Confessions of a Former Eco-Flack: Part 2

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200px-Cache_Haneke.jpgThis continues a discussion about my adventures in Eco-Flackdom.

The green/ethical consumer movement is very promising. It shows just how many people want to make a difference with their purchasing power. However, as long as making a difference stays in the domains of consumer trends and personal ambition, well-meaning impulses can easily be co-opted by polluting industries or those with an anti-science agenda.

 It's not that the green businesses or consumers shouldn't be doing their thing, it's that they need to constantly think critically about the information they get, and make sure that they remain citizens first and consumers second. The last 30+ years of environmental history have shown us that it's easy for those who make a career or hobby out of environmental advocacy to lose site of people with less access to educational opportunity or resources to make their communities clean and safe. 

For me, the shift from Environmental Consumer to Citizen resulted from a combination of the TreeHugger breaching, crazy domestic spying/terrorism, and watching a Movie called Cache. I saw that if we failed to take care of each other by protecting one another's rights, our environmental concerns might prove meaningless.
Though I was motivated to blog for TreeHugger out of idealism, my own personal ambitions came into play as well. I wanted to build a career that I felt good about, and writing for a popular site provides great opportunities for exposure, access, and making connections. I took the initiative to get press passes, travel on my own dime to events, and oversee a design competition. When I began to become critical of the overt greenwashing I encountered, and the paltry compensation, one of the TH moles tried to convince me that blogging was for status and I should just let my concerns go and enjoy the exposure. Even though I was effectively blacklisted after the breach, I knew I made the right decision by speaking up for fair compensation.

As the harassment/terror campaign escalated in the summer of '07, I was no longer this eco-style blogger traveling all the time and connecting to a large audience, and I had seen that green consumerism was not a sufficient route. I was forced to really question who I was on a fundamental level, and what sort of change I believed in. 

I had plunged into the green lifestyle world after having finally accepted that I loved food, design, and travel,  and for the most part, I just tabled my concerns over the "elitist" aspect of all of this pursuit of beauty and adventure. I knew that the consumer language I spoke was exclusive, that all of these pleasures were the province of those with the leisure time and resources to enjoy them. I had accepted that the world, and each one of us, is full of contradictions, and I would inevitably perpetuate injustice in my daily interactions. 

I was white, educated, and relatively economically privileged, but life had not been easy for me. Like everyone, I had my own struggles, emotional pains, and discomforts. I didn't want to feel guilty for all that I had. I think my attitude was a common, defensive one: yes, historical injustices had occurred, and a lot of unfairness had led to my being who I was. But what could I do about it? I had remained frozen for a few years, believing that I had to pursue my own happiness, and not knowing what to do with the exclusive or racist effects of my lifestyle or livelihood.

Suddenly living a daily nightmare, just after the TreeHugger incident, made me finally understand what it's like to lose a sense of protected citizenship. Though I had read about all of the last administration's civil liberties violations, and knew that we were living in a world where civil rights violations are a daily reality for many, I didn't get it on a visceral level. I was just beginning to understand what it was like for people to not want to serve you, or to help you at a store. For people to think it's fun or cute to rip you off. I knew what it was to not feel safe from your neighbors. All of this was starting to make me understand how I had actually been very lucky -- how my daily life had been relatively easy. How hard it must be to try to ensure that your community is clean and safe when dealing with all of the assaults of racism.

Then I saw Michael Hanake's film, Cache, and watched the director commentary.

The plot centers around a left-wing intellectual television host and his wife, a publisher of books about globalization. They live a lovely Parisian existence with their son. One day, they find themselves the vicitim of a stalker who leaves hours-long video tapes of their home on their doorstep along with disturbing, child-like drawings.

The protagonist, George, is finally led to a possible source of the tapes, an man named Majid who lived with George's family for a short time during his childhood. Majid's family were Algerian immigrants who were among those killed during the Paris Massacre of 1961, when scores (or perhaps hundreds) of unarmed Algerians were killed by police during a peaceful protest against the Algerian war. Their bodies floated down the beautiful Seine.

George's parents wished to adopt Majid, but little George liked his life the way it was, with all of his parents' affections centered on him, not having to share. I can't remember what he blamed on Majid -- I think the killing of a chicken. The result was that he was sent to an orphanage.

