Beyond Lip Service: Donating as Political Action

By Alok Vaid-Menon of @DarkMatterRage

This past month I had the privilege to help fundraise for some movement organizations that I love (including Audre Lorde Project, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Streetwise and Safe, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and FIERCE!) as part of GIVE OUT DAY an annual day of supporting LGBTQ organizations. All of these organizations center issues facing low income queer and trans people of color. In a funding climate that offers gay marriage as the panacea for queer people and legal equality as the solution for people of color, you can imagine that it’s very difficult for organizations like these to sustain their work. Grassroots support from folks like you and me go a long way in allowing these organizations not only to continue their crucial work, but also to have the freedom to self-determine political agendas.

I wasn’t always this excited about fundraising. I only recently developed my passion for this craft. You see I was one of those ‘radical’ thinkers that thought that any conversation about money was about capitalist culture (and therefore automatically problematic). As I began to organize more I recognized that what I thought were my radical anti-capitalist politics was really my class privilege. I grew up in a family with two PhD parents where we were taught to pursue knowledge at all costs. Accordingly, I’ve always had the financial security to discuss political theory in the abstract, without facing the material consequences of these ideas. In these spaces ‘radical’ is less about your actual impact (ability to redistribute capital and resources) and more about the quality and ambition of your argument. What such ‘radical’ theory often refuses to question is how many of us have the privilege to not think about money and organizing because we have institutional affiliation at private universities that give us money to travel and do our work. I didn’t have to worry about the costs to and from political meetings, because I had enough money to sustain my life (housing, food, etc.) outside of my ‘political work.’

Now I recognize just how important fundraising and having frank conversations about money are within organizing spaces. We can all sit around and discuss our dreams of capitalism somehow imploding but the reality of the situation is it’s still probably going to be here tomorrow. Oppressed communities are still going to need resources. Queer people and people of color are not just concepts, critical theories, or abstractions – they are communities of people who can benefit from material support.
As a member of DARKMATTER a queer South Asian poetry collaboration I often travel across the country and talk with young people at universities about racial and economic justice. After our poetry shows the question is always the same: “So we get that the world is problematic…but what do we actually do about it!”
We always tell students the same thing: one of the most important things you can do right now, especially while located in a university, is redistribute money to movements. This is going to have an immediate and tangible impact that will translate into a sustained challenge to systems of power. Giving isn’t something that is outside of social movements; it is a social movement action. Financing working class led movements is resistance. We need to stop just giving lip service to our radical ideas and actually fund them. We need to stop telling working class activists what to fight for, and just give them our resources instead. We have to think critically about how our ‘politics’ get performed outside of our personal finances. If we don’t have money ourselves to give then we can help get higher honorariums for the grassroots activists and artists we invite to our universities.
In my own organizing I’ve noticed that many of my friends are much more likely to ‘like’ a post on facebook that has a critique of a system of power. But when I ask for money I tend to get a much small response. What this suggests to me as a culture that prioritizes talking about politics and creating new discourse but not actually doing anything about it. What this suggests to me is how the very act of giving money is not really appreciated as a political action, as an act of solidarity.
In anticipation of GIVE OUT DAY I decided to go on a twitter rant based off of my experiences talking with young people about donating money to help my communities and networks recognize the importance of donating. I hope this helps you become as passionate about fundraising as I am! You can read it here.
Alok Vaid-Menon (@DarkMatterRage) is a queer Indian activist and artist who fights for racial, gender, and economic justice. To read more of their work check out and