A Dating Service for Radical Rich Kids: Reflections on Organizing a Solidarity Community I Love

Isaac Hollander McCreery, 12 August 2016

Cause if we both about similar sets of principals
Then check me and I’ll check you, like we’re supposed to do

—Blue Scholars

A couple of weeks ago, I was out to dinner with my friend and her parents, and we got to talking about Resource Generation. RG is perennially difficult to explain: it’s hard to wrap words around how organizing radical rich kids (“young people with wealth” in RG jargon) for social justice makes any sense at all.

“It’s a collective of young people with wealth and—uh—class privilege, who organize around—um—social justice, economic justice, racial justice. Um—the redistribution of land. And wealth, and—uh—power.” Comp the mission statement, right? But it always sounds so stilted.

“Huh.” Beat. Another beat. God, this is hard. “So, like, a group of my son’s friends are getting together and investing in an apartment complex. Like, going in on it together. It sounds like a really cool project. That kind of thing?”

Beat. Oh boy. “Er, no, not exactly.” Jeez, how do I make this concrete without going on for ten minutes about what praxis is, what the conversations are like, tears and patriarchy and masculinity, why it’s important that we’re supporting each other, how working through class and wealth in our own lives can help us leverage it for the benefit of the struggle for black liberation, just e.g.? “More like, uh. Okay, so, last year, we felt like the Black Lives Matter movement was a really important moment, and—uh—knew that in that kind of moment, organizations often experience a really huge—uh—upswell in visibility and capacity, but not necessarily the resources to match. So, we got together, and moved a million dollars—nationally—to black-led organizing.” Okay, concrete, not exactly the prototypical example of what RG does, but, for now, I’ll take it.

Okay, so the conversations never go as well as they could. Some go better than others. Practice definitely helps.

This is where it gets funny, though. A week later I was talking to that same friend; she said she’d had another try at explaining RG to her mom. Bold! Thanks! And her mom had looked online, poked around our website, and come back with, “It just seems like a dating service for rich kids.” And that struck a chord with me. Because it feels like that to me too.

At this point you might be expecting a moral indictment of RG: that we are—that I am—coming to RG for the wrong reasons. That it’s not okay for us to show up to meet other rich kids, to network, maybe to date, or to fuck. Well, stay with me. It’s not my intention to indict RG on moral grounds. Moral indictments are for the most part boring—whether the reasons I show up in this community are right or wrong is way too simplistic. For me, it isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about effectiveness. I’m far less interested in doing the right thing—whatever that even means—than in doing the effective thing. Actually, in this case as in many others, those two are actually the same. Saul Alinksy says, “one’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue” [1]. So, I’m not here to balk at RG being a dating service for rich kids simply because it sounds ugly, (which it does). I care too much about winning, about liberation. Instead, I aim to lean into this idea—albeit crass—that RG is a dating service for rich kids, to inform my understanding of what our work is and how to do our work better. Because what scares me about organizing in an ally community I love so much is not that I’m doing something wrong or bad: it’s the danger of showing up, falling in love, and never getting around to much else. It’s the danger of losing. It’s the danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we’re doing something effective while actually not doing much at all except making friends and crushing, crushing, crushing. It’s not the danger of being a dating service for rich kids; it’s the danger of being nothing more.

A dating service for radical rich kids

Okay, let’s be clear. RG isn’t a dating service for just any rich kids. We’re a dating service for radical rich kids, mostly queer, mostly non-men. And I fucking love this dating service. A bunch of my best friends from college all ended up in RG [2], and the people I’ve met through RG in Seattle have become some of my closest friends here. And don’t even get me started about the people I’ve met at national events. I’m blushing—I think I need a drink of water. It’s like every time I turn around, I’m crushing on someone: friend-crushing, intellectual-crushing, crush-crushing. What can I say!? This is an awesome community, filled with people who have done—and are continuing to do—a lot of work on themselves, to heal wounds and grow into transformative leaders. To think big, to be proactive, not reactive. To work on how we communicate, to push ourselves to be present and honest and whole. I think RG has more abstract thinkers than the average group of people, just because of the abstract nature of what RG is doing (“the redistribution of land, wealth, and power,” blah blah blah) [3]. RG spaces also tend to be really vulnerable, in a magical kind of way—pregnant silences, tears, shaking, whoops of joy, mic drops—all with so much loving kindness. It all comes with the territory.

It’s confusing, see, because community organizing is about relationship building. As the People’s Institute principle goes, “The growth of an effective broad-based movement for social transformation requires networking or ‘building a net that works.’ As the movement develops a strong net, people are less likely to fall through.” That’s real; our community is nothing if not a net. No net, no power; no power, no liberation.

