Monday, February 19, 2018

Stop Panhandling Online

Comic used with permission. Check out megadads.org for more awesome content

Seriously. It's becoming an epidemic. Stop it.

I've been struggling to write this post for a long time because I'm worried about calling people out. Then I came across this fantastic comic from Mega Dads and it gave me that extra push to get this thought out there. (Except I started writing this like three years ago and chickens out again.)

It started with...well I don't actually know where it started, but I going to make some wild and probably inaccurate generalizations here.

I first saw it with Kiva.org, a micro financing site that gives loans to people in "underbanked" areas. The great thing about Kiva is that the loans are well, loans. If the entrepreneur is a success you get paid back. Pretty cool right? Yeah! Then you can use the money you get paid back to fund another business. That's a micro-finance model that seems like it could work pretty well.

Next I saw Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. These sites wanted you to fund projects in exchange for...something. It seems like you mostly get offered potential stuff. At first you'd be getting the actual product they were trying to develop, and maybe some more shit on top of that if you gave at a higher level. Then later it was that you could get a chance to be the first to pre-order the thing they might develop if they got the money and then actually developed it. So, I guess that's cool.

I did give $10 to help my friends finish their movie. It was in the early days of online panhandling, and it was a project I believed in. I really wanted to see it come to fruition. And it did! And it was awesome! And you could see it on Netflix! And here's a link to their website! In return I got my name in the credits, which was pretty cool.

The thing is, it didn't stop there. The next thing you know everyone has some project they want you to fund. Then it's every parent on Facebook trying to get you to donate to their kid's school. Not buy stuff as a fundraiser, just give money to the school. Like I don't have kids in a school that I'm already giving money to. And look, I get it when you set up a GoFundMe when someone dies or gets really sick and didn't sign up for the ACA. I'm down. I give to those when I can. But it didn't stop there. Oh no. It's gotten all kinds of weird now.

The first time online panhandling struck me as being weird is when I saw a plea to help fund a vacation. It's not like it was some kind of quest to help underprivileged people somewhere, it was just for a vacation. "OK," I thought, "so this is just one yahoo who doesn't quite get the point of micro-finance or crowd funding. I'm sure it's an isolated incident." It wasn't. I've also seen people asking for friends to crowd fund their wedding. Like, I don't even know if I'm invited to the wedding yet, but you're already asking me to pay for it?

Then actual for profit businesses started getting into it. I remember reading about restaurants that crowd funded for things like new dough mixers and latte machines. Seriously? You're a business! You sell things in order to make money. Be better at that. Make better pizza, have better service, do something other than ask me to donate money on top of paying $5 for coffee. I'm sorry, I wish I had links to these articles, some of these were years ago now. Here's one about a coffee shop from last year. 

The pleas that really sent me over the edge with the whole thing came from a group of people who are generally well off, and who should have planned better. I'm talking about some of my fellow interpreters.

The Federal government is probably the largest employer of Deaf people in the country. As such they are also the largest consumer of interpreters. Here in Washington D.C. most interpreters and interpreting agencies are heavily dependent on the Feds for work. During the government shutdown of 2013 interpreting requests were cancelled and a lot of non-federal employees, contractors who relied on interpreting requests, were also out of work. 

On top of this most interpreting agencies were declining to honor the job cancellation policies that allow interpreters to get paid for untimely (short notice) cancellations. As the days stretched on some interpreting agencies started to furlough their staff interpreters. Suddenly the D.C. area found itself in a position it had never seen before, there were more interpreters available than were needed in the market. There simply wasn't enough work in the schools, hospitals, or private industry to keep all of the interpreters in the area working. It was a tough time to be an interpreter in D.C.

Please, please, hire me.
Tough, but not impossible. Frankly, interpreters (who work hard and deserve acknowledgment and respect) have pretty cushy gigs compared to people in many other jobs. In places like D.C. they also make a decent amount of coin. There aren't any millionaire interpreters, but they're not having to #FightFor15 either. So it was shocking to me when I started to see my Facebook feed littered with crowd funding campaigns to help support out of work interpreters.

It ticked me off. It was tacky. Here were members of a privileged class asking for handouts after being out of work for less than a month. And yes, interpreters are members of a privileged class. They are generally highly educated, highly employable people who earn a living due in large part to the fact that their industry is basically mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Aside from that, interpreting is a highly portable skill. No work in D.C.? Take a trip up to Delaware, or Pennsylvania, or New York. It's not unheard of for an interpreter who wants to travel to book a couple weeks with an agency in another city. Heading to a nearby locale that is less impacted and less dependent on Federal work is a feasible solution for interpreters facing something like a government shut down. I understand that people have kids and commitments and may feel like they can't go somewhere else for work. I have kids and commitments. When I need to feed those kids and put a roof over their heads I'll go wherever I can to get it done. Finding help with kids can be hard, but it can be done.

Interpreters aren't poor. We're not usually rich, but almost all of us have access to enough credit to get us through a couple weeks. Most interpreters I know take vacations. They budget for time off. This isn't any different. Yes, using credit sucks. Yes, using your savings sucks. But you know what sucks more? Asking a bunch of people, most of whom are also out of work, to support you because you didn't plan well. And that's what really bugs me about it. When your plea for money comes across my feed I'm sitting in the same city with the same problem. So are many of the Deaf people you know, and many of them earn less than you do. Interpreters panhandling online is like athletes crying about missed checks during a strike or lockout while the people who are really in dire straights are the stadium employees and people in other service and support industries who don't make six figure base salaries.

So I'm begging you. Please. Stop panhandling online.

If you're out of work, I'm probably out of work too. You're kid's school needs whatever? So does mine. Someone suddenly died, or was diagnosed with a terrible disease? OK, you got me. I'm in.

And hey, for profit endeavors, how about a different model? Why not go back to what crowd funding should be? Call for investors. You need money to develop your game? You need to finish that movie? You think you can build a better mouse trap? Great! Instead of offering me a beer coozy with your logo on it, or a chance to download early, why not offer me a piece of the action? You think you need $10,000 to do your thing? Great, for my $100 I want 1% of the net profits. Maybe I'll get my money back, maybe I won't. But I'll be much more likely to bet on your idea if I'm getting more than a commemorative tote bag. My issue isn't with you asking for money, it's with what you're offering in return.

I know I'm shouting into the void. I know that online panhandling will only get more bizzare. I can't help it though. I need to call for some kind of sanity. I mean really, I haven't even gotten into the allegations of fraud or people using conservative outrage to get rich quick. It's like I tell my kids, if you want something, work for it. Begging is usually just kind of ugly.


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