Spice Force

Well, Portland shut down its OccupyICE camp last week.

It was time. Actually, it was over-time. I’d been watching from the sidelines, as is my style, for the last couple of months while Little Beirut did what it does.

Protest.

In many ways, we did good things that made me nod in appreciation. Then there was the OccupyICE movement which started out fine, taking our protests from the streets and parks to the front door of those we protested.

In past years, this has led to marches that shut down freeways and damaged property. That was avoided this time, but I was still disappointed in the evolution of this protest. When I would watch video, the protesters were not behaving in a way that made me proud to be associated with their message. While their actions were not violent or destructive, their words still were.

Shocking no one, words are important to me. Maybe we’ve learned as protesters that actions speak louder than words, but I think our next evolution needs to ensure that our words are matching our non-violent and non-destructive actions.

This was not the case with the OccupyICE protest at the ICE facility in southwest Portland for the last several weeks. Just like the Occupy Wall Street movement from years ago, what started out as a hive of like minded social activists morphed into a homeless camp.

Ironically, the Garden Party I attended over the weekend had two radio hosts at it whose offices were right in the thick of the OccupyICE imbroglio. They echoed my relief that the camp had been shut down. However, while I was relieved that it was shut down and would no longer be a threat to our collective credibility, they were relieved that it was no longer a threat to their personal safety.

We come by our Little Beirut nickname pretty honestly here in Portland…unfortunately.

Meanwhile, though, elsewhere in the city we were staging protests in a much more constructive fashion.

The Silver Fox and I had occasion to mix with folks in our collective front yard last month as they held a rally in the park to protest the separation of immigrant families.

It was extremely peaceful.

It was organized.

It was huge.

The rally was set to take place in front of the former US Customs House on the park block just diagonally across the street from The Fox’s and my homes. It ended up spilling over and filling half of the park block in front of our houses as well as on the other side.

It was a simple enough affair with a good mix of the usual local politicians and activists speaking as well as former military people and just parents spreading their heartfelt message of resistance. There were roving petitioners circulating to garner support for whatever ballot measures they were advocating for and even someone there with resources to help get voters registered…just in case.

But in addition to the words spoken, what was left behind has peacefully influenced passers by in the park blocks for weeks after the rally.

Sidewalk Protests.

The sidewalks around the park blocks as well as the brick paths through the park blocks themselves are covered in chalk. Literally hundreds of messages scribbled out to remind us every day that our government has committed these horrifying acts against immigrant families.

Committed.

Not supported or ignored, committed.

And that’s not ok.

But what’s even heartened my heart more than Portland getting its protest act together has been the activity of a certain business – and namesake inspiration for this post – in recent months.

Penzey’s Spices.

If you talk to business leaders about mixing politics or religion with their businesses, I’m sure you’d get a high 90% of them saying that it’s a bad idea. Indeed, when it comes to politics, most businesses usually play both sides of the fence by donating within the mandated maximums equally to political campaigns.

Then Citizens United happened.

That decision resulted in limitless spending by corporations to advance their agendas and support their interests. Obviously, this benefits Oil and Pharma more than retail business interests. Corporate spending follows those same divisions with retailers having little to no interest in changing their political spending, for the most part.

However, Penzey’s has done better than just doing what they’ve always done. They went out on a branch and literally risked putting their money where their mouth is. In recent months, their email marketing – written by Bill Penzey himself – has flat out declared its opposition to the actions of our government. Specifically calling out the Republican – Ratpublican – Party for its continued endorsement of Trump’s actions, whether it’s open approval or tacit through lack of condemnation.

Their stance is simple. They are a spice company and spices are used in the most basic demonstration of familial bonding – meal prep. Therefore, it follows that keeping families together would be a natural interest for them to endorse.

Boy, howdy…have they ever!

The picture above is a giveaway they did back in April. It was a shareable promotion for their email followers. Sallory – who lives way out of town- asked The Fox to pick hers up. He then signed up for their email list and invited me to go with him. Of course, if I’m walking four blocks, I want the free gift, too!

I’ve shopped at Penzey’s off and on for the last decade or so since they opened their Seattle store. I was living with a culinary student and working at Sur la Table, of course I’m going to a spice store! When I moved back to Portland, I just happened to end up living practically around the corner from their store. When I need something for my turn cooking for Monday Night Supper Club, I hustle over to Penzey’s. When it’s not my turn for MNSC, I usually go over to buy something to sprinkle on my popcorn…I cook for other people, not myself.

But I’d never signed up for their email list.

Boy, was I missing out!

Not only do they have great promotions, the free giveaway actually had laminated recipe cards in it with ideas for using the free spices, but the emails themselves are inspirational.

Bill’s words have actually motivated me to nurture my own spirit through cooking…just for me. As a person who famously hates leftovers, that’s really something. I have always enjoyed comfort food leftovers. Lately I’ve been reminded that all food can be a comfort.

In today’s US of Hey, How The Hell Did This Happen we can use all the comfort we can get.

And for Penzey’s their stance is paying off. Their words encourage resistance with a reminder of what values are core and important…people are important. We are urged to take care of people versus interests through their occasional emails. I can only imagine that their subscription list has swollen considerably in the first quarters of this year. They ran out of the April giveaway within hours of opening and their online fulfillment wasn’t far behind in being depleted.

Instead of pulling out the whole “while supplies last” chestnut, they fulfilled every last online order and store raincheck they had. The same thing happened earlier this month, even though they had significantly increased their on hands for their next promotion. I think they even put a minimal purchase requirement on the second promotion…like $5.

After both events you didn’t hear from them for several weeks while they caught up with orders. Sure, that’s what it’s all about, right? They’re a business. Marketing – especially with a giveaway – costs money.

But I can’t tell you how happy I am to get an email from a company that bravely stands up and says “This Is Wrong” to its customers that reinforces the fact that Americans vote.

Even if it’s just with their dollars. I’m glad that the rewards justify the risk and horrified that I just acknowledged that a company supporting an obvious truth – families should not be separated by government – was a risk. Their business has increased 80-fold.

That’s not 80%, it’s 80 times better year over year.

To illustrate:

An 80% increase on $100 in sales equates to $180.

An 80-fold increase on $100 in sales results in $8000 in sales.

Nurturing people is good business.

Facilitating a place – mealtime in this case – where people and families can come together to discuss what’s happening in life and the world is good for people, regardless of culture. But right now, America needs that safe place to talk.

Spice Force