Monday, December 18, 2006


This is a concept I've been kicking around for a while, this notion of "enough." I suppose I'm thinking, in particular, about activism, charity and goodness in general.

I started working on a long entry back in October, when the marketing campaigns for Breast Cancer Awareness kicked into overdrive. I saw a commerical for Macy's that really pissed me off. Someone, an actress I really respect, Susan Sarandon maybe, was talking about Breast Cancer Awareness and Shop for the Cure! and there was some promotion, something like "20% off! 10% of which goes to breast cancer research, so you can Shop for the Cure! and Save money, too! And THAT feels really good."

And I thought... what fresh bullshit is THAT?

First of all, if we can shop for the cure! And sip for the cure! And crunch for the cure! And drive for the cure! Why can't we get a damn cure? There's so much money spent in marketing Pink Ribbon products. Wouldn't it be great if Ford could the funds it puts toward mixing a special blend of limited edition pink car paint toward, I don't know, developing a car that releases less carcinogenic pollution? And Revlon? I know you proudly describe yourselves as all about giving (their words, not mine) and boy howdy, y'all love your pink ribbons, but could you maybe STOP MAKING MAKEUP WITH CHEMICALS THAT CAUSE CANCER ? 'Cause THAT would be awesome.

Before I go on too long with this rant, I will tell you that more information on this topic can be found here and here and here.

My point is, reapplying your Revlon lipstick after washing down a bag of Sunchips with Republic of Tea's Pink Lemonade Green Tea as you drive your pink Ford to Macy's for the 20% off sale does not an activist make. It. Is. Not. Enough. to eat your "dating a massage therapist while shoe shopping for Zen-wrapped in Karma dipped in chocolate GOOD" yogurt (Don't even get me starting on the stereotyping evils of THAT ad campaign) and mail in your cute little pink lid for the $0.10 donation. Dude. Just take the $0.39 you'd spend on the stamp and give it to Susan J. Komen your own self.

I'm focusing on breast cancer activism in this entry, because I already did the research back in October, but the sentiment could apply to any form of charitable giving or activism. I'm asking the question: What is "enough?"

Is it enough to pray for what you'd like to see happen in the world? If you vote, recycle, adopt your pets from a rescue organization and toss your envelope in the offering plate once a week, is that enough? What if you compost all the vegan peelings from your pesticide-free vegetables, ride a bicycle everywhere and only drive a hybrid car for emergencies? (We all still produce ozone-destroying methane when we die, by the way.)

I always kind of grew up thinking that if I'd been alive during such-and-such a time, I would have been "one of the good guys." Like, if I had been alive before the Civil War, I hope I would have assisted a stop on the Underground Railroad. If I'd been in Nazi-occupied Europe, I like to think I would have been like Miep Geis , helping hide Anne Frank and her family. If I lived in Rwanda? I tell myself I would have done whatever I could, like Paul Rusesabagina (The hotel manager who provided shelter for over a thousand Tutsis refugees when the Hutu militia was exacting genocide in Rwanda.)

Historical events and eras seem to naturally align themselves in nice, organized chunks after the fact, such as the Antebellum South and the Holocaust. I wonder, though, would we have enough perspective to know if we were living in a Historically Significant Chunk right in the thick of it?

Aren't we living through a Historical Chunk right now? There are atrocities happening in our own time, injustices all around us. We are in a time of world crisis, today. Right now. Am I a freedom fighter in Darfur right now? Nope. Am I on a hunger strike in solidarity with the innocents (surely there are more than one or two) imprisoned in Guantonimo? Hardly. I personally don't think that I do "enough," actually, but that's a personal goal and perhaps a New Year's resolution.

I'm finally, finally getting around to finishing this post in part because I've recently come face to face with the legacy of Someone Who Absolutely Did Enough. Go google "Welles Crowther," please. I'll wait. No, seriously. It will save time. Look up the "man in the red bandanna" while you're at it.

We're on the honor system here, but just in case you didn't google him... Welles was 24 when he died, a BC graduate in my sister's undergraduate class. He always carried a red bandanna with him, by habit. He worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He used his training as a volunteer firefighter to save a lot of lives on 9/11. He covered his face with his red bandanna as he went into the inferno of the 78th floor several times, helping badly burned individuals to safety.

He could have made it to safety. He could have helped save one person, and it would have been "enough." He could have run for his life, saving only himself, and gone on to live a productive, happy life, and THAT would have been enough. He made it all the way to the lobby of the South Tower. His remains were found with several FDNY firefighters and EMT workers in what was a suspected command post when the towers fell.

