Research over the last 100 years of resistance movements shows that when just 3.5% of the public mobilizes to support a movement for social, economic or environmental justice, it always wins. Many win with a smaller percentage, but no government can withstand 3.5% of the population working for transformative change.One way to look at the movement is like an archery target, a series of concentric circles. At the center is the core group of people who feel strongly about a particular issue, often those directly affected. There are many who have been working on police abuse, racial injustice and militarization of police long before Ferguson, just as there have been Michael Brown-like incidents across the country. There are many Ferguson’s throughout the United States. With Ferguson, a whole new group of people joined, the circle grew as people were horrified that an unarmed teenager could be killed by police and his body left lying in the road for 4.5 hours. As publicity about the case grew, more people joined the circle of concern seeking Justice for Mike Brown. Then, there were more police killings in additional cities throughout the country and the circles grew larger; and after the grand jury reached its decision, more people joined. When people heard of the grand jury decision, and now as they learn about how the grand jury was manipulated to protect the killer of Mike Brown, more joined.
Like many economic and political movements, the fair trade movement arose to address the perceived failure of the market and remedy important social issues. As the name implies, Fair Trade has sought not only to protect farmers but also to correct the legacy of the colonial mercantilist system and the kind of crony capitalism where large businesses obtain special privileges from local governments, preventing small businesses from competing and flourishing. To its credit, Fair Trade USA has played a significant role in getting American consumers to pay more attention to the economic plight of poor coffee growers. Although Fair Trade coffee still accounts for only a small fraction of overall coffee sales, the market for Fair Trade coffee has grown markedly over the last decade, and purchases of Fair Trade coffee have helped improve the lives of many small growers.Despite these achievements, the system by which Fair Trade USA hopes to achieve its ends is seriously flawed, limiting both its market potential and the benefits it provides growers and workers. Among the concerns are that the premiums paid by consumers are not going directly to farmers, the quality of Fair Trade coffee is uneven, and the model is technologically outdated. This article will examine why, over the past 20 years, Fair Trade coffee has evolved from an economic and social justice movement to largely a marketing model for ethical consumerism—and why the model persists regardless of its limitations.