Hire me, I'm a volunteer!

I've given and given to causes, but they always hire the young guy

Published October 10, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am active within the local activist community in my city.  I do a little bit of everything for everybody, and I gladly do it for free when I believe in something. That is the problem: My work is so good for free that when projects finally get funded or a campaign can afford to hire staff -- they don't hire me.

Then, as though I have lost all self-esteem, I continue to volunteer for free.

I have gotten some feedback saying that, since my husband has a job that pays all of my bills, how dare I ask for money when someone who has no means of support should get it? But these positions are not going to the destitute! Often these jobs go to wealthy kids that get moved here on their parents' dime from another part of the country to learn about politics, as we are in a "battleground state."

The strain this is placing on my marriage is the largest stress in my life. My husband would like for me to quit my political party entirely. He has listened to me talk on the phone with people promising me jobs, and then has had to live through how pissed off I am when I am rejected.

It is also a strain on my marriage to have my husband provide childcare when I volunteer. My oldest children are teens and go to events with me, but our youngest two are just barely school age. I stopped paying for a sitter because he is so angry about the fact that no one steps up and pays me. Now he has started saying that I must really suck if lazy illiterates are paid for their time but in three years no one has written me a single check.

My husband tightly controls every red cent that passes through my hands. I can't even spend $10 without answering for it and being derided for my choices. It is only in running a project or campaign that I have a level of personal autonomy. In every other aspect of my life, I am nothing but a dumb housewife.

I am stuck with two possible conclusions: Either I suck and no one has told me so, or I am too old. I have trouble believing that I suck because I have always succeeded in every job I ever had. So maybe I am just too old now and political groups  would rather have inexperienced cutesy college kids than a mother of four.

I want to hold on and fight so that my party stops counting out mothers. I want to stand up for myself. I am tired of my party hiring out-of-state workers who don't care about the local issues and obviously cost more in relocation costs. I reject the notion that a mother of small children is less productive than hungover college kids looking to get a stamp on their résumé to get into the next college.

I used to be proud of my party fighting for social justice and a fair shot for everyone. But how can I say that with a straight face anymore if my own party can't give me a fair shot?

Making the World a Better Place Is Harder than It Looks

Dear Making the World a Better Place ...

Work this election.

Then, when this election is over, have a big, long, drawn-out, courageous, insistent, principled argument with your husband. If you know how to argue fair, then argue fair. If not, just argue the only way you know how. But put some demands on the table. Do it as if you yourself were a cause worth fighting for. Apply the social principles you believe in to your home life. Stop playing the patsy and make some demands. Tell your husband that you are no longer content to be the housewife and the mother and that you are going to look for a professional position and build a career. Tell him that if that doesn't work, you want him to set you up in your own campaign business by providing capital and logistics support.

Stop volunteering. Volunteering is driving down the cost of your labor to zero. Do not work anywhere as a volunteer. As of now, charge for everything. If people refuse your services, then let them refuse. Post your per-hour rate and stick to it. After you do a job, invoice the people you do it for.

When you are not working, take some time to examine your ideas about money and service. It is possible that you don't really believe, deep down in your heart of hearts, that you deserve to be paid. You may feel guilty about money and about the class system. But look at what is happening: You are being a victim of the very class system you would like to change. So stop being a victim. Ask for what you want.

I don't know your history but I know the pattern. You are doing something over and over again that isn't working. It's time for you to change what you are doing.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Political Animals Politics Progressive Causes Progressives Since You Asked Volunteer Work Volunteers