This is part II of a set of posts I have been working on with Sarah Schwartz-Sax on our organizing of partners of young people with wealth raised poor, working or middle class. Check out Sarah’s post here. It’s awesome.
Why RG organizes partners of young people with wealth from poor, working and middle class backgrounds? (and why it’s vital to my life and our mission )
1. Because partners from other class backgrounds are becoming young people with wealth, and Rg has lots of skills and experience supporting and organizing young people with wealth.
When romance turns to partnership (whether husband, wife, partner, sweetie, spouse or whatever you call it), partners of young people with wealth raised poor, working or middle class are on a fast track to living lives of privilege and wealth. It is the same reason we organize young people from wealthy families who might not currently have access. They might not have access or control now, but they most likely will soon and no matter what their bank account statement reads, they increasingly have access to the privilege and resources of wealth.
Partners of young people with wealth are crossing class lines in ways similar (and different) to many poor, working and middle class people who earn wealth in their lifetime. This rise in class status comes with some consistent results.
Becoming rich, whether you are born into wealth or become wealthy at 20, 30, 40 or 70 comes with fairly consistent messages. Some of these messages are…
- Don’t talk about your money.
- Especially don’t talk about your money with people with less money.
- Don’t show your struggles. “You’re rich, what is there to complain about!” “You’re rich, you wouldn’t want people to know that.”
- Pretend like you have it all together, all the time…and know the answers, all the time.
- You’re better than everyone else. Smarter, better looking, more competent, more able to solve the world’s problems…and you deserve everything you have and get because of how much better, smarter, more interesting you are.
- Don’t trust poor and working class people, they’re after your money! And they’re stupid and ugly and dirty and most of the time, smell. And they might organize and kill you and take your money. (Have you seen the recent Batman movie!?!)
There are lots of variations on these messages. The end result is that often, we, wealthy folks become disconnected and isolated from other people and community, see our money as safety and security, believe that we are smarter and have better thinking than others, and don’t have many spaces where we feel comfortable talking about money, wealth and class openly. This is where RG comes in. We have lots of experience supporting young wealthy people to become more confident, comfortable and bold in aligning their values with their wealth. We have lots of experience moving young wealthy people from isolation to action, from silence to storytelling. We have lots of experience countering many of the messages above, letting the young and wealthy know that they belong with people, in community, can talk about their money, move it in alignment with their values and are really truly, no better and no worse than anyone else. Phew, that’s a mouthful.
2. RG participants and constituents have, since our founding, mostly been white inheritors who grew up wealthy. I am one of those white, inheritors who grew up wealthy. We, both individually and as a community, have so much to learn about how to create the relationships, community and movements we want from people raised poor, working and middle class.
People who are (or were raised) poor, working and middle class know lots of the most important things about how we create the lives and community and world I want and am organizing for. As a kid raised in a wealthy family, going to small, mostly wealthy, private schools my whole life, I don’t have a lot of practice or models for how to be a part of healthy cross-class relationships, community and movements.
Some things I’ve learned so far from some of my close relationships with people from other class backgrounds…
- How to get in a really good fight. My girlfriend when I first moved to Seattle was raised poor. She knew how to fight. My parents didn’t. She taught me that I could have loud, emotional fights, survive and still love the person just as much afterwards. In most cases, it actually brought us closer.
- How to keep my perspective on the good things in my life. When I was young, I was raised in part by a Salvadorean women. She emigrated to the US when she was young and has raised a family in SF all while cleaning houses and working real real hard. We are still close. Whenever we talk she is constantly laughing, consistently thankful and full of joy and good humor. From my perspective, she has gone through so many hard times and to see the joy and love she brings to her life and relationships, helps me keep having fun and focusing on the good in my life.
- How to stop always trying to be perfect! My first boss when I moved to Seattle was this working class guy from Arizona. I was a grunt on his job site remodeling apartments. He was so damn relaxed. I didn’t know much about what I was doing and he never freaked out about it. He always kept his cool, helped me fix whatever I had broken (like the water pipe I drilled into one day) and never let it ruin his day. I was always really stressed out trying to get things right and he had a way of making it clear that whatever happened, it would be ok. We would fix it, learn from it and move on. I try to remember that in all I do (and end up forgetting it all the time).
- How the economic system actually works. At last year’s Making Money Make Change, Jeff Winder along with several other of the non-wealthy presenters, talked about how many of the slides and information we were talking about regarding wealth in the US failed to show the large amount of folks in debt. The reality that many many folks don’t have any assets, and instead are carrying mountains of debt, didn’t occur to me when hearing the info, and is critical to understanding wealth and class in the US today.
- And, maybe most importantly, how to live great lives without being rich. I think one of the most important lessons I learn from being in cross-class relationships is that it is perfectly possible to live a great life without a trust fund, six figure income or financial inheritance of any kind. I see my friends take out loans, work multiple jobs, raise kids, have wonderful families, build community and live their dreams…without being rich. Actually, it often looks like having less money helps my friends stay more connected to those around them. I am not saying being poor, working or middle class is easy or fun, only that it is what the majority of humans are doing and they, collectively, are able to do some awesome things. This helps me be confident when I am giving away money that I am not giving away my chance at a good life. Actually, just the opposite, I am giving myself a greater chance of living the interdependent life I want.
These are just some of what I’ve learned being in cross-class relationships and some of what I think we get to learn as wealthy inheritors from RG taking on the project of organizing poor, working and middle class partners of wealthy folks. We are so lucky!! (and there really are so many more, particularly around community organizing and building strong movements for justice…and that will be another post)
I’m excited to take this work on and so happy to be doing it alongside amazing leaders like Sarah. It will undoubtedly move us closer to building the powerful, cross-class relationships, communities and movements we need to create the world we want and need.
What have you have learned from being in a close cross-class relationship? Comment below or tell someone in your life your answer…and look out for more writing, organizing and leading from RG on cross-class relationships and organizing all young wealthy folks (new and old) for social change (and collective liberation).