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 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)