Crowdfunding as Community

crowdfunding means equityCrowdfunding, a type of online fundraising where many people come together to contribute small amounts of money to fund a larger project, is happening now more than ever.

In 2014, a man named Zack Danger Brown started a fundraiser with an initial goal of $10 so he could make potato salad. People were so amused by his humorous approach to crowdfunding that over 6,000 backers ended up contributing over $50,000 to his kickstarter campaign.

More importantly however, people from all over the world are starting crowdfunding campaigns and asking for help in paying their medical bills, funding their tuition, and buying their groceries. I have personally used crowdfunding many times to help me pay my rent, fix my car or have enough money for food until I get my next paycheck.

As a result, I’ve had firsthand experiences with how angry people can get at those of us who crowdfund in order to survive. Every time I have started a new campaign, I have been in one of the worst places of my life, desperate with seemingly no place to go and no one to turn to. Each time, I have felt trapped by poverty, and my vulnerability felt like it might be the end of my life as I knew it.

Crowdfunding is an act of community solidarity...”

In these moments, when I decided to do the thing my mom always told me not to do (don’t ask for help, don’t look needy, don’t overstay your welcome, don’t let people know you’re struggling because there’s no pride in struggling) there were always people there to let me know how right she was. I would be asked invasive questions about whether or not I would use the money given to me to buy purses or a cell phone. I would be asked about how I put myself in this situation, and what my long-term plans were to pull myself out of it. I would be asked if I had a job and how much it paid, or it would be assumed that I wasn’t working at all, and was instead trying to take advantage of other people’s kindness.

The True Kindness of Strangers

And yet, for every person who was angry at me for asking for help, there were at least five more who could understand what I was going through, or at the very least understood that now wasn’t the time to ridicule me and my financial situation. Many of these people knew I was working two jobs while I was a full-time student, and many of them didn’t. Still, their kind and encouraging words, and their choice to send me money so that I could survive whatever I was going through in that moment, will always stick with me.

Graphic of how crowdfunding worksCrowdfunding taught me a lot about who I am as a person, and how poverty, shame and feelings of not-being-enough are all symptoms of capitalism. It also taught me that no one has a right to ask me about why I’m poor or to interrogate the ways in which I navigate this world while poor. In other words, it’s not okay for people who aren’t facing the violence that comes with poverty – food insecurity, social stigma, inability to find or maintain housing, etc. – to shame those of us who have or are.

What’s more, it has become clear to me that crowdfunding isn’t just an exchange of funds from one person to another. Some of my closest friendships with different people online have been made possible because they read about the situation I was in and reached out to support me monetarily, emotionally and otherwise. At the same time, I’ve had money donated to me from strangers who never talked to me again after that, but made it clear that my story touched them in some way and they wanted to help.

Solidarity and Equity

Crowdfunding is an act of community solidarity because it undermines systems that have been set in place to make us feel like our self-worth, our relationships and our value as human beings come through how much money we have, rather than from the ways we love, accept, and support one another – especially in times of crisis. Crowdfunding also encourages people to ask for help, something that many of us are taught from a young age not to do.

A Generation Inspiring Change

Instead of letting our problems hide in the shadows, we are a generation of people who are reaching out to our communities and the communities of others. All we ask is that our vulnerabilities be understood as evidence of a failed system, not a failure of us as individuals, and our needs be looked at not as a hindrance, but as possibilities meant to inspire change.

5 Responses

  1. Kelli

    I just think it’s insulting to actual poor people how one month you can go to a Beyonce concert and then the next you’re begging the internet for money. It seems to me like a case of misplaced priorities.

    1. Corinna

      Re: the first comment, you know whose priorities you’re not scrutinizing enough? Over-resourced people. It’s always poor people who are judged for their choices, the underlying implication being “if you just made different choices, you wouldn’t be cash-strapped or poor.” But that ignores the entire class system that’s designed to maintain an under-class and over-privilege the few.

    2. Casey Jo

      Interesting…
      A) Do you self identify as an “actual poor person”? I would suggest that you reread the post, particularly “…it’s not okay for people who aren’t facing the violence that comes with poverty – food insecurity, social stigma, inability to find or maintain housing, etc. – to shame those of us who have or are.”
      B)Misplaced priorities? The solution is not as simple as a two sentence comment, if it were we would have already solved all of this.
      C) What does Beyonce have to do with anything?

    3. Taylor Chapman

      Kelli,

      Thanks for your response. I am very lucky to be great friends with another woman who, upon graduating from grad school, was given the gift of two tickets to see Beyonce from her parents. I was so grateful to be invited by her to go to the concert, because as someone who oftentimes has to pass up on adventures with friends due to a lack of money, I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was also nice to spend a night dancing and singing in the rain with a good friend, which allowed me to momentarily throw off the stress of the end of the semester, and having ust spent several days on and off with my disabled father in the hospital.

      To quote Beyonce: When you hurt me, you hurt yourself. When you play me, you play yourself.

      Try not to play yourself.

  2. Anne Phillips

    I find it more insulting that our world is such that wealth is hoarded and literally builds more wealth just sitting in a bank while poor people are taxed at a higher rate, pay a larger portion of their pie just to meet their basic needs. So when a tooth breaks, a family member falls ill or any other number of unexpected real life circumstances put people over the financial edge. Nobody is crowdfunding for said Beyonce tickets. And what if they do? Are those with less not entitled to an evening of entertainment to forget about how the deck is stacked against them? I truly hope that the commenter never has to deal with such circumstances. I wish that upon nobody. But if they do, I hope they have community that will help them get through their tough times.

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