Activism opportunity: #ChangeTheWorldNotOurBodies

woman holding sign that says

I often think about how much time, energy, and money are wasted on the weight cycling industry, which is worth $66 billion/year in the US alone. Imagine what we could do with those resources if we directed them toward making the world a better place instead of making our bodies smaller!

In that spirit, I propose this: let’s take the time and money we might have used on dieting, and instead donate it to organizations and causes we care about.  Let’s show what a difference we can make with even a fraction of the resources that people waste every year trying to force their bodies into a socially acceptable shape. And let’s use the hashtag #ChangeTheWorldNotOurBodies to tell each other, and the world, about what we’re doing.

To start, I gave $10 to Scarleteen, and then tweeted: “I just donated $10 to @Scarleteen instead of the weight cycling industry. #ChangeTheWorldNotOurBodies.” Feel free to use the hashtag on any form of social media–Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

I know that not everyone has time or money to donate–hell, I even wrote about it recently. If you can’t contribute, no worries; but if you can give even $5 or an hour of your time, that would be awesome. And of course, signal-boost!

You can donate to/volunteer with whatever organizations you choose–make the world a better place in whatever way feels right to you! That said, I have a few suggestions, both of things to keep in mind and of specific groups I recommend.

Things to keep in mind when choosing an organization

– Consider donating to a small, independent organization that doesn’t have a big fundraising budget, and therefore needs the money a lot more than a big non-profit (which Heather Corinna of Scarleteen talks about here and here).

– Look for organizations run by marginalized groups rather than for them.

– It’s good to analyze the efficacy of organizations, but the percentage they spend on overhead is not necessarily a good metric to use, as non-profits need some overhead to be sustainable.

– Personally, I try to avoid donating to non-profits that depend on unpaid internships, aka free labor. Continue reading

A Scarleteen update, and thoughts on sustainable funding and “free riders”

Remember how Scarleteen was planning to go on strike on May 1st unless they received enough donations to make their work sustainable? Happily, they did receive more than the minimum needed to continue their services, so they can keep up the important work of providing comprehensive sexuality education to young people.

In her update post, Heather Corinna talks about how many grassroots, independent organizations are in the same financial boat as Scarleteen, and urges the reader to support them. She asks her readers to give a recurring monthly donation if they can, even one as small as $10, and to donate their time by volunteering if they can’t donate money.

This is all important, and I hope that many people do set up recurring donations to Scarleteen and other small organizations that provide services to marginalized people. I hope that people realize the value of their work and support it however they can.

But I can’t help thinking about the broader economic context in which these calls for donations take place: the one in which far too many people don’t have the time or money to support the organizations they care about. The one in which real wages keep dropping while the cost of housing, medical care, and education skyrocket. The one in which hard work and career success rarely translate into financial stability, inequality widens precariously, jobs are replaced with contingent labor, and more and more people who grew up middle-class find themselves downwardly mobile. The one in which the American dream feels like a cruel joke. (Although inequality in the US is particularly terrible, much of this applies to people in other countries as well–global capitalism’s winners are few, and its losers are many.)

This is the Catch-22 of sustainable funding: small organizations need more donations so their staff can make a living wage and keep doing the work, but many of the people who would donate aren’t making living wages either. Recurring donations are particularly hard, since so many jobs have been replaced with temporary or freelance work–these days, reliable monthly incomes are more the exception than the rule. And the people with the least money to donate often have the least time to volunteer as well, since they’re patching together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Corinna links to a post by Elizabeth Wood of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, who analyzes the reasons why sustainable support is hard to come by and calls on “free-riders” to put their money where their values are.

I think there’s a lot of truth in this post as well; but it feels like a glaring omission to talk about all the reasons why it’s hard to get sustainable funding for small sexuality organizations without even mentioning the bigger economic picture. It feels like a glaring omission to complain about the devalued labor and exploitation of non-profit workers without even a nod to the devalued labor and exploitation of huge numbers of people, many of whom would support orgs like Scarleteen and Woodhull if they could.

Wood’s exhortation to “free-riders” feels, to me, a bit too much like shaming people for being unable to donate to every organization they care about. Her call to “put your money where your values are” erases the reality that it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to do so.

