When I was 6 my parents sent me to school wearing a button that read, “Boycott Gallo”. Gallo Winery of course. I heard my mom and Dad say it had to do with workers in a field somewhere not getting enough food, water or money for doing backbreaking work. For those of you who weren’t born into political activism, I’ll fill you in. We attended many rallies as a family. Anti-war, pro-union, civil rights, animal rights, anti-nuclear power, just to name a few. My white middle class vegetarian family cared deeply about equality and justice. They taught me to sit down during the pledge of allegiance only to rise at the meaningful part “with liberty and justice for all”.
I rebelled for a time, eating meat, and staying off the streets as my family continued to march. Eventually I matured, married and had a family of my own. Over the years, I softened on my parent’s politics; even so, I used pregnancy and the early stages of motherhood as an excuse not to get involved. I appeased my guilt knowing that I was raising loving conscientious children who would eventually change the world; I couldn’t bother making signs and boycotting businesses. So I was happily ignoring my moral obligations when the wake up call to action came. My husband suggested we stop buying things made in China. Oh come on! Wasn’t this like sending our children to school with a button they didn’t understand pinned to their shirt? I know China has a questionable humanitarian record at best. But imagine telling your kids, eight and five that they can’t have hand held video games, plastic toys, sports equipment, tennis shoes, stuffed animals, dolls, anything that uses batteries. Wasn’t this too much to ask of our children? I spent several months resisting my husbands’ reasons for this new boycott. “I don’t want to save the world! I don’t want to know all this stuff! Just leave me alone!” I woke up one morning realizing that my rebellion was displaced. It was about things I’d never said to my parents.
He was right. The China boycott supported many of the criteria set up by my family of origin. They used child labor, poverty level wages, caused huge amounts of pollution, Good-bye most things fun! We didn’t expose our children to the horrors behind the boycott. We found safe, age-appropriate ways to explain, and they still ask for plastic toys, but talking about where things are made has been a valuable lesson for us all.
I can proudly report that our house is about 80% China free. My Mom says “ignorance is bliss”, and I wish I didn’t know where all the pretty things were made, but shit, I do, and I care. So if you see me in line at a non-union conglomerate, buying a bunch of plastic made in China, please show me to the door.
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