on “raising awareness” (plus: outfits)

A woman called me today and said the following things:

  • She has recently moved from Brooklyn to New Paltz and “is just a mom concerned about GMOs.”
  • She had heard I was a person interested in food issues in the Hudson Valley, and was asking if I could help her get support for a rally she was organizing to protest lack of GMO labeling.
  • The rally will be in New Paltz, at Peace Park, at Ludwig‘s memorial service. (Ludwig was a lovely and charismatic local citizen who recently passed away. This woman admitted not to having known him.)

I am afraid I could have been more polite toward her. I tried very hard to be polite, but I was tired and cranky and I don’t get what on earth this rally could ever possibly do to ameliorate the very real and very terrifying prospect of a future (i.e., the present) filled with millions of unlabeled genetically modified foods clogging our supermarkets.

This is an issue dear to my heart, being, as I am, someone who eats food, and I don’t have time for solutions which aren’t solutions. It’s a crisis, and we have to be smart.

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She asked if I knew of any local food justice organizations. I said that I’m pretty sure there is still a SUNY New Paltz chapter of Food not Bombs—a group she had not heard of.

I tried to politely ask her what the purpose of the event was—what was the goal of the rally?

She talked to me about suicides of Indian farmers, about how the apple farmers in town didn’t seem concerned about the issue though they undoubtedly bought seed from Monsanto (smart people, answer me this: are there really farmers Johnny Appleseeding it up around here? It seems to me that all the apple farmers are…farming extant apple trees? But I asked her if she knew about the two local organic apple farmers, and shared my sadness over the fact that so many local apples are soaked in pesticides.), about the horrifying prospect of our own government ceding any regulation of this dangerous technology to the very people who seek to benefit financially from it—and I had to cut her off.

photo 1 copy

Whenever I take an outfit photo myself I look like a human. Whenever Jacob takes it for me I do a scary sexyface. Read into that what you will. (Can you tell my lipstick matches my necklace which matches my headscarf? It’s really important that you notice that.)

“Truly, I understand and agree with you. I’m just unclear what actual purpose will be served by having a rally in a small town. What governmental agencies will see your signs and decide that tighter controls on GMO foods need to be taken? I know the Village Mayor is firmly against GMOs, and while I have no idea what the Town Supervisor thinks about the issue, neither of them have the power to make substantive policy about the issue.* I could see going to the school board, because feeding children GMOs in public schools is disgusting, but…I’m just unclear about what a rally will do.”

“Well, it’s to raise awareness about the issue. For people who might be buying GMOs at the supermarket and don’t know.”

“Why not a protest at the supermarket, then?”

“Well, this is just to raise awareness.”

We parted politely at this point.

I can’t stop thinking about the encounter.

This woman seems perfectly lovely, and I know for sure her heart is in the right place, but I have a few questions:

  • Does it seem to be a uniquely American flaw to blame the consumer for purchasing ethically unsavory items, instead of lobbying the government to regulate/ban/label them? It does to me, but I’m not all that worldly. 
  • Really, at Ludwig’s MEMORIAL SERVICE?
  • PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME ABOUT RALLIES. I seriously seriously seriously do not get rallies. I stopped going to them 20 years ago because I hated feeling like I was doing less than nothing. You hold up a sign, hope “a seed is planted,” you go home having done your mitzvah for the day. Goodie for you. I can see a demo at the circus, with photos showing how circus animals are treated. I can see protesting an event where a prominent right winger is speaking. I can see a march on Washington, showing millions of feminists demanding abortion rights in front of the legislative body that grants rights. I get sit-ins and civil disobedience and putting your bodies on the gears, the wheels and the levers of the machine. I do not get holding up signs saying that GMOs are bad in a village of 6,000 people in a tiny park during a memorial service for a man everyone in town loved. This, this I do not get.

