Our vendors tell us that when a customer stops to buy a paper and strikes up a brief conversation, they no longer feel invisible and gain a sense of belonging. But it’s not just the low-income and sometimes-homeless vendor who experiences a sense of connection through that interaction. It’s also the wealthier reader.
One of the costs of privilege is a feeling of isolation. Before coming to Real Change, I felt cut off from people who were struggling economically. Since joining the staff, the opportunities I’ve had to connect with our vendors have given me perspective on my life. When I talk to a vendor who tells me he and his wife are back on the street after being kicked out of their apartment by their roommate, I feel both sadness and a heightened appreciation for my own home. When another vendor tells me how they had to get a protection order against an ex-vendor so that they are not harassed as they try to earn their livelihood, I think about how much I take for granted every day. Listening to vendors’ stories opens my heart and strengthens my resolve to take action and fight for change.
Real Change is serious about creating opportunities to build relationships between people of different socio-economic classes. The buying and selling of our newspaper is a great starting place, but we want to go deeper.
Small groups are the basis of any social movement. Alone, it’s just too easy to feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. I wrote last month about the listening circles with vendors, volunteers and readers, which we convened at our offices last month. This summer, we are launching a series of reading groups modeled after the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Reads. We’re calling it Real Change Reads.
Twice a year, we will form a series of small groups that will read and discuss a book that grapples with issues related to economic justice. The groups, led by trained volunteer facilitators and composed of people from varying economic circumstances, will meet several times to talk about the book in sections. The series will culminate with an opportunity to meet and talk with the author.
We’re kicking off Real Change Reads with a new book on economic inequality by Chuck Collins. The book, “99:1. How Inequality is Wrecking the World and What we Can do About It,” is a primer on who comprises the 99 percent and the 1 percent, how the system has been rigged and what actions can actually create a more just economic system.
Collins, who co-founded United for a Fair Economy, is well known in the Seattle area for his work with Bill Gates, Sr. on preserving the estate tax. He has become one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the societal costs of economic inequality and is currently a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Collins will be in Seattle on Sept. 20 for the final meeting of the reading groups. He’ll also be the keynote speaker for Real Change’s annual breakfast that morning.
In about two weeks, we’ll be launching a page about the reading groups on our website. In the meantime, if you are interested in participating, either as a group member or facilitator, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.