Free is Not Sustainable
A couple of weeks ago I spent an amazing ten minutes watching Ron Finley’s TED talk. If you haven’t seen yet, I highly recommend it. In this video he shares his experience as a guerrilla gardener in South Central Los Angeles, and amidst brilliant sound bites like, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and “Gardening is my graffiti,” Ron also states, “Free is not sustainable.”
Yes, he said it.
He said the very words that can make some of us in the social justice sector just a little bit nervous. As advocates working to build a better world, we’re often called on to talk about capitalism, and even critique it, without talking about the time, energy, and cost it takes for us to do our work. We are just expected to show up for the revolution trained, competent, and resourced.
For the next few days after hearing, “Free is not sustainable,” I mulled this concept over in my head, and had a few conversations with other non-profit leaders in Albuquerque about it. We all felt a similar response—one of resonance and relief. It was freeing to hear someone remind us that when we say, “No, our organization can’t do that without some type of payment, barter, or exchange,” our commitment to the movement shouldn’t be called into question. In fact, we should be commended for wanting to build and own our own movement infrastructure. When we say, “This is how much it’s going to cost for us to participate in our collective goals…,” we are simply asking clients, foundations, community members, and our friends to invest in us. It’s like buying stock in a vision for social justice. As Ron says, “Funny thing about sustainability—you gotta sustain it.”