agricultural economy.
For example, we can retrain employees in rural mining communities and in industrial centers to produce and install solar panels and to build and install wind turbines. We can support small farm operations, reopen dairy farms and cheese-making factories and encourage medical facilities and schools to become demonstration sites for the growing of healthy, wholesome food, free of chemicals and additives. We can clean up waste, stop useless packaging, and reduce transportation of goods. As Winona LaDuke is quoted in a recent Women’s Press, “Why does shrimp caught in Scotland go to China to be deveined before being shipped to the US?”
The abuse of the environment, our industrial food system, and the transport of products across the globe are relatively recent developments, dependent on consumer demand. Marketing experts have convinced us that it doesn't matter where our food and products come from, what they contain, how much it cost the environment to produce them, and whether anyone is exploited in the process.
A Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University gave a talk in London last year on the things we must do to transform the economic system. She spoke about the need to know the history of every product we consume, and said young people will lead the way. They choose a product, check it out on their technology and read its entire history, including any exploitation of workers. I challenge all of us to increase our consumer awareness. If we stop buying meat produced in factory farms, we stop the cutting of forests. If we buy local food grown with no chemicals, we support our farmers. If we refuse to buy processed food with additives and chemicals, production shifts. If we no longer accept glyphosate in our oatmeal, our children’s cereal and our daily bread, spraying at the time of harvesting ends. If we refuse to buy from corporations that will not adhere to environmental standards, the companies have to change.
We are consumers every day, primarily making decisions about food and drugs, consuming the chemicals in our food production. The Guardian newspaper in England recently had an article about the opposition to the trade deal the US is proposing to the UK. The main arguments are around the 72 pesticides used in US foods that are banned in the UK. The US is also insisting that labels warning consumers of the dangers be banned. Yet, we consume those pesticides every day, have an unhealthy population and have the most costly health system in the world. We can demand change by making different choices. We can learn about the schools and hospitals on the forefront of innovation, growing healthy food and teaching the skills necessary for food production and preparation. Indigenous communities, city neighborhoods demanding food choices, and locally based cooperatives are leading the way in supporting the regeneration of our soil and the sustainable production of our food.
Neighborhoods are taking a lead in promoting tree canopies, rooftop gardens, ground cover, indigenous plants and food growth, instead of holding on to a need for groomed lawns requiring fertilizer, weed killers, water and constant mowing. We all need to join in these efforts to create healthier areas for ourselves, our families and wildlife.
SOCIAL JUSTICE - I chose social justice to cover last, because so much injustice is based on the economy, the way policies and laws are framed to favor those with wealth and power, at the expense of people and the environment. Social justice requires living wage jobs, affordable housing, equal educational opportunities, healthy food options, and a fair criminal justice system. We should be calling for the closing of private for-profit prisons and not use the prison system for nonviolent offenses. Restitution and restorative justice offer a cheaper, more effective way to deal with a large number of crimes.
We need a health care system for all, but that requires a change in the system, with help for consumers and health care providers to understand the importance of “food as medicine.” There must be a cost structure for food that subsidizes the production and sale of healthy food and drinks, rather than unhealthy ones.
All of us need to look at our own contribution to the rampant racial injustice across our country. More of us than ever before are reading books and articles, watching films and discussing the issue of racism. What can we do with the information? We can share our learning and experience with as many of our fellow citizens as possible, acknowledge our abuse of white privilege and stand in solidarity with our people who have suffered, not only in the past but in the present. It is time to challenge our friends and family who ask, “Why can’t they get over it?”
Making changes requires a New Normal, not business as usual. Change demands a new vision, creative thinking and implementation. We can share the ideas we have and let them flow across the planet and become a reality. We can turn from hopelessness to action.