Act #33: Act locally, but think globally.
Earlier this week, I was at one of those retail chain party supply stores picking up a few balloons for a friend. As I was checking out, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate $1 to help end hunger. Considering last week's blog, "Go On a Diet": http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/01/go-on-diet.html, I of course happily said yes. As the cashier was getting my change together, I made small talk and nonchalantly asked, "Have you had much success with donations?" And this, my friends, is when I entered the Twilight Zone.
At first the cashier simply said yes and everything was perfectly normal. So I continued, "Does this money go to food banks?" Nice, casual conversation, or so I thought. I'm one of those people who gets all awkward around silence. I must learn to practice self-restraint. The cashier then suddenly bristled up, stopped what she was doing, and called for a manager. My eyes darted back and forth nervously between her and the male manager marching towards us. I just wanted to take my balloons and run. I didn't need a manager. I didn't really even need to know if that money was going to a food bank. I was just trying to be nice! When the manager finally arrived at the check-out counter, the cashier asked him, "Can you please tell this customer where the money goes?" She looked terrified, exasperated. The manager, with the most serious look on his face, then told me that the money was indeed going to food banks. I smiled and nodded, praying that this awkward and overly dramatic moment would soon end. I swear I'm never opening my mouth again. But he proceeded, "It'll go to food banks all over the country." Good for you. I can't get my change back in my purse fast enough. "Probably the east coast first, because they need it after Hurricane Sandy." Awesome. I smile and nod. "But also our local food banks like God's Pantry." Perfect. I'll be on my way now. I thank him and start to turn away, but he is in some sort of zone. He's focused and intent, his eyes locked firmly on mine, "You can be SURE that it is not leaving this country. It will be used to help Americans."
Well there you have it, folks. Finally, it made perfect sense. I had not entered the Twilight Zone after all. For reasons unbeknown to me, these people were under the impression that my line of questioning was to ensure that my little $1.00 donation wouldn't leave our great nation. That I (while clearly a descendant of immigrants myself), might have issues if "we" weren't helping "our own" first. I then had one of those moments where my entire life flashed before me in 5 seconds. I see the bright red, white, and blue sign at the local gas station in one of the towns I used to live in that read, "American-owned". I think of a former co-worker who always made snide remarks about my non-American Honda Accord. I hear the catchy tune of that one God-bless-America-type country song that hit the charts shortly after 9/11. Maybe I was in the Twilight Zone after all.
While I take every opportunity I can to support my local economy, and involve myself with local decision making and activism right here in my community, it never once crossed my mind that I'd rather see children in central Kentucky fed, rather than children in central Afghanistan. I've lived in communities that suffered from globalization, where local economies were destroyed when factories were shipped oversees. I get it. I know where folks are coming from when they say we can't help others until we learn to take care of our own. But I can't help but wonder if this sort of "us against the them" mentality has gone a little too far. I wonder if our ethnocentric outlook, and inability to see us as fitting into a larger global community might be contributing to our isolation from the rest of the world. That we are somehow bringing up a whole new generation to believe that we are more important, more valuable than someone simply because we are American. That children in America deserve access to food, access to life, more than children who live in other parts of the world.
I fumble trying to keep my balloons together, and as I start to walk out, I say, "You know, I'm really OK if the money helps people outside the U.S. too. We're all in this together, aren't we?" I smile gently and wish him a nice day. And I walk outside and stand there holding my balloons, basking in the bright warm sun for just a second. Thankful to live in such a vast and extraordinary land with limitless opportunity. Heartbroken and overcome with guilt to live in such a vast and extraordinary land with limitless opportunity.