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Solidarity, not Charity: the Bella Ciao Story

A lot of folks have been talking about our coffee line, Bella Ciao, where you direct 30% of your purchase to a local charity. It’s been a hit, here’s the back story:

More than a feel-good fix

Charity, capitalism, coffee. Or chocolate. Or even cheese. It's pretty standard these days. You know, feel good marketing: buy this organic, fair trade product and portion of the proceeds go x,y,z charity: “your body and your heart will feel better.” Call it the Whole Foods phenomenon, conscious consumerism has brought a lot of good to the world. It’s forced us to think about where our food comes from, how it’s made, who makes it, and what it does to the environment.

There is a bit of a snag with this movement though: good, natural, tends to be a lot more expensive and hence out of reach of working class folk and large swaths of communities of color who stand to benefit from the most from healthier diets. Makes you think. Likewise, for farmers who want to sell on the fair trade and organic labels: they themselves face financial and service barriers to meet the standards imposed by the Whole Foods crowd. So, the most vulnerable farmers and pickers are once again left out of the cut.

But look, no shade, no hate, conscious consumerism is on the right track. When we started Ebrik we needed the shop to be more than a place where you get your feel good fix. Instead, we wanted to take that consciousness to another level: Solidarity, Not Charity. It’s a different mindset.[AB2]  How do we make solidarity part of our daily lives, through the very choices we make as consumers?

In our first shop six years ago, while you were waiting for your drink by the counter, you could drop a bean in a jar, choosing a local non-profit group you wanted to support: we would share a cut of our profit every month with a different group. We stepped it up by using Ebrik as a platform for fundraising: open mics where the cover charge went to support the unhoused, pay-as-you like days for local refugees, and profit-sharing mornings for DACA (dreamers) students. These were ways to build links in our community. To raise a community of consciousness as we all fueled up for the hustle or wound down from a tough day in the downtown streets. This is what solidarity looks like.

So, post-COVID, how do keep it alive?

As we shuttered the shops and our crowds went into quarantine we looked for ways to maintain the spirit of solidarity. Instead of the typical, “a portion of our profits go to support blah blah blah”--- we decided to try something bold! What if we gave a huge cut, off the top line, before profit, to our local community partners. And what if we could find a way to get our customers to participate directly in that solidarity action. Real contributions for committed folks making an impact. It was an easy decision.

That’s how Bella Ciao was born: 30% off the top of your purchase, straight to a charity of your choice. To keep it fresh, we rotate charities and the coffee itself under the Bella Ciao blend. One month it might be Honduran coffee and a civil rights group, another month it might be a Kenyan and a community empowerment organization. Whatever the case, purchasing Bella Ciao let’s you directly participate in circulating your dollar for the right cause.

So then, what’s with the name?

“Goodbye Beautiful”—Bella Ciao—it’s song, a movement, and poignant reminder of solidarity through the generations. Originally a folk tune from the 19th century, sung by women farmers in the rice paddy fields of Italy’s Po Valley as a way to cope with their harsh realities, it’s got a soul like the Blues. Then, as fascism took over Italy and most of Europe, resistance fighters took the song, adapted the lyrics, and it quickly became a national anthem of liberation, struggle, and working-class solidarity. Ready for sacrifice, the lyrics are haunting:

“Bury me up in the mountain,

under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass, oh bella ciao, bella ciao,

will tell me "what a beautiful flower.

This is the flower of the partisan,

oh bella ciao, bella ciao,

this is the flower of the partisan

who died for freedom.”

 

The song then was adapted by working class and anti-colonial resistance movements around the world for decades and decades. And yes, now it became a global smash hit after being featured as the main score on “Money Heist” (Casa de Papel), on Netflix.

I first learned the song when it was rendered into Arabic during protests against government corruption in Lebanon in 2018. It’s in nearly every language in the world now. Italians were singing it on their balconies during the worst days of the pandemic. And yes, there are even TikTok trends on it.

Here’s a classic version of the song and a compilation of various renditions.

So, yeah. Bella Ciao, it’s a little more than coffee, and a little more than charity. Join us.

Bella Ciao,

- Barz

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