I am poor and working class, how do I resist the system?
December 30, 2019 9:29 PM   Subscribe

What can I do as an individual to improve my life and resist exploitation? I am unable to leave the city and live off the land.

I have met people who practice partial self-sufficiency by growing their own vegetables and keeping their own chickens and goats. I envy them greatly but all this are impossible to do in a city apartment.

Things I hope to do in the future:
Become self-employed
Grow my own herbs in the kitchen(I have no balcony or ledge unfortunately)
Get into making my own bread, kefir etc.

Things I am already doing:
I take good care of my things and use them until they wear out or get broken.
I try to buy as few things as possible except for food (this is partly because I have no money anyway).
I already make my own perfume and skincare products.
I seldom eat out and cook most of my meals. I am mostly vegetarian.
I seldom go out except when it is necessary. (I have no car and going out means spending money on public transport and other expenses)
My entertainment budget is zero and the internet is the sole source of my entertainment (I need the internet for work so it's a necessity anyway).

Some of you may suggest community gardens but the ones where I am do not allow volunteers to bring any vegetables home. (they all get donated to charity instead).

Do you have any helpful ideas?
posted by whitelotus to Work & Money (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer for political causes? Text and phone banking can often be done from home.
posted by hollyholly at 9:32 PM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

It seems like you're on the right track, but this point gave me pause:

I seldom go out except when it is necessary. (I have no car and going out means spending money on public transport and other expenses)

Not to assume too much about your social life, but it's arguable that going out is a good investment in your day-to-day quality of life (developing friendships, supporting local businesses) and in long-term resilience. If you have a good community of people to call upon for help, and who you can help with your particular resources and skills, that's the best possible insurance plan for any future disaster. And "going out" doesn't have to be an expensive event. Potlucks and simple times at home with friends will definitely improve your life and help resist exploitation.
posted by witchen at 9:50 PM on December 30, 2019 [87 favorites]

posted by aniola at 10:05 PM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Find your union and get involved there. Small scale action is nothing. You wanna resist, join with other working poor and throw a spanner into the machine. The ruling classes rely on each working class stiff being too tired and too alienated to do anything. Like witchen says, community is the strongest way of developing the ability to fight back. Pissing off to the country isn't resistance. Fighting that system is.
posted by Jilder at 10:08 PM on December 30, 2019 [33 favorites]

I feel like you are asking a few different questions here.

Regarding thrift/resourcefulness:
-Get a bike and learn to maintain it. It's cheap, reliable transportation that comes with free exercise.
-Learn to fix things. Can you sew, rewire a lamp, use a drill, etc?
-Dumpster diving/trash picking/clothing swaps/free lists can get you many or most of the things you need, depending on where you live and how creative/daring you are.
-Use your public library.
-There are so many fun things that are cheap or free, especially if you're in a city. There's probably a local paper or website that runs free event listings, things like music shows. Potlucks, long walks, bike rides, board game night.

Regarding resisting the system and avoiding exploitation:
-Self-employment is not necessarily the answer. You might trade an exploitative boss for exploitative clients (and no benefits). Recognize that the growth of companies' reliance on freelancers and contractors is a net lose for workers.
-I, as an individual is the wrong way to begin this question. Real resistance takes a crowd, and that takes building social ties, whether you're talking about a food co-op or a labor union.

Regarding "self-sufficiency":
-This is a myth. Like, it's great on so many levels to be able to make and do things for yourself. Often you save money, use fewer resources, get better results, and have more fun. But sometimes you're just cultivating an expensive hobby. It's not always cheaper to make your own. Pasta, for example: store-bought is cheap; homemade takes loads of time and/or expensive equipment. And you're still using flour you didn't mill from wheat you didn't grow. I mean, those people "living off the land" are going to be just as screwed as anyone if the apocalypse hits.
posted by the_blizz at 10:10 PM on December 30, 2019 [54 favorites]

If you live off the land but you own the land, you are still participating in capitalism. “There’s no ethical consumption under late capitalism,” a friend of mine says... meaning, don’t deprive yourself if your only goal is not to buy things. If you’re concerned about the future, build community. Community is resilience.

