I had the pleasure of getting interviewed by the fiercely smart labor activist, feminist, artist, and writer Jessica Lawless (jessicalawless.net) for Make/Shift #20. The following is a selection from the piece, Money is an Anti-Capitalist Feminist Issue. Please support independent media and get a copy of Make/Shift at your favorite local independent bookstore today! And definitely check out Jessica’s writing on labor and art in late capitalism. I especially love her videos and art here.
JSL **How do you reconcile having anti-capitalist politics with being a financial educator?
Becoming a personal finance educator from this place is unique; I am both fascinated and repulsed by market capitalism, but I’ve always been into sharing what I know and bringing people up. I think a lot about the idea of the coyuntura from Aurora Morales-Levins that my teacher Jenny Romaine, a radical community artist, shared with me: where our hearts are building a better world, but we acknowledge that our present bodies are in the reality of now.
We gotta get real about money in the here and now. We have to talk about class difference, we have to say that having access to resources is an asset without shaming the asset-haver, and we have to acknowledge that money is a needed resource worth generating for both individual and social reasons. I want to see leftists with money funding revolutionary activities. We can’t trust the nonprofit industrial complex to fund real change, so the time is now to make supported, sustainable change-maker work possible for workers by hacking capitalism to the best of our abilities and gathering resources to have strong movements and people in alliance to these movements.
I am an anarchist and intersectional feminism is at the core of my being. I don’t advocate that people somehow reconcile capitalism to their politics – why bother? Capitalism is a broken system that’s used to entrap and control. However, using your energy to figure out your specific path among the weeds of capitalism – at any income or resource level – will only serve to strengthen your life.
I believe that my work helps create a foundation of economic solidity so that creative, radical, feminist, POC, and queer communities persist, have what we need, and can envision stability in service of strengthening our work. There is no guarantee that things get easier with age or that there is some inherent class trajectory to depend on. I’ve seen a lot of friends go into their 30s and 40s and beyond and realize how fucked they are by not dealing with their money situation, whatever it may be. Now their energy is going to fixing, dealing, repairing at a crisis level – how much does that take from creative and activist communities? If that can be eased, that’s self-care that leads to community strength.
I’ve been part of and privy to movements for economic justice for a decade, and the part that’s seemed missing to me is a clear path on what people are to do once we get that justice.
Resource access anxiety in movement cultures means there’s little conversation beyond donor cultivation — I want to talk at the level of “if there’s money, then what?” If we want wealth redistribution, if we want fair and equal wages: we’re talking about creating access to resources for people, and this is a good thing.
But why the silence, then, about talking about those resources? Why not allow our movements to think large and strategically about people acquiring and sharing resources? Because I can promise you that organizations who do not prioritize equity and social change are thinking at this strategic level.
JSL **What do you do in your classes? **Is there a typical demographic for your classes?
HD: I guide folks into that next step from an economic justice lens: how to manage the money you do have so you can think about it as a tool; how be aware of what you need to deal with debt; how to set a goal and go for it. The power of tiny movements in the direction you want to go can’t be understated: Saving $100/mo for a decade + my tax returns is what got me a down payment.
Something that comes up in classes often is dealing with the outcomes of navigating surprise costs, often in the form of credit card debt or living paycheck to paycheck. I tell people: we know that life has surprises, so even if you don’t know exactly what they might be, you can plan to be surprised. Save up an emergency fund. Do whatever you have to do to get this, and save at least one month’s rent, and in a perfect world save 2-3 months of all your costs. Why? If you get sick, if you get fired, if your living situation becomes not safe, if you need an ambulance ride or root canal — you can take care of business.
This is especially important for people who don’t have family resources to lean on, but is important for everyone in terms of developing financial resilience. I’ve heard this called a “feminist fuck-off fund” which I liked.
Another instance I work with people on often is cross-class couples desire to ethically share costs and develop a way to talk about expectations and resources together. You’d be surprised how many couples end up with really specific results that aren’t simple but which account for the differences: I’ll pay 55% of rent and you’ll pay 45%, we’ll split groceries 50/50, and monthly I’ll put $200 in our shared savings and you’ll put in $100 since you have higher student debt but we share food desires and cooking so much.
Many people I work with are at a place where they aren’t broke (anymore), and want to figure out how to take care of loved ones, partners, friends’ kids and movements that matter to them. I understand dealing with money as being about dealing with our sense of security, our ability to care for ourselves and meet our needs and desires in the current economic system. Knowing we have enough to share when necessary, or knowing exactly what we are missing so we have a specific change to seek (for example, I need another $200 each month) can both be healing and grounding.
I work with folks across class backgrounds. After working with a fair amount of people who come from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds I can tell you for a fact: anxiety about money has no class boundary. The solution is letting go of broken-system-supporting shame and talking about money, which is the impetus for my resources & online classes at www.letstalkaboutmoney.info
JSL **It’s impossible to talk about money without talking about labor. But let’s talk specifically about how you understand femme labor within the work you do?
HD: I moved to Toronto in 2000 and there was first alerted to the existence of femmes, which saved my life by letting me know I was part of a lineage beyond my blood family. There’s an imperative to community care in many queer femme circles: at social, logistical, communication and economic levels. Femmes of all kinds conscientiously move mountains within queer communities — it is incredible to see the shit that gets done.
Now, how is that so? I think this relates to marginality and access very specifically: just because society denigrates any appearance of femininity (among other things), doesn’t mean that feminine-spectrum folks don’t have to live their lives and get things done.
As a matter of fact, we must develop alternate labor strategies to hold both the reality of our community experience and the reality of getting shit done in tandem.
To unpack this, I’m inspired by Kim Katrin-Milan’s idea of “femme science”, and the category of accomplishment that I think of as “folk engineering”. This is methodology born of experience; non-authorized knowledge that gets things done within intersectional realities. How to comfort a friend, how to steal makeup, how to coordinate an accessible event with all the food needs covered, how to use a tool as a weapon, how to build or sew with recycled materials, etc.
Femme science allows us to honor our wisdom. It allows me, without needing an economics degree, to say “hell yeah I know the answer to this: how to figure out which debt to pay first, how to be strategic with a student loan, how to invest money in a way that means I don’t hate myself and I have a hope in hell of retiring, sharing, and getting stability.”