What We Wish to See in This World

Big Cartel Art Works is our initiative to provide work, opportunity, and creative freedom to artists in this time of uncertainty. As the pandemic has intersected with overdue discussions on racism and inequality, we’ll be commissioning some projects that stretch beyond our normal areas of expertise. Right now, it’s time to learn and elevate stories that we all need to hear.

We’re doing our work to understand - and undo - the harm caused by systemic racism and racist atrocities. Today, Jeannine A. Cook of Harriet’s Bookshop shares how she is managing her response to this moment.

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Today marks 167 days since Breonna Taylor was brutally murdered by her city (officers and officials), her state (her governor and her attorney general), and her country (her president and his administration). We as taxpayers play our part in her murder because we continue to pay the salaries of the people who murdered her. We also pay the salaries of the people who conspire to cover it up. What is freedom and justice for all? What would actual justice look like in this scenario? It is far more than a simple indictment. It is far more than even jail time.

I am a woman. A black woman. A black woman business owner in Philadelphia. On February 1, 2020, I opened a boutique bookshop in Fishtown named for Harriett Tubman. Our bookshop is built on the mission of celebrating women authors, women artists, and women activists. Six weeks after our opening, the city sent me an email requiring me to shut down my shop for public safety.

At that time, I transfered my curated book collection over to a Big Cartel store to sell my inventory online. I used this site to create several other sites for our business, such as Essentials for Essentials, where customers were invited to purchase books for Essential Workers in our local hospitals. We also built a site for a neighborhood family to build a baby shower book site where friends and family purchased books for their new bundle of JOY. The site was called Baby Joy’s Baby Shower.

But when George Floyd was murdered (by his city, his state, and his country) and civil unrest started across the nation, my site became a portal to new customers across the country who were using education as their form of activism. However I continue to stress to those customers that it is one thing to buy a book, it’s another to read that book, and but most importantly, it is when you are moved to action as a result of that book that real education begins to take place.

While my Big Cartel site helped me to support people with purchasing books from our shop, it is my hope that it also serves as a conduit for the discussions and direct actions that need to create justice for the Breonna Taylors of the world by ANY means necessary.

In this moment, here are the three most important things I did to make sure my business thrives while we continue to be a stand for what we wish to see in this world:

Move at your own own pace. Like Nipsey Hussle said, “It’s a marathon.” In a single weekend we went from 3000 followers to 30,000 followers on Instagram. This influx of orders for our very small team (me and two high school interns) meant that we had to limit our inventory and then shut our store down in intervals to keep up. I was biting my fingernails every time someone emailed to say they couldn’t get access to our online store, but it is just what we had to do to maintain our integrity and sanity. We understand that those moments were just the sprint, for the longevity though we have to move at a sustainable pace.

Use your store to spread your message. Like Toni Morrison said, “I must be steady and I must be clear.” In addition to our tees and totes working as tools for sharing our messaging, we also use our Big Cartel pages to connect directly with our customers about our experiences and where we stand on social issues. It is important to us that folks understand that when they shop at Harriett’s Bookshop, they are supporting our bigger mission of celebrating women authors, women artists, and women activists. When we took to the streets with free books, we used our Big Cartel platform to explain how and why we were doing what we were doing and gave our customers insider access that others weren’t granted. It was so valuable to us that we stayed steady and clear.

Connect with the Big Cartel family. Like Queen Latifah said, “U.N.I.T.Y.” When we need support with our online store, we don’t hesitate to reach out to our Big Cartel family. It means so much to be connected to a team that cares about our well being and not just the bottom line. That type of unity and support in these times makes it way easier to do the work on the ground. Utilize the team as much as possible, because they are here for us. That said we should also be supporting one another. If you see ways that your biz could collab with another Big Cartel biz, then shoot your shot. This is how we build one another up.

Jeannine A. Cook

Jeannine A. Cook is the shopkeeper at Harriett’s Bookshop. Harriett’s Bookshop, named for historic heroine, Harriett Tubman, celebrates women authors, women artists, and women activists.

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