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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Waits

My ongoing relationships with ethical consumerism

This past week I finished Assata Shakur’s autobiography. If you don’t know who she is, she’s a Black woman who was once on the FBI’s most wanted list for the murder of a New Jersey police officer, an armed robbery, bank robbery and kidnapping. None of which was ever proven she did. She spent years being assaulted, sexually harassed, humiliated, and discriminated against by law officials. She was forced into exile after finding asylum in Cuba after being wrongfully charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison. Talk about a revolutionary. 

She breaks up the book into two perspectives - past and present. She talks about her life before she became a radical. How she perpetuated colorism, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy in her own life before deciding to join the Black Liberation Army. How she could see the oppressive state of the world all around her but she was too comfortable where she was in life to change it. She got all types of jobs, worked under the table, ran away from home, damn near had several different lives before she even became a revolutionary. Everyone around her told her leading a life of a revolutionary was stupid, misguided, and selfish. But as she grew older and saw the continuous deaths of Black folks and Third World persons all over the world [].She spoke of her brothers and sisters in Palestine, South Africa, Argentina, Cuba, and others. As she flipped back and forth between past and present I began to visualize all the many connections colonized people can make about their collective struggle for freedom. 

Having then learned about even more atrocities of the world and collaborating with other Black activists across the globe she became empowered to seek justice through any means necessary. She then spent the rest of her life moving forward to show her ASS to the American government. This was after the murders of key Black Panther members, several governmental agencies targeting these members' intimate relationships, and the rise of anti Black rhetoric in combatants of the Black power movement of the 60s and 70s. No one is free unless we are all free. 

What Assata was showing us is that we all have choices. And choosing to remain silent is definitely one of them. 

Every Choice Holds Weight

If you have an American education you may vaguely remember that chapter of World History where they describe communism, democracy, capitalism, and consumerism. When them people burned up in that warehouse fire!!??? In like 1912 or some shit? And they used to let five year olds clock in to work? Yeah baby - that’s us. Capitalism is a facet of colonization that involves the economic/political system ‘in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.’ While Europe was busy colonizing every part of the world they could lie they said they went to, they were stealing and exploiting from native peoples for a monopoly on goods. Hoarding these resources gave them the ability to establish unfair tariffs, protocols, and shipping processes to any competitors. They weren’t losing out on any money - they were the only people in business. Direct descendants of these resource hogs and scammers continued to create monopolies and exploitative practices in order to hoard wealth. Goods, people, natural resources, and energy continued to be made for sale. The oil barons, automobile tycoons, and railroad dictators start very exclusionary policies and laws in order to keep those they don’t want all up in they pockets out of their boardrooms and offices. They add more businesses to their ever growing web of resource hogging entities and establish our modern system of economics. Generations of children in America are then fed propaganda about how these resource hogging entities model ‘the American Dream.’ How we can maybe one day become resource hogging assholes who made their fortune on slave labor and selling stolen goods back to the people you stole them from. Some of our parents worked hard to teach us how to critically consume media. Or maybe a radical teacher did. Maybe they covered a lot of stuff or maybe they didn’t waver at all. Maybe we had to hear from a friend or overhear in public. Maybe you pass a protest or see a post on social media. And then it clicks - it’s all propaganda and they got you too. 

Once Assata was radicalized (no matter how long it took) she never wavered from her values. She didn’t respond to her government name, joined the BLA, started hosting programming to help Black folks in America, she refused to succumb or answer law enforcement, she went on hunger strikes while in prison, fought guards, and eventually escaped her wrongful conviction. Her money, energy, and time went towards the liberation of her people. She dove in 100%. You start by doing what you can. And you keep that same energy. Whether she was in the street or in the basement of a New Jersey prison, Assata stood on business. This is what ethical consumerism can be used to do. Ethical consumerism is a practice of researching where, why, and what you buy. As an American you may like to shop small! You buy from people you know or see in your community. Instead of going to Walmart or Target you go to locally owned grocers. Maybe you grow your own food and also buy from major retail chains. In this case you are given many choices as to where, how, and what you spend your money on. Where do you choose to shop? Why?

Revolution takes blood and time 

The almost 8 decade long genocide of the Palestinian people has been the main topic of many revolutionaries since the illegal occupation began. To say that this is a new topic does a disservice to the millions of people over the years who were killed in the name of American nationalism. The genocide we are watching happen before our very eyes is happening simultaneously across the globe to billions of descendants of colonized peoples fighting thorough generations of trauma at the hands of resource hogging assholes. Congo; Tigray; Yemen; Flint, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Houston, TX. Our struggles are tied together. We must struggle and thrive - together. Speak up for all of them. Continue to do what you can. But lets get some world building.