It sounds like you are quite isolated. Please take care.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:35 PM on December 30, 2019 [27 favorites]

Where are you located? Can you meet people who share your values? (This is obviously harder than it sounds, at least to get started.) IME, the best way to meet people is to resign yourself to trying a lot of things until something sticks - go to different volunteer projects, check out the websites of left-wing churches, try book groups, library events, etc. In general, you need to tough it out through a few awkward meetings/events before you start getting to know people a bit - I always remind myself that the first few are tough and can feel exhausting.

Meeting people in the flesh is a good complement to the internet.

What about self-education? Read books and watch documentaries, at least some of which can be done online. Do you have access to a library? Inter-library loan can get you a lot of stuff even if it's not on the shelf locally.

What interests you politically and intellectually? There's no point in deciding that you're going to read, eg, all the Gramsci and then bogging down and giving up; it's better to read something "easy"/basic that's new to you than to throw yourself into things that you "should" read that aren't interesting to you and aren't where you're at. It's also better to start with things that intrinsically interest you; you'll find your own way to more "difficult" stuff organically when you are ready to read it. Memoirs, oral histories and novels can be good places to start since they give you a scaffolding about a time/place/issue/set of ideas.

Can you keep up with local news? It's surprising what goes on at the township/state/county level.

I think it's very helpful for a person to evolve an understanding of how social change happens. When you have more of an organized sense of how the world works, it's easier to decide where to put your efforts, or at least know what to expect from what you do. For instance, a lot of political activism hinges on getting media coverage, and people without a theory often have a pre-existing idea that just getting attention is somehow going to bring change. Sometimes this is true, but in more complex and intractable situations it's not. If you have a theory of how social change happens, you can decide which kinds of activism seem likely to succeed and then you won't be disappointed if something takes a long time, produces results only indirectly, etc.

This is also where history comes in - the more you know, the more realistic and grounded your expectations can be. I have a union job, but the union is relatively new. Ten years before the union came in, there was a unionization campaign that failed - it was a near thing but the vote was lost. It took a decade and a second effort to win. Knowing this is useful in terms of setting expectations for other labor struggles, since I know as a matter of certainty that you can try, lose and still win in the end.

On another note, I have a Twitter which I use almost only to follow people. I don't in general tweet because I have problems with brevity and also I know myself and I don't want to get sucked in to a lot of upset, drama, guilt and anxiety a la tumblr. But I do find that following writers and activists is extremely informative and helps me feel more part of something even when I can't do much locally. It also tips me off to new books and articles.
posted by Frowner at 12:10 AM on December 31, 2019 [14 favorites]

Re the social side, I've found (even though I consider myself profoundly asocial) that I can get a lot more done by putting people together, and when it's successful they'll always remember you. We can only do so much alone, but so much more collectively - don't be me and take 50 years to understand this.

Also knowing people means you can test ideas safely, and kind of bootstrap off each new thing learned.

And yeh look after yourself, don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by unearthed at 12:55 AM on December 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the Internet aspect, I hope and trust that you are not drinking the "copying is theft" Flavour-Aid. With a VPN, torrent software, and the correct websites (which can be found easily) you will be able to play any and all games and consume any and all media without using any money.

I have done this now for 20+ years and have no qualms whatsoever about my actions.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:49 AM on December 31, 2019 [12 favorites]

alternate local currencies like time trading/timebanking or community currencies
join a buy nothing group

Also, social capital: get to know your neighbors. Build community. Folks who chat casually in their building stairwell or with their neighbors on the street will be more likely to pass on helpful news or share something when they have extra or ask around if someone's looking for a job or housing or do a favor. One of the great evils of capitalism and consumerism is isolation.
posted by carrioncomfort at 3:54 AM on December 31, 2019 [14 favorites]

Please do not follow Meatbomb's advice. Copying IS theft, no matter the faux-woke rhetoric you use to justify the behaviour. Yes, even from the giant mouse, because it's the sort of thing that leads to shows or comics not being renewed or book deals not being given.

