Saturday, June 24, 2017

PSA: Conscious Consumer

We're powerless. 

That's the sentiment I gather from everyday, ordinary people every time I tune in. Whether it's in person at the restaurant or on TV news from street interviews. The People feel desperate. Costs keep rising, nobody's helping us out. We're eager for a champion. We're eager for a name to this force that pushes us down just when we thought we were back up. Powerlessness is part of why we elected a very... divisive man into our highest office. It's ironic because the feeling of powerlessness is so embedded in our generation that we've learned to look past it or just accept it and move on. Still, there's some value to that feeling.

I keep hearing "politicians only do what pays for them." and people aren't technically wrong. There's a whole lot of self-interested elected representatives out there. It's been a historic theme since the Greeks (kind of) invented democracy. But you know what they didn't invent? Modern day capitalism. The forces that drive so much of our world (political, social, economic) derive their power from financial value. Everyone I talk to these days acknowledges it. Food has a money value. Gas has a money value. Trust has a money value. Art has a money value. We never realized abstractions have value until we found out how much they're worth. That's what marketing and advertising is for.

You know what's not being a "conscious citizen"? Sharing information that is only partially or exclusively false. Sharing sentiments online. Yes, you can debate policy and procedure until you've proven your point but isn't that kind of the problem? We, as citizens, need to take concrete action.

To be a conscious citizen I always advocate that you vote. It is your privilege (but also kind of your duty) to vote. Express your opinion in a way that matters. Another way I advocate being a conscious citizen is by marching. I have a friend who attended the March for Science. My older sister attended the March for Women. Those are perfect examples of people going out and speaking their mind with a loud, verbal outcry. A third method (and one I advocate consistently) is: watch your money. 

Look, I know it sounds a little dumb but being a conscious consumer is critical to influencing your world around you. Allow me to give you an example:

I try to only watch movies at The Alamo Drafthouse. For those unaware the Drafthouse is a cinema eatery that started in Austin, TX. They screen older movies every month. They host sing-alongs, quote-alongs, and themed movie parties. They feature local Texas beers and a wide menu of quality food. Recently the Drafthouse in Austin offered a screening of Wonder Woman for women only. Which received a collective outcry from little Men's online ego's all over. And you know what I loved most about all of this? Not only was the Drafthouse unapologetic, not only did the screening sell out (prompting a second, sold out screening), but the Alamo Drafthouse facebook page took the time to comment on several vitriolic posts. Here's my favorite movie chain, supporting a feminist cause, screening a feminist movie, and gloating over it. Using online men's trolling form against them. It's a bit drastic, but I can't help enjoy the pure schadenfreude of it all. I wanna give them my dollar, my dime, my penny. Whatever I can. To ensure they stay in business as long as possible.

Our world revolves around consumption. Whether it's beer, brussel sprouts, or HBO we 'consume' and thus add to the value of certain industries. Wonder Woman is my favorite example of this. Not enough women in Hollywood? Is there a surprising gap in female-led movies compared to male-led movies? Can female-centric action thrive? Take one look at the crushing, economic blow WW dealt to those ideas and you'll quickly understand that female led movies are AWESOME! By spending our dollars on a single movie we've guaranteed more Wonder Woman movies as well as any extra flicks they can get.

Being a conscious consumer involves understanding where our products come from. How does our chicken supplier raise their chickens? Where exactly do those eggs come from? I shop at Aldi's not only because it has ridiculously cheap prices, but also because it supports local Texas farmers and growers. I like their message and I try to support them by shopping their exclusively. Think about your gas. Where does it come from? How do they extract it? I can tell you it isn't easy or painless.

We aren't powerless. In fact we carry more power than we can imagine in our pockets. Our dollar goes so much further than we think. Imagine if we all stopped buying gas from Shell or Texaco or Mobil until they promised to follow strict safety guidelines. Our gas prices would go up, but they would abide by these practices until that changed. 

Here's a better example: think about McDonald's. 

They were the premiere fast food company for decades. They salted their fries better than Burger King, Wendy's, or any other burger joint. But what happened when Supersize Me came out? It started a national debate about health topics. McDonald's sales went down and they were forced to adapt. Think about it: there wasn't a salad on McDonald's menus until everybody realized how horrific fast food is to your body.

