Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Choice of a New Generation. (Of punks feminist artists and activists.)

As I mentioned in my last past, my beloved Willie Mae Rock Camp has applied for a $50,000 grant from from Pepsi, the soft drink behemoth. The corporation has recently launched its Pepsi Refresh Project, and WMRC has chosen to particpate.

Really? I'll believe it when I see it.

When I first started getting e-mails and notifications from camp and my fellow volunteers, I was skeptical -- this is an occupational hazard of being a feminist punk. I'm wary of all and any corporations, particularly when they start handing out money. I'm not really feeling how the project is more or less a competition, which pits causes against each other.

Something about a corporate conglomerate inviting and encouraging people to do charitable work feels a little "Won't Get Fooled Again" to me -- as in, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." I can't help but be suspicious that a company that produces a drink that is so bad for human health and so bad for the environment is encouraging people to do volunteer and non-profit work for public health and the environment. What does Pepsi have to gain from financing such projects? Or projects in their arts and culture, food and shelter, neighborhoods, and education categories?

Luckily, I'm not alone in my skepticism. Fellow volunteer and fellow artist and musician Maggie was brave enough to send an e-mail over WMRC's volunteer listserve asking if anyone else is feeling ambivalent about this.

Selling out? Ch'yeah, right -- and monkeys might fly out my butt!

The response's to Maggie's e-mail that I've seen have made me feel a little better about the idea of WMRC getting money from Pepsi -- but only a little. I think the main thing, as another volunteer pointed out, is that this money is a donation, not some sort of sponsorship deal. So Rock Camp would get this money free and clear. The donation would not enable Pepsi to direct or alter the way camp runs, or even dictate how the money would be spent. Accepting the grant would not require Camp to further support Pepsi, purchase more Pepsi products, or anything like that.

So this brings us back to the question of what the corporation would get out of this. Well, first, as Maggie pointed out, Pepsi is getting access to some personal information, including e-mails, which they can sell for a great deal of money at a later date. They also get a tax write-off for their donations, though as another fellow volunteer pointed out, so would any organization or individual who makes any sort of donation.

But what hasn't come up in these conversations is that Pepsi has a chance to get something more important and way more priceless than a tax break or some e-mail lists. Pepsi has a chance to get a good reputation, which bothers me more than anything else.

With this campaign, Pepsi has an opportunity to make itself seem like a responsible corporation. But let's be clear: there's absolutely nothing responsible about pushing liquid sugar in a can or plastic bottle on people.

There's also nothing responsible about the amount of water used to make soda. Water rights issues aren't huge in the U.S., and I only know about this because my dear friend Jackie has done research on Coca Cola and water, and my classmate Michelle has done (award-winning!) research on water rights and Bolivian indigenous communities. So I'm not sure that all my fellow volunteers are aware that it takes something like 4 liters of water to make a single liter of soda, and that soda companies get that water by taking it away from impoverished and desperate people in the 'Third' world.

Will not taking money from Pepsi change this? No, it won't. But my point is that I don't want people forgetting any of this. I don't want any of us to be fooled, or to think for even a second, "Well, I guess Pepsi isn't so bad. Because corporations -- it's definitely not just Pepsi -- usually are that bad. For them to create whatever useless product they create, something else has to get destroyed.

All of that said, it might sound contradictory, or even hypocritical of me to continue to support this campaign by voting daily for WMRC. Willie Mae's executive board, a group of fierce, talented, responsible women, is okay with this campaign, and I have to trust them. Those women shoulder the responsibility of running and financing camp, and so I support what they decide will make their job easier and what will make camp even better.

What really enables me to vote every morning is knowing myself, and knowing my position on all of this. Pepsi might get my e-mail address and access to my facebook page -- but they will never get my respect, my trust, or even my three bucks for a bottle of soda. And I know that my fellow volunteers will be able to dig that, or at least one of them will. Very special thanks to Maggie for e-mailing with me about this and inspiring this post!

The reality is that we all live and work in a world controlled by corporations and media. And at some point, every single one of us punk, feminist, pro-diy, anti-mainstream, pro-culture, anti-consumerist activists, artists, and resisters is going to face an issue like this. All of us are going to have our principles tested, our beliefs challenged, our buttons pushed for whatever cause it is that we support. And all of us, as individuals are going to have to sort out our feelings and decide how to respond. So these are my feelings, and this is how I respond:

Bite me, corporate 'charity'!

p.s. special thanks to photobucket user Starriedreamer for unknowingly 'donating' screen caps.


and then she said said...

I'm glad you wrote such a thoughtful article and were willing to share you view points.
For me, I can no longer separate my politics into neat little boxes in order to justify one thing over another. The lack of women and girls in music and the connection to mass capitalism, consumerism, and commercialism are closely linked. How could it not be?
thanks for the discussion,

Leigh Phillips said...

I am not on the Rock Camp listserv, but I heard about this potential "donation" and it left me feeling queasy. You, however, hit it out of the ballpark with this one. These beverage companies have a history of exploiting subjugated classes; how could this instance of "sponsorship" be anything other than part of a pervasive exploitative tendency to target communities less capable of mass resistance? This is not to say Willie Mae is incapable of resistance, but on a grand scheme, profit defeats non-profit and capitalism isn't capable of anything other than capitalism. Their intentions are to buy and sell the notion of charity. Their intentions are corrosive as Mountain Dew on the teeth.

jamie said...

Maggie: thanks for reading! But I have to say that the more I think about it, the more I want to take this down and just crawl into bed for a few weeks. I'm committed to my belief about trusting camp's board's decisions, but the more I try to convince myself that 'awareness' is enough, the less sure I feel. I was reading the Refresh Everything FAQ to try and make myself feel better, instead I wound up reading that camp would indeed be obligated to Pepsi after accepting this donation money. I am totally nauseated.

Leigh: Thank you for reading too, homegirl! You are so dead on here, and the more I think about it, the less faith I have that this has the potential to be subversive. Can we agree, at this moment, right here, that "zine camp" will never bow to any corporate sponsor?

GBK said...

Wow .... I have not read so much crap for quite some time, sounds like you have no clue how corporations such as Pepsi are creating wealth for everyone. ... And 4 litres of water for every litre of pepsi? Actually it's a bit more ... considering the whole value chain it is about 36 litres of water per serving (not litre) ... thats quite a lot right? Take down these capitalistic water wasters right? ... well dear two eggs require 513 litres ... the lovely jeans u wear require 1800 gallons (just to grow enough cotton, not even for the whole production cycle) ... And just one last question ... what is it that u are holding in your hand in your picture looks like a soft drink from a fast food restaurant or a 7/11 or sth like that!!!

GBK said...

forgot to leave this for you http://www.gdrc.org/uem/water/water-serving.html

jamie said...

GBK: you're intentionally derailing here. This post isn't about the amount of water required for eggs or jeans, and it's not about the ironic 7/11 cup in my hand in a picture that was taken three years ago as an homage to a picture from Spin of one of my favorite bands. This is about what's right for individuals and how to RESPECT other people's choices -- so respect me, and leave my blog alone if you can't be civil. Or go back to working for Pepsi, or whatever it is you do, troll.

and then she said said...

GBK: "sounds like you have no clue how corporations such as Pepsi are creating wealth for everyone.."

HAHHHA. at that point I stopped reading ... you should too.

keep writing jamie!!

Leigh Phillips said...

This is when I stopped reading: