Being an Owning-Class Activist

Renaissance Cooperative image with hands together holding up the Co-op

Renaissance Cooperative

All of us are more than a label, right? We each are more than one of our identities standing by itself. We are complex, changing, contradictory beings, and a mystery in many ways.

And yet, our identities do matter – at the very same time as those identities are not all of who we are. I am a White Owning-Class Woman from New England and a product of 150 years legacy of wealth on both sides of my family. I grew up in New England, and went to private schools from first grade through college.

And I am an Owning-Class Activist – in my very own particular way – as any wealthy person can be too. Why? Mostly so I can live with myself, so I can feel and be a member of society engaged with others creating a more just, consciously interconnected world.

I find it deeply satisfying to work/play shoulder-to-shoulder with others with and without financial resources, doing our best to create structures that encourage the fulfillment of every person’s potential.

Creating Sustainable Change

Owning-class people, like all people, are needed in movements for long-term, sustainable change towards equity and planetary healing. I don’t believe we are essential, as I believe the underlying impulse towards liberation and community connection is on the move with or without us.

Others will respond and act on that impulse whether we do or don’t. But that impulse is moving within us as well. And if we respond and act we can be powerful partners in substantive, personally and politically fulfilling change.

What can we bring to the table with other change agents?

  1. Well there is the obvious: Money. Moving money to where it is most needed to effect transformation in alliance with other activists is both highly satisfying and can move the dial. It is tricky as well. Power dynamics in the funding/fundraising field are rampant. They are a product of the system of extreme wealth inequality. And while they can’t be eliminated entirely, they can be addressed with transparency, honest dialogue and democratic structures like the Social Justice Fund based in Seattle.Money moving can be in the form of well-timed, appropriate respectful philanthropy and it can be in the form of investing – in worker cooperatives like Wellspring Harvest in Springfield, Mass., or food cooperatives like the Renaissance Cooperative in Greensboro, N.C., for example.
  1. We bring Mobilization of other Owning-class people. Groups like Resource Generation, Threshold, the Women’s Donor Network, and Women Moving Millions are some of the groups dedicated to gathering wealthy people for healing, education and mobilization in the context of the larger movement for social change. We can amplify our financial and social power and that of our organizing colleagues in the field as many have done with the Divest/Invest movement.Here we need to help each other deal with the particular elements/responsibilities/challenges of being wealthy while increasing our capacity to listen, understand our own implicit biases, and to stay at the table when the going gets bumpy. How else can we really support movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock?
  1. We bring Access. Responsible Wealth organized owning class members to send community organizers to shareholder meetings as one more element of a campaign. If we know politicians because we are contributors, we can share our access to that decisionmaker with our organizing fellows. We can use our “cultural and social capital” – our connections we made at private schools, our parents country clubs and our donor appreciation events – to bring grassroots organizers in contact with wealthy people who are often behind doors or long driveways.

This is just a short list; there are many examples throughout history of wealthy people supporting social change movements in a multitude of ways.

Acting as an owning-class global citizen who has particular assets to offer the larger flow of social change can be a profoundly moving, meaningful, scary and exciting experience.”

Connecting Is Satisfying

I also want to say that we aren’t owning-class activists for the good of others only. We benefit immensely from breaking out of our prescribed roles and breaking into community and solidarity. Being an owning-class activist – whatever that might mean to you – can be truly liberating, enlivening, connecting and deeply satisfying.

Too often we are isolated, physically comfortable but lonely on a deeper level. We benefit financially from this great wealth divide but we also suffer if we choose not to act on our privilege. We suffer the stagnation of guilt or numbness or blind superficial denial, making our relationships perhaps fun but maybe not so meaningful.

We do have a need for intimacy, for being vulnerable and being able to reach out to others and so often we create a paying relationship with therapist or in workshops instead of having to take the risk and reach out to someone who might say “no.” Being an owner activist one is often working side-by-side with others from other economic/racial realities and real connections can be forged. We absolutely do need each other to make the changes that are called for now.

Acting as an owning-class global citizen who has particular assets to offer the larger flow of social change can be a profoundly moving, meaningful, scary and exciting experience.

I encourage my fellow owning class folk to work/play with others; show the world that human and planetary connection is more powerful than greed, hate and fear.

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