And our community is so much stronger when our relationships are deep, loving, and vulnerable. If we just show up for meetings, get to know each other through logistics and planning and maybe some abstract talk of class and wealth and race, there is absolutely no way we’re building a community for the long haul. Concretely, a lot of folks are in romantic relationships with other folks in RG. And, really, a lot of folks are in RG because of their romantic relationships. They get involved along with their partners, or they get involved because their partner dragged them along [4]. Our organizing has to be invigorating. Only if we love each other deeply, feel connected to individuals through trust, friendship, and camaraderie, will we continue to show up day after day, year after year, through good times and bad. I, for one, want nothing more than to be organizing with people I love. It’s the only way to win. So to all my RG crushes out there:

You look good in the north
Whip your hair back and forth
You look good in the east
Don’t hold the wall
Move your feet
You look good in the south
Make your makers proud
You look good in the west
You look good in a dress

Heh.

No doubt, though: there is danger here. I might not have qualms with the possibility that we are a dating service for radical rich kids, but it’s not all fine and good, because what makes me shiver is the thought that we might be fundamentally—only—a dating service for radical rich kids. So we’ve got some unpacking waiting for us: just what kind of work does our net do?

Our net’s work

The work of a solidarity [5] group like RG (or SURJ, to name just one other), is in constant tension between leadership and solidarity. Leadership is building that great, big, strong, beloved net; the work that net does, though, is solidarity. We can’t forget leadership: our net’s ability to grow itself and reinforce itself is crucial. That self-reinforcement is why I’ll proudly take the description of RG that we’re a dating service for radical rich kids. It’s not all we are, and if it ever is, we’re deluding ourselves (what’s radical about being a dating service for radical rich kids?). But it is a crucial part of what we are. It’s what makes us strong. But we also can’t forget solidarity: if we do, it leaves our community as nothing more than a dating service for radical rich kids.

And leadership and solidarity are tied. Maybe you’ve heard this before:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

That was from Aboriginal activists in Queensland in the 1970s. We’re leading for everyone’s freedom—poor folks’ freedom, working class folks’ freedom, and our own freedom.

I see this tension on a really small scale in the praxis groups I’ve been a part of. Relationship building is important; God knows I want to be friends with the guys in my praxis group [6]. Sometimes the reason I show up when I’m exhausted and grumpy and getting over a cold and getting over a breakup is because I want to see the guys, and because I know they want to see me. It’s because I know we’ll all get something out of believing in each other. That’s what self-reinforcing net looks like. But where is the solidarity? How do we make sure our group doesn’t stagnate as a group of friends getting together to shoot the armchair liberal bullshit about class and race, maybe with some virtue signaling thrown in for good measure?

This tension goes beyond praxis, though. It dominates RG. Because, as a solidarity group, the reasons to put our net to work on our mission and vision aren’t exactly built in. We are mostly surviving. Yes, we’re queer, so we’re under constant threat because of who we are. And many of us are not men, so that’s another thing. Many of us are non-white, which threatens survival too. And yes, climate change is threatening all of us. And all of these things inhibit our ability to thrive and be free. But when it comes down to brass tacks, we’re doing okay. We’ve got places to sleep, food to eat, and for the most part we have enough class privilege to get jobs that fulfill us. If you’ve been to enough cross-class organizing spaces, you begin to realize that RG spaces are different. In spaces where folks are working on prison abolition, many people are there because they were locked up or their kids were locked up—or still are. In spaces where folks are focused on justice for migrant workers, many people are there because they are migrant workers themselves, or used to be, or have family who are. There’s an urgency—a matter of life and death—in those spaces. And that matter of life and death just isn’t as present in RG spaces. [7]

So the question becomes, how do we move through this tension? As Grace Lee Boggs wrote, “that reality is constantly changing and that you must constantly be aware of the new and more challenging contradictions that drive change [… lies] at the core of dialectical thinking”. The answer was staring me straight in the face recently when I sat down with some good folks from European Dissent, the white antiracist sector of the People’s Institute. They’ve been doing amazing solidarity work for a lot of years, and RG has a ton to learn from them. Over and over, our conversation circled back to something that’s been built into ED from the beginning, but that RG has struggled with—as far as I can tell—for our entire existence: accountability.

Accountability

Accountability is following leadership of those most directly, negatively affected by the systems we’re organizing around (capitalism, race, gender, and others). Because, as James Baldwin once wrote to his young nephew,

Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. […] And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. [8]

Being leaders ourselves is what makes this leadership possible—if you’ve ever heard the term “collective power,” this is it: the dual mandate of leadership and solidarity. But as I said, reasons to put our net to work toward our mission aren’t naturally built in. So we have to build it in ourselves, lest we stagnate into just a dating service for radical rich kids.

