I’m not too shy to say “Christmas,” though even my annual token obeisance at a church thousands of miles from my home has gone unobserved for years now. I don’t need to have a “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign on my lawn either. If I must give gifts they must reflect humanist principles. I do need to see my family and emphasize something often forgotten in the shove-flooding savagery of this grasping holiday: Slavery.
“People hoisting themselves out of poverty with hard work” is boilerplate globalization-speak in defense of outsourcing. But expropriated peasants and dissidents, for their part, are not choosing to leave “poverty”—or freedom. Al-Jazeera recently produced a program about China’s laogai (government labor camps), part of their ongoing series on slavery.
This has never been a popular news topic in the States. A little digging yields yellow(ed) coverage like this 1999 CNN chestnut:
Red Giant!…A fundamental policy of the Laogai states that ‘forced labor is a means toward the goal of thought reform’…Organ harvesting!…We cannot condemn the evil actions of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag while we ignore the continuing brutality of the Laogai.
Then in 2002 China entered the World Trade Organization, whereupon even this shrill searchlighting disappeared from our shores. Al-Jazeera takes a more serious tone, but still includes indictments like “state-sponsored slavery” and compares the face of slavery past (woodcuts of African-Americans chained at the neck) to the face of slavery today (Homer Simpson slippers made in a laogai). It’s a well-done piece rich with facts; I took an envelope-back of notes while sitting on my Chinese-made couch (don’t ask). Among the gems:
In 2010 U.S. imported $250B worth of goods from China…3-5,000,000 people are in laogai at any time (www.laogaimuseum.org)…laojiao means “reeducation through labor”…Chinese saying: “Laogai is dark and laojiao is bitter”…”Abigail” was charged with worshiping in an unlicensed Christian church (“disturbing order and security of society”) and made Christmas lights during her sentence in the laogai…The EU lacks even the token protections of the U.S., importing $355B USD yearly from China, without a single law or regulation covering laogai products.
“WHAT IS TO BE DONE?” one asks, but maybe not in caps. I can only offer what I did by way of suggestion. This year I’ve found refurnishing my wardrobe very liberating, as I did so entirely with vintage, surplus and U.S.-made items, often military or workwear. (No one can tell the difference anymore since designers have been jacking designs from utility clothing for decades.) I bought a grip of stuff from Etsy where other makers like myself are, and some Made in USA items, and for the first time in memory feel proud of my holiday shopping. None of it supports the slavery of which I am the sworn enemy’s scion.
If you live in a food desert, where all your subsistence shopping must take place at a Wal-Mart, you’ll have to use the Internet, which I did for all of this shopping because I live in BoxStoreTon, a stripmalled suburb of New York City. These are a few of the items I and a like-minded friend found with an hour’s effort, and we’re proud to say we didn’t go Doorbusters or pepper-spray anyone to get them.
- A hummingbird feeder designed, tooled & molded in the U.S. The unusual design (54 ports simulate real flowers!) may survive the brutal Arizona sun and make my mum smile.
- A snakewood and gold-plated letter opener to replace the clunky, tatty one used by her father-in-law. The wood is from Surinam, but this is Our America anyway.
- A nuno felted scarf for her mother-in-law, who will doubtless appreciate the drape and textures of this silk gauze fused with wool felt.
- A wall-pocket fused glass vase that a girl I’m interested in will love, because she loves essential oils and this is the perfect way to decorate a wall while diffusing rosemary fragrance throughout a small room.
- A glass-tile photo-applique pendant of Chicago’s skyline which will remind same girl of Chicago, the only other place in America she knows well, and which she often misses. It looks even better in real life.
- An daunting oatmeal cowl scarf with handmade zebrawood buttons (which had better be made by the same women in Brooklyn…). Its versatility is part of its charm.
- You might also consider a hammock from Twin Oaks, an intentional community of 100 people in rural Virginia who have been exemplifying horizontal democracy since 1967…Nowadays, there’s a waiting list to join.