Me (Mike Gast, Co-Director of RG) asking myself a few of the questions I’ve been wanting to answer about my work and vision. Why wait!
So why do you do the work that you do? What’s in it for you?
I want a better life. I want a life that is full of close, loving relationships. I want to be trusted and trust others. I want to feel and show a whole range of human emotions, not just the nice ones. I want to be honest with others and have folks be honest with me. I want to be close with lots of different types of people and together, figure out how to treat each other and the environment with respect and care. I want to celebrate and play and dance and laugh and cook and eat and love, with others. And I want this for all my family, my friends, and all wealthy folks.
Classism (which is real old) and capitalism (which is not that old) have put wealthy folks (like me and James Murdoch) in a position that is not good for us or for our families and communities. We are isolated, scared, treated harshly, and separated from each other and the bulk of humanity. (For real, if you want to check out the latest research on how lonely we are, read this article from the Atlantic or just watch the movie Arthur…except for the last minutes, or read this memoir from Adam Hochschild.) We then act out horrific things on others as well as on ourselves. I want wealthy folks, like myself (and Prince William), to give up our excess wealth (which is the vast majority of it) and re-join everyone else on the planet in clumsily trying to figure out how to create lives of meaning, community, connection, love and celebration.
Yup. Pretty simple. =)
Any other reasons?
Because I love young wealthy folks (and myself). Honestly. I know lots. We (both me and Paris Hilton) are visionary, brave, smart, thoughtful, loving and wounded, terrified and so lonely. I love the challenge of getting past the initial walls that we put up to find an incredible person that is desperate for a chance to let go of the pretense and find real connection and community.
Because I saw growing up in the wealthy private schools I attended that the wealthier my friends were, the worse they had it…nannies, drugs, isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety, and lots of loneliness. That shit sucks. And you know what the crazy thing is…we’re treated badly by those closest to us and then told we’re lucky, privileged, and probably spoiled. All the little kids I know would trade loving, present, and caring adults for all the toys, vacations and trips in the world. And then when we show how pissed off we are or if we start treating ourselves bad because no one’s taught us how to treat ourselves good, we’re sent away to get fixed or put on drugs cause (in case you didn’t know) it’s against the rules to show any big feelings if you’re rich. You gotta maintain the pretense that we are so smart and good looking and have everything together.
Because our class system sucks. You’re locked up behind bars for being poor and you’re pushed into isolation and fear if you’re rich.
Because my family has been ravaged by classism and the effects of becoming owning class. On my mom’s side, her family has been decimated. Her Italian and English owning class families were destroyed by alcoholism, suicide and abuse. All seem caused by the intense pressure, competition, and fear bred by working so hard to become and stay wealthy. My dad’s family is Jewish and as they became more wealthy, we had to assimilate into the mainstream Christian culture, giving up our language and connections to other working class people. I also saw the effects of classism and becoming wealthy in the harshness, condescension, and snobbiness in my family (alongside lots of love, support and closeness). I can see clearly how becoming wealthy has stolen some of the warmth, ease, closeness, and unconditional love that is possible in my family. (Note to reader: I love my family tons.)
Because I know it can be better. For all of us.
What’s your big vision?
Recently I have been thinking that my big goal, at least for my lifetime, is to reverse wealth inequality. For generations, the wealth gap has been growing exponentially. The line on the wealth graph keeps going higher and higher and mirrors the same destructive rise in carbon emissions, the extinction of languages and species, the rise in cancer and depression and all sorts of other social ills. I love the idea of helping make that line go in the other direction…that I could be a part of decreasing wealth inequality for the first time in generations. We would have to use lots of tactics and strategies, from taxes to legislation to philanthropy to education—and, of course, lots of community organizing.
Reversing wealth inequality seems like a good goal because it’s within the realm of what I can imagine being possible while also necessitating an incredibly radical shift in economics and class.
That’s the current version. It seems to shift and change every few years.
If you like this idea, check out Wealth for the Common Good, United for a Fair Economy, Patriotic Millionaires, the Other 98%, Jobs with Justice, or any of the many, many local and national organizations and communities working for economic justice.
What is the biggest challenge you face organizing young people with wealth?
Our patterns of isolation and separation. We isolate through staying busy, through traveling and moving all the time, through being over-committed, through switching jobs constantly, through critique and criticism, through pretense and snobbery. It’s hard to organize folks when we are so hard to reach, so hard to pin down, and so hard to work together with.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not our fault. We have been told we are special and different, we have been told not to show when things are hard, we have been given every means of escape, we have been told to distrust those around us, we have been treated harshly by others and with kid gloves by many.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I find it hard to stay in one place, put down roots and create the long-term, close (in person not just on Facebook) relationships that powerful community organizing depends on. (Community organizing is the main strategy I believe in to make my better life possible. That and singing.)
We are good, good people. Just like every other person. And we are tough to organize. Community does not come easy or naturally to many of us.
What do you think about organizing around investments? Doesn’t investing in the stock market just feed the system that creates wealth inequality and destroys the earth?
I believe that as progressive young people with wealth we need to take action and organize where our money is. That means we need to organize around philanthropy, around investments and the stock market, around government…really everywhere. Most of us have have money in the stock market and, even if we wanted too, most of us are unable to move it all out of the market at this time. That means we want to make sure it is invested in the best possible future it can be and divested from horrible stuff. So, basically, we need to educate and organize ourselves around investments. Now.
What are some of the big questions for you these days in your work?
- What the fuck do we do about capitalism? For real real. Anti-capitalism is a non-starter to me. It doesn’t say anything. It is politically dead in the US, it marginalizes the speaker real quick, and doesn’t present a positive alternative. At the same time: holy shit. This system sucks for the majority of people (and animals) on earth and for the earth itself. So what do we do? What are alternatives?
- How do we bridge the incredibly different experiences of young folks with wealth that are interested in RG and want to get involved? How do we bridge the experiences of young people with inherited wealth and earned wealth? People of color and white people with wealth? Wealthy men and women? Queer and straight? Philanthropy cheerleaders and philanthropy haters? Impact investors and anti-capitalists?
- How do we build a base of thousands of young people with wealth working side by side with leaders from all class backgrounds for healthy communities and a healthy planet? How do we do this with our families and friends? How do we rejoin the vast majority of humanity in struggle, in celebration, in community, in life?