Saturday, March 10, 2007

Confessions of a Budding Activism Junkie

The case for free-range chickens?

My friend Malad, upon seeing pictures of two kids on my fridge a few months back, castigated me for not talking about them before – since he felt he’d have liked to do something similar months back if he’d only known about it. They were pictures of two orphaned kids that I’d ‘virtually adopted’ – signing up to pay for their education and upbringing but with no other commitment. I found myself remembering that incident as I drove home in my Prius and pondered replacing the incandescent bulbs in house with the 75% more efficient CFL (compact fluorescent lights for the environmentally challenged)

One of the things about living in the Bay Area is that it exposes you to a smorgasbord of activism opportunities that you can pick and choose from and even if you pick only one out of every 10 that comes your way, you’ll probably end up with a cause for every day of February (perhaps even February in a leap year). Nearly every other person you meet will have their favorite cause or eight – that they give money to, spend time on and allow to guide their decisions. Some are commonplace - giving money to Greenpeace - while others were very new to me and very endearing in their simplicity – like men growing their hair ten or more inches long and then donating it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients to use during chemotherapy.

In just a couple of years, I’ve adopted several causes, usually quite inconsistently, and find myself making tons of decisions based on them…Here are a few of them
  • Stop global warming – I had to buy a Prius instead of a BMW ☹ cos the company hasn’t come up with a hybrid car yet. The CFL to-do item springs from this as well. I was so proud on finding out that my parents and my uncle had replaced all their lights at home in Bhopal with CFL. When even Walmart goes green (its heavily promoting CFLs - kudos) you know climate change is a real possibility
  • Each-one-(virtual) adopt-one – I think the world would be such a wonderful place if every family that could afford it, ‘adopted’ one child from agencies like SOS Village or Children International. Really all you have to do is commit a small monthly or annual fee (Rs 3000 per year or $18 per month) to fund a child’s education and upbringing by these organizations. For people who are cynical about Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Mia Farrow (10 adoptions) – ask not why they’re doing what they are, ask why you’re not doing it even virtually.
  • Relief Without Borders – The movie Beyond Borders left me with a huge amount of admiration for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). I wish I were the type of person who gives up everything and braves the horrors of conflict zones like Darfur to help rescue even a few people from certain death. I’m not…I only do the least little bit…make a small annual donation. Read about them here and see if you want to too…And yes, it is sad that it took pop culture to move me at all
  • Not buying petrol/gas at ExxonMobil – …unless I’m running out and there’s no other station in reach. Because it is the ONLY Fortune 50 Company to not have domestic partner benefits for gays and lesbians. Mobil actually did offer DP benefits but had to rescind them when they merged with Exxon. There’re others I boycott too (like Coors Beer). Fortunately there are many more fair companies nowadays than unfair ones…so I don’t have to do without.
  • Free-range food –I try eating free-range eggs/chicken when the option exists. If I’m going to eat chickens I’d like to think they didn’t spend their whole life in a cage waiting to become my dinner but had some time to enjoy life running around in the farm yard
  • Not shopping at Neiman Marcus – Because it seems they persist in this day and age in selling real fur. Yes inconsistently, I do wear leather belts and shoes and jackets… but c’mon minks are far cuter than crocs. ☺ Jokes aside I’ve decided to wear only cow-hide leather in the hope that the cow was probably going to be killed for food anyway, while the only reason the mink/croc perish is for the fur/hide
  • Breaking Microsoft’s monopoly – Don't get me wrong. I use Micrsoft products all the time - they usually suck, but what's the alternative? Well for browsers, there is an alternative now - Firefox rocks! I use Firefox as my default browser and download it onto others computers when they aren’t watching :) . I think this is our best chance of breaking IE’s monopoly – Firefox now has 15% market share up from 3-5% just two years ago! I'm not against Microsoft but against monopolies – because they stifle innovation – for those who downloaded IE 8(?) and love its tabs, you should know that MS just copied the concept from Firefox! Of course, I love Firefox even more now that I can get paid a few cents every time someone clicks on the Firefox icon on this blog page and downloads it (Hint, hint!) :)
Now that I’ve listed all that I do, it doesn’t really seem like much – I’m just a wannabe activist. There’s just one for each day of a week but hey, give me time, its only been two years :). The ‘wannabe’ part worries me sometimes. I wish I were completely consistent all the time – I’m not. But isn’t it better to be good at least some of the time than never? I do believe that each individual action makes a difference, that each individual instance of an action matters as long as its sincere. Not believing in the importance of individual action would make me feel very helpless, very impotent in this world – and that’s not a feeling I wish to get acquainted with anytime soon.

If the price of sheeshas or the difficulty in procuring the Good Herb is getting you down, try adopting a Cause. You’ll be surprised at the kind of (rather selfish) high you get from just a small ‘selfless’ contribution – I get a kick everytime I click on Firefox instead of IE, or each time I get into my Prius. I think I’m definitely getting addicted to it. I think its time I went and found my next cause (conflict diamonds?). As for you, dear readers, feel free to start/add to your humanitarian efforts by helping fund my retirement – click on the Firefox tab, download AND install the darn thing already!


Chandra Karrothi said...

Well, I am glad you found something better than scaring Pegions at Ghiradeli Square. :-)

I am sure you will be amazing activist. You should do something for Trikone as well when you get a chance. You can put the link to Trikone on your page for a starter ( will nto help your retirement fund though :-) ).

An environmental activist as a starter is not bad. I will get there someday.

Harsha said...

Hey Nice post.. but I do have a complaint ---> if you wanna b an animal activist, you shud try being a vegetarian first..regd ur comment on the chicken running in afree space before ending up on your plate, the final result is the chicken is on your plate and if not for you, it mite still be running n having some fun :o)

Atul said...

pretty nice & honest post, Abhay. No harm making a start on the activist front rather than waiting for something ... very recently bought a camry and now feeling bad ki why not prius .. but maybe will make amends next time