Getting a degree in Sociology truly changed my life. I know, it’s only 4 years, and it’s a very generic degree. But throughout those 4 (okay it took me 5) years, I met a lot of great people, including passionate and dedicated profs and some amazing peers who helped restore my faith in humanity. I truly will never be able to go back to who I was prior to these 5 years.
Once you’re exposed to injustice and forced to question absolutely everything that is presented to you, it’s extremely difficult to live your life, eyes covered.
The other day I really needed to get gas for my car. As in I had 7 kms to empty. The nearest gas station was a Shell station. But I took the risk and drove the extra bit to get to another gas station that I know has nothing to do with Shell. You see, I haven’t purchased gas from Shell in 7 years, and I’ll tell you why.
Shell has a lot of really manipulative and expensive commercials that try to show you what an amazing company they are. They say that they are giving back to the environment and taking part in funding different organizations. But they are full of shit. They are so full of shit, I almost vomit all over myself every time I see these ads. In University I took a class called, ‘Inequality and Social Justice’. I wish every person had an opportunity to take this class. It was profound. It was a pivotal moment in my University career, and I can honestly say I have put the knowledge I gained from this class into practice on more than one occasion.
One of the topics we discussed was the Ogoni people in Nigeria. Shell had set up shop in Nigeria, drilling for oil, and as usual, it was done poorly. The oil leaked into the fields, contaminated the soil, in turn contaminating their food. It also contaminated their water. Last but not least, it contaminated the air they were breathing. People started to get sick and die, children were being born with deformities. Pretty soon the Ogoni people had enough. They began protesting (peacefully of course) in the streets. They wanted Shell to fix their mistakes and get out. A leader of this movement emerged named Ken Saro Wiwa. He was a Nigerian writer, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. He wanted nothing more than for his people to live happy, healthy lives, free of contamination.
Long story short, this man was murdered, among others who were tortured or murdered as well. To read more on this please check out the article below (certainly not to reduce the severity and heaviness of this situation but more so that the facts are straight):
Now you may be saying that atrocities such as this one occurs regularly in the world and surely me not buying gas from Shell has little to no impact on anyone’s lives, but you’re wrong. In 2009 I received a family from Nigeria, arriving to Canada as refugees, needing resettlement assistance. After only a few days, I noticed that the father of the family was in visible pain, daily. I took him to the doctor and after some x-rays and ultrasounds we came to find that he had extensive damage in both of his shoulders and in his upper back. He began physiotherapy and taking muscle relaxants, but the pain never really seemed to subside. After becoming quite close with this family over the next few months, they slowly started opening up to me. One day, when discussing the man’s pain levels, he disclosed that he had been tortured. immediately my mind flew back to that class in University. I asked him if he was Ogoni and he replied, yes. I asked him if he had been involved in the Shell protests, and a look of complete horror came over his face. Over the next few hours I learned that he was close to Ken Saro Wiwa and that he had been captured and tortured for years by an ‘army’. According to him, this army was partially funded by the Nigerian Government and Shell itself. I can’t say whether or not that’s true, but he was sure this was the case. I began filling in gaps with him based on my knowledge of the situation and he began to ease a bit. He was relieved (and stunned..and happy) to hear that I knew of this story. He went through many emotions as he told me this story, anger, fear, desperation, defeat. I left his house that day feeling mixed emotions myself. I was happy that I had made the decision a long time ago not to support Shell. I was angry that Shell had/has a reputation of being a good company. I was (am) heartbroken to see the direct results of how cruel the world is when money and greed replace the worth of someone’s life.
I will, of course, continue never to step foot into a Shell gas bar or support the company in any way. The blood of Ogoni people will not be on my hands.
I’ve had this particular blog entry drafted for months but never really got around to finishing it. It’s in the wake of the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh that I feel the need to share stories about other companies taking complete advantage of people who are far removed from the North American lifestyle. We think we have no impact. I’ve heard both sides when it comes to the improving the conditions for the workers in Bangladesh and other factories. A boycott vs. pressuring big companies to demand safer working conditions. With Shell, I completely boycott it and encourage others too as well. But for the workers in Bangladesh, these factory jobs are their livelihood. A boycott wouldn’t produce any positive results. However, we need to start caring about other people in this world and the best way to do that is to put pressure on those who have the power (sorry, no, you don’t have that much power. I know, I was completely bummed when I realized this too). I had a man come to me the other day and tell me his brother had just been pulled from the rubble. Again, I became an emotional mess, internalizing his feelings and the heartache of this man. But it’s a great reminder that the six degrees of separation does exist. We are all connected as human beings. We need to start to be more aware, caring, loving. You never know when these stories will hit home and personally impact you. I’ve had enough of these experiences (and likely will continue to) that disable me from turning a blind eye.
I learned a new word term week, it’s called “slacktivism”. I would say that slacktivism is at an all time high, especially with social media. People thing that writing facebook statuses or tweets about things, attacking people on personal choices or issues, and arguing over the internet somehow makes a difference. I agree that awareness is key, but I think there’s a hell of a lot more you can do. I hope that this blog isn’t part of that. I hope that you do your research and go out and make a positive influence on the world around you.