Monday, September 13, 2010


Last weekend I was in Boston for the Fair Trade Futures conference, but before I go into that heavy canvas bag I just wanted to go off on a tangent a little bit about my favorite city: Chicago.

I moved here four years ago to attend Loyola because I had originally fallen head over feet in love with it when I came to visit my uncle in middle school when he was based in Chicago as a flight attendant. He is also partly to blame for my burning desire to travel the world.

So I was strolling through a Barnes & Noble (to take advantage of their free wifi of course!) and was met face-to-face with a National Geographic small headline that read "CHICAGO the greening of a city." Naturally, I flipped to the main article. The author wrote beautifully about this city and did the typical touristy things: visit a meaty restaurant, take the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower, and admired the architecture.

It's nice, yeah?

But I also love this city for so many other reasons, let's see
  • a car is unnecessary, a bus, a train, and even a bike can you get around to where you need to go
  • free, free, free! lots of free activities, music, and shows that are available to the public that you would otherwise have to pay a couple of bucks for if you were in NYC or my hometown- Miami
  • Coffeehouses. Locally owned cafes that have different personalities and provide the alone time without necessarily being along, these places are actually packed sometimes folks
  • cultura...the sad but real neat advantage that comes along with a greatly segregated city: from the middle eastern streets in Rogers Park, to the heavily populated Mexican neighborhood in Pilsen, the lovely "little Vietnam" off the Argyle red line, or the splendidly affordable Chinatown
  • the availability of Vegan/Vegetarian food!
  • and finally who can forget the Seasons (winter is my favorite...those days of spiced hot cocoa, snow boots, and spending time with lovers all warm the soul)

There are over 75 official neighborhoods, but I still get that feeling like we're all in it together when I'm on the el and I know there are a plethora of people who know that using the escalator means you stand on the right and pass on the left; or when I'm online perusing through yelp reviews and learn there are still several Chicagoans who loathe Starbucks.
And yep, we're picky about our coffee, we want it served to us with a pretty decent attitude from the barista in a timely manner, a cozy environment, and some tasteful decorations on the wall.

Let's rewind to FTF Conference in Boston.

The squeeze and I attended it this past weekend and there is LOTS going on in the fair trade movement. It's definitely not nearly as "happy" as I expected it would be. As it turned out, without too much of a surprise most of the people attending the conference (approximately 780), at least 85% were White. There were few Hispanic and even less African American. If there truly were 5 continents being represented, where were they??
I could talk a bit about how frustrating that was, but glad to hear that others felt the same way. There were a lot of conversations taking place in the three different tracks: beginner, advanced, and expert. I flirted between advanced and expert having already decided I am unable to sit through Fair Trade 101. It's difficult for me to criticize before having already said a couple of positive things about the conference, so here we go:
-Great job in bringing together lots of people (diversity is another issue)
-Good space that accommodated everyone
-It was a pretty good networking opportunity to meet people from all over the US and hear a little bit about student organizing...I was shocked how much students are getting done and how quickly it's all happening

Now, having attended several conferences and helping to organize a couple as well, I acknowledge it's not a piece of pie. Lots of stuff can and does go wrong:
-People are excluded (producers felt this way and had to have a separate conversation about this during the conference)
-This was a comment made by a cool Canadian that I've clicked with: that throughout the whole conference not once was race mentioned or discussed. Crucial.
-Length. One hour to an hour and a half is absolutely not long enough for four people to share information in as well as host a Q&A. There wasn't a single time I walked out of a workshop and everyone was able to ask their questions or the speakers able to finish
-Transportation. Which really wasn't their fault, MBTA (Boston's metro) was rerouted and included a shuttle and extra long commute during the conference.
-Cost. Even though I didn't pay for registration since I got it covered by a scholarship, $125 is a lot of money for many people to pay
-Language & inclusiveness. If you are organizing a conference and know that there are going to be producers from all over the world, but especially from Latin American countries, you are probably going to be needing more than 2 or 3 translators. No, you definitely will need more than three because they can not attend all of the workshops at the same time which limits which workshops producers can attend.

This is one of the things that I felt the Social Forum did particularly well. No one felt excluded at all....not because of language, not because of income, ability, age, or anything. Granted, both gatherings do have different purposes and outcomes but there is much that can be learned from the USSF in Detroit.

Aside from that, I picked up on other touchy subjects in the fair trade movement which I can also talk about for a while but basically boils down to the way in which fair trade certification is handled. It happens to be very different from organic certification which is government regulated, FT certification can happen through different organizations which aren't really accountable to anyone. This is also turning rather rapidly into a movement that is consumer driven, contrary to the social/political movement it once was...which is a good or bad thing depending on who you might ask.

These past couple of days following FTF Conference have been interesting for me...there's this mental battle going on and I almost need someone to scream at the top of their lungs for me to wake up. I wonder too much about tomorrow and the day after and worry that things won't work out. That maybe, just maybe, I'll have a shit job that is in no way relevant to anything I am passionate about only because money is tight and we all need a job to pay the bills, to pay the rent, to buy some food, and repeat.

"What did you graduate with"
"What type of job are you looking for"
"What kind of work do you wanna do"

just stop.

But there is also so much to look forward to, there's so much going on in the city. It's mind blowing.

And then there is also family that is missed in other parts of the country. Which is strange because I have never felt so connected as I do now with loved ones. But I suppose no matter how far away you travel (although it's especially when you do travel that you feel most connected with the world and all of its chaos). It's just that going back home is where you find the most peace and harmony. Chicago is just my own attempt to recreate that, slowly but surely there's a slight chance of success.