“Why are you taking money from poor people,” asks the woman defensively. My mouth becomes dry, I am put in a position to defend the organization that I have been working with for only four months. I kick into business mode, our budget pops into my head, and I start to speak.
Using words like “grants,” “ownership,” and concluding with phrases about community members needing to invest in the organization so we can become “self-sufficient.” Inside I feel lost and ashamed.
On the drive home from North Miami warm tears burn the sides of my face as my lips quiver, I repeat the question to myself over and over again, “why are you taking money from poor people?”
I can’t figure out if I’m so moved by that five-minute exchange simply because it was an awkward conversation about money, or if I in fact feel like I am taking away from poor people.
Let’s talk money
If you were raised like me, talking about money or any personal family issue with others or in public was looked down upon. Just last week my mother sent me a text commanding that I delete my post about spending $20 on groceries, she insisted grocery shopping is a private matter. Using the restroom is a private matter, and even that I often do with the door open, so a list of items I consume for nourishment sure can’t be a closed-door thing.
Much like using the restroom, I was taught that talking about money and expenses should not be done publicly. Therefore, when PACT hired me and I learned that a big part of my job would include asking community leaders to invest in our organization, I cringed. And every time the conversation came up, I felt instantaneously tense.
So why was I so awkward about money?
Because good work should not mean one has to spend or accept money. That’s my one sentence answer.
Has anyone ever told you that money is the root of all evil, so why the heck would someone choose to grow evil (unless you’re that one Satan worshiper that reads my blog, then carry-on). So to be good we should not ask for or want money.
Folks, money is not the root of all evil. If you go to church, you’ll often hear your Pastor say that the worship of money is evil, but not money. Although, I don’t always agree with everything religious leaders say, I endorse that message. Money is not evil, it is a value system–a means of exchanging goods and services. If you don’t feel sinful when you pay the cashier at the grocery store, you shouldn’t feel funky about asking friends, family or even strangers to invest in something that you believe in.
You’re not done yet, tell us why you were stealing from poor people
I’ll deflect that question to Cesar Chavez, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from politics, it’s that uncomfortable subjects should be left to others.
Okay, I’ll answer a little bit. Millions (I actually don’t know if that number is accurate, but it makes my point sound better) of people invest in good causes, evil material possessions, and more evil material possessions. Out of those billions (when you don’t actually know the facts, keep adding to your falsity–that’s a Donald Trump quote), ten million of those people aren’t in the best financial situation, but it doesn’t stop them from investing in evil material possessions so it should not discourage a do-good organizer like me from approaching those not so rich people about investing in an organization that benefits them and their community.
With the same comfort that I approach the CEO of the biggest accounting firm in South Florida, I will approach someone who is “poor,” in the words of the woman who caused one of my many mental breakdowns while organizing. It is not up to me to make a decision for someone because I assume they are too poor to financially invest in an organization that has brought great change to Miami-Dade, their home.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Chavez’s The Ethics of Collecting Dues:
The statement, ‘they’re so poor they can’t afford to contribute to the group’ is a great cop-out. You don’t organize people by being afraid of them [or their situation]. You never have. You never will. You can be afraid of them in a variety of ways. But one of the main ways is to patronize them. You know the attitude: blacks or browns or farm workers are so poor they can’t afford to pay their own group…
If I could have spoken to crying-in-my-car-all-alone-while-listening-to-James-Blunt Flose four months ago, I would have told her that she does not take money away from poor people. Rather, she gives all members of her organization an opportunity to invest in their own organization, one that they are proud of. One that brings about material gain in the form of policy change that impacts at least 50,000 Miami-Dade residents, making their financial contributions an actual investment.