Fair Trade Activist Spotlight: Kari Koch

Kari Koch traveled through rural Oregon working to defeat CAFTA by seeking out the real victims of “free trade:” farmers, small business owners, and laid-off workers. Use the form below to send a thank you to Kari!


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Kari Koch grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, but these days she calls Oregon home.

When the CAFTA battle was in full swing this summer, Kari hit the road. Volunteering with the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition, Kari traveled to conservative rural communities in Oregon to meet people who are hit hardest by the impacts of bad trade deals: farmers and ranchers, small business owners, and workers who lost jobs due to trade-related plant closures.

Kari talked to a lot of people about CAFTA, but she also listened. She listened to the stories of how free trade is sacrificing people’s livelihoods and tearing apart communities. In Oregon, more than 50,000 people lost jobs in the last ten years due to NAFTA-style trade agreements.

The stories that Kari collected are now part of “The Stories Project: Livelihoods Traded Away,” a multi-media initiative that has become a key part of the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition. The Stories Project seeks out Oregonians whose livelihoods are sacrificed to bad trade deals. The project gives them a chance to share their stories and be part of the movement for trade deals that value good jobs and healthy communities.

As a part of the project, Kari recorded the stories of affected people, took their photos, asked them to join up with the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition as individual members, and offered to help them register to vote if they were not already registered. Every individual interview led to many more as laid-off workers helped to contact their former co-workers and farmers called up their friends and family. The Stories Project has initiated a series of gatherings and trainings for these folks and worked to give them opportunities to speak to local and statewide media about their take on CAFTA and further NAFTA expansion.

At the same time, The Stories Project: Livelihoods Traded Away is launching a website soon with photos and narratives, and is taking an exhibit of these stories—as well as many of the story-tellers themselves—on a tour of universities and cities in Oregon to reach a larger audience and help hold representatives accountable.

The Stories Project is reshaping the fight for fair trade in Oregon, and volunteers at the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign are excited to help get it off the ground in others states too. The growing network of laid-off workers, farmers/ranchers, small business owners, and immigrants gives a powerful voice to those who are most affected by trade here in the US. While the jobs may have disappeared, the people who worked those jobs did not. And they want their elected officials to be held accountable. Senators and Representatives who advocate for free trade are going to have to justify themselves to constituents who livelihoods were traded away.

When asked to reflect on her experience, Kari has this to say: “It really drove home how free trade outsources our family wage jobs and replaces them with minimum wage jobs at Wal-Mart. Many people I talked to who lost jobs are confused and angry. They’re frustrated that elected representatives would sign off on deals like CAFTA after all the jobs we’ve lost.”

If you want to start a Stories Project on trade in your state or just want to give some words of encouragement, send Kari an email. She’ll keep you posted on an upcoming website for the project and share tips on how to get started in your state.

December 13, 2018

Thank you, Kari!

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