So start within. In that wallet. And then in your community. Instead of boycotting these resource hogging assholes for months at a time what would it look like to find a semi-permanent solution to a community issue? My wife and I have been gardening for about 2 years now simply to cut down costs in our grocery bill. We buy thrifted clothes online and in-person and repurpose our pieces. We refurbish furniture and we compost. We do what we can. We refuse to support organizations, people, or communitites that deny a genocide  and illegal occupation in Palestine. We stopped buying disposable vapes and buying from certain brands as they contribute to slavery in Congo. We are working on making our own soap, furniture, and clothing. But that’s what we can do for now. As we gain more resources we won’t hog them. We will make fewer trips to Target and rely on nonrenewable energy resources less. 

But we won’t act obtuse to the fact that there are people who can not exercise the right to choose where they spend their money. Some people ain’t got no money to begin with. And they are allowed to think I’m not doing enough. I remember blocking and muting so many ‘trophy talkers’ aka people who feel like they have the right to police what others are doing during the mask mandate debacle that started to reach more media visibility during 2020. Blaming individuals for the failure of elected officials; forgetting how misinformation and propaganda to marginalized communities creates barriers for spreading knowledge; and it’s just oppression olympics to police how other people process global atrocities. However, when folks are exposed to the correct information about social distancing, how the virus spreads, and how many people are dying from contracting it, I expect more folks to be better citizens. Wear a mask, test before large gatherings, warn people when you are sick. But disabled people can tell you best - folks who are disabled have significantly less rights to their own bodies than able bodied folks. Throw in that able bodied folks are taught to infantilize and fear disabled people and don’t typically fight for their interests. Millions continued to die due to the inaction of elected officials, medical racism and ableism continued, and social issues continued piling up. So the community started filling the gaps. Everyday people start online mutual aid funds; clinics making vaccines available to struggling communities; tenants and service workers unionizing against their overlords - we fought back. 

Everyone has a place in the movement. But the movement must start within. People often think protesting is the peak of revolution but it is yet one part. Members of the Black Liberation Army were often arrested for offering protection or resources to poor Black folks for free. They were going around their government to meet their own needs. There were artists who were arrested for graffiti, for painting public buildings, defacing property in the name of spreading a message. Entertainers and athletes refusing to perform without change. Boycotts. Community meetings or social event coordinators. Caretakers, cooks, educators, elders, aides, and musicians. All working together for justice. So you may think - am I doing enough for those around me? Ask them. What do the revolutionaries in jail who are willing to risk their livelihoods need from us? Assata needed lawyers willing to risk their careers to help advocate for her while she was in prison. (One of her lawyers was mysteriously murdered during one of her trials and he was a white man y’all.) She needed her mom back home to keep her daughter safe. The nurses who locked doors to pass her information. Friends, lovers, and community folk who can call her, cook for her family, get some mail, pay a bill. It’s our job to support those willing to risk their livelihoods for justice. Bail funds, grocery mutual aid, and free transportation were number one topics during the shutdown of public events during the COVID - 19 pandemic. Folks stuck in abusive households were speaking out at higher rates. And protests were everywhere. 

The revolution is happening. It’s been happening. It just won’t happen overnight. Generations of people are continuing to watch their tax dollars be used to go against their interests. (Every world war and funding to colonize other countries or influence the people…) We’ve seen it done year after year! And millions of people speak up, fight back, become radicalized, and get in community with each other. We must continue to make light, to speak up, to question where we put our energy and money. 

But we also won’t shy away from those who have been brainwashed by resource hogging ‘American Dream’ propaganda. Alas. We will share knowledge. We will build community. Or we won’t. And that’s ok. You probably aren’t radical enough to somebody. And you might be too radical for others. But it ain’t about you. So many people are sitting in American supported prisons (not just in America) for petty or non-existent crimes due to racial discrimination. People living in systems of violence and poverty created by their own governments to justify lying to their people. Conserve your energy for handling conflict that’s necessary. Don’t people please. Be direct. 

Being at the poverty line and ethical consumerism

It’s been wild becoming even more radicalized over the years and making less and less money. I feel more and more shame towards my purchases because I have no more money in my budget to be picky. As an organizer who pays all their talent and takes no money from said events I am constantly going broke trying to help my community. I take breaks in between but without a large enough following we are just community members helping other community members. And when everyone is on the verge of homelessness - keeping each other afloat becomes harder and fucking harder. I am finishing my PhD this Spring so I hope I’ll be able to secure some sort of higher pay. I can continue to help my community and redirect my money towards land ownership, learning trades, sharing wealth and resources with my community, and doing what I love. A girl can hope anyway. 

Assata never saw the America she was working hard to build. Glimpses of it. Other people being radicalized yeah. Maybe more visibility to the many subjects she advocates for. But that’s very common. Many Black American revolutionaries leave their home country as refugees. Other Black folks just get fucking fed up with America as a whole. Some of us are stuck here. Some of us die here.

I may never see the America I am building towards seeing but you ain’t EVER gonna catch me going down behind a resource hogging asshole who made their fortune on slave labor. AT MINIMUM! I won’t be working against freedom. Hell nah. It’s possible to just lead a life outside of hegemony and traditional conventions. You can make opportunities for others to do the same. You can fight for the justice of other people and lead a life to be proud of. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. We ain’t free until we all free. 

What are you doing to get free?

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