Occupy Bingo

…long lines of big rigs sat idle outside closed gates at several terminals all day Monday…Lee Ranaldson and student driver Rick Parker had driven from Kansas with a refrigerated container of meat bound for Asia. They arrived at the terminal at 8 a.m., and they were still parked there Monday night, first in line. As an independent contractor, the time spent waiting is money lost and not recovered.

"I really don't know what they're protesting for," Ranaldson said.


As regular visitors to this blog know, I'm not the protestor type. Yes, I inherited my Italian Dad's heated passion for the political issues of the day. Yes, mere mention of the $500 billion trade imbalance or Levi's jeans Made in Lesotho sends me into a tirade, complete with flailing arms and animated hands (think Helen Keller before Anne Sullivan calmed her down), as if folks can't quite grasp the magnitude of the problem and I alone must show them. I know. Annoying.

But I'd never have the nerve to take it further, carry a picket sign, Occupy Oakland, shut down a port, or sleep overnight in a tent on a street corner. I like my coffee piping hot first thing in the morning with a dash of almond extract and real cream. You can't get that sort of thing at a protest encampment.

So this morning, as I read news accounts about the actions taken yesterday by Occupy Wall Street protestors, it's darn near impossible for me to relate. How did shutting down four ports along the West Coast do anything but hurt the employees who depend on port jobs? Even Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who six weeks ago sided with protestors, issued a statement that actually made sense. The Port of Oakland, she said, "generates over 73,000 jobs in the region and is connected to more than 800,000 jobs across the country. It is one of the best sources of good paying blue-collar jobs left in our city." Amen to that.

On the other hand, Occupiers nearly hit the bull's eye on part of this country's problem: all those container ships arriving daily at our nation's ports, delivering imports manufactured for American corporations in other parts of the world. I'm not talking about from curry from India or brie from France or tea from China--products indigenous to those countries and imported to ours--but about products we once upon a time made here and now no longer do: electronics, light bulbs, batteries, apparel, shoes, eyeglasses, giftware. On and on the list goes.

If Occupiers really wanted to a make a salient point, they should've waved the hardworking truck driver with refrigerated meat from Kansas (bound for Asia) on through. We need to export more of our products, not less, right? NAFTA would be fine if trade flowed equally both ways. But come on. Have you read a label lately?

Which brings me to a kinder, gentler protest movement: Occupy Bingo. I played the game with over a dozen friends a week ago. It was interesting, fun, helped raise awareness about the trade gap, and even may have helped create jobs and narrow the income gap. Can Occupy Wall Street boast that kind of success? So pass the Bingo cards and get started.

Here's how it works: Simply buy or borrow a Bingo game (here's one I found online that's Made in the U.S.A), invite a bunch of friends and neighbors, and email them the rules: each participant brings $2 for the kitty and a wrapped $15 Made in the U.S.A. prize. The host / hostess supplies snacks and beverages and runs the game. Hosting duties can also include breaking up arguments over how many times one should be allowed to win, or whether winners can snatch already-won but enviable prizes from one another, or who brought the cutest prize ever. Oh, wait. That's probably just my Bingo group. But you get the picture.

Must admit this was the first time in our Bingo group's 15-year+ history that we stipulated American-made prizes. Since it was my turn to host, I sent around an email announcing the December theme: "A Made in the U.S.A. Christmas." It was selfish on my part. I essentially got 13 women to find affordable holiday gift ideas I could then share with you. Here's what the intrepid Bingo Gals brought:

Tree Mugs and Mini Mighty Marshmallows Dipped in Chocolate (Crate & Barrel)

Crate & Barrel Dizzy Red Cocktail Glasses (Crate & Barrel)

Libbey wine goblets (Marshall's)

Pyrex set of 4 clear glass mixing bowls (Costco)

Holiday Acrylic Baskets (The Container Store)

Nordicware red bundt pan (Target)

Nordicware microwaveable cookware (Target)

Box of See's candy

Decorative pins handmade by local middle school students for a fundraiser

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay (BevMo)

Southern Living Homestyle Cookbook (Oxmoor House, Alabama)

Celestial Seasonings "Candy Cane Lane" tea (Made in Denver)

Handmade holiday ornaments from a local artisan shop

Wine from Starmont Winery (Napa, CA)

Mary Lake-Thompson Flour Sack Towels w/ Holiday Embroidery

By the way, Crate & Barrel gets the CAMJ nod for offering a terrific selection of reasonably priced, American-Made holiday gift products. Check out their website or stop into a store and you'll agree. I also congratulate crateandbarrel.com for clearly indicating the Country of Origin on all their online products. Well done!

Have a U.S.A.-made holiday gift idea to share? Do tell.