I got involved in Resource Generation (RG) after college. I was young. I was 21. I had a trust fund to go to college and had $50,000 left over in it. I knew there was more money in my family and that I had all the resources I needed to lead a good life. I felt bad about having more than others and had no clue about how to relate to my money, class and power in a constructive way. I was lucky to find RG after college through the Making Money Making Change Retreat.
After going through the retreat, I thought I was a “pretty cool, down smart guy who would create a super-diverse, United Colors of Benetton community of activists who would foment revolution, end all oppressions and overturn capitalism.” During this time and while developing my identity as both an activist and funder, I found myself distancing myself from those I grew up with . . . they just happened to be mostly White, mostly middle and owning class and many of them guys. Those folks were holding me back from being THE BEST JUSTICE FUNDER AND ACTIVIST EVER!
Fast forward more than a dozen years later, through my work with RG, I’ve since come to realize that the same insidious systems which give me–a straight, White man with class privilege the sense of entitlement or naivete to think that I could by myself foment revolution, end all oppressions and overturn capitalism or that those that I grew up around were holding me back is the same pervasive culture that exists in the field of philanthropy. I see philanthropy saturated with a culture of competition and individualism and as justice funders we are not immune. I see many of us and many of our organizations wanting to show that our strategy is the “right one” and that our portfolio is the “best.”
This desire to be “the best” is one of things that prevents people with privilege from being organized. We think the goal is to be “the best justice funder,” instead of to be just one of many justice funders . . . or as Mario Lugay suggested in his post, “be a good follower.” We think being the singular best justice funder ever will keep us safe from being oppressive or from being blamed or being seen as “one of them.” And the fact is it doesn’t. It just hampers and limits our ability to actually take collective action.
Those of us with institutional privilege need to actually get closer to the other folks with privilege–to share our struggles, successes, to create and model being able to ask for help; to not shy away when one of us makes mistakes. We become more effective when we fully claim our identities as rich people, White people, guys or whatever other privileged identity we might have. We suddenly open the possibility of conversation and connection with unlikely allies to potentially politicize and perhaps mobilize.
This is our work, this is our role. And this is why I have intentionally been a part of the RG community for the last dozen years–because we all need to join and be members of organizations that can be a political home base for both organizing systematically privileged people (say that 5 times fast) and being grounded in movements. Being a part of organizations like RG and BAJFN has made my organizing of myself and other wealthy people possible because it connects to long-term vision while being grounded in authentic relationships and real movements for justice. RG gives me the chance to be a part of a community of hundreds of young people with wealth organizing for the equitable distribution of land, wealth and power. BAJFN gives me a community of other funder organizers that are attempting to bridge the divide between philanthropy and movements. Both keep me more knowledgeable about what is going on in the movements I want to be aligned with, what is needed and how I can play a role.
Mike Gast is currently the Associate Director for Resource Generation.