Revenge Giving, or Giving Out Of Spite

So Giving Tuesday is long gone and we’ve moved on with our lives and cleaned out our email inboxes (possibly).  Maybe you gave money, and maybe you didn’t.  Or maybe you revenge-gave?

The phenomenon I’m talking about is when you give money to a cause you know a person would hate, and you do it in their name. Earlier this year, writer and abortion activist Merritt Tierce talked about donating a $2000 tip given to her by Rush Limbaugh during her waitressing days to the Texas Equal Access Fund, which helps women who need abortions but can’t afford them. Tierce described the act as “like laundering the money in a good way.”

Other manifestations of “revenge giving”: At Planned Parenthood, you can “pledge a protester,” meaning  every protester who shows up to harass folks entering the clinic raises money for it. (You can give $10/protester, $50.00/5, etc.) When the Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a predominantly gay synagogue in New York City, the congregation urged members to give $1 for every six minutes the protesters were there, and raised about $10,000.

Revenge giving is what I’m calling it, but it’s not a perfect term. “I’m not like, personally mad at Tebow,” said MB, who started giving to abortion funds during  Tim Tebow’s 2011 season with the Denver Broncos. (Tebow’s anti-choice stance had made him a darling of the right.) “I just wasn’t into seeing football become an antiabortion platform.”

The #tenfortebow urged folks to donate ten dollars to an abortion fund every time he scored. “I think the first game after I heard about it, he scored twice. So that was $20. But then he was just such an inconsistent quarterback that I set up a recurring donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds, because I didn’t want to rely on him, and that was kinda my baby-step into abortion fund stuff .”

But when it comes to issues that involve folks like Limbaugh and Tebow, is revenge giving just bringing them more attention? If that’s the case, does it negate the whole point? “Tebow’s celebrity was a really big PR windfall for anti choice groups,” said MB. “ I thought, well, why not turn it around in a small way?”

“It’s not a zero sum game,” said V, herself a revenge giver, when I asked her what she thought about this idea that that the perpetrators of terrible things getting attention from giving might detract from the giving itself. “It might make what might have gone unnoticed into a big deal, sometimes on a national scale, so people often have a big conundrum — do I protest and risk giving them power? Or do I condone it with my silence? It’s the redistribution of power that’s important.”

When V and R were working in politics in college, they frequently fielded calls from folks their officemates characterized as “crazy.” “It would be super upsetting to either of us to hear our coworkers making fun of people,” said R. “So we’d make a donation to the (National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI]. It was as much self-soothing as anything else, but I also thought of it as a quiet act of protest because one of the things NAMI is big on is anti-stigma education.”

“I had compassion for these people who were calling,” said V, “and that time was a mental health vortex for both of us, so, certainly out of compassion, but also perhaps out of a sense of helplessness we started making these small donations as a way to channel the frustration.” They never talked about their coping donations publicly; they were 21 at the time and didn’t feel comfortable confronting their coworkers about it.

Sarah, a grad student in Boston, was regularly harassed on the street over the summer. At one point, she was cornered by two men and blocked from crossing the street. “Before then, I was walking around in a female body, but street harassment wasn’t really part of my life. When it started happening, I first thought, why are they harassing me? I’m modestly dressed! And then I had a second round of thought: This isn’t about being  attractive, this is about power and control. If I hadn’t had the feminist consciousness raising, I would feel like what just happened to me was my fault.”

She decided to make a donation to the organization that  fostered that feminist consciousness, Camp Anytown, a project of the National Coalition for Community and Justice. “If money is a mechanism of action,” she told me, “it can mean all the things action can mean: healing, honor, and revenge.”

 

Chanel Dubofsky lives in Brooklyn and is a Fiction MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts, which confuses people. You can read her writing in Cosmopolitan, RH Reality Check, The Frisky, and the Toast. She blogs at Diverge (idiverge.wordpress.com).

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