One of the psychological manipulations of generations of capitalism is its tight hold that tells us: shhh, it doesn’t matter how much you have…. Shhhh….. Be wary….you will never have enough to be safe.
It’s there in most of us, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum. It’s one of the weapons that uses fear and envy to attack those whose people have still held fierce on to other truths — the truth of connection to all life, the truth and then the cultural expression of our innate desire to care for each other. Remember, water protectors fight and pray to protect the water that all of our lives need, not just a false idea of boundaried kin.
Generations of capitalism are deeply woven with the unhealed pain of those who were forced to leave the cultural and community practices that built around this in-knowing of connection and care. For some of us, that trauma is over a thousand years old (hey hey white folks), for others, that trauma is held in recent family memory and for others, this violence is happening right now. This kind of trauma creates a contraction, a pull in around what we have, with the sometimes frantic desire to gather more and more and more and MORE in to that contracted center with the hope that, please god, please god, this time our people will be safe. Even if you are not raised poor yourself, it generally takes three generations of being NOT poor for the sting of it to pass out of your family line.
Take a moment to discern between the fact of being poor and the feeling of being broke or without enough. They are not the same thing. Really really feel into that.
All kinds of systems have evolved to make it seem like this contraction is not only right, it’s actually patriotic or the justifiable way to protect your family or even, ugh ugh, natural. Which is why the American Dream exists. Which is why private property and individual rights over collective rights and the 1% and on and on exist. It’s definitely why white supremacy exists, the US’s personal brand of hyper-control and contraction that has now been exported along with McDonalds and Cheers.
So you know this already, just like I do — in our guts and hearts, even if our mind is still tracing the path of capitalism’s trickery.
In the circles where I live — and they are BIG circles, but they are still circles — the first response to COVID-19 was an exhale into mutual aid and collective care followed by an inhale of organizing systems. And oh oh OH there are so many systems, geographic- based, identity-based, experience-based. I have heard of stories upon stories of people showing up for each other, just like you probably have. I am witnessing and participating in this right now. I have also heard and sometimes witnessed stories upon stories of people targeting other folks as a way to force someone else to hold their fear, but still, today, the stories of connection and reach out are more numerous than the stories of attack.
We’re about to have another big ass collective healing opportunity. Once they can figure out the details, we’re about to get a big old injection of cash into households across the US.
Before moving on, a moment of clarity: this cash is not going to get to everyone. Those who are homeless, poor, and living in a range of situations that make their economic safety precarious ALL OF THE TIME are unlikely to get this cash. For everything I am about to say we have to keep remembering this.
Most of those with homes are going to get checks in the mail. The details are still being worked out but something like 1200 per adult and 500 per dependent child. In my life, that’s a lot of money to come in one chunk AND it’s not money that lasts for a really long time*.
Some of you reading this are getting food from food shelves for the first time in your lives and/or are getting food from food shelves again and still. Some of you reading this are trying to sort out the mechanics of going on rent strike, wanting to feel powerful but really just terrified that if you do this, you will lose your home. Some of you are just assuming you will lose your home and your mind is frantically trying to figure out what to do. I have had a lot of conversations with individuals who have lost income and who are mind-trying to figure out what to do. The scale of what is happening is too big — it is always too big for an individual mind to fix or figure out on its own. That’s true with even the best hustle and the most fluid street smarts.
Some of you reading this have salaries that haven’t gone away during this time of quarantine. Some of you reading this have money in your families, money you can ask for and depend on, even if your income has stopped. And some of you reading this have savings that can take you past six months of life without income. You don’t need this stimulus check. You might want it, but you don’t need it. This is especially true for white folks who are also protected by social and political as well as economic systems.
For some of you with cash who are the only people in your family right now and for generations and generations to have any at all, I know it will take a bit more time to feel, let alone actually be, economically safe. In the US and elsewhere, this is always about race. Always. The less social protection you have through white supremacy, the less economic protection you have. Always. This is also about generationally poor white folks, even as this generational poverty is a different shape of trap with a different potential of leaving than poverty attached to the institution of slavery and the attempted control and disappearance of indigenous lives.
The cold belly bomb that generations of capitalism has planted says that, no matter who we are and what our people have or haven’t been through, we should keep taking every scrap that is in front of us — from toilet paper to hand sanitizer to the money these checks represent. This conditioning is a weapon. It is what keeps us afraid, forgetting to turn towards those who are closest to us and to show that we are vulnerable. It’s why gun sales in the US are soaring.
I keep hearing through the grapevine of people who are thinking of ways to redistribute these stimulus checks, of systems that are community-based and don’t depend on individual asks. Of funds and collective accounts and on and on and on. As the days go by, more and more of those will show up over social media and in your inbox. There will be ideas and more ideas and plans. That is good and necessary.
