Conscious Consumerism: Broke College Kid Edition

by Audra Brulc

Money. I have none of it. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. But the problem is, when you have no money, it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re spending what you do have in a socially responsible way. Our current economic system pretty much forces us to prioritize cost over morals, so the idea of “conscious consumerism” has become a hot topic lately. And that’s great, but here’s the thing: a lot of alternatives just aren’t that feasible for people living on a fixed income. Yes, I would love to buy shirts and shoes made exclusively from fair-trade, organically harvested items for the totally reasonable price of $85. Unfortunately, I have about $24 left each pay period after my living and academic expenses are factored in. As a result, I’ve had to look for the little ways to dig my heels in and resist completely giving in to the cold embrace of heartless capitalism. I’ve gathered some of these tips here for our readers, and though some of them might seem pretty obvious, it doesn’t hurt to think about new ways that we can integrate these habits into our patterns of consumption.

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LET’S DO THIS, Y’ALL.

1.) Embrace Your Local Hipster Hideout Coffee Shop

Wait! Please don’t roll your eyes, snort derisively, and close the tab! Hear me out. I am a flagrant over-consumer of caffeine. I know my coffee, especially here in Norman. I know my shops, too, as I’m always on the hunt for the perfect studying-with-coffee ambiance. I used to be a pretty open hater of non-chain coffeeshops, insistent that Starbucks would always be the slightly burnt but more affordable option. (Am I allowed to say that here? Will I be hearing from their lawyers?) However, while you still might pay a little more at a smaller, local operation, both the coffee and the environment are usually far superior. This might not be news to anyone, but ending our reliance on large chains and constantly trying to shift to local businesses when possible is definitely worth it.

2.) Support the Arts (No, Really, You Can Do It)

Feminist Sticker Club

This is a pretty specific tip, but it’s cheap as heck so I’m throwing it in here. One of the wonderful women I work with told me about the Feminist Sticker Club, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For a cool $2.50/month, you get a snazzy new sticker designed by an activist artist that touches on some aspect of (intersectional!) feminism. Last month, the theme was self-love, and this month’s sticker proudly promotes trans-inclusivity. Even though I’m broke AF 90% of the time, I’m a sticker fan. Like, a HUGE sticker fan. Like, I’m running out of room on my laptop to express my opinions so that people know what they’re getting into before they even approach me. This is a great, low-cost way to support badass artists, and I actually have found that these stickers are even better quality than retail sites like Redbubble.

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I have a few opinions. Like five, tops.

Going to local music shows just to support the artists and their art

As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t have the money to see my favorite artists (looking at you, Florence Welch) at an expensive music festival (directly at you, ACL). But do I have an extra ten bucks after payday to buy a ticket to a local, artist-driven showcase? Sure, why not! Even if you’ve never heard of an artist, going to their show with a few friends can be a fun, cheap night out – and you might even discover someone who will completely rock your world. (Is that a pun? It’s not supposed to be a pun.) I was lucky enough to experience this a few weeks ago at Oxford Karma’s Endless Summer event, and now I already have plans to see one of the performers, Samantha Crain, next month. I risked $10, and in return gained some lovely memories and an artist whose lyrics shake my very soul. Not a bad tradeoff, in my opinion.

Decorate your lair/space/enclave with prints and drawings from friends/local artists instead of buying mass-produced, often culturally-appropriative things from Urban Outfitters

Okay, I guess I pretty much showed my hand with this subtitle. As we move into the realm of tentative adulthood and start decorating our overpriced apartments, the desire to nest in a cool and aesthetically appealing way is strong. There are approximately 82 million reasons not to support Urban Outfitters, but from a pragmatic standpoint, things like this horrendously overpriced lamp are just one of many. When it comes to decorating, there are actually plenty of ways to think outside the box! Local shows and festivals provide a great opportunity to meet the people or organizations producing artwork, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done what you can to support your local art scene.

3.) Book It

When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks
When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks

This also might not be new information to most people, but lately I’ve realized just how many sites are available that provide cheap used textbooks and novels. It’s not always immediately apparent, but there are a lot of sites besides Chegg (which I’m still a fan of, don’t get me wrong) that provide even better prices for used books. I think it’s amazing that the world of used books has reached the internet – as Thrift Books points out, buying used textbooks and novels keeps books out of landfills and greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Also, while I realize that some may regard Amazon as one of the Worst Things Ever, sometimes it is the best or fastest option. For those times when we have to resort to its almighty stocking powers, we can at least use their charitable giving option, Amazon Smile, to do a little bit of good while we’re there (and retain Amazon Prime/Student shipping options). Below are three of the sites I’ve had luck with!

4.) Decolonize Your Meals

Because coffee just isn’t enough for me, let’s talk meals as well.

