Confessions of a Paid Protester

Alright. By now, we’ve all heard the rumours, seen the stories linking wealthy Democratic party members to the people flooding the streets on what seems to be a daily basis now. We’ve heard about how these benefactors must be bankrolling these ongoing protests, sending cash in exchange for bodies out there holding signs, chanting kitschy slogans, and impeding traffic in major cities. We’ve seen thinkpieces about how these folks simply can’t be giving up their time for free, and the counterpoints about how ridiculous it is to think they’re being compensated. I’m here to set the record straight: the story is true. We’re being paid.

Now, you might be thinking, “but I’ve been protesting, and I haven’t gotten a dime for it!” Well, my friends, that’s pretty simple to explain away as well. You see, here’s the thing. These people who accuse the protesters of being paid off for their so-called service to the cause? They’re right, but also a bit misguided. The thing about these protests and those joining them is this: they understand, unlike their detractors, that payment and compensation doesn’t always manifest in a single way; that is to say, being paid does not mean receiving money. That’s an important piece of this equation.

I’m not being paid cash for my retweets, for my own thinkpieces about the nature of our current political climate. That’s a ludicrous idea. There’s nobody in the world who’d be willing to bankroll my life just for waving a sign with a clever slogan that advances their cause. If I’m wrong about this, well — shit, my Patreon link is over there on the right. Hit me up there; if I hit a living wage through those donations, I’ll devote myself full-time to the effort. Full stop. It’s what I’d love to do, but again, that ain’t how it works.

No, my payment comes in other forms. I’m paid in the satisfaction that the world is watching, and seeing a people stand up agains the fascism taking root in the good old U. S. of A. I’m paid in the glee I get from seeing shitbags like Betsy DeVos be turned away from a school by a collection of less than a dozen so-called “protesters” standing there and reminding her that she’s unfit for the job she bought, and being proven right as she turns tail from this tiny collective of citizens standing up for their rights. I’m paid in the furious spittle flying from Trump’s Twitter account as his potentially-unconstitutional and certainly amoral actions are shut down, time and again, by the people he’s supposed to represent and by the judiciary that stands to preserve the law of our land.

You see, standing up to this — it doesn’t require a monetary compensation. I’ve got a full-time job, working more than 40 hours per week for a pretty decent wage. The thing about that, though, is that “full time” doesn’t mean “all the time”. My job keeps me busy five days a week — excepting days like today, when I’m stuck at home tending to a sick child. On those days, I’m there and all-in on my assigned tasks from 8am until 5pm. All the rest of the time, including weekends? Well, that’s for me, and as an adult I’m able to make my own decisions about what to do with that time, and (by and large) what to do with the money I’m paid for doing that job. I don’t need to be paid to protest, because I’ve got mine from other sources.

So, yeah, I’m paid to protest. I’m paid in the knowledge that I stand on the right side of history, shouting down the white supremacists and full-blown Nazis trying to take hold of the country. I’m paid in the satisfaction that I’m working to build the world I want to see my children grow up in; one that accepts that “America First” does not mean “without immigrants” or “without refugees” or “without Muslims”. I’m paid in the sense of accomplishment that comes from the few shining rays of light coming from our judicial branch, coming from my fellow protesters, coming from every man and woman standing up today to say that we will not allow this poisonous, xenophobic, hateful rhetoric guide our country unchecked.

And there’s the real disconnect, too; it’s not that those who look at the crowds and think “they’re paid off” started from the idea that super-rich leftists are sprinkling cash down on them. No, they worked their way up to that conclusion from a much more simple idea that’s the only thing they can imagine: that people will only invest their time and effort into something if they’re getting money for it. They don’t come to this idea without reason, either; all of them, I imagine, are people who would stand up in protest of things themselves — for a monetary gain. Maybe they’ve already done things that they recognize as against their values for money, like the politicians they represent seem to. Maybe they just imagine that nobody could be that dedicated without the only carrot that they see as worthwhile being dangled above them. Maybe they just can’t understand the concept of a selfless act at all, thanks to our money-obsessed capitalist roots.

Make no mistake: the idea that money is the only compensation worth taking isn’t new, or fresh, or alien. It’s systemic to our entire nation, and exists within every single facet of our lives. It’s sold to us in television and radio commercials, it’s explained to us on the evening news, it’s laid out for us in the flailing education system. It’s a core part of what makes America what it is; money, “the almighty dollar”, is the go-to standard for what makes anything worth doing. You want food, shelter, water, power, internet access, someone to chop your veggies for you? It’s all service, and service costs cash. It’s what drives us to work every morning, what greases the gears of our prison complex, what pushes the trains on their tracks, and it dominates most every aspect of our lives. That’s a fact.

The problem, though, is that people think that “primary motivation” must mean “only motivation” — often, I think, because it is so for themselves. If you’re only ever willing to go as far as someone will pay you to, you’re not going to understand the folks who keep on going once the account runs dry. If you’ve only ever pushed yourself to try and get a few extra bucks in the bank, you’re lacking the fundamental experience that can demonstrate that others will push themselves for other rewards. If you think the only reason to do a job is to get paid, you’ll never reach a common ground with the volunteers, the self-sacrificers, the (dare I say it?) protesters.

So there you have it, everyone. That’s the ugly truth: the protesters are paid. We’re absolutely getting ours out of all of this, and while it sure as shit isn’t paying the bills, it’s filling up something that matters well more than money ever could. I’m sorry if this is seen as a betrayal of “the movement”, but I couldn’t live with the shame of hiding this dark secret anymore. See, I’m an honest woman at heart, and I just had to let loose here and admit to the truth, the reality of our situation. I’m sorry that it had to come to this, but I had to get this off of my chest and let the world know what’s really going on behind the scenes.

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