I’m too new to the RG community to speak intelligently about where we’ve come, but I’ll briefly summarize what I’ve gathered. RG was founded by a group of white inheritors, mostly women. For many years, the narrative of white inheritors stood dominant. The last few years have seen an powerful, concerted effort by the national RG community and local chapters to build RG past that original narrative. We’ve built out an incredible cross-race, cross-class staff and board. RG has also transitioned from member-led to member-and-ally-led. Our mission now names right at the beginning that we organize a “multiracial constituency,” and it calls out that “Resource Generation works in cross-class alliances with racial and economic justice partners and movement building organizations.” But the staff and board, while important bodies, are distant from everyday work. We appreciate the vision they set, but we also set our own vision: through member-led praxis groups, through workshops grounded in popular education models, and through our individual and collective actions every day. And our mission, while ideally a tool for reflection and focus, is just a set of words. Policy—let alone vision—is nothing without teeth.

Accountability is one of the reasons multiracial base-building is so important: our non-white constituents are more proximal to racial injustices than our white constituents are and, often, are more proximal to economic injustices, too. This has been one of the most important realizations I’ve had, and I think that all of RG has had, in the last couple of years. From our multiracial base-building vision document:

We [Young People of Color with Wealth] hold experiences of both privilege and oppression. Many Young People of Color with Wealth have communal/familial legacies of surviving injustice, so have a critical perspective on and connection to the communities from which solutions should come. This is a necessary lens to building power at the intersection of race and class, while also shaping the conversations around wealth and asset building in communities of color.

But as I mentioned earlier, we are generally surviving. So we have to look beyond RG’s constituency of young people with wealth for accountability so that we don’t end up as just a dating service. Cross-class coalition building is a crucial part of this, because it’s how we setup up anchors for our net, so that our net—no matter how strong, deep, or self-reinforcing—doesn’t drift into irrelevance. European Dissent, as I mentioned earlier, has had accountability built in from the beginning: the organization itself was born out of a cross-race coalition, the People’s Institute, where the white folks in the room decided they needed to work through their own stuff. It was the same strategic move that RG’s founders made, though it was in a vastly different context. Their coalition was there from the beginning to hold them accountable, though I expect any leader in European Dissent would tell you it’s no small feat to stay accountable to that coalition. RG is in different water: nationally, we’re in the very beginning of building accountable relationships with coalition partners; for most chapters, that work has only barely started, if it’s started at all.

There’s still a lot of work to do to figure out what a strong multiracial base looks like and what accountable relationships with cross-class coalition partners look like. One of the questions that’s been coming up a lot recently Seattle’s political action committee is, How do we build strong, vulnerable relationships not only within RG, but across a cross-class coalition? Because if relationships are what create our RG net, they’re also what create our coalition net.

Conclusion

So I guess I’m writing this to remind myself to work toward accountability, always. In the words of some classic Pacific Northwesterners:

Yo, I don’t really got no rhymes y’all I got a couple of problems
And the reason that I’m tellin’ y’all is that I’m looking to solve them
And furthermore, you heard it before, you probably got them
So now it’s time for us to settle the score and air the laundry
But not before I preface this song
And say I still got love for you

Work hard to stay accountable for the work our net is doing. Keep building a brilliant multiracial base and strong cross-class coalitions. But never, ever leave behind our roots as a dating service for radical rich kids.


[1] Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals. Vintage: 1989. Page 26.

[2] Funny when it turns out so many of your best friends from a private college like Oberlin happen to come from a similar class background as you, but that’s for another time.

[3] I think this is actually a big growing point for RG. I love the abstraction, but we spend a lot of time with our collective head in the clouds. I think RG would do real well to make space for more concrete thinkers who, as they say, get shit done.

[4] This is particularly true for many of the white men in RG, I think.

[5] The term “ally” has more or less gone out of vogue in the last few years, mainly because it is a title so easily taken as a box to be checked rather than a struggle to be practiced daily, and because it focuses on the agent, rather than the target, of oppression. “Solidarity” has become more popular recently, and I think it does lend itself better as a thing to be done rather than a title to be gained, so I’ll use that. More from BGD.

[6] I facilitate one of Seattle’s two “guys” praxis groups.

[7] I’m forever nervous about generalizing other people’s experiences, but here I think it’s necessary and, for the most part, accurate.

[8] Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. Vintage: 1993. Pages 9-10.