activism, Giving

Of Money and Mouths

Not enough to buy a senator, but it ain’t zero.

The afternoon lull is the devil’s playground. The task list hasn’t diminished but the energy to tackle it has. In creeps a craving: Pastry. Muffin. Want want WANT.  The Hunger — altogether different than being hungry — wells up and threatens to wash me out to the closest Panera.

At some point along the way, the occasional treat becomes a regular fix. I start plucking a couple of dollars a day from my already rickety financial scaffolding while simultaneously weighing myself down with doses of sugar. Treat turns to habit.

I’m ready to break it.

In April of last year, I created a Pleasure Bank. Stash the cash instead of handing it over to a chain bakery, and I might build a small fund to satisfy some deeper hunger. The plan was to keep my eyes on a generally unattainable decadence, like a day at the Korean spa with a sugar scrub in the amethyst cave.

Or shoes.

For the better part of 2016, I traded pastries for promise. Every time I came home from the office having tamed the urge for a chocolate chip muffin, I pushed another buck or two into that slot at the top of the box. My commitment did not move in a straight line. I occasionally had to forgo the evening deposit because I’d splurged on something particularly enticing  (blueberry-lemon scones at Northside café? Don’t mind if I do.) Until I remembered how persistent the want. How fleeting the gratification.

How powerful the pull of my senses towards a different sort of richness.

I walked and breathed and chatted with co-workers. The afternoons began moving into evenings without a fraught moment of decision. While The Hunger still did (and does) creep around my door, I learned to turn my back and tune him out.

Eventually I forgot about the bank on my dresser. The effort became automatic, the habit formed. For months, the pretty box gathered dust.

Until this week.

When another round of dispatches from the unfolding human rights crisis here on my doorstep triggered a hunger unlike any I’ve known.

As our nation makes its dizzying descent into fascism, many of us are taking action to preserve democracy while recognizing the limits of our individual capacity. Any working parent – single mom or otherwise – with rent, grocery bills, and child care expenses understands these limits. Meager resources offer themselves up to the gods of subsistence. The reason I began donating my platelets and ponytails so many years ago is because my body doesn’t grow cash. I give what I can. My time, my ideas, my public voice, my skills.

As the national (indeed, global) crisis escalates, the needs far eclipse what any bloodmobile or food pantry can provide. Many of us who are ready to put ourselves on the line for our values are seeking some guidance about which line, which moment? Which offering? We crave personal efficacy. Measurable, if minor, impact. If November’s election and the groundswell of community engagement taught us anything, it’s that millions of people are seeking ways to stand on the right side of history.

And many of us have begun to recognize that the power of resistance lies in collective action.

We live inside our individual lives, yet we do not act alone. Through the tumult, we follow the lead of others who work as full-time as activists. Liberation movements are comprised of people who train, collaborate, and build strategically in partnership across fronts. These movements provide a map for us, albeit one that needs constant updating. We can walk both with and behind leaders from the communities most under threat.

What do these organizations need as much as bright minds and willing bodies?


The resistance requires material resources. Front line activists have to pay for their work, for their advocacy. For their rent and wifi and phones. For the emergency services they provide. For travel. Research. Legal counsel. Interpreters. For the email blasts that call the rest of us to action. As vastly increasing need contends with shrinking sources of capital, the organizations most poised to act swiftly and effectively to protect democratic values rely on infusions of cash.

And I do not need another pair of shoes.

Here on the kitchen table, I crack open the pleasure bank. I have no idea how much accumulated over those few months. Thirty bucks? Fifty? Before I dump the contents, I make the decision that whatever comes out, I’ll split it right down the middle. Half for the movement, half for my kiddo’s college fund.

Out tumble coins, dollars, fives. My boy comes into the dining room and ogles the  treasure. I hand him the tally sheet and he adds it up.


Not enough to buy a senator, but it ain’t zero.

We round the number up and decide $75 will serve for donations. Together we choose three urgent causes: refugees, climate change, and community empowerment here in DC. I go onto Charity Watch and select three organizations with grade A ratings. I write three $25 checks that go out with the next day’s mail.

It’s true that this contribution barely makes a dent. Even so, when you live most days like you have nothing to spare, putting a few crumpled dollars in the common fund makes you feel rich.

Rich like making an impact. Like being able to put values in action.

Like feeding a hunger much bigger than your own.

And maybe it sounds weird, but licking those envelopes closed tastes sweeter than any pastry I’ve had all year.


4 thoughts on “Of Money and Mouths”

  1. The sweetness you sense in licking this envelope is what sets you apart from the Trump voter. You know what you are doing. You know that is is not technically in your self interest. And yet . . .
    Keep resisting.
    I will too.

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