Building the Road to Belonging: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Help End Mass Criminalization

By Connie Cagampang Heller and Alexander Saingchin

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Fall 2015

Police Shooting Kills Sleeping 7-Year-Old Girl During Drug Raid.
Police Kill 12-Year-Old Boy Playing with Plastic Gun.
Young Man, 14 Years Old, Tried as an Adult.
Woman Who Acted in Self-Defense Now Serving Life Sentence

Have you found yourself thinking something urgently needs to change after seeing headlines about the latest abuses perpetrated by the criminal justice system? How did criminalization become a defining characteristic of American society? What can we in philanthropy do about it? In this article, we will look at some of the reasons why, as a society, we have taken a punitive approach to criminal justice, give some examples of how people who are directly impacted are creating change, and finally offer three philanthropic strategies to support authentic partnerships with movements challenging mass incarceration.

Sadly, it may not surprise you to learn that the victims in each of the previous stories were people of color. But perhaps it might surprise you that a recent study published by Stanford University shows that white people are more likely to support harsh criminal justice policies even when they know those policies disproportionately apply to people of color. When shown a video of mug shots, white San Franciscans were more likely to support reform if the video included a higher percentage of white people than if it included a higher percentage of African Americans. In other words, rather than being moved to action by the injustice of dramatic racial disparity, the participants continued to support a punitive, rather than rehabilitative, approach when confronted with a racially-biased criminal justice system. Indeed, racial prejudice can be subconscious and deeply rooted.

Mass criminalization is an expression of underlying racism and implicit bias that has been present, both structurally and culturally, in our society for decades. Policies at the local, state and federal levels have been designed to exclude certain groups, notably Black and Native people – fortifying a labyrinth of barriers to full political participation with the cumulative effects of social oppression, reduced economic choice and multigenerational trauma. The Making of Ferguson by Richard Rothstein highlights how past and present housing, banking and education funding policies continue to segregate and discriminate against communities of color in cities across the country.

Mass criminalization is an egregious area of racism and segregation in our country. Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” has caused the U.S. to spend billions of dollars on arrests and prison sentencing that disproportionately target communities of color and dehumanize Black people in particular, with catastrophic outcomes for these communities and the erosion of Civil Rights Era gains. The California Endowment’s Do the Math: Schools vs. Prisons campaign revealed that Californians “spend $62,300 a year to keep one inmate in prison, and just $9,100 per year per student in our public schools.” But, in the past 35 years, California has built 22 new prisons, but only one campus for the University of California. These spending choices come at a huge societal cost for everyone and lay bare the extent to which we have reinstated cultural and legal criminalization and ultimately social separation of people of color.

Given this cultural and political backdrop, addressing mass criminalization requires structural solutions to dismantle unjust policies and their effects. We need to build a movement that proffers an expansive vision of who belongs and a policy platform that holds membership and inclusion for all communities as its central principle – and establishes political power for communities with less of it.

To do this, funders will need to learn to partner authentically with those most impacted by the reaches of the criminal justice system to advance short- and long-term solutions that shift how society views formerly incarcerated people (disproportionately people of color) and their families. Grassroots, community-led groups that organize those directly affected by an issue are best positioned to understand the needs of these communities – and have the appropriate solutions to solve them. These groups work to be accountable to their community, activating community members to participate in political action that addresses the root causes of structural racism and the policies that embody it. By coming together with allies and the resources needed to succeed, these groups are building movements that challenge the stories we tell about ourselves and each other and ensure that we have a healthy democracy by and for the people.

Take, for example, the growing movement to end hiring discrimination against formerly incarcerated people (FIPs). In 2003, community organizers who had been formerly incarcerated convened in Oakland and New Orleans to discuss the challenges their communities faced, including the lack of voting and employment rights, as well as other issues that affect people in prison and after their release. They agreed to organize both locally and nationally under the banner All of Us or None (AOUON), and to prioritize a campaign to “Ban the Box,” or remove the check box for convicted felons on applications for public employment.

