« More Female Ambassadors in DC: More Women Leaders or Less Power for Diplomacy? | Main | Realities of War As Seen Through "The Hurt Locker" »

February 7, 2010

Cause Marketing and Drug Addiction: Two Gifts the US Gives to the Americas

This weekend, I was desperate for a massage. In addition to my chronic pain, I returned to the gym this week and my entire body has been screaming at me ever since.The receptionist at my neighborhood spa said "10% of our proceeds on Sunday go to Haiti relief."

I didn't try--at any point--to express my opinion on retail fundraising. First of all, where exactly is this 10% going? (They never did give me a nonprofit name for their contribution.) Second, if I really cared about giving money to Haiti wouldn't it be more effective for me to give the money directly to a nonprofit? I rarely contribute to anything besides WILPF, but when the earthquake hit, I did donate to Partners In Health. But I don't make spa appointments based on my desire to help out the world. Mostly, I make them for personal reasons: like every muscle in my body being tight and the pain in my back and forearms being overwhelming.

The commodification of nonprofits demoralizes me. The insistence that for-profit models ("social entrepreneurship") is how we should all move forward towards a better world. And the way businesses use cause marketing to enhance their brand cache (and bring customers in on a slow Super Bowl Sunday) is just ridiculous.

But these are my problems with the system in general. I don't hold it against my local spa that they chose to jump on the bandwagon. Mostly, I've been plagued by the questions that family members raised: how can we be sure the money doesn't line the pockets of corrupt politicians (or greedy NGOs)? The answer to that is simple - give to Partners In Health. But to the larger question - how has Haiti persistently stayed the poorest country in the hemisphere? To that, I don't have the clearest answer.

I know some things in general terms: US governments backed coups. US corporations supported corrupt governments that suppressed the people of Haiti. US agriculture dumped food stuffs on Haiti that US consumers don't want to eat (all those chicken breasts we clamor for? They're attached to animals full of the other, other white meat. As in dark meat. As in the food we dump on developing countries at prices far lower than it would take to raise a chicken and slaughter it in the country.) While based on the experience of Jamaica, the documentary film Life and Debt can give insight into these issues.

But ultimately, and this I should have realized before reading an op-ed in the NYT, it comes down to a simple equation: US drug addicts fuel violence, instability, and class chasms throughout Latin America. I think it's a bit of a stretch to link a crack pipe in NYC to a terrorist cell in Yemen. But it's a much easier link between that crack pipe and the social/economic/political problems of Haiti and many other Latin American countries.

Ben Fountain details the connection in his brilliant op-ed, "Addicted to Haiti." If we want to give Haiti a fighting chance of recovering, instead of trying to adopt its orphaned citizens, we should start caring for the US'ians who are addicted to cocaine. We should start treating US addiction as the public health crisis it is, rather than continuing this nonsense about wars and czars. Black and white, law-based reaction to addiction has failed. Not just for Haiti. But for the survivors of never-ceasing blood baths in Juarez, Mexico. And the survivors of the never-ending civil war in Colombia. And every family who has struggled to put the pieces back together after a loved one diminishes his brain capacity by filling it with toxic substances. And for the addicts who struggle to stay sober; and the ones who don't make it.

Let's stop texting the Red Cross. Trust me, they'll keep going without you. Let's get real about regional development and start working to decrease demand, increase the availability of rehabilitation, de-criminalize addiction, increase social and economic opportunities so fewer kids seek out gangs for community identification / monetary gain. What do you say? What do we have to lose?

Posted by cj at February 7, 2010 10:43 PM


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?