by Malian Lahey
Internationally known author/entrepreneur/social justice advocate Judy Wicks will be the featured speaker Local Economies Festival, at Shark’s Café on Keawe St. on January 31. The festival which is designed to shine a light on our economic behavior and how we can use it to protect our communities from corporate exploitation, will feature other speakers as well as live music by the Equals and local products direct from their producers. The event lasts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with Wicks scheduled to speak for an hour starting at 1 p.m.
In her book, Good Morning Beautiful Business, Wicks describes how, in the early 80’s, she was running a restaurant and working to save an enchanting historic area of Philadelphia from being razed to the ground to build a mall.
That’s when she met an Episcopal priest named David Funkhouser who was on his way to Washington, D.C. with a group of Salvadoreans with the intention of protesting U.S. government support for government death squads who pushed indigenous people off of their farmland to make way for U.S. corporate development.
Her word for the connection she felt with the Salvadoreans is “solidarity.”
In 1987, when the Reagan administration was deep into the Iran-Contra scandal, Wicks was running her own restaurant, the White Dog Café, creating her own signature style of New American cuisine, and enjoying great success building a local food economy based on ethical farming and ethical treatment of animals. In this time of achieving her goals, she reconnected to a deeper dream of creating true peace and justice in the world.
She contacted Funkhouser again and asked him to help her start “sister restaurant” relationships with restaurants in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Wanting to witness the truth about what was going on as President Reagan inundated Americans with the message that the Sandinistas who resisted the Contras were dangerous communists, Wicks found that the sister restaurants, including one called Selva Negra, were privately owned and unmolested by Sandinistas.
Her sense of justice inflamed by the absolute misinformation being spread in the USA by the government and mainstream media, Wicks made the White Dog Café a hotbed of intellectual exchange on social justice issues by inviting luminaries like Amy Goodman, Frances Moore Lapp?, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Dan Imhoff to “Table Talks” with her customers.
A few years after that, she was invited to join the Social Venture Network by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s. All this gave her the courage to do what she did next.
In 1994, when the Clinton administration approved NAFTA, the Zapatista uprising began in Chiapas, Mexico. This is because NAFTA forced Mexico to repeal Article 27 of its constitution, which protected indigenous lands that US corporations wanted to exploit for their resources.
In 1995, the White Dog started a sister relationship with Casa del Pan in Chiapas. In November of 1997, Wicks accompanied Roy Bourgeois, the founder of School of Americas watch, to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the torture, rape and massacres being perpetrated by SOA alumnae throughout Central America.
Says Wicks, “I went to the School of the Americas to protest the human rights violations. I had good company and I met a lot of really god people in the stockade. It was something we had planned for months. There was a whole scenario where some groups carried the coffins and someone carried a single sign of someone who had been killed, and when their name was called, the person carrying their sign answered ‘Presente.’ It was one of the highlights of my life. The soldiers were nice. They came and arrested us. There were hundreds of us; it might have even been a thousand. They took us to a stockade they had built outside of Fort Benning. We were given a citation and told that we were not allowed to be on the property.”
However, the U.S. government still continued to supply weapons and training to forces oppressing indigenous Maya people, and in December 2007, Wicks received an urgent email from Kippy Nigh, owner of Casa Del Pan, begging Judy to help find a way to stop the US government from sending guns to the Mexican army before it was too late.
Unfortunately, it was already too late. Colorado coffee importer Kerry Appel made his third annual coffee buying trip to Acteal, in the state of Chiapas, only to find that the paramilitary group Mascara Roja had stolen all of the coffee stores and murdered forty-five Mayans from the coffee growing community inside of a chapel where they had gathered to pray for peace. This event later came to be known as the Acteal Massacre.