What followed was simply inspirational. By organizing FIPs and their families, investing in their leadership and building long-term alliances with other grassroots groups, AOUON won numerous victories across the country. San Francisco was the first municipality to Ban the Box on public employment applications; other cities in California followed. In 2011, AOUON helped found the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM), a bottom-up alliance of groups organizing FIPs that gave an added boost to the national Ban the Box campaign. Now, more than 100 cities or counties and 18 states have removed questions about conviction history from their public employment applications, and President Obama is considering an executive order to do so for all federal contractors. The campaign continues with its expansive vision to Ban the Box everywhere, including on housing, business and professional licensure applications. It seeks to end all forms of discrimination against people with criminal records, and truly offer people a fair chance.

These victories required the development of political power for those with little of it and applying a racial justice lens. AOUON is committed to bringing the people most impacted by mass criminalization into the movement to share their struggles and appeal to elected officials. To overcome long-held racial stereotypes and advance policy change, we must show the humanity of people with past convictions. It is easy to mistreat an anonymous “criminal” other; it is quite different to relentlessly punish someone you know and care about. Indeed, AOUON’s victories have come from telling real stories about real people’s lives – and empowering those same people to make visionary demands of our democracy.

This is just one example; the movement to end mass criminalization provides many more. The imperative for funders is to support these efforts without getting in the way (a historical challenge). This requires authentic partnership with movement. Here’s how:

  1. Support grassroots, community-led groups that organize those who stand most to win or lose from an issue, and codesign funding priorities with them. AOUON developed the Ban the Box campaign by advancing a vision created by impacted communities, cultivating leadership within those communities and building a broad political base ready to demand action to address structural racism and the policies that embody it.
  2. Support regional and national convenings of groups organizing FIPs, their families and families with incarcerated children to facilitate movement-building. Funding for grassroots organizing has been far too limited, inhibiting community-led groups from engaging in the critical relationship-building and strategy alignment needed to build a stronger criminal justice reform movement. Funders need to provide sufficient resources to groups to design these convenings (including planning time, travel funds and support for facilitation) so those involved can create their own agendas and work toward desired outcomes.
  3. Approach the issue with root causes in mind – and where they intersect with other issues – with the long-term aim to dismantle structural racism and build a new paradigm of inclusiveness and belonging. Several community-led and movement groups have already developed analysis on the intersection between criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and/or corporate accountability. For example, it is no coincidence that the private prison industry has lobbied aggressively for regressive policies around prison construction, immigration detention and expanded policing. Groups such as Enlace, BreakOUT!, Black Alliance for Just ImmigrationPUENTE Human Rights Movement and FIERCE are making these connections, helping build a stronger movement. They are supported by funder collaboratives, like the Sunrise Fund, that recognize the power of policy-change campaigns led by the people most impacted.

Yes, something does have to urgently change if we want to stop the inhumane treatment and senseless killings of low-income Black, Brown and Native people. Philanthropy can and must play a role. The road to belonging starts by acknowledging that conscious and unconscious racial animosity has been a driving force in shaping the policies that led us to this era of mass criminalization. If we are to not only undo the harm that it has already caused, but also to advance an inclusive and just vision for society, philanthropy must walk in authentic partnership with the movement toward racial justice that has sprung up all around us. Is philanthropy up to the task?

Connie Cagampang Heller of the Linked Fate Fund for Justice at Common Counsel Foundation has been actively engaged in grantmaking and donor organizing for more than a decade. The Linked Fate Fund supports grassroots organizing and intermediaries dedicated to dismantling systemic racial inequity and building inclusive democracy. '

Alexander W. Saingchin, program officer at Common Counsel Foundation, oversees a set of family foundation and donor-advised fund portfolios with a strong focus on racial justice. Common Counsel Foundation also hosts the Social and Economic Justice Fund, a pooled fund for movement building that has recently focused on criminal justice reform.

 

Read the original post on NCRP.org.

 

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.