Pandemics, Hackers, Ethical Sourcing & Social Activism

In January 2020, I happily made my plans for the year ahead.  I expected to attend several ethical sourcing conferences in the USA.  I was also dreaming into trips to Madagascar, India and Brazil to visit some of my suppliers at their mines and factories.  I wanted to see my supply chains at work firsthand, rather than relying on second-hand reports or assumptions.  I wasn’t sure how it would all come together, but I was excited to find out.  The future looked bright.

I also began writing a book about ethical sourcing.  I initially hoped it could be written quickly, but I soon discovered the scope of my ambition doesn’t fit that mold.  As the old saying goes, it can be good, fast or cheap, but it can’t be all three!  The reality is I’ve got a full-time business and a vibrant life.  To keep those and write a good book, means I have to forget about quick and embrace whatever the real speed might be.

In February, I bought a plane ticket and registered for the Jewelry Industry Summit in Los Angeles, a conference scheduled for late March.  I knew that De Beers, the world’s most powerful diamond corporation, would be a guest speaker at the conference.  My curiosity was piqued, even though I don’t trade in diamonds.  It’s always interesting to hear what the big guys are doing (or not doing) to improve the world.

Then Covid-19 arrived in the USA, and all the best laid plans were abruptly set aside.

Needless to say the conference was canceled.  Like everyone else, I watched and waited to see what would happen next.  It quickly became clear that I was one of the lucky ones.  My business is all online so I wasn’t particularly affected by the lockdowns.  While other people scrambled to reorganize, my life remained stabile.  If anything, it just got busier.  During the spring, I mostly focused on practical business updates.  Nothing particularly interesting, just the necessary behind-the-scenes work of keeping a business and a life running smoothly.

Then came June and the explosive power of Black Lives Matter.  I was very troubled, as a human being and as a business owner.  As a human being, I was horrified and angered by yet another injustice.  As a business owner, I was irritated that the healing crystal industry was largely silent.  How dare we speak of healing only when it’s easy and profitable and then be silent when it really matters?  I asked myself, can I be silent?  Will it hurt my business to speak up about such a politically charged topic?  Can I, a white woman in the healing crystal business, take the weekend off and be silent, while so many people of color are in agony?

I didn’t take the weekend off.  Or the next one.  Or the one after that.  For months, I worked 7 days a week.  Sometimes that meant I physically marched in the streets to add my voice to the cries for justice.  But mostly, it meant I spent hours deepening my knowledge of crystal energy to move beyond personal healing and into a greater concept of world healing.  I asked the crystals to speak with me about every serious and sensitive topic I could think of.  I asked which crystals can help us become anti-racists?  Which ones are eager to see us fight back against misogyny?  Which crystals are aching to show us how to solve the many complex problems associated with climate change or the military-industrial-complex? Each question I asked was multifaceted and I tried to consider as many perspective as possible.

And why not ask these questions?  If crystals can be used to heal illnesses, manifest abundance and attract true love, then why can’t that potent energy be used to heal the world?  You can see my work here, the first crystal index devoted to healing the harsh realities of the 21st century.  It is a work-in-progress and a labor of love.

Sometimes I questioned this work.  Was it helpful?  Would it inspire real action or was it just a slacktivist vanity project?  What about that book I started in January, was I ignoring my other obligations?  I decided this index was worth doing because outside of my own family and friends, my greatest sphere of influence is in the healing crystal world.  Whether it is talking to my customers or my peers, I have an opportunity to reach thousands of peoples’ minds and hearts.  For me, this index has became a twin-pillar at the core of my business.  Ethical sourcing flows upstream from myself to the mines.  World Healing flows downstream from myself to all the crystal healers who want to create a better world.

Being willing to talk about the hard topics brought some attention to my business.  Most of it was good, but I also got hacked by a white supremacist.  That was a very stressful day!  But it was interesting to watch how I handled it and how my team supported me.  It was also interesting to really recognize that I have a team.  I’m used to thinking of myself as a solo-entrepreneur, but over the years I’ve gradually acquired employees around the world.  I take good care of them and they take good care of me.  I’m a very hands-on business owner.  I like to know all the ins and outs of everything in my business.  But I also know when to step back and invite an expert to come in and do their magic.  Likewise, I’m getting better at delegating some of the simpler work to others, freeing myself up so I can tackle the big gnarly questions of ethical sourcing and world healing.

By the fall, the larger world had eased into a new rhythm.  While international travel was still unthinkable, conferences were happily back on my schedule.  The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference was held on Zoom this year.  I’m generally unwilling to start my workday at 4am.  But living in Hawaii and being part of a global community sometimes means early mornings.  It’s worth it to get up for my own education and to participate in real time with people who share my passion for ethical sourcing.  As usual, most of the conference focused on gold and diamonds, but there were some topics that spoke directly to my concerns.  Topics like, “Indigenous Land Rights and Large Scale Mining” and “Ethics and Managing the Natural Ecosystem” and “Bringing Value Back to Source Countries”.

