After sleeping in until 8:30, we ate breakfast, and then we hopped on the bus to downtown Denver for a meeting with Rebecca Yount, the Outreach and Publicity coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages of Denver. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit gift shop that carries fair trade goods from artisans in more than 30 countries. We met at a local park, where Rebecca quickly passed out sheets of paper bearing different properties of trade. We were asked to attribute each property to free trade or fair trade, learning in the process that free trade maximizes profits and results in utilizing the cheapest labor possible. Conversely, we learned that fair trade practices provide adequate wages, conditions, and benefits for works despite generating less profit. Next, Rebecca demonstrated how many steps there are from production to sale of a free trade good, as compared to the number of steps for a fair trade good. For fair trade products, six levels of middlemen were cut from the free trade process. We concluded with a metaphorical soccer scrimmage, pitting us against each other in two teams: the Global North and the Global South. The “south” faced a myriad disadvantages, including a smaller goal, forfeiting a goalkeeper, and a steady stream of unfair penalty calls. The north consistently held possession, leading to a 4-0 rout. As a member of the “south” squad, I half-jokingly exclaimed “Free Trade stinks!” which summed up the point of the exercise. Lastly, Rebecca brought us to the store for us to look around and shop. I was impressed with the selection, but each time I looked at a price tag, my eyes popped! I see the adoption of fair trade and similar practices as an inevitable civic movement; however, after seeing how many middlemen are cut out of the process, I would expect prices to be more competitive. Right now, the majority of the shop’s business relies on goodwill: there are two full-time staffers and forty volunteers, while customers pay the prices with an understanding that they are improving the lives of struggling artisans and taking a stand against exploitation. However, goodwill alone cannot make buying free trade goods commonplace. Prices need to be more competitive to help make the argument that fair trade presents a greater value to the consumer than free trade. For the rest of the summer, I will hold on to Rebecca’s philosophy on money: I vote with every dollar I spend.
Following the meeting, we ate lunch at Whole Foods. My friends were excited to get sushi, pizza, and sandwiches, but I opted for turkey chili instead. On a gentlemen’s wager, I finished the largest bowl, which was around the size of my head. This was enjoyable down time amidst a full day of big meetings.
After lunch, we traveled to a nearby park, where we met with Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was murdered in the Columbine massacre. He was joined by Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora movie theatre shootings, and together they discussed their stories and stances on the issue of gun control. Before the meeting, I would hear news about gun violence, and I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I might frown or think: “wow, this is terrible!” However, when we listening to Tom Mauser talking about going to sleep with his wife on the day of the massacre without knowing Daniel’s whereabouts, as well as Tom Sullivan describing searching nine local hospitals for Alex the morning after the shooting, I was overcome with grief. I feel as though I understand what they were saying: These acts could happen to anyone. That concept ties gun control into the realm of connectivity, a central theme of the Etgar 36 experience. Our decisions (or indecisions) impact more people than we can imagine. As Tom Mauser pointed out, lax gun laws in the South result in illegal firearms smuggling into New York City, Washington D.C., and Chicago, by way of the I-95 pipeline. The most impressive aspect of Mauser’s and Sullivan’s stories were how they each stood tall and spoke about, honored, and defended their sons and the other victims of these tragedies immediately after they occurred. After hearing their stories and having my heartstrings pulled, I will never look at gun violence the same way. Speaking with both Toms opened me up to a pool of emotion that unfortunately exists across the country, but is important for each American to feel.
With heavy hearts, we left the park and boarded the bus for a trip over to Colorado Springs, one of the most conservative areas of the state. We ventured out there to meet with Jim Pfaff, a former radio show host, Focus on the Family activist, and current Chief of Staff for Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). He provided us with a view into the arguments against gay marriage and the existence of man-made climate change. Although the majority of the group held views which opposed Pfaff’s, he informed us that he wholly endorses Etgar 36, vigorous debate, and using the vote to maximize one’s voice. Pfaff alleged that global warming scientists have “played with the numbers” to serve a “political agenda,” but I was frustrated that he did not include statistics to support this point. From this meeting, we learned the importance of hearing all sides of a debate as well as how to engage the opposition or fight for your beliefs, even when they do not align with popular opinion. Pfaff stressed the importance of creating the best public policy through debate and reference to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
We wrapped up the day in the picturesque Garden of the Gods – a perfect realization of American freedom – before dinner and a fun night of “competitive” bowling.