Just before I left San Francisco I had lunch with three women I had not previously met. Two of us had been on a writers’ panel together at the library, one an author, the other the panel host; the third was a friend of the author.
We were well into delicious salads and, in my case, pumpkin ravioli in sage and burned butter, when the friend of the author began to speak in glowing terms about the plastic band around her wrist. It was a dull, somewhat pretty blue, imprinted with the word PEACE. The panel host, a kind woman with a nice word to say about everything, chimed in with how much she loved her plastic bands.
‘They’re so pretty,’ she said.
Without thinking I said ‘I always wondered who bought that stuff!’
They stared at me. Uh-oh.
These are gorgeous, committed women whose Facebook profiles are littered with beautiful spiritual writings and messages; one of them devotes her life to saving the environment in Ecuador.
And to my horror they buy those crap plastic coloured bands you find on street stalls all over the world, blips of plastic – with no purpose but to serve a whim – that find their way from street drains into the oceans and the choking guts of turtles and other sea creatures. And that’s without a thought for the impact of the factory that produces them on its local environment.
The woman with the blue plastic PEACE also has strings of woven bands on her wrist. She tells us how the women of Ecuador weave them to raise funds.
The bands are woven from a plastic fibre. I ask her where the fibre comes from.
She rounds on me. She tells me how committed she is to her cause. She tells me how important these small weavings are to the women she helps.
‘It probably comes from China,’ I say. ‘It might be worth thinking about the impact on one environment to save another.’
‘I don’t care where it comes from,’ she shrieked.
And as I sat in the furnace of her rage about me and my negativity I was thrown back to my early political days in Adelaide, the early 80s, when I sat in circles of women who were committed to today’s champagne causes: the impact of vast monocultures and pesticides on the land, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, women’s health, the disappearance of forests and the people who live in them.
Circles of women . . . in a smog of cigarette smoke.
I remember being so shattered by this contradiction – spending so much time and precious energy campaigning against the very structures we were supporting with our addictions: ie multi national companies whose crops wiped out local food production, whose philosophies of greed were heedless of human and environmental impact, whose profit motive shattered women’s health – so shattered that I threw up my hands and reignited my teenage smoking habit.
At the time, as with my teenage years, I could bear being the outsider for only so long.
Principles vs popularity.
As I sit and wait for the inferno that is the angry woman’s mouth to burn itself out, I realise I don’t mind her anger and I don’t mind her contradiction. I have silenced my own gentle voice for too long and for this, to the Earth and its creatures I say ‘I am sorry’.
I understand this woman, like just about all of us, is doing her best. I understand that we cannot take on every single cause on Earth. I understand what it is to be overloaded with the burden of helping others. I understand the need to shelter in ignorance.
What I do not understand is why anyone buys cheap plastic bands when they are likely to be the first in line to campaign against plastic bags in supermarkets; the first in line to stand for clean air and water; the first in line to put people before profit.
With middle age I have learned popularity isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t win you any more true friends than its counter coin, Principle; and there really is nothing worse than a nagging conscience.
Except, perhaps, a choking turtle.