April 20, 2009

Thoughts on 4:20. Your drugs are not "fair trade."

Each year, many progressives are drawn into a holiday that somehow manages to be both underground and mainstream. April 20, 420, or 4:20, is a day that is celebrated with extensive use of marijuana, and sometimes other drugs.

I'm not trying to be a killjoy or to ruin anyone's fun this year. I'm not going to tell you "this is what your brain will look like on marijuana" or that it's the world's most dangerous drug. But on this particularly drug-centered day, I am going to ask that you that you look at your drug purchases with the same level of scrutiny you would give to a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, or a pair of shoes. If you care about the lives of the people who are involved in producing and delivering the goods yo use, you should think extra carefully about drugs.

Here are six reasons the drugs you are buying would probably never be certified as "fair trade."

  1. Poor people and people of color are the ones doing time for your drug use. It's not that middle class people, suburban people, or students don't do a lot of drugs. They do plenty. I don't even need to cite statistics on the first point - you know that this is true. Drug arrests and sentences are much more frequent for people in poor communities and communities of color. There are a number of reasons for this, some having to do with the over-policing of these communities, others having to do with who has more access to private spaces. Don't just think about your dealer, but about his/her dealer and his/her dealer. Most drugs go through a lot of people who reach you. And in that chain is likely to be a large number of poor folks who are making very minimal profit and who are risking a jail sentence to get you your product. More info here, here, and here.
  2. A single drug conviction can prevent a person from receiving TANF ("welfare") or food stamps for a lifetime. This can be a conviction for possession, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, etc. So anyone caught in your chain of production and distribution who gets caught can be at an even higher risk for remaining poor. Even a person who is released following a rape, murder, attempted murder, or robbery sentence can access TANF as a safety net. Read more here.
  3. People with drug convictions have difficulty finding housing and jobs. So that person who risks arrest somewhere in the chain of drug buying can be homeless, unemployed, and unable to receive cash benefits.
  4. Immigration law allows deportation of some people convicted of drug crimes. An undocumented person may end up deported even if found "not guilty."
  5. There are no minimum wages or work conditions for drug dealers. Street-level drug dealers, who are usually those at the bottom of the pyramid, are often subject to physical and emotional abuse, threats, and incredibly low pay. Oftentimes, people cannot leave once they begin working for a drug dealer, for threat of injury to themselves or to their families.
  6. Young people are in danger all over the world because of U.S. and other "rich" countries' drug markets. Large global gangs start recruiting and threatening people young, all over the world, trying to force them to join the gangs. The U.S. public is slowly becoming more aware of the problem as a result of recent incidents near the Mexican border, but the problem is not new. Read a couple of articles on the topic here and here.
Spend your money where your values lie. Boycott the drug market until it is fair, regulated, and taxed. If you need another way to spend your money until then, consider donating to the Sentencing Project or the Marijuana Policy Project.

April 06, 2009

"Big boned," "stripper," "soft belly." Seriously?

The Washington Post recently published an article called, "An Advocate for the Shimmy," about Rachael Galoob Ortega, a former attorney who now works as a belly-dance instructor. This is an interesting premise for an story, but I found the actual article to be somewhat problematic. The reporter, Christina Ianzito, really focuses a lot on Rachel's body and appearance, and the appearance of the women in her classes, instead of her activities and accomplishments. Here are some excerpts:

Tall and big-boned, she has a soft belly that is bared and shaking along with her hips

"Wow, look at that one!" exclaims a heavyset woman with short brown hair

She injects into her instructions warm laughter and self-deprecating comments about her own "muffin top" bulging over her waistband. This substance, however, is never, ever to be called "fat" in her presence.

Saphira knew she'd never be a ballerina: "I was a big girl. It was always, always very clear to me I would never excel in it, and that I didn't have the body type to be accepted in it."

"Rachael was never the best dancer or the best-looking or any of that kind of nonsense that people think about when they think about a dance performance," remembers friend and fellow performer Susan Turner Ravin.
[Some "friend"]

She found that she had a natural talent for it, and, physically, belly dance fit her perfectly.

When Saphira runs her hands through her long dark hair while gyrating at Casablanca, she isn't too far from looking like a beautifully costumed stripper.

The thing is, if you watch the video, Rachel is not overweight. She is not a "big girl." She's not "fat." She has an extremely normal and healthy body type - and frankly, one that's not worthy of the amount of time and attention that Ianzito spends on it.

Did you find the article a little strange too?

April 02, 2009

1 in 10 Americans on Food Stamps

What's going on when taxpayers have bought companies that are paying their top employees millions and one in ten Americans are on food stamps.

I understand that the economy is in the toilet, but the country is bringing in enough money that everyone should at least be have enough income to eat.

I've been reading up on a few interesting ways local companies have tried to avoid layoffs like this one and this one. It seems like lots of employees have sharing spirits during this economy. Do you think the sharing will spread and help redistribute wealth and work more fairly?

Seeing the 1 in 10 number is a shock to me, not just because it is so high, but because it is a real wack on the head for me to realize that my friends are either not representative of the population, or are not comfortable being honest about what's going on with them. How do you think the fact that people are divided into different social groups in part based on income/class ties into all this? I imagine that if someone in my circle of friends lost a job they would be more likely to know someone who knows of a job opening (and doesn't have ten million other unemployed friends who she/he also wants to recommend for the job). To me, this makes the social aspects of class that are often ignored in favor of focusing on the economic aspects all the more obvious. And maybe exascerbates the problems that social class causes?

I <3 Bisexuals

Looks like the Bisexual Resource Center (a Boston based group) is reinvigorating. This looks like a great time to get involved.

Here's the info that a reader sent me:

Bisexual Resource Center Volunteer Night
Eat, Talk and Get Involved
Wednesday, April 8th
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Boston Living Center, 29 Stanhope St, 2nd floor
Right by the Back Bay stop on the Orange Line

The Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) is looking forward to another incredible year and we need your help! The BRC raises awareness about and creates community around bisexuality. With our 25th anniversary coming up in 2010, we have lots of exciting preparations in the works.

If you'd like to see what the BRC is all about and how you can get involved, please come to our Volunteer Night. We'll have snacks, postcards to sign asking our representatives for LGBT rights, and announcements on available volunteer opportunities, including:
- making signs for Pride
- blogging about the bi community
- assisting with mailings
- tabling at related events
- helping distribute the latest edition of "Getting Bi"

We invite everyone -- bi folks, lesbian/gay/straight allies, and people with no label at all -- to check out our Volunteer Night and get involved!

RSVP to let us know you'll be dropping by.

Come on bi!
Besides having a chance to meet some other great bi-friendly people, and share some refreshments, you'll also have an opportunity to win a bi-fab door prize!

Who wouldn't want to volunteer for the bi resource center? Especially if it involves food. And hopefully meeting new people, too.

Amazing Comic

You gotta love XKCD.