WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT WEALTH - write up from our last two Community Dinners!
We recently ran two sessions with our Stroud based Friends of the RYSE group to feel into the challenges of talking about wealth, and look together at paths forwards. The context we felt we were in:
Wealth is a socially taboo subject in the UK, especially amongst middle class folk.
Many organisers aren’t including radical analysis or practices around money in their work.
And that this isn't good enough when money is a very tangible form of power.
So we began by running an exercise to visibilise the wealth and wealth inequality in the room, with people standing in a circle and stepping forwards in answer to statements:
Take a step forwards if:
you/your family own your place of living
Anyone in your family has earnt >£50k/year
You never had to worry about having enough money to eat
You have/will inherit(ed) money or property >£10000
You regularly went on holidays >1 week as a child
Plus the bonus questions for people to raise their hands to:
Have you ever felt guilt in relation to money?
How about anger?
Our circle had obviously changed by the end of these questions and so we simply spent a minute in silence feeling the emotional weight of our place in the group made clear and obvious. Some then shared they felt shame or defensiveness about where they stood and others gratitude for people being up for having these hard conversations.
After this one of The RYSE team talked for 5 mins about the context into which we feel these conversations are happening - that of the past and how the elites of these lands exploited most of our ancestors before sailing off and colonising/plundering our global family. That of the present and how these systems of extraction and death are still destroying our planet and people to funnel ‘so-called wealth’ into the world’s elites, esp here in Europe and the US. And of the future in terms of what does it mean when we’ve been taught to see wealth as security and yet what security can money be in a world of collapse?
Why are we still ‘saving for a rainy day’ when it's bloody pouring right now??
After this we had a break before splitting into groups to discuss what came up from the exercises. As we know it can be easy for these conversations to be very brainy and theoretical (something we see often as an attempt to escape the difficult emotions it brings up) we focused on people doing personal emotional reflections to start with before flowing into thoughts and ideas. And while of course we can’t really share people’s personal accounts as we haven’t got permission, here’s a quick account from our Robin about the discussion in his breakout group:
“One of the very first things we discussed is how because we never practice talking about money/wealth the emotions around it can be really big and overwhelming when we’re forced too, such as, at times such as death or divorce - and that when this happens it can really get in the way of proper grieving. From which we moved to talking about how linked wealth is to safety and so how in these moments when it does flare up and needs to be talked about it brings a lot of fear with it, fear that without money we can’t eat, can’t house ourselves, etc.- which overall made us grateful to be starting this conversation even if it felt emotionally hard! A final thing we focussed on was how our society teaches us to define hierarchies by the top - such as, always talking about those getting the best grades in school, not all those who failed, or in the case of wealth, always talking about the billionaires and those richer than us so as to avoid having to look down the pyramid and define it instead by the base. So instead of discussing money/wealth, and automatically thinking about all those billions of our global family upon whom we’re forced to tread in our now globalised economic pyramid, we still too often hide in looking up and saying ‘look I don’t have that much… look how much they have? Surely it's ok that we have a holiday house?’
And so we all decided to practise seeing hierarchies as defined by the base not the top - to which I added that of course below the base of the pyramid is the earth itself all our non-human family who we must learn to remember as well. In particular seeing how any effort to ‘keep growing the pyramid’ as all the growth obsessed politicians say, must mean to keep extracting hugely from the earth 'cause ya can’t make pyramids in space… and so let's stop building this monstrous pyramid and start taking it apart if we’re gunna have any chance of returning to earth!”
To begin the second session, we shared some of the work of Esther Standford-Xosei to bring in the language of reparations, and also spent time on a model, from Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures, called 'The house that modernity built'.
“Concretely, this entails first and foremost the urgent need for Pan-Afrikan Reparations and other Global Justice Movements to compel the stopping of neocolonialism and its inbuilt manifestations of genocide, ecocide and extractivist plunder in Afrika and other parts of the Global South that we have re-made home.
In addition, combining our collective power to ensuring the redistribution of wealth and ushering in of a new international political and economic order
which supports transformative adaptation and is based on ecological restoration, community governance and stewardship of work and resources for the re-making of our world.”
- Esther Stanford Xosei (and make sure you scan the QR code for a full 'intro to reparations' talk from Esther)
The underlying piece here is that the redistribution of wealth is not an act of so-called charity, but instead a vital shifting of power, crucial to our ability to repair and therefore survive.
Something we focused on in our reflections was that although reparations and repair means a lot more than money, we can’t allow that to stop us seeing it as a crucial piece of action that we all play a role in.
People reflected on how it felt to bring these understandings into their idea of wealth, - with things coming up such fear, or slight defensiveness- after all we have been taught money= security and letting go of this requires a surrendering of control, admitting how interdependent we are. The veneer of immortality that money can create is strong- instead we have to recognise that no amount of money can keep you alive when crops die and the people who know how to grow them are the same people you couldn't recognise the humanity of when you were secure behind the ‘white picket fence’. But following this was a feeling of how? Where do we start? We need to recognise that this will feel weird as long as we don’t have relationships with people- and that separation is such a fundamental part of how we have been taught to see money. The myth of the individual has left us lost, and scared of each other.
We also spoke about examples of solidarity economies- trying to ground what we had discussed in real life potentials- and this was interestingly uncomfortable to facilitate- because once the conversation is in real life relationships, it becomes that much more visceral - we need to practise this. We talked about what it would mean for Stroud to build community economic power, and reminded ourselves that this is an issue of necessity, of survival, not just a nerdy lil eco project (which is how conversations about cooperatives and shared allotments can feel sometimes).
One of the prompts for this discussion was ‘what would stop you giving money to the RYSE or another local changemaking org, instead of giving money to Oxfam/Unicef/Red Cross/insert any multinational NGO?’ One of the main reflections was that giving money locally means it’s staring you in the face more, a challenge to your every day life, instead of something you can do, feel good about yourself, and then keep calm and carry on ™ .
So something we are asking is: How big is your family? We don’t mean blood relations- instead, how much do you honour your fundamental dependency on other beings? The people that build your house, grow your food and care for your children? We need each other, and the illusion of independence propped up by money is crumbling around us. The question for those of us with wealth is: can we be brave enough to see our vulnerability, and mobilise our power for collective struggle, to rejoin our global family? Or will we give into the fear, and let the violence be done in our names?
We cannot talk about solidarity while hoarding so much power, in times of so much need. This is an intention to hold ourselves and our communities to a path of healing and change around wealth. And as we said before, we feel people still too often say ‘save it for a rainy day!’ when it’s raining now, in fact it's pouring… So maybe we better go and plant some seeds instead!
Honouring some of the guidance and inspiration we’ve had:
Highlander Folk School
The work of Edgar Villanueva
and errr, now you've read this, why don't you hop on this link and give us £10/month? ;)