Seconding what everyone says about community building. One of the biggest tools capitalism has is its ability to isolate everyone. I would strongly suggest you find IRL ways to connect with people - a book club at your local library? Volunteering? Doing a recipe swap? Time away from screens and spent actively helping your community can be a real balm for the soul.
posted by Tamanna at 4:44 AM on December 31, 2019 [22 favorites]

You may enjoy the book Farm City by Novella Carpenter. She started an urban community garden of the kind you're imagining in a vacant lot in Oakland (in the days before gentrification would, I gather, make this sort of thing difficult).

Some farms discount their CSA shares in exchange for labor.

Agree that advocacy, activism, and building community on the local level are key to resisting oppression.
posted by toastedcheese at 4:48 AM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Learn multiple skills that would be useful in an underground economy. Everything from dental hygiene, paramedicine, butchering, repairing frozen water pipes and unclogging drains, setting up solar panels - the stuff that you or other people may need and not be want to or be able to go to someone in the regular economy. You can learn a lot from internet videos, but much of these skills will require a few basic tools and a bit of practice. Learn to work with your hands and get good at it.

Network. I don't mean set up a cell of resistors. I mean a friendly, legal network. This way you'll have multiple eyes and ears you can consult, people you can call on and get information from about day to day things, like are there any protestors on the university campus today, and was there any garbage pick up and do you know someone who can help with filling our forms, or who will pick up ten packages of bicarbonate of soda and bring them to meet you.

Get in good physical shape so that if called upon to do so you can spend a day walking or biking to a distant point and then coming back again.

Set up a life completely without and apart from cell phone use. Cell phones are trackers. They should be carried extremely selectively and you should find ways to network without any cell phone use, either because the network might go down at some point and leave you cut off, or you or someone else might be afraid that you will be considered an insurrectionist and cell phones be used by an oppressive community to make you vulnerable.

Create a literature and a culture of your politics - songs of love and solidarity, art and fiction. Read about history and the causes of oppression and politic crisis and war and tribalism and the ways that other people resisted these things. Read the seminal books - Mein Kampf, Wealth of Nations, Marx, Jefferson, Steal this Book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, MLK Jr. anything that will help you get a wider view so you understand people on every side of the conflict and why they did what they did and what caused harm and what created security, prosperity and community.

Every day look at something in your life that might be bad for the community or the environment and use your imagination to think of alternatives that might be better.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:51 AM on December 31, 2019 [11 favorites]

Resisting the system also involves telling the system "NO." I mean that literally. Like going to the town hall or city council meeting or whatever and actually saying your piece. If you don't know what you think yet about an issue or what venue to use to communicate those thoughts, try to get plugged into groups that do. That might be a political party, it might be a civic group, it might be some sort of affinity group -- it depends on your community. Also, do your research (also by going to those town halls and city council meetings and policy updates that your reps give before/after legislative sessions, etc).

Isolating yourself and working yourself to the bone making your own bread isn't resisting much. You need to actually speak up about what you think the system is doing wrong if you're going to change it.

I know it's time consuming and difficult, but that's what leadership is. And if you don't want to be a community leader yet (which is fair enough!) then find other community leaders or groups whose beliefs you support and help them.

And being poor/working class is not a reason NOT to be a community leader. You're a member of the community, so what you have to say and what you think counts -- just as much as any other community member. It counts right now, as you are, not as some super educated and sophisticated future version of yourself.
posted by rue72 at 7:06 AM on December 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

Get away from commercial and proprietary software. Start using Linux and free, open source software (FOSS). There is an amazing lot of software out there that's good and free.
- It allows you to use hardware that's too old for Windows 10 or for modern MacOS versions. These machines are often cheap or free.
- It's also going to make it easier to leak less data. Capturing your data is one of the ways that modern capitalism seeks to exploit you.

Linux used to be too specialized for non-geeks to cope with. It's come a very long way in this regard. There are (online and offline) communities centered around helping others get to grip with it. Some of these are explicitly newcomer-friendly.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:42 AM on December 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Check out this previous question I asked for other info.