Do some research.
Find some favorites.
Compromise where you need to.

If you're anything like me you probably can't fully afford the best, cleanest versions of everything out there. I understand you have to buy gas and you may not have a choice. But if we all took a little extra time to understand what we're buying when we buy it, we'd realize we're buying not just a product but endorsing the system of production, distribution, and consumption. We vote with our dollars as much as our actual votes.

We carry responsibility for being consumers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Picking Back Up

I'm back. As in settled. As in home, happy, and filled with purpose. I admit: the journey took much longer than I thought I would. In fact, sometimes I look around me and conceive of a different time and place where I still exist. I often feel like I'll wake up from some elaborate day dream I'm having. My eyes will snap to and there I'll be: on the cliff-side in Lima, feet dangerously close to the edge, peering past the ocean towards the skyline. What have I been doing? You might have heard some of it, but nowhere near enough to tell the full story.

Let's see, I came home at the end of August. I was home three short weeks. Long enough to move into a new house, greet all my old friends, tell everyone how much I missed them, and play some frisbee. Then I left for Ghost Ranch to debrief about my experience as a YAV. Through copious worksheets I came to understand my experience was only the tip of the iceberg. Hiking through box canyons surrounded by my fellow YAVs talking about what we felt we learned to cope just a little bit more. During the debriefing I experienced my very own prejudices and realized just how deeply my own privilege ran. I felt extremely defeated. How do you complain about privilege when that is, in and of itself, a privilege? I'm glad my YAV friends were there. They helped pick me up, and I returned home with a new outlook on life.

Then, after twelve hours back in Dallas I hit the road again. I served as a translator for Pastor Luis Miguel Fernando. He's a Colombian pastor for the Presbyterian church in Bogota. He helped broker a peace deal between the guerilla army (the FARC) and the government. We toured Phoenix, AZ as well as Knoxville, TN and finishing in Wausau, WI. It was a fantastic job! I learned so much about the country I returned to. I learned about the armed conflict in Colombia. I made a new life-long friend in the Pastor. It was a fantastic way to taste the Presbyterian church outside of Texas. While I generally enjoyed myself the work of translating proved exhausting and by the end of the trip I missed my home.

Following the adventures around the US I settled back home. That's when the real existential crisis set in. I now had to find employment. I had to purchase a car. I moved into this new house with several roommates and no plan on paying rent or utilities or groceries. Well, I found work as a server at The Rustic. It's this country bar and grill. I've been serving there for four months now. After I found employment I managed to get a car loan to purchase a car. I did that for several months and attempted to normalize my life.

It's only just now, after being home for seven months can I say I feel remotely at home. Things are different for me. I'm not a college student like my roommates so we run on different schedules. I prioritize my career over many things. I can't quite seem to get a date. More importantly my outlook has equalized a bit. Allow me to explain.

In YAV we talk about privilege. How deep it runs. How we can utilize it to our advantage. How the work we do isn't impactful on anyone other than ourselves. We explain the value of the experience. After a year of learning the true boundaries of my privilege (and a painful reminder one time at Ghost Ranch) I see all the privileges everyone me exploits on a day-to-day basis. I found myself retracting from friends who have no idea the damage they're doing. I could feel the microagressions. I could see all the little things happening around me that demonstrated a power dynamic. What could I say? It was an oddly helpless feeling. Instead I felt myself sinking into the old traps of life-before-YAV. Especially after working in a restaurant. A LOT of filters I had thoughtfully created were slowly removed while I worked there. So now I'm a bit lost.

This time, I'm okay with being lost. I just worked my first professional film set. I actually kinda knew what I was doing. I'm a generally functioning adult. I've got aspirations and plans. I find ways to feel fulfilled. I still haven't exactly scored the date I was looking for, but there's still time.

Don't expect much from this blog anymore. I intend to write, but I don't intend to edit. It's just- I still have stories to tell. Often they relate back to my YAV year. Sometimes they don't. Read on, if you like. The adventures get much more exciting and equally mundane from here on out.