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With a little creativity and a tiny bit (like, ten minutes, I swear) of planning, even us broke college kids can take steps to decolonize our diets. No, groceries aren’t cheap – but that’s where the creativity comes in. Here’s what I’m suggesting: instead of stocking up solely on pasta and Prego, for one meal a week, get the ingredients to make something vegan if you’re not vegan. Make something Mexican if your family is totally assimilated and you’re not about that shit. A package of fideo noodles and a can of crushed tomatoes are about as simple as it gets and available at most grocery stores, but they also represent a meal that my great grandmother passed along to my mother, her granddaughter-in-law. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be different. Substitution is a way to change your mindset and purchasing habits, which can ultimately lead to a shift in how we consume and approach food.

5.) Make Like Macklemore and Embrace Thrifting

Just kidding. I would never endorse Macklemore references on this blog. And really, I don’t think I even need to say it, but don’t discount (hehe) hitting up local thrift stores the next time you’re in need of some new-to-you clothing. The stigmatization of thrift store shopping can come from intensely classist assumptions, intentionally or not. If we really want to minimize our consumption and turn our support away from the often-unjust fast fashion industry, what better way to do it than putting reuse first?

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The man has a point.

I get it. You’re not always going to find exactly what you want at a thrift store. But you might find a custom-made “Bob’s Wife” sweatshirt, and, in the process, you’ll be making reuse the norm while supporting local charities and small businesses.

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Did you think I was kidding? Think again. This is serious business.

Bonus for Normanites: Guestroom Records’ $5 CD grab bags

I’ll be totally honest: the first time I went to Guestroom, it was in some sort of abstract hope that I would walk away magically cooler and more in tune with my own musical sensibilities. Do I have a record player? No. Do I have any money to buy a record player? Definitely no. (You’ve gathered that by now.) However, I was and am pee-your-pants excited about their CD grab bags, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. For $5, you get a hefty and very random assortment of CDs to enjoy. Not every single one might be a winner (unrelated note: is anyone interested in a thirdhand copy of the Twilight: Breaking Dawn score?), but it’s a fun and cheap way to support a smaller business and expose yourself to some random new artists.

Thanks for reading, y’all. I hope some of these suggestions have empowered you to seek affordable transitions to conscious consumerism. Comment below with your own tips!

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Op-Ed: Female Incarceration: the Real War on Families

By Audra Brulc

Introduction

Female incarceration is an issue that I became particularly interested in after attending a presentation on the “war on drugs” at OU’s Sooner Mosaic Social Justice Symposium last year. (Shameless plug: register here for this year’s symposium!) In August, after attending a presentation on women in prison at Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Summer Policy Institute, I became armed with the stark facts about female incarceration in Oklahoma. I’ll list these resources, and others, at the end of this post. As awareness about the issue of female incarceration and US drug policy spreads (thanks, Orange is the New Black), I hope that these facts will be enlightening and useful to our readers.

The Facts

There’s a lot to be said about the reality of female incarceration, especially in Oklahoma, but the facts really do speak for themselves. Let’s take a look at the statistics so that we’ll be equipped to break down their implications:

  • According to the 2010 documentary War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Children They Leave Behind:
    • 90% of female inmates are non-violent offenders
    • 80% are mothers
    • 75% have lived below the poverty line
    • 60% have been physically and/or sexually abused in their lifetimes
    • 50% did not finish high school
  • Oklahoma consistently leads the nation in female incarceration.
    • As of 2009, the average rate of female incarceration was 68 per 100,000 women in the general population. In Oklahoma, that number rose to 132.
    • In Oklahoma, “14 counties incarcerate females at 300 percent above the national average” (Source: OK DOC)
    • Around 80% of female inmates in Oklahoma are non-violent offenders
    • Over half of incarcerated women in the state are mothers (Source: The University of Oklahoma)
    • The majority have experienced domestic violence and a family history of “dysfunction and instability”
    • 64% of female inmates received in FY 2010 needed substance abuse treatment. Less than 30% of these women were likely to actually receive it, based on previous years’ statistics (Source: OK DOC)

Incarceration as a Social Justice Issue

So what does female incarceration mean for social justice activists? I could write pages and pages on this topic, but for brevity’s sake I’ll focus on our skewed perceptions of drug charges, mothers in prison, and what happens to women once they are released.

