Advocacy as work and coffee as compensation

by Kayla Whaley

In the aftermath of the SF Signal debacle I recommended several ways of supporting disabled voices, particularly disabled writers and activists. One of those was: “Pay us. When you offer to publish us, invite us to conventions, ask us to share our expertise, pay us.” Later, Katherine Locke tweeted me and suggested looking into Ko-Fi, a service that let’s you ask people to “buy you a cup of coffee”—or, in other words, donate $2 to your PayPal.

I followed her advice, tweeting out a link and asking people for coffee. The donations started coming in. $2 here, $4 there, occasionally even $10 or $20 (from some especially generous people), and I quickly had enough to cover over half my credit card bill for this month. As someone who doesn’t have a job (for a variety of reasons, not least of which are disability-related), this was huge for me.

What was even cooler was seeing so many other people in the YA community tweet their own Ko-Fi links. It was a day of support, in terms of boosting but also in terms of money. It was invigorating seeing so many people I respect and admire stating that their work is worth financial compensation.

That afternoon I said:

[Embedded tweets: It’s hard enough accepting that your writing has value, but it’s even harder recognizing your less concrete work does too. Advocacy in particular is hard for me to see as “work” worthy of being paid. Advocacy doesn’t feel optional to me. It feels like survival.]

This has been on my mind a lot, especially now that I’ve been pitching and publishing personal essays. My advocacy now has three main branches (in no particular order): 1) my work with Disability in Kidlit, 2) speaking and boosting on Twitter, and 3) my essays. (If I blogged more on here, I’d probably include that as 2a, but as it stands, I don’t view it as a major component. For now.)

So far, I’ve been paid for all my published essays, and I intend to continue that trend by only pitching to and accepting invitations from venues that are willing to pay me. (Of course, there are exceptions, because I understand that some sites, especially those that are “niche” and/or run by marginalized people like, for example, Disability in Kidlit, can’t afford to pay their writers.) It took me several months to come to a place where I was fully comfortable taking that payment, though. My essays are intensely personal and (so far) focused on my disabled identity. I was worried that accepting money would mean commodifying my disability in some way, playing into the abled gaze by the very act of speaking within spaces created by said gaze. Of course, by that logic, the only ways to subvert it would be not to speak at all or to speak only in places the disabled have built, neither of which are fulfilling solutions for me.

So I speak, for a fee. My essays are work and that work is valuable. It’s valuable in terms of advocacy—sharing a new perspective, contributing to ongoing dialogues, critiquing feminist spaces, encouraging an examination of privilege, etc.—but it’s valuable in terms of dollars too.

As hard as it was to come to that conclusion, it’s been even harder to recognize that that second branch, the social media branch, is valuable in a similar way.

[Embedded tweet: But [advocacy is] work too. It’s time. It’s intellectual and emotional labor (both of which have physical consequences). It’s risk. It’s hard.]

My tweeting doesn’t bring revenue for anyone the way that my essays do for the sites that publish them, but that’s the only substantial difference. In a lot of ways, the advocacy I do on Twitter is more draining than my essay work. Essays are written in isolation, edited (ideally) by someone trusted, and then out of your hands once published. Twitter is both a stage and a conversation. And when the spotlight swings to you (for instance, when something outrageous happens, like with SF Signal), it’s doubly exhausting to have to succinctly, thoughtfully express yourself while fielding real-time feedback and expansions and questions and pushback and everything else. It’s work.

***

Today, Dahlia Adler tweeted the following (which I’m pretty sure was completely unrelated to any of what I’ve been talking about, but which pinged for me because I’ve been thinking about these things):

[Embedded tweets: As an author – as a *person* – you need to believe and embrace that your work has value. Because you *are* writing words assigned a value. I get impostor syndrome. It SUCKS. But if you can’t genuinely believe that your work is worth something, how can you ask people to buy it?]

While she’s speaking more about fiction, she brings up another important, salient point: words are valuable and so is the act of stringing them together. Valuable in terms of critiquing, reflecting, celebrating, and creating the world we live in. But also valuable in terms of money.

Advocacy in all its forms may be largely about survival for many of us, but why can’t we thrive too?

Our work, our voices, our advocacy, our expertise, our vulnerability, our passion, our time, our effort are all worthy of financial recognition. I’m thrilled so many people (especially marginalized people) spent the other day asking for monetary support, and I hope we’ll continue to do so.

I hope we’ll continue to assert that our work—all of our work—has value. 

 

Buy me a coffee at ko-fi.com  

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