Updated: Aug 25, 2020
It’s time for our fourth challenge in bringing social justice to our families and kids – Economic Justice. The challenge is based on the social justice principle: Guarantee Equitable Distribution of Resources. In a just economy people will be compensated fairly for the work they do.
In 2016 economic inequality is so extreme that economic justice seems like an unobtainable dream. Here’s a must-watch 6 minute video that illustrates wealth inequality in america.
But that dream of economic justice is motivating people to rise up and make change happen. Inequality is motivating massive grassroots campaigns for livable wages (Fight for 15) and campaign finance reform (End Citizens United).
Inequality is causing people to flock to political candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Both are promising to respond to people’s basic needs, although in very different ways. Bernie’s campaign message gets at the social justice principle of Guaranteeing Equitable Distribution of Resources. Trump doesn’t say he’ll do anything about inequality, but he does say he’ll provide jobs.
Change is in the air. Can the people topple the giant who has been stomping around and squashing us?
The truth is that all of this hits pretty close to home. How is inequality showing up in your house? Is it making it nearly impossible to pay the bills? Is it increasing your stress level? Is it making you say things like “We don’t have the money for that,” more often than you should? Is it increasing your guilt at having enough? Or your shame at not being able to provide for your family, even while receiving government benefits?
And the question of the day: how can we parent for economic justice no matter how much money is in our pocket? We give our kids powerful messages every day in the way that we talk about money, how we spend money, what we encourage them to do with money, how we respond to the very real basic needs in our community, and how we interact with people who have a different class background than we do. Here are some key questions to ask ourselves about the kinds of messages we are giving our kids:
Do we teach our kids to put their own well-being above others? (Think Monopoly) Or to take action with the collective well-being in mind? (Try Co-opoly!)
Do we teach our kids to value work that Doctors, Lawyers, Financiers, and Managers do more than the work done by Janitors, Laborers, Childcare Providers, and Food Service? Or that all work is valuable and should be respected and compensated equitably?
Do we teach our kids to share what they have, not in an “I’m better than you” kind of way, but in a “We are all in this together” kind of way?
Do we teach our kids that there is not enough and never will be enough? Or that there is abundance, enough for us all?
Do we teach our kids that the way things are today are the only way, no matter how awful? Or to stand up for what is right no matter how idealistic it may seem?
Big questions. Yep. Not easy. (It’s not easy in my house anyway, but I’ll save that for my next blog post.) Notice how these questions show up in the conversations in your house. And…I highly recommend checking out some excellent RESOURCES on inequality, capitalism, poverty, class, and the struggle for a better world so that you can take the conversations in your house to a whole new level.
Reading is an excellent way to get the conversation started with your kids and to keep it going. I gotta be real…I have to be really intentional about putting these books into the reading rotation at our house. If I’m not, Star Wars and the Berenstain Bears take over!
We’ve put together a list of awesome social justice booksthat we can read with our children to talk about class and economic justice. “Those Shoes” and “Yertle the Turtle” get a lot of play time at my house.
Questions to Ask Before and After Reading:
Questions you ask your kids while reading books should be open-ended. Here are some ideas, adapted in part from the Lexile Framework for Reading. Don’t try to ask all these questions! Reading should be enjoyable and the stories have their own lessons to teach, whether or not we ask these follow-up questions. But there are big lessons to be learned from books, and asking the right questions can help your kids (and you) go deeper in your conversation about important social justice issues. As Edmund Burke is quoted as saying, “Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”
Before your child reads a book, you can ask:
What makes you think this book is going to be interesting?
What do you think the book is going to be about?
Does this book remind you of anything you’ve already read or seen?
After your child has finished a book, ask questions like:
If you were _________, what would you do? What would you feel?
What do you wish was different in this book?
What is one big lesson learned from this book?
How would the world be different if all people acted like ________?
Learning IS action. Believe in the power of reading and talking with your kids about class and the economy. And do your own work too. Notice how stereotypes get in the way of forming authentic relationships with people of different class backgrounds (poor, working class, lower middle-class, middle-class, upper class, owning class, and the many who go in-between different classes). Notice how your own perception about the economy and your place in it is impacting your ability to have open conversations with your kids. Are you bought into things staying the way they are? Or are you able to hear that things are pretty rough for a lot of people?
Be intentional about spending time with and forming strong relationships with people on the other side of the tracks. Invite people who have a different class background than you to dinner at your house, or a picnic in the park, or to go to a free event together. It is not always comfortable, yet it is so rewarding, fun, and crucial for building solidarity. And if it feels like you failed, try again, and again. Good relationships take time.
Get involved locally. If you live in the Southern VT area here are some groups working for economic justice…
ACT for Social Justice runs biannual Cross-Class Dialogue Circles.
Indigo Institute is a interdisciplinary study group originating with the Spark Teacher Education Institute (MAT-SJ) to deepen collaboration, learning and discussion. We explore political economy through current and past human relations. It meets at Marlboro Graduate School in Brattleboro, VT. For more info contact: email@example.com
Migrant Justice is centered in Burlington, and works with farmworkers throughout Vermont. The organizers work to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights. They are an incredible organization that gets real things done.
The Vermont Workers’ Center has an office in Southern VT. It is a democratic, member-run organization dedicated to organizing for the human rights of the people in Vermont. “We seek an economically just and democratic Vermont in which all residents can meet their human needs and enjoy their human rights, including dignified work, universal healthcare, housing, education, childcare, transportation and a healthy environment.” Become a member today!
Connect to national/international action.
Here are some of the organizations that I hold in the highest regard… And there are many more too.
Coalition of Immokalee Workersorganizes for economic justice for migrant farmworkers across the US.
National Domestic Worker’s Allianceorganizes for economic justice for domestic workers.
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance is organizing to build power for poor and working communities and communities of color in the US and Globally.
Grassroots International advances the human rights to land, water, and food around the world.
Resource Generation organizes young people with wealth and class privilege in the US to become transformative leaders working towards the equitable distribution of land, wealth, and power.
What are ways that you are working for economic justice in your community? How do you involve your kids? Stay tuned for our personal stories in the next couple of weeks. And as always, we’d love to hear your ideas & suggestions.