Britt Hawthorne

Embracing an Equitable Sliding Scale

7 minute read

If you identify as being poor, this is for you.

You are loved, valued, and worthy to experience a full life of joy, happiness, and community. One thing I had to realize was that I was poor because our government insisted on keeping me that way. I was poor because employers chose to pay me the least amount legally possible. I was poor because organizations did not value equity in their budget. Lastly, I was poor so someone else could be rich.

I was not poor because I did not work hard. I was not poor because I was not intelligent. I was not poor because I chose to be.

So, because I realized the reasons I was poor, whenever organizations offered financial scholarships, sliding scales, or other options to offset costs, I would take it. Remembering, I am just as worthy as anyone to be there; my ability to pay does not dictate otherwise. If an organization wants me to work for the scholarship, I question it. This is another way to get cheap labor; it does nothing to solve poverty, actually, it is contributing to it.

Additionally, I had to realize that I couldn’t experience everything, so I found an affirming and truthful statement that empowers me to say no. I like to say, "No thanks. I'll see if I can budget for that next month."  

My biggest pet peeve is when an organization keeps their scholarship information under wraps by providing limited details and/or keeping the details cryptic. They know it is hard for folx to ask for additional information in regards to financial assistance, and they are usually filtering folx out anyways. I like to remind them we exist. I do not hold onto that discomfort; I pass it back to them. If I want the opportunity, I say, "I'm on a tight budget. What does your organization offer for people who are poor?" I make them think. I make them question. I make them answer for our society. Together we can push for this change and work toward economic justice.

If you identity as someone committed to economic justice, this is for you.

I want to be clear: Now, I live a financially-secure life. I am able to pay my rent, electricity, water, and internet bill. I have a reliable car, and I am able to eat out without sacrificing. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, I was able to miss work and still pay my rent the next month. Sometimes, I forget this. Sometimes, I do mental gymnastics trying to convince myself I am still  poor. Sometimes, I need a reminder of where I fall on the economic-stability scale so that I can make an informed choice to redistribute my funds to support financially insecure folx.

I use this economic justice map from The Sliding Scale: A Tool of Economic Justice by Alexis J. Cunningfolk to remind myself where I fall on the financial spectrum.

Another organization that uses a similar economic justice map, Little Red Bird Botanicals, writes, "A sliding scale is a tool for building economic justice, and it requires your active participation. If a sliding scale is implemented effectively, everyone pays a similar percentage of their income for the same products or services. A wide range of payment options across the scale promotes broader accessibility, while ensuring fair compensation to the producer. Paying according to one’s available resources creates a more equitable system for pricing of products and services.”

I intentionally seek to partner with organizations that build financial equity into their organization's policies. At Embracing Equity, we created a similar compass to navigate an economically-just model that is aimed at empowering everyone involved.

Here is what Embracing Equity uses for our cohort-based online learning programs. The listed price is $500. It is then open for individuals to move away from a binary model, embrace the messiness of moving toward economic justice, and consider the following:

As stated on Little Red Bird Botanicals’ website, this scale is intended to be a map, inviting each person to take inventory of their financial resources and look deeper at their levels of privilege or systemic barriers. It is a way to challenge the classist and capitalistic society we live in and work towards economic justice as a community. The goal is to create an organization where everyone is able to fully participate and the organizers are compensated fairly.

If it feels uncomfortable, it should. Our discomfort is required for justice.

Similarly, all of our Embracing Equity facilitators are compensated with this critical consciousness and consideration for financial privilege. What we’ve ended up with is a pay scale where our Indigenous and Black facilitators are paid more while many of our white facilitators choose to be paid less or donate their facilitation fees back to the organization so that we can continue to serve more people. In this way, Embracing Equity is a name that rings true throughout our operations.

Additionally, we use the proceeds of our merchandise sales to be able to offset the cost for our sliding scale. This is a tangible way that people can contribute to Embracing Equity in real-time practice.

On a personal note, Embracing Equity has worked with me and my capacity to elevate my voice through an independent contract that I was able to customize to fit my needs. As such, I have been able to increase the awareness of Embracing Equity on social media and through this blog. In a few months, we’ve already built a great presence and community. This allows me to reimagine my own priorities with my homeschool and my community organizing and be flexible with my time and role.  

At Embracing Equity, we know that together we can create a world where we are loved, valued, and worthy to experience a full life of joy and community. Thank you for listening and learning with us.

Reading Guide:

  • How does offering labor at discount rates contribute to continuous poverty?
  • How does this affect one's ability to be present and contribute in the community?
  • How do scholarships reinforce socioeconomic hierarchies?

Additional Resources:

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