A canary in the coalmine: It get’s dangerous when they shut up.

Have you ever had the feeling that people around you would love you a whole lot more if you would just shut up? If injustice happened to you or a friend why rock the boat for others with protesting because it means they have to make choices and they are invariably difficult? So shut the fuck up? And by staying silent if you have to protest do it so that I don’t have to know and I can happily pretend it isn’t happening? You know; that kind of feeling?

I do.

I’m in the middle of one of those.

A friend of mine I share a market stall with is being replaced by a coffee machine and since this was supposed to be a human, sustainable small scale local organic art/farmers market I’m sounding the alarm.

Problem is the other market stall holders want more coffee on the market and hope to attract more punters it there is coffee in the winter (when my mate goes to see her mokopuna in Europe.) so they are prepared to let their principles go and they don’t understand that if they let it go for one of their own they let them go for everyone of us.

What’s more the people providing the machine are the sort of people that call you a dole bludging drugging greeny when you call them to task.

The silence from people I considered friends is deafening and all they do say when they speak is I don’t want to get involved because it’s nothing to do with me.

We have this thing in the village called the fair-trade shop. Volunteers sell expensive stuff made in third world countries while only the manager makes a living in the shop. I don’t get it. It seems unfair to the volunteers to me. They have to have an income from somewhere else to work in the fair-trade shop.

Now we will get at least part fair-trade coffee served from a machine on our market killing off two market stalls making money locally with two locals who have to find alternative incomes. We are both lucky because we have an alternative source of income (and no it’s not the dole but someone else has to work harder to make up for those meagre dollars until we find alternative income).  Again that seems unfair to me.

While pondering this conundrum of people happy to dump one of their own as long as it is replaced with something fair from somewhere else I all of a sudden got this vision of a mine.

It is dark with intermittent lights and people work around those lights while a canary in a little cage sings its little hart out. I don’t know if that is because it’s happy but being a little bird in a cage, miles underground doesn’t seem like a recipe for happiness and I suspect it sings because that is what it does to pacify itself or call for other birds to respond so it doesn’t feel so alone and while it does what it does it performs exactly the function those working in the mine need it to perform. When it stops it stops because something is wrong. It stops because it can no longer sing. Gas is filling the mine and it dies.

Now all this is well as long as people pay attention to the little bird and realise that as long as it sings and they listen to it when it chances its tune they can protect themselves from danger. In a real mine it is gas but on a small scale farmers market it’s the big boys with lots of money and wholesale products and both can be equally devastating to the group of people involved.

But what if the people in the mine where to have lost the exact memory as to why that little bird in the Cage is there. What if their part of the mine has been prosperous and safe for so long that people are beginning to hate the sound of the bird and all it does is get up peoples nerves with its incessant singing no matter what the tune. They know it serves some purpose but why does it have to do it so loud?  And what if the song from a similar bird further away is sounding much prettier and gentler on the ears because it means that there are other people around them having one of those irritating birds too and maybe for some reason that gives the people with the bird close by the sense that all is well in the world . At the very least they are not alone but at it’s best it means that those people far away in the mine are safe too.

See where I’m going with this?

The far away canary is a bit like the people fighting for justice far away for the little man growing his coffee making you feel good to buy the fair-trade coffee. Or someone buying an overpriced embroidered pillow case from a volunteer charging no wages makes both of them feeling better about trying to do something good for the abused in little countries over there in faraway places but too someone out there that canary is just as irritating and in their face as the local one. Hell, in some of those faraway places the canaries get killed by the dozen.

The canaries in those faraway places are just as grating and annoying to some of the locals but because you hear them from far away you can appreciate the beauty of their singing even though like the one close by it is only singing because it needs to hear a voice in response and while it is alive it keeps at least some people safe.

I think I’m one of those canaries, singing my heart out. I just happen to be the canary close by; the annoying loud little bird pointing out the unfairness of what happened on the market to my mate and by extension to me and how the gas in the mine will spread. How the influence of a system that  doesn’t work will rear its ugly head on the market as it takes over will slowly kill all the small fry getting in their way.

Today a machine for coffee, tomorrow a wholesale garlic merchant or a third world jewellery wholesaler.

Fair trade, organic and third world of course, we love those far away canaries after all.

But as the canaries here are starting to stop singing because the gas is killing them the gas spreads for all of us. If only the people around the canary would have remembered why having one around was a good thing sometimes… if only they would remember to listen.

Yep, that’s what I am; the canary in the coal mine.

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