An Open Letter To You
talia jane

Now you’re the poster child for the Bay Area’s anti-poverty movement?

You know, Talia Jane, I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector here in the Bay Area for 20 years. All of my past employers served people who were veritably poor and lived in the kind of conditions I doubt you’ve seen up close. In fact, many of my colleagues themselves were low-income earners who came to work day after day to serve along with the rest of us.

My co-workers earned a lot less than you, and they weren’t getting fancy snacks at work. Some of them were even raising kids. How did they do it? They did things you probably never considered. They bought clothing from thrift stores, worked second jobs or side hustles, and drove beater cars, if they had them at all. One or two even lived in a trailer. What’s funny is that not once did I hear them whine about being poor, even though all of them were striving to better themselves.

The fact that you’ve decided to publicly turn yourself into Mother Theresa in the span of, what, four days is, frankly, an insult to everyone who has devoted their careers and lives to fighting poverty and inequality. Even though “poverty” may be a new concept to you, you’re not the first to realize that extreme economic inequality exists in the Bay Area. Believe it or not, a multitude of policy institutions, NGOs, local municipalities, and philanthropic foundations started the conversation a long time ago. You’re welcome to join the fight, but please don’t think that your ideas are novel or that you’re going to singlehandedly level the playing field overnight.

Now let me change tracks for a moment.

A couple things really bother me about your Open Letters, and I want to bring them up because you’ve glided by some of these points without addressing them. First, while I don’t begrudge you for actually eating, you did lead readers to believe that you subsisted for months on nothing but work snacks and ten pounds of rice. That’s dishonest. It’s especially so because thousands of people in the Bay Area, including lots of children, go to bed with empty stomachs every single night. In light of this, I don’t understand how you can look at yourself in the mirror while asking for handouts and awaiting severance.

Second, your lack of inward reflection and resourcefulness are concerning and make me question your financial future. Anyone can clearly see that the lifestyle that you portrayed (i.e. own apartment, car, cell phone, cable TV, Netflix, fancy alcohol) far exceeded your earning power. While living in the Bay Area on minimum wage is definitely a challenge, you could have cut back your expenses in so many ways, like sharing an apartment in SF, taking MUNI to work, turning down the heat, etc. Many people have pointed this out to you, yet I have yet to see you address it. Maybe you’re intentionally trying to skate past this point, but it’s definitely important for you to realize your role in this whole rigmarole. Your next job might come with better pay or it might not, but if you don’t have the skills to manage your money and live within your means, it doesn’t really matter what you earn.

Finally, I say this as someone who was once 25 and did my share of stupid things. Please turn off your computer and step away. Between applauding Stephanie William’s (most excellent) rebuttal and promising to pay back the GoFundMe contributions, you’re all over the place. It’s making me embarrassed for your future self. It’s great that you want to contribute to the world, but you’ve got to have something to give before you can give back. My suggestion would be to work on securing the means to support yourself, stop asking for handouts, and get your financial house in order. Put in some hard labor and build your chops, then you can worry about winning the Humanitarian of the Year Award.

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