Monday, September 24, 2007


Priority of the Day

Quite frankly, when you spend £150 [$300] on shoes and only £10 [$20] on your vagina, it doesn't match in terms of sense of importance in your life. —Sam Roddick, owner of London's high-end sex shop Coco de Mer and activist currently working on the issues of sex trafficking and greenhouse gases, as quoted by Paul Vallely in "Like mother, like daughter: The other remarkable Ms Roddick"

I'm hoping to participate in some small way in this week's antiwar efforts in Washington that will conclude with a march on Saturday, September 29.

I have no illusion that the encampment or march will halt the war. But it is also true that size does matter—the more warm bodies, the more the politicians sweat. As the British learned in the late 1700s, you never know what an angry crowd may do.

The media, led by the Washington Post, will offer a "balanced report" of the protest in which the cause of action for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands will be given the same number of column inches as a remnant of pro-war groups. (If they had only used such "balance" in the reporting that led to the war!)

Congressional leaders will arrange to be out of Washington that day "attending to the needs of their constituents." And the Bush gang will find a locale such as Camp David where they may conspire "away from the heat." In the unlikely event that any of them face a question from the media about their reaction to the protest, they will declare that they were otherwise engaged and hadn't had time really to pay attention—but that it's wonderful in America that everyone has a chance to speak their mind.

Nevertheless I'm going.

Of course there's always the question of dress. The ladies of Code Pink have sensitized me to style, and I don't intend to be arrested one more time wearing jeans. Still, I do not look pretty in pink. I tried on my tinfoil hat but it no longer fits. It seems to have grown over the years.

Activism that's really top drawer

And so searching for an antiwar outfit that would be appropriate for after Labor Day, I discovered the world of high-end activism and trendsetter Sam Roddick—

It was not what you might have expected. A glittering horse-drawn hearse, pulled by gleaming black-plumed steeds, moved slowly through the streets of London to St Paul's Cathedral on Wednesday. Behind it walked the actress Emma Thompson and the sex-shop owner Sam Roddick. But this was not a funeral. It was a demonstration, its organisers proclaimed, against sex trafficking. An art installation, they said, would open in Trafalgar Square this weekend, and then tour the country.

Now that is tasteful!

From her teens Roddick has been active—

... Sam determined from early on to make her mark. She was rebellious at Frensham Heights boarding school in Surrey, which she was asked to leave. She got just two O-levels, pleading undiagnosed dyslexia, and was taken off to Nepal with the mother of one of her friends, who advised indigenous communities on how they could use their traditional crafts to make products that would sell in the West.

It turns out that the only Nepalese products that sell in the West are gurkhas. But that didn't stop her—

She soon went off to Brazil to see how local people were opposing a dam being built by the World Bank. The reality unnerved her. Opponents of the scheme were being murdered. "I saw some really heavy stuff," she later told an interviewer. "I saw dead bodies, I went to the middle of rainforests and saw burning acres, I saw malnourished kids working in charcoal pits. It was brutal."

It can be quite a shock to face the realities of a World Bank project at such a tender age. After all, she hadn't even been to business school.

She thought she would appeal to her peers for support—

.... She gave a slideshow on the issue at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and did a tour with the Canadian-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, which was exploring economic alternatives for local people. But then she had a kind of breakdown. "I had this idea that change [would be] instantaneous," she said. "I thought that once people knew what was going on, everyone would be so taken aback that they would change." Rather than steeling herself to redouble her efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged, she decided that: "I didn't want to work in global politics any more."

No, dear. The only people working in global politics any more are known as "mercenaries."

Roddick decided to "go local"—

"I thought 'Right, the way I can change the world is by not consuming anything and setting up community development projects, going very, very grass roots." She moved to Canada and fell in with a group of anarchists – many of them spoiled rich kids who dropped-out knowing they had an escape route out of their self-imposed poverty if they wanted it. They raided skips and bins for food that had been thrown away. They called it dumpster-diving. Their ideal was never to buy anything. "I gave up the whole notion of wealth for a while, and that was really liberating," Sam said.

I've found some of my most exciting knickknacks in dumpsters. But my diving days are done, and now I shop at the thrifts. Unfortunately I've never felt the need to be liberated from wealth, though I'm still open to the experience.

Her reality check came when she realised that she was pregnant. She ran home to her millionaire parents. "As soon as I got pregnant, I wanted to look nice. I started buying clothes for the first time," she explained.

For some it's a pregnancy; for others it's an antiwar demonstration. But we all should look our best.

Back in Britain, Roddick discovered that what London really needed was an upscale sex shop. So in 2001 she launched her little boutique Coco de Mer "named after a palm nut whose shape resembles a female bottom." Her friends at Saatchi & Saatchi (they wouldn't take a penny!) came up with a poster campaign "of people, including her, photographed at the point of orgasm." There were poisonous rumors that she had faked it.

Despite the burdens of running a shop where she sells "everything from lilac mink-lined crotchless panties to clitoris creams," Roddick remains the activist. In 2003, in conjunction with the Belles of Shoreditch and the International Union of Sex Workers, she organized a nude protest against the war that left Covent Garden agape.

But what about this weekend?!

From Vallely's description of Roddick's endeavors, she appears to be one of those fortunate manics who, thanks to her inherited millions, will never spend a day on lithium. But unless you're as rich as a Republican oligarch, do not try this at home! If they don't shoot you, at the very least they'll sedate you with a tranquilizer dart.

That said, I still don't know what to wear for the demonstration this weekend. The mink-lined crotchless panties have a certain eye appeal, but I look even worse in lilac than in pink—if that is possible. Now if they just had something in a tasteful grey, a prison grey perhaps . . .

Related post
About those Nepalese workers killed in Iraq... (9/2/04)


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