Jewelry and glass beads are my first crafting love. The summer after my freshman year in college, I got a job in the local bead store, which was located in our idyllic down town shopping district. I worked for a woman named Philomena, who fascinated me with her endless complaints about how everything in her life was against her. I think I was fascinated by her tenacity, since despite a crappy ex-husband and a teenaged son who was up to no good and endless customers and suppliers who tried to screw her, she found joy in life and kept plugging away at this small business that she owned. She was not scrupulous but she wasn't precisely illegal. I know she paid me as casual labor (like a babysitter) so she wouldn't have to do the paperwork to withhold taxes but I know she filed some of my wages as going to her family members. Once she called me at the store to tell me to give her son money out of the register to buy cigarettes. All of it fascinated me. Paying me $.50 above minimum wage allowed her some freedom to take care of things and gave me hours on end to experiment with different combinations of colors, textures and techniques.
Working for Philomena really engraved in my mind the struggles that small business owners go through to be their own boss, which is a reward in itself, since rarely do small businesses turn much more than a small profit. As a country, we value small business owners for the entrepreneurial spirit they possess. Although they embody self-reliance, they also promote community, since shopping with them keeps money inside the local economy and promotes actually knowing the people we interact with in our everyday lives.
As a policy student, I've been interested to watch the unfolding implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which was passed after all of those toys from China were found to have lead in them just before Christmas last year. Lawmakers did not write in an exemption for small business owners and craftsmen who make their own toys by hand. The testing and certification required by the legislation will drive almost all of these folks out of business, even though there is practically no risk to children from their products; the culprits of the recall last year were all imported plastic toys that had been painted. Hand-carved wooden cars and hand-sewn dolls made from natural fibers would have to be tested for lead just like all the others.
If you'd like to help out these folks who have often chosen simple lifestyles in order to work for themselves at what they love (which many would consider to be the American Dream), consider signing this petition or reading more here and here.
Actually, I've just learned that the most comprehensive site is the Handmade Toy Alliance.
Today is the last day to add your voice to the policy process that would protect small business owners throughout America from going out of business because of negligence by Chinese mega-corporations.
the start of something - I had intended to wait until more colors were added to the pile of cotton I've dyed recently. But it was just too tempting sitting there on my studio table...