Last week, the FDNY made him an honorary firefighter. They almost never, ever do that. The gesture is even more meaningful because his parents found a partially completed application to join New York's bravest in his apartment. We've done a lot of stories about this man in the last five years. I've only been privileged enough to work on the most recent two, the story announcing this posthumous honor and the one covering the ceremony. You can see the slideshow here.

He did enough, more than enough. I spent an hour bonding with his mom, who gave me a red bandanna, which I will carry in my camera bag always. He saved lives, and last week, I sat on the floor of his old bedroom and played with his dog.

What, out of all of your charitable giving, activism or volunteerism, is the most satisfying and meaningful to you? How do you define "enough?"


shannon said...

I'm sure you know, but for me, it is the work I do with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It is the months of training and fundraising, and the 60 miles over 3 days I have now walked twice. It is the blisters and the sore muscles and the sunburn -- and even the infection afterward that sends me to the ER. It is activism on a small scale, because I'm not raising millions of dollars, but it's activism that gets the attention of a large group of people.
It is also the Race for the Cure teams I organize every year and fundraise for, independently of the 3-Day. It is the stories I write about survivors and those newly diagnosed with breast cancer, that are published in my paper of employment and reach a large readership.
Again, all on a small scale, but I can't help but feel that activism on a small scale can be felt in a larger context, too.
What is it not? Buying yogurt with pink tops or makeup that has pink ribbons on it or a Ford scarf or car. Or shopping at Macy's. Man, that stuff pisses me off, too.
My other favorite form of activism? Teaching Gaby and all the kids around her about social equality, and being good, decent human beings. Not politics, just teaching them to be good people. They can pick their own politics later. (except Gaby, who is a Democrat)

Alissa said...

Hey there...Yeah, I don't know. I agree with the last part of Shannon's comment. I raised a smallish amount of money and walked in the Relay for Life last year, and I don't shop at Walmart or Starbucks and for 6 years I brought home all of the cans and bottles from my office because they didn't recycle there, etc, etc, etc. But the things that feel the best to me are the *really* little things, like putting my Human Rights Campaign sticker on the wall outside my office, because people ask me what it is and I can tell them. Or going to the Rochester Gay Men's Chorus holiday concert last week, and then explaining to T's mother that OF COURSE I went there and supported that and OF COURSE I paid money to get in, AND I would do it again. Or even having my favorite aunt and uncle stop talking to me because I explained to them that their conservative forwarded-email "jokes" were not funny, but in fact offensive, and WHY.

I don't know. Those things won't stop global attrocities, but they do feel like small things that can have a big impact. It feels like, by doing my part to spread messages of goodness and acceptance and caring, etc, that it helps increase the net of people who think/feel that way, and that THAT can possibly have an impact on the bigger picture.

Judy said...

To quote Mother Theresa when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, and I paraphrase: "I don't do great things. I do small things with great love."

becky said...

word, ladies. don't know how you feel about direct links on your blog, but here's a great resource about the consumerism of breast cancer research:

great post, amiga.

gwen said...

I definitely see your point here, and I agree that this pink-ribbon mania has gone too far... but I disagree re: the yogurt tops and certain other corporate actions. It's not "enough" to ONLY mail back yogurt tops and declare yourself you're now a real! live! activist! or something, but I think it does more good than harm. Maybe not the yogurt tops themselves, but the buying power behind them and the message it sends to companies.

It's true that we'd be better off just writing a big fat check to the Komen Foundation, but your money is an incentive that companies understand deep in their greedy capitalist pocketbooks. You were going to buy yogurt anyway, whether or not you send that check; might as well buy yogurt from a "responsible corporate citizen" and make it worthwhile for them to keep putting their resources somewhere you support.

The companies then have a responsibility to turn around and actually DO something with the money, not spend more of it on marketing pink-ribbon mania to the American public. But if individual consumers make it worthwhile for big business to do something -- even a little tiny not-enough thing -- isn't it better than nothing at all?

gwen said...

One more thing: I'm under no illusion that the pink-ribbon companies aren't deliberately manipulating their customers... I just spent a while reading that site Becky posted, and yes, not all of them are legit.

But to continue with the yogurt lid example... OK, you'd have to eat a lot of yogurt to amass a meaningful amount of money. And OK, many cows (that produce milk for all dairy products? nothing specific on that page about Yoplait) are given scary growth hormones. The point is: You're still spending money on yogurt. You might as well buy it from a company that at least recognizes it should do something good with your cash.