George learns that as a result of his childhood actions, Majid's life was very difficult. All would likely have turned out much differently for him if he had been given the opportunities that would have come with sharing George's family.

George's adult response to Majid's anger and sadness is very cold. He has the attitude, "So what can I do? I was a child." He doesn't feel as though he should have to take any sort of responsibility for the way Majid's life turned out.

As Hanake pointed out in his commentary, George's response made sense as a child. How many children naturally want to share their toys or their parents' time? But the adult response of this politically-preoccupied intellectual, who is of course horrified by the atrocious legacy of the massacre, is also child-like. He's unable to get beyond the fact that he was not responsible for Majid's fate. He's unable to ask, "What can I do now?"  for either Majid or his son. (I haven't given everything away -- it's worth renting.) 

This provided an "ah-ha!" jolting. I had been like George, suspended in defensiveness. It's (somewhat) easy to intellectualize, but hard to ask what each of us will give up for the sake of fairness and justice. Instead of measuring success by wealth accumulation, it seems like we should be measured by the numbers we bring along with us as we climb. It will mean a little less, but grown-ups share. And I have found, as many aspects of my former nomadic identity have been relinquished to circumstance, that true and profound joy comes from trust, love, food, shelter and imagination. All else is just a giant blessing.

As I confronted the mistakenly lauded industry/anti-science propoganda tool Break Through in the months after watching Cache, it was easy to see the authors manipulating white and privileged guilt precisely so that their cosmopolitan, tech-savvy audience would feel absolved from pursuing true social and environmental justice. See more here:
Shellenberger and Nordhaus as Rove.Web.pdf

I am not responsible for the genocide of Native Americans, or the legacy of slavery, just as French individuals are not responsible for their colonial past. But I can ask organizations and individuals what can I do for those who don't have the advantages that my grandfather provided me by building a cattle empire, and my mother by ensuring that education was always a priority. I can find out how to use my knowledge and time to help strive for the very American ideal that those disadvantaged by history or circumstance have the same levels of opportunity that we all do. I can take the time to understand some of the origins of the fear that propels people toward acts of terrorism.

As a citizen, I now see, my freedom to be the type of consumer I want to be rests on my protected citizenship. I now understand that in exchange for living in a democracy/republic, I have an obligation to exercise my rights to help ensure all of our freedoms. This also means using my time to help clean up the messes that we have allowed to happen on our watch.

Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to again enjoy travel's dichotomies. Now I'm just grateful that this "virtual" journey from Montana to Paris helped to put the terror my family has endured in context and to find a better way of being.


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Six Hours A Week Is:

A coping strategy, advocacy outlet, and form of protection. My life has been nearly destroyed by the unconstitutional practices of politically/socially-motivated private intelligence contractors and the corruption and cronyism that allow them. Apparently because I speak out in ways that prioritize the little guy and human and environmental health above gargantuan profit margins, and believe that facts are as important as PR spin, I was someone who had to be completely discredited. In 2007, after a few months of a surreal and relentless invasion of privacy and dignity, I started to spend six hours each week researching, communicating about, and advocating legal and ethical responses to assaults on our shared democratic and republican ideals. For most of that time I was writing from the perspective of someone whose life was manipulated into a constant state of terror and emergency. In 2010, many of the array of entrapment attempts seem to have failed and it seems no longer possible to get away with such excessive, obvious harassment and overt interference. As we take more practical steps to address what has been allowed to happen to my family, we do expect to see some more harassment and intimidation. But I should be able to chronicle it from a more measured perspective, rather than that of someone in constant fear. Part of me would like to go back and delete earlier posts, because even I find them hard to relate to in some ways. But this blog has been one of our only forms of protection as everyone in any official capacity ignored the truth and tried to spin and frame us into the troublemakers and perpetrators of one form or another. So I leave it up as a form of protection, a record of what has occurred, and (with luck) the account of our way back to credibility and some form of legitimate justice. All content on this site is property of Kyeann Sayer. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyeann published on February 15, 2009 4:30 PM.

Tolerating Religious Diversity vs. Endorsing Terrorism was the previous entry in this blog.

Seeing Beyond the Dark Side is the next entry in this blog.

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