In 2014, a man named Zack Danger Brown started a fundraiser with an initial goal of $10 so he could make potato salad. People were so amused by his humorous approach to crowdfunding that over 6,000 backers ended up contributing over $50,000 to his kickstarter campaign.
More importantly however, people from all over the world are starting crowdfunding campaigns and asking for help in paying their medical bills, funding their tuition, and buying their groceries. I have personally used crowdfunding many times to help me pay my rent, fix my car or have enough money for food until I get my next paycheck.
As a result, I’ve had firsthand experiences with how angry people can get at those of us who crowdfund in order to survive. Every time I have started a new campaign, I have been in one of the worst places of my life, desperate with seemingly no place to go and no one to turn to. Each time, I have felt trapped by poverty, and my vulnerability felt like it might be the end of my life as I knew it.
Crowdfunding is an act of community solidarity…”
In these moments, when I decided to do the thing my mom always told me not to do (don’t ask for help, don’t look needy, don’t overstay your welcome, don’t let people know you’re struggling because there’s no pride in struggling) there were always people there to let me know how right she was. I would be asked invasive questions about whether or not I would use the money given to me to buy purses or a cell phone. I would be asked about how I put myself in this situation, and what my long-term plans were to pull myself out of it. I would be asked if I had a job and how much it paid, or it would be assumed that I wasn’t working at all, and was instead trying to take advantage of other people’s kindness.
The True Kindness of Strangers
And yet, for every person who was angry at me for asking for help, there were at least five more who could understand what I was going through, or at the very least understood that now wasn’t the time to ridicule me and my financial situation. Many of these people knew I was working two jobs while I was a full-time student, and many of them didn’t. Still, their kind and encouraging words, and their choice to send me money so that I could survive whatever I was going through in that moment, will always stick with me.
Crowdfunding taught me a lot about who I am as a person, and how poverty, shame and feelings of not-being-enough are all symptoms of capitalism. It also taught me that no one has a right to ask me about why I’m poor or to interrogate the ways in which I navigate this world while poor. In other words, it’s not okay for people who aren’t facing the violence that comes with poverty – food insecurity, social stigma, inability to find or maintain housing, etc. – to shame those of us who have or are.
What’s more, it has become clear to me that crowdfunding isn’t just an exchange of funds from one person to another. Some of my closest friendships with different people online have been made possible because they read about the situation I was in and reached out to support me monetarily, emotionally and otherwise. At the same time, I’ve had money donated to me from strangers who never talked to me again after that, but made it clear that my story touched them in some way and they wanted to help.
Solidarity and Equity
Crowdfunding is an act of community solidarity because it undermines systems that have been set in place to make us feel like our self-worth, our relationships and our value as human beings come through how much money we have, rather than from the ways we love, accept, and support one another – especially in times of crisis. Crowdfunding also encourages people to ask for help, something that many of us are taught from a young age not to do.
A Generation Inspiring Change
Instead of letting our problems hide in the shadows, we are a generation of people who are reaching out to our communities and the communities of others. All we ask is that our vulnerabilities be understood as evidence of a failed system, not a failure of us as individuals, and our needs be looked at not as a hindrance, but as possibilities meant to inspire change.