And we can start now. Right away. We can start by first really assessing if, when we imagine just giving away that stimulus check, we have fear come up. No matter what, right this second, notice if you feel like you and yours are one of the people who can afford to give away a stimulus check — to give away “free money.” If there is fear — or if you are pissed at me for writing this or if you just already know in that emotionless way that I can’t possibly be talking about you and your kin — then just take a second. Do you and your kin fit into any of the categories I named above — salary continuing, family money to fall back on, savings for at least six months, social protections like privilege? You might have less than you had a month ago, but is it the less that makes survival dangerous or the less that makes you uncomfortable?
(A pause here — notice if shame or guilt is rising up in you with this conversation. That is part of the brain wired infrastructure of how this all works. A moment of tenderness, deep caring tenderness. We all do what we learned to do. We are afraid because we learned to be afraid. We are cautious because we have been betrayed. We are all in a place of unlearning many different things. This is not a shaming conversation, this is about building our power. Our shared power.)
In the early 00s, Dean Spade and Roan Boucher started a website called . The whole point of it was to support a practice of asking the base question moving through this piece: what is actually enough? They stopped posting new pieces in 2011, but the old is still there and worth looking at. It’s the question I am asking each of us to sit with, right now, before those checks show up ( if they do, I know, I know): do you already have enough and, if so, can you find a way to hand this cash off to someone who doesn’t? And if not all of it, some of it?
If you don’t see or hear of any strategies local to you for redistributing this cash, gather a crew of our people and come up with them on your own. And if that doesn’t work, then reach out to me. I can’t guarantee that I will know anything but I can promise to ask some questions alongside you and find out.
This is not charity, oh GOD this is not charity. This is solidarity. Remember this with every heartbeat. Giving away this cash is not about “helping someone less fortunate” or any of the other words that get used to make the giver feel powerful at the expense, intentionally or not, of the receiver. This is about acknowledging, with deep humility, the life force and the unknown stories of those who have many many things, just not a lot of cash. No one asks to struggle, contrary to what some political forces in this country want us to believe. We quarantine out of solidarity because we know that, intentional or not, our breath has the power to take away your breath. We set up mutual aid sites because I know that, in this moment, my extra food or cash or rolls of TP or trips to the grocery store might fill a gap in your daily getting by. This is just the next step.
There is no such thing as “my money” or “your money.” All money is just sunlight, a resource that mixes with water (water is life) and the nourishment of minerals to then turn into plant matter and animal life. Through a range of simple or complex chemistry experiments, this organic life then turns into houses and food and medicine and gas and clothing and metal and even, plastic and styrofoam and benzine and the lithium that makes this computer on my lap run. Money does not exist outside of relationships. This writing is about doing some major course correcting with the relationship part of money. After all, the idea that something as free and abundant as sunlight could then be used to create an economy of greed rather than shared sustenance tells you how deep the wound has gone.
I do believe that, collectively, we have moments of spiritual tests. Sometimes they are for one subset of experience (oh my privileged kin, we have failed a whole bunch of those tests again and again) and sometimes they are there for all of us. This, to me, feels like one of them. So let’s prepare; first doing the work of asking yourself and those close by, what do we truly need and, if we are afraid, how do we get help to hold this fear; help that doesn’t depend on control and separation?
This is also a spiritual challenge, I think, because this is happening at a time when we are afraid that our loved ones or ourselves are going to get sick and die. This fear is a natural contraction. it is good that we want to keep our people safe. This is very very good. Spiritual strength is about being able to discern between this feeling and to also pause and separate, not in a cold way but in a deep life way, between this fear and the fear of not having enough. They are not the same thing. One is a natural response that arises in the experience of love and the other is a conditioned response that was created to normalize harm.
And even amidst the fear of death over life, this discernment can hold its own kind of healing. With a great big exhale, just watch as that sunlight that is traded with this symbol of money, watch how it unfurls from your fingers and then rushes out to connect your life with the life of someone else. It doesn’t matter if you know their name or anything about them. The connection is still there. Feel it and remember that the other part of this is about asking when you are the one without.
This is how we breathe. Together.
And thank you to everyone else who has already said everything written here, organized around it and lived it. This is not the first time any of this has been said. It will not be the last.
And here we go.
*and yes, there will be people who show up, like sharks, around this influx of cash, looking to trick folks out of what they have. this always happens and i am not ignoring it but also remembering it within the ongoing chumming of the waters that mortgage companies, credit card companies, banks, the military, healing sites, quick online non accredited college sites, emails trying to trick cash out of folks, identity stealers and more and more do as an everyday thing. i also remember that none of these could exist if our focus was not on “saving” an economy and instead on ensuring that everyone’s basic needs were met and secure. always.
Originally published at https://www.susanraffo.com on March 27, 2020.