Monday, February 15, 2010

Will The Revolution Be Funded...or Free?

e.t.a. CAUTION: I'm procrastinating on a paper, so this post is really long!

Did you check out Desembarazarme's Thursday post? You should. It rocks. I'll wait while you read it. Okay?


Thank god for Desembarazarme, who reminds us how rewarding our jobs are, spiritually if not so much materially. Now here I come barging in, wanting to talk about compensation, but in the crass way.

I want to talk shop. This is aimed more at soliciting thoughts and advice from fellow abortioneers and other do-gooder types. There's these two things I struggle with, similar in a lot of ways and partly intertwined.

I. Money makes the world go round, and private charity steps in where our social safety nets have been unwoven. In most states, clinics and emergency funding programs can only get by financially if they register as official 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. And those rely on tax-deductible contributions from individuals, funds from grant clearinghouses, or even donations from big foundations set up as tax shelters for privately-owned corporate wealth.

Yet in most endeavors, and certainly when dealing with the corporate-bred (not to mention governments), the biggest pay gets the biggest say. This may interfere with the non-profit's ability to offer certain services, give certain information, or take certain positions even in arenas not touched by the donor's generosity (for at-long-last-vitiated international examples, see: PEPFAR Anti-Prostitution Pledge, Mexico City Policy!). Thus are many clinics and funds drawn into what's known as the "non-profit industrial complex."

From experience, I'd say the longer and more directly your livelihood depends on the structure of the NPIC, the less mental energy you have to think about all its implications for our world. But from outside of it, it's a frustrating thing: you want to be grateful for the private goodwill that makes good work possible, but you hate that the numbers game means some organizations are at the mercy of one or two large donors and might either cave or close if push ever came to shove. It seems wrong, doesn't it? Plus, capitalist blood money! But then, all money is some bloody -- how to get anything done?

II. Money makes our lives more livable, obvi. People who do this thing called "happiness research" say that after the first $40,000, more salary doesn't translate into more happiness. Well, if I had any money to spare, I'd wager that the vast majority of abortioneers wouldn't know what that first $40,000 feels like. I don't. I've earned slightly-above-minimum wage, and then I moved somewhere 50% costlier but made only 40% more money and tried to save like crazy, then slowly raked in pay raises, then traded that for another relocation and the relative poverty of a full-time graduate program. Observations from this:
    A) It's pretty hard to live on basic clinic wages and not stress. When I was a full-time clinic employee, I lived happily, but in the sense that I shared a house with four other people and not enough bathrooms, didn't buy clothes or other Stuff, thanked the stars for my no-deductible HMO, ate well, and almost hit the bottom of my account every pay period. Needing new glasses AND a new tire in the same month posed a serious threat.
    B) Small raises somehow do make a big difference. Then again, so does lucking out big-time on your housing situation, which for a renter is never solid enough ground to put your fears to rest.
    C) The farther away you are from direct client service, the more money you make: true in abortionland as well as most other fields. (Excluding doctors and CNAs, though even they make less than their non-abortionland counterparts.) There seems to be a ladder starting at the clinic and going through small, medium and large research and advocacy organizations. And sometimes it seems like there's an expectation -- maybe from your coworkers, mostly from others -- that you're going to climb that ladder professionally and financially, trading in face-time with women who need it for a series of raises and, sometimes, the supposed authority to speak on those women's behalf.

So Item II often brings me right back to Item I. Abortioneers clearly aren't in it for the money, which is scant, but it seems wrong and exploitative to take that for granted. At present, the most common career model I see is to get promoted out of direct-service abortioneering, yet that's not what many of us want. In addition to removing us from our clients, it brings us further into the non-profit industrial complex, which we then can't help but accept, internalize and reinforce. But the trade-off isn't just money, it's also often a salary instead of an hourly wage, more stable hours, more benefits, more responsibility, and/or simply less in-your-face stress. Sounds like a fair recompense for those burning out in lower-paying positions. And then there's the lifelong clinic staff, the other model, and it doesn't look like their raises are commensurate with their accumulating experiences.

I'm currently in school for a master's degree, even though I'm now unsure what I'll do with it. The program is instructive and fascinating, but it seems to pave the way for me to be some kind of technocrat: smart enough to tell others how to fix problems, and too expensive to be put to work doing something that supposedly "anyone can do" (if only!). It's also assumed that the money spent on this degree will generate dividends of future income. If given time, these assumptions permeate my thinking too. But god knows if I went back to full-time clinic work they couldn't "pay me my worth" for a master's! So are my studies forcing me, financially, out of direct service? Should I quit school right now to remain free of career-defining debt?

Some of the people who graduated from college or high school with me started their first jobs making several times what I made at my last pay raise. Several of them are well on their way to conventionally-approved adulthood: the storied trifecta of homeownership, marriage, children. I'm not sure that's a road I'd want to take anyway, because I like communal living and seeing new cities and not raising kids -- but it's weird to think that it's structurally almost impossible for me to "grow up" even if I choose to. And should I not even bother thinking about retirement?

I've had conversations with some of you, here and there, about old white men's money and the CEOs of women's groups, about this dilemma between the long-term risks of the NPIC and the immediate need to get our work done, and about where our lives will head as the years pass. Do you have any thoughts for me now? How will we do what we do authentically and freely, and perhaps be the movement's future, while enabling a decent-enough material life for each other and those who come after us?

While we brainstorm, I'll be reading this book, the source of my paraphrased title, by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and hoping to make sense of it all.


  1. Interesting blog indeed. I'm not certain that I have any meaningful immediate reactions aside from: I consider Abortioneering my specialty. My discipline is Communications, and my professional goals involve Artistry and Advocacy. All aspects of my professional *portfolio* encompass historical examples of dire poverty all the way *up* to lavish and abundant wealth. I foresee a future where corporate wealth is abolished, patriarchal systems come undone, and that calling that eludes you catches you in your sleep. It eludes you b/c it not currently imaginable in light of this mundane reality you describe...

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