A few days ago, this statement from Peaceful Uprising was making the rounds on my Facebook feed, and my friends were posting celebratory comments about the climate justice organization’s transition from a traditional non-profit model to a more democratic volunteer-based one.
My first thought was, “But, but–jobs!” In this post-employment economy, I hate to see any full-time job be replaced with contingent or volunteer work–even though I know that switching from a professional-based structure to a collective one can help bring marginalized voices to the forefront.
I know there are so many problems with the non-profit industrial complex, but I also like the idea of paying people to organize, because it frees up the time and energy they wouldn’t have if they were also working to make ends meet. And organizing is a skill, which deserves compensation just as much as any other.
Then I came across these tweets from Sasha Costanza-Chock, which crystallized what I’d been mulling over. He wrote them in the context of the immigrant rights movement, but they apply equally well to climate justice or any other movement:
It’s complicated, and there’s no easy answer.
One potential solution to the issue of free time–at least on the level of individual activists rather than organizations–is the Transition Lab model of livelihood, in which skilled residents live rent-free in homeowners’ spare bedrooms in exchange for providing 15 hours of labor per week. This would leave the residents with both the time to engage in activism, and the freedom from the fear of being fired from a traditional job for their activism:
We imagined a future where skilled residents had their basic needs met (housing and food), with only 15 hours of work a week. Then they could dedicate the rest of the week to a social cause of their choice. Since they would have far more free time (than their 40 hour work week counterpart) to creatively work for a resilient future, their efforts would have a far greater effect. Not only that, but the demographic that best suits the home-owner side of our skilled resident model are individuals who are already committed to the environment- but since they also own homes and need to pay the mortgage, they are not as willing to engage in political activism. If anything, they would be energized by being able to contribute to an environmental movement in a way that best suited their resources and abilities.
I think this model has a lot of potential, both in general and in terms of encouraging activism–but it would still end up favoring white, middle-class people. Homeowners with a bedroom to spare are likely to be white and middle-class, so the young people who would feel comfortable moving in with them are likely to be white and middle-class as well.
In other words: systems of power are deeply entrenched in conflicting and complex ways, and it’s hard as hell to figure out how to bring them down.