I'd definitely look into growing some greens for yourself. Seeds are cheap. Plus it's a good hobby. If you want to do it over a longer period of time, you can start a worm bin to get fertilizer and soil. My favorite approach is the bucket system, which takes 2-3 buckets from Home Depot (free if you know anyone buying paint in 5 gallon sizes) and a few minutes with a drill.
posted by slidell at 10:13 AM on December 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Going back to the original question I see a desire to feel more in control of one's consumption. All of the political advice is great but I think whitelotus wants a bit more self-reliance too. I would not bother trying to grow herbs as they require a great deal of sun and grow so slowly that they won't provide a reasonable amount. Making kefir (or yogurt as I did) is a great money saver if you get a stable culture. The single use packets are more expensive than buying it but cultures for health sells lots of different starters that are economical if you use them for a long time. You have to make more every week so decide if you really want to eat that much week after week or have someone to share with. And try to get someone else to divide the starter with in case you lose yours.

Baking bread also saves a lot of money and you don't have to worry about how often you do it unless you are making sourdough which is a culture with the same issue as kefir/yogurt. Homemade bread is also more wonderful than reasonably priced store bought.

Another way to control your food is canning which you can do with simple equipment if you stick to tomatoes, jams and vinegar pickles. If you find a great deal on produce it could be worthwhile. You could also try making some fermented foods like sauerkraut and brined pickles with nothing more than a big jar.

And to add to slidell's suggestion sprouts are easy, nutritious and require little room.

These are all good skills to have even if you don't have that homestead yet.
posted by Botanizer at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

I grew up doing a lot of things like pickling, and canning, and growing and raising our own food at times because we were very poor and it's totally fine to want to do that for yourself and not work on political action shit if you have neither the time or inclination. I still do a lot of that stuff and it's important for me to be able to take care of myself in lean times and not be part of this stupid capitalistic system all the time. I live in an urban area as well (though I do have a yard) and all of this stuff can be done in a small space.

Some things I currently do:
-pickle and can to preserve veggies - I just do quick pickling usually because it's easy and they keep for a decent time in the fridge
-save veggie scraps and meat bones to make stocks and then freeze them in ice trays
-I do grow veggies in my yard, but I also have an aerogarden I received as a gift and it's been really nice for growing herbs/salad greens all year round. They're expensive though, and the pods are proprietary so it's not totally removed from the system
-I got a vacuum-sealer for free secondhand and when I do buy meat, I buy the stuff that's on discount and going to be thrown away because it's about to be past the sell by date. I vacuum seal it and put it in the freezer.
-Freecycle and facebook giveaway groups local to your area are such a good way to get things - I've gotten so many really high quality things this way. Also just going for a walk and seeing what people have put out on the curb.
-Along the same lines, see if there are any garden swap groups near you. The one local to me is on Facebook but they can be all over online - people often give away excess fruits and veggies, especially at the end of the season. I've even seen apps for this (I've tried some but they aren't really active in my neighborhood).
-If you're low enough income to qualify for EBT, do it. And then check out farmer's markets near you that take EBT - the one near me doubles your money up to $10 - so you can get $20 worth of fresh produce for $10 in foodstamps. There's also a few CSAs near me that accept EBT and charge a discounted rate for their boxes if you're an EBT recipient.
-If you don't already know how to sew, learning to sew is a really good skill to have. I learned as a kid so I have no problem making more complex things like clothing, but even just being able to alter free/thrifted clothes to fit you comes in handy. Hand-sewing takes a while, but it can be done, or you can look for free or thrifted sewing machines.
-I do kefir water and I love it, it's so easy. I used to make kombucha as well, but kefir is just so easy and quick I pretty much only do that now.
-Learning to cook from scratch can be it's own reward, even if it is more time consuming. Being able to say "I want this and I can make it" is pretty cool.
posted by primalux at 11:55 AM on December 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh another thing - learning to do household repairs. I rent but I'd rather not bother my landlord all the time (it's more of a hassle having someone come to my house because I have a high strung dog) so knowing how to fix the things/place I have or hang shelves correctly or whatever is a good skill to have.
posted by primalux at 12:01 PM on December 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think you should rethink using the internet as your entertainment. In terms of resistance, the internet is incredibly reactive and full of hot takes. It makes your attention span for shit. Developing hobbies like sewing, soap making, baking, etc. where you take some of the means of production back into your own hands is so much better. It let's you break the cycle of thinking that consuming is the answer. Sounds like you are interested in more traditional ways of life, which are available to you, even in an apartment in the city. Learn some traditional skills and fill up your time with them. Make music! Sing!

