-Amy Crosswhite, PJC Fair Trade Store & Program Manager

The 1999 song Testify by Rage Against the Machine is about the US media’s misrepresentation of world events. Frontman, Zach de la Roca, very pointedly calls out the US government’s pursuit of oil in middle eastern countries at the expense of human lives.

“Mass graves for the pump and the price is set”

News anchors dehumanize and water down violence toward black and brown bodies as they fan the flames of patriotism. It’s all too familiar. This “family-friendly” media has subdued and placated Americans, dressing up unnecessary wars and police brutality as something to be proud of. 

Each line of this song is potent and a scathing review of the US government’s military and foreign affairs. However, it is very easy to miss a key element of this conversation which is touched on in the intro to this music video. You may think I’m referring to George W. Bush stating “I support the death penalty”, but there is something else that snags my attention: the clip of Al Gore speaking on global trade, promising “free and fair trade” to the American people. Fair to whom? What’s free in trade? 

When politicians use the words “free trade” and “fair trade” interchangeably, or in this case, in the same sentence, a wave of emotion engulfs my body. The impulse to clench my fists and shake them at my TV screen overtakes me. “Why?” you ask. Because these are two very, very different things…  

Free Trade Agreements involved two or more countries. They aim to reduce trade barriers and increase protectionism to strengthen the collective economies. It sounds good on paper, but not in practice. 

Hundreds of corporate lobbyists write trade deals that are negotiated with governments and turned into Free Trade Agreements. Take development inequality (fewer regulations for workers’ rights and the environment) and add multinational monopoly, and you’ve got an equation for human rights abuses and climate change. 

So, that wave of emotion I mentioned starts with anger and grief. Anger because of the way that US politicians and media paint Free Trade Agreements as incredible opportunities for Americans, while they fail to include the atrocities created in tandem. Grief. Increased global economic power for corporate conglomerates and the increase of sweatshops, modern slavery, and environmental degradation. This is not fair nor fair trade. 

The Fair Trade Movement is an incredible force of nonviolent activism. It is an economic model based on a transparent and traceable supply chain with a focus on sustainability for small producers and the environment. It is a response to exploitative global trade systems that mobilizes people to change corporate behavior and influence trade policies. This movement tears back the layers of false marketing to reveal where our products come from and who made them. Mood: inspiration… motivation.

Zach got it right.

“We found your weakness and it’s right outside your door, now testify”

This is his coy way of poking at the government’s greatest weakness and demanding accountability. Right outside my door is my community. He’s talking about the power to mobilize and create a revolution. You say “it’s high time we create an economic revolution”? My friend, you are the revolution. Vote, educate, change corporate behavior, consume ethically, and demand accountability.