A “late” wake up and self made waffles in the lobby of the Best Western in Denver kicked off our 10th day of Etgar 36. As Billy says, “this is a journey,” and today, we embarked on a leg of our trip most crucial to our personal evolution as American and global citizens.
After waffles and banana muffins we boarded the bus and headed to Ten Thousand Villages. Between Clayton and Columbine on 3rd street resides a nail salon and small cafe, but amidst the unexpected mix of businesses in this quaint section of Denver, was a store that represented much more tjan painted nails holding a porcelein coffee cup.
Ten Thousand Villages is a company didcated to the fair treatment of artisans in developing countiews. As stated in their brochure, “Every item purchased at Ten Thousand Villages helps provide vital, fair income to artisans and their families. Artisans are better able to improve their homes, educate themselves and their children, amd put food on the table — and to live healthier lives of dignity. Artsans’ work also improves the economic vitality of their communities. Multiply this by tens of thousands of villages and you can understand the global impact of Ten Thousand Villages.” The group proceeded to a grassy patched at the enterance of a local school where a part time employee at Ten Thousand Villages educated us on the economic outcomes and resulting scial implications of free trade versus fair trade. USing ten chairs, we participated in a demonstration to bring the concept to life. Each chair represtned 10% of the global wealth and each person represented 10% of the population. It was not long before it being glaringly apparent that the economy as it stands is not one of equality, nor one of fairness. As one girl representing North America soon possessed 4 of the 10 chairs, and a boy representing Europe gained control of another 3 of 10 chairs, the remaining global population was forced to cram onto 3 chairs. Unfortunately, many of them had to stand, while North America and Europe had chair space to prop up their legs and recline. Through this representation of our global economy, I came to see that while North Americans and Europeans are reclining, developing countries are evicted from their seats and forced to support their weight with brittle, resourceless legs. This is the difference between fair and free trade. If Americans were to realize that we are truly voting with our dollars, the middle man will be eliminated and artisans of developing countries will receive what they deserve. That is the difference between sitting and standing; that is is the difference between free and fair trade.
With shopping bags full of crafty, fairly traded products in hand, we entered the doors of Whole Foods. After eating fried PB and J and shakes daily in the south, the salad bar was a nice change. i saw my friends noticing fair trade product indicators, and we were proud of our newfound awareness, as well as our voting decision. Once again, we boarded the bus, although this time we were on our way to the Colorado Capitol Building.
At the Colorado Capitol Building we met with Representative Beth McCain. McCain co-sponsored many pro-gun control bills this past year, and took the time to meet with our group. For us, this was one of the frist times we were meeting with a political figure that, for the most part, Etgar participants agreed with. if there’s any state who knows the harm of guns in our society, it’s Colorado. From the Columbine High School shooting in 1909, to the Aurora movie theater shooting just about a year ago, Colorado understands first hand how gun violence has taken over American life. As a western state, Colorado is no exception to the “wild west” lifestyle which intrinsically means that gun ownership is a valued part of the state’s culture. Colorado also happens to have the 5th highest number of gun-related suicides in the country. Representative McCain moderately and rationally has tried to address these issues through bills that expand background checks, ban assault weapons, and work more effectively to determine the mental health of purchasers. McCain explained to us the many loopholes embedded in the industry such as the absence of background checks at gun shows and in private sales. This issues has been attended to by the universal background check requirement, but it was clear McCain and those who share her beliefs such as myself, are constantly met with resistance when trying to further gun control legislation. The fundamental question that must be answered in order to make any progress in the gun control laws is: why is it that America has the highest number of gun related deaths a year out of all the countries in the world? McCain answered with an array of factors beginning with Americans’ obsession with independence and self-protection stemming from our fight to separate from the British, and ending with violence in the media. While she began to answer this revolutionary question of the role of violence in American society. We still cannot be sure why roughly 11,500 Americans die each year as a result of guns. With this, we left Beth McCain and processed the tragedies of gun violence and their future locally and globally.
Our next stop created much angst in anticipation of the meeting as well as in our reaction. For 7 years, Jim Pfaff has met with Etgar 36 to share his conservative, anti-gay marriage beliefs and efforts. In addition, he was to share with us that he did not believe in global warming and the negative effectes of greenhouse gases that are widely accepted by Americans and scientists. the entirety of our group is pro-gay marriage so naturally, our eyebrows curled and eyes rolled when hearing Pfaff say, “I believe marriage in our public policy should be between one man and one woman.” The most frustrating part of Pfaff’s undoubtedly well-supported argument was his belief that homosexuality is a choice. He said, “I don’t believe sexuality is a choice, I believe homosexuality is a choice.” He was able to make this statement on the basis of heterosexuality being “natural” and “normal,” thus for homosexuality to be adopted, the individual must choose the “unnatural” path. This belief, while repugnant, was consistent morally and argumentatively. As I mentioned, we all agreed that while his beliefs made our blood boil, he was an incredible speaker. It is his profession to spin, and he most certainly and frustratingly manipulated our questions to geniously serve his argument. His argument that homosexual activity is a sin is derived from his pious outlook on life. When questioned about the validity of his beliefs in light of America’s clear separation of church and state, he questioned the questioner and asked, “Do you think stealing is okay?” Of course, the participant answered no and was unable to source these beliefs beyond societal collective morality. Yet again, Pfaff frustratingly impressed me by quoting the ten commandments, “Thou shall not steal.” Our constitution is occasionally guided by religious morality, but I am not convinced. Pfaff, along with 50% of Americans cannot see gay marriage being legalized on a national level in our future, but Etgar 36 knows what’s up in our generation.
I chose Etgar 36 because I refuse to be complacent. There’s a lot to be changed in this place, and as I’ve found, there’s even more to be learned. As my peers and I develop our American identities, I have began to feel intimidated by the amount of change I feel needs to be instituted. With each speaker, Billy reminds us that there’s no use in trying to change their minds because they are already set in their beliefs, and we’d be wasting our emotions. If this is true, if Americans’ minds are made up, then what am I doing? How can 16 year old Ellory Wolin attempt to be powerful enough to defeat the Jim Pfaff’s of the world? The weird thing is I can. I am not sure how, but I can, and my peers can. I chose Etgar 36 because I refuse to be complacent, and I’ll continue to refuse until I can read a history textbook I am proud of.