Today my email box is starting to have a number of appeals in it telling me that TODAY is Giving Tuesday, as some sequence of what we consumers are supposed to do as part of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which I had no trouble ignoring.
Seems groups that I like and others that I have learned to recognize as too corporate to be of any value any more both wrap themselves up in Giving Tuesday like a used car sales floor with an American flag and a balloon sending us all glossy emails with logos, photos of some guru or some other eye catching glitz all bringing us to a prominent click point called DONATE.
Every time I see these DONATE buttons I keep clear in my mind that if you want to find an international corporation with a rogue trader who lost millions of dollars, that includes Greenpeace.
Of course that was just an exceptional day. Not an exception is the inflated weight of the CORPORATION aspect of a Non-Profit Corporation. Once upon a time Greenpeace actions were about conviction, now it may still be for some, but for others, it is about brand recognition.
Being a member of Greenpeace is about DONATE and not much else. Their employees stop and lecture us about some activity in South Asia that they are marketing, but in the last 15 years, I have never had a response to giving them my card from the local Green Party asking to talk about environmental issues here in Oakland. All the young people could do was keep trying to get me to sign over my credit card on the clipboard based on the logo decorating their t-shirts.
As a former board member of a local non-profit that advocates for Oakland youth and police accountability I attended the annual dinner last month. My job was to fly the flag and make sure that the new board had my public support. They had a guest speaker who was not really part of the crew but was considered an "awesome" speaker. "Awesome" meant that she was aggressive at hustling this crowd of people who had already paid $50 a piece for bad flautas, for more money.
In her pitch she said that "to be more effective you need more money" to which I say "not just" and "money for what?"
Usually that "what" is paid advertising. In 21st century America we do not move people, we advertise to markets.
Money can do a lot of things. When your organization follows DONATE to get lots of cash, you can do a lot of what cash can do. You can brand, you can publicize, you can sell ideas, you can lobby.
But you can not build a movement and right now we need a movement more than anything else. To get a Police Commission in Oakland, we need more than ads and a moment with a council member. We need a movement of the people to make sure we put civilians in charge of the police instead of the other way around. We need citizens to stand up and vote, not vote marketers to squeak out a sale.
To be more effective we need more of us, especially the younger ones of us to be active producers of our political life and not consumers of political product.
The only thing you can do if you get swallowed up by that DONATE button is become just another political product and another brand fighting for market share and infotainment attention.
In a real organization members own the organization, they vote, they elect, they belong. They will also donate, but it has a different meaning than when a 501(c)3 board hires a canvassing firm to meet their numbers. You can donate all you want, you will never get a movement, not even an organization that is owned by its members, and they will never be able to move away from the system that they have become part of, use the methods of, and finally depend on for their position of influence. Greenpeace had grown big and influential, but are we doing anything effective about the environment? Is it a movement or a gesture and posture?
One could ask the same question about the other Giving Tuesday emails in my box.
Let's see, the Theatre group I love and have loyally supported for 25 years has chimed in. Giving Tuesday seems like a good idea to somebody over there. Will that help us with the ever aging and dwindling audiences? This is the same group whose posters we reprinted and put up in our area year after year for nine years, and every one of those years it seemed like a big surprise to them that they had supporters in the area around the park where they put on a show. Were we ever organized to build up support and audience even when we asked? Of course not, but I get about 3-5 appeal letters from them a year. So many in fact that if I missed a year it was because the number of DONATE appeals confuse me, and I could not remember if I had DONATED that year or not.
I still love them, I will still send in an annual donation.
A much less loved group who will never have a dime of my support is right there in the DONATE line, not that I saw an email from them. Pretty shameless for a PAC backed by a billionaire to push for the privatization and characterization of Oakland Public Schools to put their hand out. Maybe they think DONATE will make people feel like they are a part of something, sort of like the Pepsi generation. Get someone to buy once, you are on the path to developing a brand habit.
The cult that considers itself the leadership of our communities had a wonderful email full of things done by other people to associate with their DONATE button.
And there were a few requests that I totally support. People looking for direct funding from the public to protect their independence from big money, people who DO have a membership owned organization, people doing honorable work that is being starved for cash. For people like that I wish I had more money, and time. There is a question though as to who gets jobs and support from our libraries, schools, jails and all that, and who is sent begging for funds to do what we as a society should make part of government's job. We are still far from the day that the schools are funded and the armed forces are out begging for donations. Many of the requests are valid and needed because of public neglect.
Quite a few other brands have followed along and if enough of them do it, Giving Tuesday will become ‘a thing’ on the consumer calendar. It probably already is. (I think that I have 8 emails now, maybe 10, my partner has over 20 and needs to ask for support for the good work she does). Ever feel trapped into a method and offered few other ways to support good work?
If the only way to vote for what gets done is with dollars, then we should not be surprised that most what is getting done, looks good to those who have most of the dollars. Consumer democracy is democratic how? No surprise then that so many needs of those with the fewest dollars are left begging.
I should be thankful for Giving Tuesday. It reminds me that I should ignore all those emails in my box, and go back out and do something.
Something with other people,
face to face.