I don’t know what the solution is. Obviously, calls for donations are necessary; obviously, as illustrated by Scarleteen’s recent success, they work. I do believe that we have a collective responsibility to support important work like what Scarleteen does; but in our current economic climate, so many of us are struggling just to get by. How can we pull each other up when we’re barely staying afloat?

It’s hard to imagine a sustainable future for independent grassroots organizations without imagining a completely different economic system. But they still need to do their work now, in the economy we have–which means they have to keep asking for money from the same pool of people who care about many types of service and justice work, and who don’t necessarily have the money to fund them all.

Living in the post-employment economy: on permaculture, sex ed, and perpetually closed doors

During my senior year of college, I attended the Women, Action, and the Media: WAM! conference here in Boston, hoping to find career ideas and opportunities. Instead, I found there were plenty of people doing good work, but few making a living–and most of the latter had put in years of unpaid or barely-paid work to get there. Few organizations offered entry-level jobs with a living wage and a clear career path. The only way I could see to get into most positions was to work unpaid internships, or start your own project on top of working full-time elsewhere, and keep doing it until either it became profitable or you gained enough experience to apply for one of the few jobs available.

And this was before the global financial crisis of 2008.

It was intensely discouraging and disheartening to graduate into a world where there’s so little relation between work and pay, and it’s only gotten worse.

Throughout the nearly seven years (!) since I graduated, I’ve been constantly researching jobs and careers and alternative life paths, trying to find a good fit. Every time I come across someone doing work that sounds appealing to me, something I could see myself doing, I look at how they’re doing it. And almost always, it involves a superhuman amount of work, an amount of hustling that I just don’t have in me, an extra source of income, or all of the above.

One recent example: I read Paradise Lot, a book about the how the author and a friend built a permaculture garden on a small urban lot in Western Massachusetts. Permaculture appeals to me immensely, and I still hope to learn it someday, perhaps while WWOOFing if I can ever make it work. But through much of the time described in the book, not only was the author designing his own garden, but he was also working at a local grassroots organization and writing a permaculture encyclopedia–while also recovering from a traumatic brain injury.

Another example: Heather Corinna of Scarleteen, a site that provides comprehensive sexuality education to young people, recently wrote that the site will go on strike unless they receive enough donations to make their work sustainable. Corinna writes that she has been working for 15 years without a living wage, often while working multiple other jobs at the same time, because she cares so deeply about the work–but she can no longer keep that up. And, as she notes, she’s not the only one; a lack of funding and jobs is endemic in the field. I’ve seen this firsthand: one of my friends is trained as a sex educator, but she’s in the same position I am, taking whatever administrative/clerical temp jobs she can find to make ends meet.

I thought about going into sex ed, briefly, when I was interning in the media and communications department at Planned Parenthood (also during my senior year of college). And then I saw there were no jobs.

It’s easy not to realize how many doors have quietly closed, until suddenly you see them all.

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Sunday links, 3/9/14

black cat with green eyes and bowtie tag

My classy feline friend Napoleon enjoying the sun

-This is such a cool idea, and ties into everything I’ve been writing and thinking about sustainable fashion: Open source 3D knitter lets you digitally fabricate your clothes.
-I so wish I could teleport to Australia for the Curvy Couture Roadshow!
The fall runways were filled with ravers and club kids. YES.
-Amanda has started a Pinterest board for plus size bridal and bridesmaid dresses.
-The newest issue of Volup2 is out, with two full volumes of awesomeness!
Tips on wearing your ballerina skirt perfectly.
Normcore is bullshit: how class, disability, and privilege intersect with fashion.
Learning to dress “professionally” in a white man’s world.
The mysterious disappearance of Target’s plus size section, explained.

Fat Acceptance
7 fat-positive activists and bloggers you should follow.
-Issa answers the “what being a fat woman is really like” questions.
Wicked to release new plus size sex education video.
-Torontonians of color, check out this event: What is body positivity? Exploring fatness, self-esteem, and fat-positivity for indigenous, black, and people of color.
Yoga, fat, and fitness.
Chef serves up fresh insights on food, fat, and fun.
-I love this cartoon about body shapes.

A great mini-documentary on Ragen’s More Cabaret:
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