September 4, 2018

Are funders ready to fight for our freedom?

By Manisha Vaze, Senior Program Manager of NFG's Funders for a Just Economy

This Labor Day weekend, as we celebrate the last days of summer with barbeques and back-to-school preparation, I am thinking about how the labor movement is facing some of the most serious threats to its future. Well-funded efforts are shutting down public sector unions and workers’ ability to collectively bargain, while corporations are using their lobbying power to lock contingent and informal workers out of basic labor protections.  Companies are worming out of providing basic benefits such as health care, sick days, family leave, and fair work schedules, while also receiving significant tax breaks. These corporations are being propped up as saviors of the American workforce because of their ability to create jobs, or because of the beloved nature of their products, services, and shipping times that come at the literal expense of the workers who make, provide, and deliver these goods.

To me, it’s no accident that while the American economy is purportedly at its height, wages have continued to stagnate and workers have seen little to no benefits. The shifts in the economy have largely come from a culture of extraction of resources from companies on to shareholders and CEOs. It is part of not decades, but centuries of poor labor conditions, racist economic policies, and use of slave labor.

Moreover, we are getting distracted by the short-sighted antics of politics and politicos who are campaigning in two- and four-year cycles instead of working to build long term democratic values in our public policies and budgets. And culturally, many are more interested in maintaining their partisan identities and white supremacy than their own ability to make ends meet.

Despite this doom and gloom, what’s clear is that there is energy and motivation to bring back a culture of interdependence, collectivism, and a demand for basic rights. The current prison strike is emblematic of this energy – incarcerated people are standing up to slavery and exploitation as they are stripped of their constitutional rights. In Los Angeles, United Teachers LA just voted to authorize a strike for better pay and smaller class sizes, following many teacher strikes this year including one in Southwest Washington last week. These efforts are proof that workers will organize against the bosses and resist the authoritarian conditions that lead to their mistreatment, regardless of the cuts to legal protections and structures in place to defend workers’ rights.

These efforts also occurred without any philanthropic funding. Recent data shows that funding towards economic and labor rights are a paltry 6% of the total funding that goes towards human rights, with grassroots organizing efforts being one of the least funded. But, shifting power to create the conditions for real change requires larger investments and larger resources, and more risk taking. When workers are willing to lose wages, face extreme retaliation, and risk their livelihoods, how can we as funders stand by, citing the barriers of our program strategies and five-year plans? Now, more than ever, we need to be fighting for the future of labor and employment – one that is about the value of work and improving the quality of life for everyday people. 

Assata Shakur wrote that “It is our duty to fight for our freedom / It is our duty to win.” Funders, are we ready to do everything in our power to make sure we win?

February 12, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Marisa Franco

Marisa Franco, FFJ Field Advisor and Director and Co-founder of of Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building, speaks on the current political moment and how funders can contribute to movement work.

Tell us about the particular moment you are in with your work and place in the movement.

Entering into our fourth year, we are doing our best to be a vehicle to both respond to the real-time challenges our communities face and a place to find respite, connection, and replenished meaning. Given what the Latinx and Chicanx community faces, we’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time (and hop on one leg, juggle, and balance something on our head!) but we believe that through the continued growth where organizers, healers, change-makers, designers, and disrupters feel Mijente is a place to meaningfully contribute to collective liberation means we are going in the right direction. It is my view that our most critical task at this time is growth and recruitment - millions of people are becoming exposed to the injustice and summarily wrong direction we are heading in - our organizations must be open and accessible entry points for people to contribute to moving us in the right direction.

How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? What do you think we need to do differently right now?

Ultimately I think that lots of what we reference as threats that are coming are largely here - crisis as a result of climate change is here, it’s being felt across the planet. The extreme backlash and attempt to re-entrench power due to demographic change is here, occurring in localities across the United States. Authoritarianism is a growing threat beyond Donald Trump and within the domestic United States. Given all of this, at the very least I think it’s critical we start to widen our panorama of political understanding to include outside of the United States and make the connections internationally. Rest assured, our adversaries are in coordination - we ignore our movement siblings and the struggle outside of the United States to our own detriment.

What should funders be understanding in this political moment? What should funders be doing to support organizations and movements?

What’s important to understand in this political moment is how the volatility impacts the plans, perspective, and morale of people in organizations and social movements. It has become more and more difficult to lay out plans that feel real given how normal it's become for so much to turn upside down pretty regularly. Some understanding and support of this from funders, particularly when it means proposed work is not carried out in the way it was initially described, is very helpful.

Continued support for rapid response tactics is critical, as well as funds that help convene key groups and/or leaders in this time goes a long way. In times like these, those that are able to adapt and move quickly are well positioned to make impactful changes. These folks have got to be able to do so with enough support and not too many hurdles, hoops, and paper to be able to move. So some of these existing practices around simplifying processes, making funds available for rapid response activities, and pop up convenings is something that has been helpful thus far and is important to continue.

December 10, 2018

Welcome to the new NFG website!

Thank you for visiting Neighborhood Funders Group's new website! We've completely redesigned and improved how it works to make it easier than ever for our members to use as an online resource.

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