Wicks responded by organizing Businesses for Ethical Trade and Human Rights in Chiapas (BETHRIC). She recruited her coffee roaster and supplier Myron Simmons of New Harmony in Philadelphia, Rick Stewart, founder and CEO of Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Kerry Appel of Human Bean in Colorado, Dan Cox of Coffee Enterprises in Vermont, Rick Peyser of Green Mountain and Jason Rosenthal of Equal Exchange to organize a trip to Chiapas.
After a fact-finding tour where they witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by government brutality in these villages, Wicks and the other BETHRIC representatives held a press conference in Mexico City. “We have come here in defense of the indigenous people with whom we trade, but we also come here to protect an economic system we believe in. We share the indigenous respect for the natural environment and promote the use of organic farming methods critical to the health and well being of consumers and future generations. Like many indigenous communities, we believe in an international economy based on healthy local economies, buying from family farms and neighborhood businesses.”
1997 was also the year in which the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International was created, supported by the efforts of Appel. For commodities, the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International stipulates that traders must:
• Pay producers a price that covers the costs of sustainable production.
• Pay a premium that producers can invest in development.
• Make partial advance payments to prevent producers from falling into debt.
• Sign contracts that allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.
“I saw how the indigenous farmers were being driven off the land by policies and development and corporatism and that was a real turning point in my life, those were real turning points in my life and helped to shape my worldview,” Wicks says.
Seven months later, she returned to Chiapas with BETHRIC colleagues to establish a trade relationship with the Mut Vitz (Hill of Birds, in the Mayan language) Cooperative. Kerry Appel lined up buyers for an entire container of coffee from Mut Vitz, which eventually expanded into 15 containers over the years.
“Singing Dog worked with us to get their vanilla and fair trade cinnamon,” Wicks recalls. “Rick Stewart from Frontier Natural Coop provided technical assistance to the farmers about how to get organic certification and how to grow the coffee better.
Equal Echange provided assistance to them in organic certification.”
Wicks’ fair trade boutique in Philadelphia, the Black Cat, carried handicrafts and textiles among other products produced by indigenous communities in Chiapas.
Wicks writes in her Good Morning Beautiful Business, “With business as my vehicle, I had set out to bring some assistance to a beleaguered community with whom I felt a kinship in our mutual desire to build a just and sustainable world, and, working with like-minded partners, had succeeded…I began to envision an alternative to the corporate-based global economy – an economic system that was locally self-reliant in basic needs and interconnected globaly by an intricate network of small-scale business relationships that were win-win and supportive, rather than exploitative of the local communities where products originated. I saw a way out of the current form of globalization and the ruin it brought.”
Inspired by the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, and the sale of Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever, Wicks founded the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
“We need to learn from indigenous people that they have a better relationship to the natural environment,” she stated. “At BALLE conferences they make a point of acknowledging the indigenous people of that particular place where they’re meeting. They speak and say something about their place and add their blessing to this work that fosters a place based economy that is in harmony with nature”.
Wicks continues to be a force shaping the conversation around business, investment, and local economies today, with appearances at the Social Capital Markets Conference and Slow Money in 2014.
In her Good Morning Beautiful Business, she writes, “We’re out to create a global system of human-scale, interconnected, local living economies that provide basic needs to all the world’s people. Yes, we want them to function in harmony with local ecosystems and support just and democratic societies. But we also want the people in them to have joy in their lives. To put it simply, we believe in happiness.”
Happiness is a value that Wicks lives out every day. Asked about at her ability to bounce back from any obstacle that life threw her way, she replied, “It wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it’s just my personality. We’re given this great opportunity to be on this planet.
If you didn’t enjoy the party, it would be a great disappointment to the creator. There’s a way of looking at it that all of this great beauty is meant for us to enjoy, to love life.” .
The Local Economies Festival is sponsored by Ka`u Specialty LLC, Hilo Shark’s Coffee, Petrogylph Press, and Basically Books.
Malian Lahey is a farmer and coffee broker selling 100% Ka`u coffee to Starbucks and others. Her social impact enterprise, Ka`u Specialty, is dedicated to the triple bottom line of planet, people, and profit