Alternative Valentine's Day fights injustice

The event focused on human rights abuse associated with Valentine's Day.
Senior Nicholas Totten writes and decorates cards Saturday in Memorial Union South during the Alternative Valentine's Day event. The cards made by participants in the event will be sent to female prisoners in Zimbabwe.

While many people were buying last-minute Valentine's Day gifts Feb. 13, attendees of the Alternative Valentine's Day event were fighting social injustice.

Amnesty International at Mizzou, the Progressive Librarians Guild, Students for Progressive Action, Mustard Seed Fair Trade and Sub Shop sponsored an event designed to inform the public about misconduct surrounding Valentine's Day.

"We wanted to educate people about the human rights abuses that are behind the typical Valentine's Day gifts of diamonds and chocolate," Progressive Librarians Guild President Ember Stevens said.

Amnesty International at Mizzou also wanted to raise awareness of Women of Zimbabwe Arise. WOZA is a group of peaceful protesters in favor of basic education, social justice and female empowerment, Amnesty International at Mizzou President Ingrid Bohnenkamp said.

"WOZA held their rally today and they are often met with harsh resistance," Bohnenkamp said of the Feb. 13 rally in Zimbabwe. "We want to raise awareness of their fight for social justice."

Attendees of the Alternative Valentine's Day event were encouraged to make valentines that would be sent to either the Anti-Riot Police of Zimbabwe or to WOZA. The valentines requested the police act with love and protect freedom of expression, Bohnenkamp said.

People were also invited to take pictures holding a sign that read, "The power of love is greater than the love of power," and to sign a petition urging the Zimbabwe government to allow peaceful protest for WOZA and other human rights groups.

The Mustard Seed Fair Trade and Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, which operates the Peace Nook, sold fair trade chocolate, jewelry and other items at the event.

"When you buy fair trade it insures that at every step of production everyone was paid fair wages and that there was nothing irresponsible about the way people were treated," Bohnenkamp said.

Diamonds and chocolate are two items the Alternative Valentine's Day event encouraged people to buy as fair trade items. According to un.org, West African countries involved in the production of cocoa tend to be corrupt and use exploitative labor practices. Child labor conflict diamonds are also associated with social injustice. The diamonds are used to fund conflict and military opposition to the government.

"It is important to know where the things you buy are coming from and that the people involved in the production were not exploited," Students for Progressive Action Treasurer Nick Totten said.

Columbia resident Amy Sharland attended the Alternative Valentine's Day event to help out with the cause and learn about the different organizations.

"This was a way of un-celebrating Valentine's Day," Sharland said. "I think fair trade is a good idea and I try to support as much local stuff as I can."

Director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks Mark Haim said Peaceworks has a long-term commitment to nonviolence and sustainability.

"Valentine's Day should be in the spirit of love and affirmation, not a coerced exercise in consumerism," Haim said.

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