And in the coming times, relationships with those around you will be even more important. Bake bread and cookies and make friends with the people in your building. Resist the system by helping people stay out of the system. One of the great tragedies of the system is how it breaks apart our intimacies and authenticity. We need people who will seek and build connection with people. Who will pursue creating space for depth with one another.

Resist doom and gloom. Resist hopelessness. Do laundry for a neighbor. Wash their dishes. Make a quilt from old shirts. Resist the whole system - including the systems of thought that atomize and disconnect us.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:23 PM on December 31, 2019 [8 favorites]

Meeting people in the flesh is a good complement to the internet.

Not only that, but a whole lot of what exists on the internet exists to monetize human relationships. Taking human relationships beyond that zone is in itself an act of resistance.
posted by Miko at 4:04 PM on December 31, 2019 [17 favorites]

Join or start a food co-op.
posted by Sublimity at 7:12 PM on December 31, 2019

This question has stuck with me, because I think that actually poor people are in a better place to resist than the well off. You are already disenfranchised by the system and have little to lose by working your way further out of it. Many of the hooks that it uses to trap middle class people are already not in you. So instead of orienting towards what fancy middle class people do to be out of the system, look at people in similar financial situations. People who participate in lending circles or food chains or repair coops.

I also thought that you might get something out of this talk by the author of Braiding Sweet Grass. I think one of the most profound ways that we opt out of the system and begin changing the world is by changing our orientation towards it. In particular, start seeing the plants that do exist around you. Start seeing them as our relatives. Learn their names.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:04 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of what stoneweaver just said, there was a tweet or blog post that went viral a few years ago about how we can recognize the logos of dozens of brands but most people can't identify the trees around them that they see every day. Choosing to know the plants and animals and rocks and just the natural world around you can be an act of resistance to the persistent inundation of commercial brands in our every day spaces.
posted by primalux at 11:12 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Oh and as a recommendation for learning that kind of stuff if you're new to it, the inaturalist app "Seek" is an easy way to start - you just point your phone at something and it uses a recognition algorithm to tell you what you're looking at. But also you can get field guides from the library.
posted by primalux at 11:15 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Clothing and book swaps are a great way to get stuff for free.

Agree with all who say that isolation isn’t self-sufficiency! Creating a community of people who care about each other is the absolute best way to be resilient.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:53 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]

I would second the worm bin suggestion above -- mine didn't smell and it was so much easier than composting, and it reduced so much kitchen waste. Plus, pets. Wriggly, antisocial pets.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:08 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

An individual who opts out of the system (by practical necessity, only partially, and that minimally) does not have much of an impact on anything. The world continues as it is, doing its evil just the same.

An individual who reaches out to other people, builds relationships and community and social support networks and communal movements and eventually a people's resistance... now that individual has an impact.

Isolating yourself hurts you and diminishes the fabric of society (because none of us are islands, we are all part of a whole). Individual acts of resistance are ... good for your conscience, I suppose, and better than nothing, but ultimately ineffective. We do nothing unless we bring people together.
posted by MiraK at 1:29 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Join the Wobblies. If your local IWW is anything like mine, they offer a hardship membership. So, zero bucks to join a union.

Find out where they organise/meet. This will likely be a space that is shared with other like-minded folk who aren't necessarily Wobblies. We have a space like this in Brisbane (Unite in Fortitude Valley) and it has an awesome free library of quality commie literature (and of course, other stuff), they organise, they run movie nights and other events, it's great.

This is a good way to build solidarity and community.

It's also likely that your area has some kind of "volunteer opportunity" directory. I don't suppose you are in Washington state, but that was the first state that came to mind and that I can easily spell and they have this. Just Google "your state + volunteering". Another good way to get out there and build solidarity and community.

Union spaces and volunteer groups also sometimes have opportunities for training and education, so that could be something worth looking into!

Fermenting and pickling stuff is fun and a relatively inexpensive (and delicious) hobby to pursue, that can be done with relatively cheap equipment.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:42 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Also if you can find the seeds/saplings for native fruits and vegetables relatively easy, just go ahead and plant those in a public reserve somewhere away from the road and parking lot, a little way off the trails, and have it as your own secret garden.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:47 PM on January 5

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