As streets in cities across the US throng with righteous rage from protestors asking simply for police to stop arbitrarily murdering Black people, I am thinking about how systems get created, and how they get dismantled.
Systems are tricky because they are greater than the sum of their parts, which makes them seem soulless and difficult to change. However activists know that because systems are made of processes and people, that a change to any one process or the way people enact it, can change the system as a whole. I’m also a believer in hacking systems: enacting new processes to work around systemic barriers or inefficiencies. There’s not a hack for everything, just like changing a system process can’t guarantee systemic change.
But we always get to try: that’s where our resistance and resilience show up.
At the level of individuals and communities, we get to pick our approach. It could be marching in the streets, getting elected and revising budget priorities, organizing to create new things, or something else. At the individual level we have so much power to act — even while at systemic levels we meet pushback. There’s a lot of opportunity within our social and our individual actions.
I’m deep in analyzing systems while I’m finishing up a zine about liberating ourselves from the pain money can bring us. Critical is identifying the tension between systemic barriers and the individual power we have.
For example, deeply racist mortgage redlining policies from the 1920s-70s+ contributed to a racial wealth gap in the US. These are no longer on the books, and banks now have CRA (community reinvestment) requirements, but the wealth gap persists because it’s an outcome of a system that started long ago with colonization and slavery. Today, the socioeconomic norms of your zip code are an accurate indicator of the economic outcomes of your life. An indicator – but not a guarantee.
Systemic barriers are real and impact our lives, but every one of us is more than just the ways the system has set us up to fail. None of us need accept the system as it is or our lives as they are, and each of us has power.
That’s where the work comes in. Identifying where you can change and then working on it. We all need to be working on something and while the list is long — dismantling white supremacy, defunding authoritarian police, or rebuilding the economic hopes of small business owners are a few areas — there are many, many useful things you can do.
Changing how you relate to money is also valuable, because it can have three positive effects which are needed now:
- Less personal energy and stress and fear and worry sunk into the pits of capitalism despair, which means MORE energy and time for all the care, life, and other work to do.
- Practical wielding power and being intentional — you don’t have to “close your eyes and money”. You can decide, delegate, and divest your money into organizations that reflect your vision of the world.
- Getting real about resourcing, which means acknowledging that money is useful and can be used to do good, important, needed work: from bailouts to building businesses back up to paying for labor and on and on.
In particular, it’s time to consider the privilege inherent in acting like money is bad or to be avoided when it’s exactly the thing that’s been systematically denied to so many people for so long, and it’s a key resource needed to support and lift up those who don’t have it.
It is *because* in the current system, wealth, capital, and resources beget power that each of us should be doing what we can to harness and move that power to people and communities, not to ignore and distrust it. I believe that when progressive communities can start acting like resources are not the same thing as the harm that has been perpetuated in the name of resources, that a serious problem we have will unravel: the super classist – and in practice, racist – practices whereby resourced people make decisions about what everyone else is supposed to do with and think about resources.
What we need is fueled imagination for ourselves and our communities for the ways we’ll be and things we’ll do, so we’re not so constrained by the systems at play.
To believe that things can change, and generate ideas for how they will be when they do by deciding how we will act and change in the present. Generative work is difficult and crucial, because it begets the new world by dreaming, and then acting, it into existence.
We’re in a time when we see clearly that systemic change is needed: the challenge for each of us is seeing which steps to take, towards what. I can’t tell you your exact steps, but I can promise that if you try, if you do something, you start to unlock your part of the puzzle.
Individually, it matters a lot for outcomes to change. If one person’s approach to the system’s processes changes, it can nudge the system. This is why getting rich on it’s own can be soulless, but getting rich and hollering back (hi, Cardi B) can shake things up.
I wrote the Financial Resilience e-zine and did the workshop because healing is so needed right now — In order to give people tools to do the individual work it takes to specify the healing and transformation our broken ass systems need from the healing and transformation we need as individuals and social circles. Different problems need different approaches, but they’re all connected.