Can you give me a thoughtful and reasoned explanation of why the phrase “raising awareness” is not inherently useless? I guess that’s what I’m asking. What on earth does “awareness,” on a practical level….DO? Maybe if you’re Rachel Maddow or Amy Goodman or something, then yeah, raise away. Raise high the roofbeam, Rachels and Amys of the world! But maybe, if you don’t have a national platform, maybe then actually work for actual change, instead of working to wake up the masses?

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God, I hate the masses. I really am a goddamn elitist, it’s true. The masses are never, and will never be, “aware.” Yes, if everyone knew about the dangers of GMOs or fracking or whatnot, they would maybe be more likely to join the fight against these horrors. But probably not, let’s admit it. Fighting is exhausting, and there’s always something else more fun to do. If you live in this horrifyingly privileged, whiteass town and you don’t already know about the awfulness of GMOs you’re pretty damn blind, and you’re almost definitely not going to be at the crustpunk 4:20 festival that is going to be lovely Ludwig’s memorial.

Pinning your hopes for changing the planet on waking up the slumbering masses seems to me massively idiotic. Better to keep your head down and plunge ahead with your own goals, be they banning GMOs through legislation and/or boycotts, or running for president, or just raising your kids thoughtfully.

I don’t know.

I understand the world less every day.

I hope I was polite enough to this woman on the phone.

In the end, isn’t that what matters most? How we treat people, regardless of what we think of their ideas? (Also, she’s totes my ideal customer.) That’s my thing: how can I put aside my own shit (=what I think of your beliefs) long enough to interact with another human being in a kind and compassionate way.

I’m tryin’.

Not hard enough to go to a rally or anything. But I’m still trying.

Goodnight, rabble-rousers of the universe.

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Nothing makes an uptight, organization-obsessed business owner happier than a Craigslist-found filing cabinet.
More! Files! More! Files!

*Thinking about it now, I suppose they do: banning GMOs from government buildings, or something. But still, the way to go about getting legislation like that enacted would be to go to a Town or Village board meeting and speak during the public comment period.

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7 Responses to “on “raising awareness” (plus: outfits)”

  1. Randal Putnam

    All the looks are lovely, but the coveralls… the best! Are you making reference to the “Yes We Can” poster or simply loving on coveralls? Either way, good work.

  2. ann

    I feel that way about “walks”. Especially when the “walk” is run by the same huge cosmetic company that is supplying the environment (and your lipstick!) with the chemicals that are more likely than not a big part of WHY everyone is getting the disease. These types of public actions are in my mind the shiny object that people can now focus on all the while ignoring the actual problem.

    I think your suggestion that this woman – who defines herself as a mom- get involved in what the schools are serving her kids for lunch – is brilliant. Changing that would go much farther toward fighting GMOs then waving a sign in a park. Even better would be if she chained her children to Monsanto’s front gate. That would be a public action I could stand behind…..

    • lagusta

      ahhhhhh WALKS! YES!

      Chaining children to Monsanto’s front gate is pretty much the best idea I’ve ever heard of all time.

  3. ruth quinn

    I WISH we could change what we feed kids for school. We are so crippled by the federal school lunch program that the only way to do this is to go off-line from them – and that will have serious financial repercussions, especially for free and reduced lunch. The school lunch thing… don’t get me started… it is a nightmare. However, we are trying – we have a great committee, I am working on a grant with KT on Farm to Table, and who knows, maybe we can go offline from the feds – that would be my dream. No more unlabeled bulk food!

    I hear you about rallies. I am not a fan of them myself. I recently learned that an under-attended rally can actually backfire on a cause. Sigh. Personally, what I am thinking of most of the time… and what I am mostly frustrated by – is that there is a general awareness level without action – it is not apathy, it is a sense of powerlessness. I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

    In terms of outfits – my favorite is the coveralls.

  4. lagusta

    You’re a gem, Ruth! Thanks for the perspective and the thoughts, Ms. School Board Member!

    Yeah, those coveralls, AM I RIGHT??


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