Join the campaign for Fair Trade and Sustainable Clothing from Kohl's and Macy's

Between now and Black Friday (Nov. 25), The Human Thread calls for sending postcards to the CEOs of Macy’s and Kohl’s in support of a living wage at the sites where our clothes are made. I'd be grateful for your help.

When we visit a supermarket, we can purchase organic and fair trade items. When we visit an auto dealer, we can buy a hybrid. Some chains build their identity and customer base by offering those options. We know that the hybrid and the organic, fair trade items may cost us a bit more, but we are willing to pay for them for a broader benefit.

Except for a few niche clothing items sold in a few boutiques, as of yet, no major chain sells clothing sourced in other countries that is fair trade. But we know that most of it comes from places we read on our labels: Bangladesh, China, India, Vietnam, Honduras, Mexico. Pope Francis has called the wages paid those workers: “slave labor.”

Given the woeful wages in garment-producing countries, did the workers who made my clothing receive a wage that will support them and their families? Knowing that the garment industry is the second biggest user of water and the consequent immense harm that the garment industry does to the environment, we also ask what care and provision was made for the care of creation in the production of this garment?

For years members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have engaged retailers, including Macy’s and Kohl’s on supply chain issues. However they have rejected calls to address wages at the sites where our clothes are made.

After the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, Professor Jerry Davis of the Ross School of Business wrote a letter to The New York Times. In it he said that change never comes about from investor/shareholder actions without an accompanying consumer effort. This is our effort to make such a difference. We’ve shared this Campaign with him; he is very supportive.

If you agree with us, we'd ask you to sign, stamp, and mail a postcard to Macy's and to Kohl's telling them as much. Both of these companies have good track records in various areas but, if they would support this effort, things would be so much better. We are telling them: If they will lead, we will buy.

If you want to ask others, friends or members of any of your organizations, to get involved, please  email our campaign manager at, indicating your postal address and how many postcards you need. They will be sent by return mail.

E.J. Dionne and the 2016 Election

Last June, I reviewed E.J. Dionne Jr.'s Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. You can find the review here. I like Dionne, as a writer in The Washington Post and Commonweal, and I enjoy his contributions to MSNBC.
Since 2004, Dionne writes a new book in a presidential election year-- 2004, 2008, 2012, and, now, 2016. Given my delight in his 2012 offering mentioned above, I sought out his 2016 title: Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond. As I delighted in his Our Divided Political Heart, I had high expectations for Why the Right Went Wrong. Frankly, it was a much more difficult read, likely not a reflection at all on Dionne's work. In fact, I think that it has much to do with me and how I find myself (and our country).

I resided in Chile during the 2012 election. While I devoured the news that I could find via El Mercurio and my reading of Politico's Playbook and online versions of U.S. news., I still experienced that election at a distance. Reading Dionne's 2012 work was, then, a deeper dive into the currents around that election.
In 2016, I find myself with this book encircled by news of the election. While I reside in a home without cable television, I have access to round-the-clock accounts of the election at work, in the newspapers, and in my Facebook and Twitter feed. Sadly, whether my preferred candidate win or lose, the country seems so badly divided, and our political discourse, while not lofty before, seems so badly eroded and so coarse as we race to the bottom in 2016.

In short, Dionne pulls together intellectual strands and tensions within conservative thought. Dionne retells the story of the Republican party and conservatism from the days of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater alongside William F. Buckley's efforts to create an intellectual foundation for broad currents of conservatism. Dionne revisits all the elections and administration from Eisenhower to 2016 and assesses the adjustments and realignments (and missed opportunities) made within the Republican party for each election. While I was familiar with the general sweep of the history he retold, I did encounter nuggets unknown to me that made the journey a bit more worthwhile.

The final chapter, as any good whodunit requires, suggests important lines for a renewed conservatism, albeit the unrequested suggestion of a liberal (Dionne). He ignites my desire to revisit Edmund Burke's 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France, a classical defense of conservatism, read in my undergraduate days. While a fine book, it is a depressing romp through the history that brings us to such an ugly, partisan mess in Washington.

Thanks to MATC for hosting Bryan Stevenson

This afternoon, alongside nine other parishioners from St. Benedict the Moor, we attended a lecture by Bryan Stevenson at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Readers of this blog may recall that I reviewed Mr. Stevenson's extraordinary book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption last year. Others may know of my sister Kelly's work alongside the Equal Justice Initiative, defending those condemned to death in Alabama, founded by Stevenson in 1989.

Stevenson gave an inspiring talk. I will avoid recounting his major points, as he has made some similar remarks elsewhere, and I believe that it is worth encountering him, his story, and his mission from him, be it through his book, his TED Talk, or an opportunity to meet him in person. Simply put, one cannot go away uninspired. His zeal is contagious.

After his address, MATC also arranged for a short panel discussion in answer to what Stevenson's remarks. I have posted additional photos of the event on Facebook:

Thanks to Mary Lou Stebbins for getting my ticket to the event! Thanks to MATC for hosting it! Thanks to Mr. Stevenson for making the time to come to Milwaukee and share his message with us!

The Next Phase of the Journey

Friends, on Christmas Eve, amid many gifts, I was offered a job and accepted. Tomorrow, I begin the next phase of my journey as the campaign organizer for The Human Thread campaign. Tomorrow, I arrive into Milwaukee, WI, to begin my new work.

The Human Thread is a campaign to raise consciousness and empower Catholics to advocate for the plight of garment workers worldwide. The movement was inspired by the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The devastating event killed 1,133 garment workers, and exposed the wide range of abuses connected to the sourcing of clothing.

I am grateful for the prayers and encouragement of so many in this process. I am also very grateful for the trust being placed in me by those of The Human Thread campaign. Thanks, too, to St. Joseph the Worker, a faithful friend amid these months of job-seeking.
Holy Family at Burgos Cathedral, Spain

(For employment)

God our Father and our Creator, You bestow on
Us gifts and talents to develop and use in accord with Your will.
Grant to me, through the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker,
As model and guide, employment and work, that I may with dignity,
provide for those who depend upon me for care and support.
Grant me the opportunities to use
my energy and my talents and abilities
for the good of all,
and the glory of Your name. Amen