One of the key issues at play is the nature of the crimes for which women in Oklahoma are being incarcerated. We already know that most female offenders are serving time for non-violent crimes. Furthermore, according to statistics presented by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, about 24% of sentences in FY 2010 were for possession of controlled substances, and about 19% were for distribution. These statistics continue to remain steady because of US drug laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. As both inmates and academics have pointed out, the current US criminal justice system is primarily focused on treating drug abuse as criminal activity. The alternative would be a public health approach, which would focus much more heavily on rehabilitation. Instead, as many of the women interviewed in War on the Family observed, the system seems intent on maintaining a cycle of recidivism and re-incarceration. If we cannot help liberate women from oppression based on class, race, and gender, circumstances which help incentivize the abuse and sale of illegal drugs, we are perpetuating an incredibly oppressive cycle. As long as we accept the current state of our justice system, we are accepting this cycle of poverty, abuse, and incarceration.

As the statistics show, many female inmates are also mothers. They are separated from their children, resulting in tremendous stress—sometimes even PTSD—for their children, who often must care for themselves and their younger siblings while coping with feelings of anger and betrayal. Women who give birth in prison are often shackled during the process and are separated from their infants after hours or days (ACLUWar on the Family). This psychological turmoil reinforces the cycle of drug abuse and incarceration for inmates and their children (ACLU).

After women leave prison, they are left with little resources and support. Thankfully, programs like Women in Recovery now exist to help female inmates reintegrate into society. However, former inmates have a hard time finding employment, reconnecting with their families, and getting care for their battles with addiction and mood disorders (War on the Family). And remember in Orange is the New Black when Taystee got out of prison, only to return because she couldn’t find a job and was still indebted to the prison system? Yeah, that actually happens.

My Take

When I first learned about our discriminatory drug laws and the numbers behind female incarceration, I was shocked. Like many other social justice issues, this is a reality that forces us to challenge our deeply socialized beliefs and assumptions about criminal justice and, at a much more basic level, right and wrong. It’s easy for us to make the surface level diagnosis that breaking the law is wrong and criminals should go to jail. However, there’s a lot to parse in that statement. First, it assumes that a society’s laws are inherently just. Second, it reinforces the idea that drug addiction is a criminal act, rather than a public health issue. Finally, it relies on the notion that retributive justice is the best way to deal with criminal acts. However, when we approach drug addiction as a health concern that requires rehabilitation and social oppression as a factor that continually subjugates certain social groups, we realize that we must transcend the notions of retributive justice with which we have been raised and act with compassion, empathy, and a true dedication to social justice.

Resources

Like I said, I could spend years researching and writing on this topic. If this is something you’re interested in, I would encourage you to do some digging (try starting with The Sentencing Project) and explore the web of interconnected issues that has created this pervasive injustice.

These are some of the sources that I used, as well as a few additional places to find information on this topic:

Meet Our Members: Audra Brulc

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Hello! I’m Audra, and I’ll be one of the officers and bloggers for Sooners for Social Justice.

I’m not really sure I can identify an exact date or event when I truly became passionate about social issues. “Social justice” was a phrase that I was fortunate enough to grow up hearing. My mother has always been active in social justice causes, and has spent time working with the children of migrant farm workers, the homeless, and immigrant families. She is a devout Roman Catholic, and while I no longer consider myself part of that particular religious tradition, I will always be thankful for the values that my mother’s practice of her faith helped to instill in me. However, as I reached adolescence, I quickly realized that my experience was not universal.

I grew up in Arizona, a child of mixed ethnicity and lower middle-class income masked by my pale skin and scholarship, which paid for the Catholic school I attended. As I’m sure you know, Arizona is a state sharply divided along several intersecting economic and racial lines. My childhood was my first indication of the condescending attitude that many held towards people of color and those from lower income brackets, especially immigrants. When we moved to Oklahoma after my freshman year of high school, I was once again jarred by the derisive comments that my peers openly made about “those Hispanics.” They didn’t realize it, but those were the exact types of remarks that almost certainly had been directed at my grandmother, visibly of Mexican descent, some sixty years earlier. Thankfully, with the help of some passionately informed speech and debate coaches and teammates, I was able to find others who shared similar viewpoints.

As I transitioned from high school to the University of Oklahoma, I’ve been able to maintain a peer group of educated, talented, and thoughtful individuals. It can sometimes be discouraging to hear all the ignorance around us at such a large and predominantly white institution, but I made the conscious choice from day one to be very public about my viewpoints on social and political issues, and would encourage everyone to do the same. I went to Sooner Ally events. I took Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies. I wrote spoken word poetry about gender-based oppression. I joined this cool group my friends started called Sooners for Social Justice. Now, partly because of my own experiences and struggles, economic justice and LGBTQ+ equality form the center of the network of issues about which I am deeply passionate and outspoken.

When we examine social justice issues, it can be easy to talk the talk, but hard to walk the walk. Telling a close friend (or a new acquaintance) that something they have said or done is offensive is uncomfortable. So is examining our own privilege and ingrained biases. But our discomfort is nothing compared to the liberation and love that comes out of community building and activism. Promise. And that’s why I’m here. Welcome to the family.