The information made my head ache and troubled my heart.  Consider for a moment the complexities of illegal vs criminal mining in Africa.  An illegal mine does not have proper permits.  But it’s often a useful side hustle for a person in deep poverty who is trying to keep their family fed.  This is very different than an organized criminal business venture.  But, oftentimes the organized criminals are directly profiting off of those poor miners who are just trying to survive.  If something valuable is smuggled out of the country, that means there was no taxation.  Taxes build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.  Who gets rich and who grows more poor?  I know many healing crystals are products of these illegal mines.  Of course, no one admits to it.  But it happen all the same.

In fact, sometimes the fact that it’s such a small mine is seen as an asset in the healing crystal world.  Sellers will brag about the small environmental footprint and suggest it helps the poorest people.  When someone is very poor, short-term immediate profit is of course vitally important.  But what if it comes at the cost of their future and the future of their children’s children?  How much wealth can flow out of a country before all that’s left is empty despair?  Many sub-Sahara African countries are mineral rich, but it’s a limited resource and once tapped what will be left?  When thinking about ethics, how does one balance immediate needs with future needs?

Shifting from Africa over to South America, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around a real life story of a modern David and Goliath.  Imagine an indigenous woman in the highlands of Peru who never learned to read or write and only wants to peacefully grow potatoes on her land and take care of her dozen sheep.  But instead she is subjected to constant physical and emotional abuse and trapped in an international legal battle with the largest gold producer in the world.  She is the first person to successfully fight back, everyone else has been pushed aside.  But she is indominable.  Their legal battle has gone on for almost a decade and there’s no real end in sight.  The dignity and courage of Maxima Acuna is unfathomable.  She leaves me in awe.  At the Chicago conference, I ask someone who knows her personally, how is she doing during Covid-19? Apparently the lockdowns at the mines have meant she is getting a break from the constant harassment.  Newman Mine, a US company that owns the controlling interest in the gold mine in Peru, has promised to review their practices in regards to Human Rights issues.  I wish I believed them, but I have zero confidence they will keep their word.  I hope Maxima will never give up.  I hope she will have justice and peace someday soon.

After hearing her story, I reached out to one of my suppliers in Peru.  He is a small mine owner and the source for my fabulous Chrysocolla.  I ask him to share his perspective with me about Maxima and the gold mine.  I wanted to know what he thinks, as a mine owner and as someone from Peru.  Because I know that ‘truth’ is often a matter of perspective and that reality is multifaceted.  I also want my source to know that I care about people like Maxima.  He wrote back immediately to curse the greed of gold and to admire Maxima’s courage.  I’m glad to know he cares.

Every conference I attend focuses on gold and diamonds.  It’s overwhelming for everyone involved.  The level of corruption and the amount of obstacles we currently face is depressing.  But I don’t deal in gold or diamonds, instead I have 200+ healing crystals to keep track of.  How can I know my rubies are from India and not Afghanistan?  There are ruby mines in both countries and it is common to smuggle rubies across the border and then lie about the origins.  Does it make a difference if we’re talking about jewelry-quality rubies vs the tumbled stones I deal in?  Is it fair to assume it’s not worth the trouble of smuggling lower-quality? It’s something to ponder and look into further.  Add that question to my to-do list.

As the year comes to a close, my to-do list is somewhat daunting and always growing.  But mostly this doesn’t seem to bother me.  I just continue plugging away.  It would be nice if I could instantly “manifest” all my dreams, but some things can only be manifested with time and sweat equity.

Life is full of surprises, some pleasant and some very annoying.  This fall, for the second time, my website was hacked.  This time it wasn’t in retribution, but just bad luck.  Once again my team fixed it.  But this time, I was not willing to just hope it didn’t happen again.  I decided to add a new team member to Moonrise Crystals – my very own ethical hacker!  He burrowed into my website to find all the little nooks and crannies that hackers use to cause mischief.  He returned to me with a 40 page document of detailed suggestions.  A month of work and several thousand dollars later, my website is now a crystal fortress and I’m far more educated about cyber-security.  I look forward to a long relationship with my ethical hacker, he’ll be testing the site regularly so I can keep us safe.

My goodness, there’s so many ways to grow and so much still to learn! But at least I’m not lonely anymore, like I was years ago.  I have a good team and I’m part of a global community of big hearts.  When a customer asks me to recommend ethical beads or ethical jewelry, I don’t try to keep them on my site.  I send them to other small businesses with a smile and goodwill.  Likewise, when a group of jewelers forms a new company, they reached out to me.  Would I be willing to educate a group of miners in Zambia about the healing crystal market in the USA?  Not just any miners, but a co-op of female miners who are dedicated to raising the standard of living for everyone in their community.  Of course, I’d love to help!  When the miners are ready to bring stones to market, Moonrise Crystals is ready to be their first customer.

I’m not working 7 days a week anymore.  I take most of the weekend off to recharge.  But on Saturday mornings, I’ve been setting some time aside to work on the book I started writing back in January.  It’s a slow process, with hours of research for every page added.  And sometimes I use that writing time for something else – like this!  But it’s all coming along and I’m pleased with life and business in general.

We’ll see where 2021 takes me.  I’ve got big plans for the future, but I’m flexible too.  Thank you for all your support, both financial and energetic.  Your support of my small business has helped make many dreams come true and the future looks bright.