Feature: Freedom Inc.’s Creative Response to the Criminalization of Black Communities in Madison, Wisconsin

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice has been supporting Freedom Inc. (FI) for 4 years. FI was founded in 2003, is based in Madison, WI and has used particularly creative and inspiring strategies to respond to oppression, racism and violence. FI works to end violence within and against low and no income communities of color. They work at the intersection of prison abolition, LGBT rights, education rights, and reproductive justice. FI aims to challenge the fundamental root causes of violence through leadership development and community organizing in Black and Southeast Asian, particularly Hmong communities in Madison. Their programs also aim to change cultural norms into which young people are socialized and build capacity for youth as leaders in their communities to organize for institutional change and accountability. In 2001, FI was recognized by Obama as a “champion of change” for their work against gender based violence.

On March 6th of this year, Tony Robinson a 19 year-old, “was shot five times and killed by Officer Matt Kenny in a stairwell at a friend’s apartment. Tony’s friend called the police seeking help for his friend, who was allegedly jumping in and out of traffic. However, instead of helping him, Officer Kenny broke into the apartment and fatally shot him five times.” As part of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, FI has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the issue of police brutality in light of Robinson’s murder. Rather than a federal investigation, the coalition has called for the UN Human Rights Commission and Organization of American States investigation to examine the murder.

Since Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson, FI youth have been building solidarity with Ferguson activists and sharing their Human Rights framework. According to their online petition, “the greater Madison, Wisconsin area, including all of Dane County, is home to some of the greatest racial disparities in the United States. The Black unemployment rate is 5 times higher than that of Whites, and 54% of Blacks live in poverty compared to 8.7% of Whites. Black people make up just 4.8% of Dane County's general population, but 44% of the new jail inmate population, the highest racial arrest disparity in the United States.” FI is also demanding that Dane County officials reject the proposed jail expansion, release the 350 Black inmates incarcerated as part of structural racism, end the practices that got them in jail in the first place and invest the $8 million that is not spent on incarcerating Black communities on Black led initiatives in Madison.

Along with FI, Astraea’s other grantee partners are carrying out “Know Your Rights” trainings and producing police training manuals for the fair treatment of LGBTQ people; using transformative justice approaches to hate violence; mobilizing against policies that criminalize LGBTQ migrants; getting police departments to adopt LGBT protocols and working to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex. In the past two years, Streetwise and Safe and Audre Lorde Project worked with Communities United for Police Reform, a cross-movement coalition, to pass the Community Safety Act in NYC. Community United Against Violence pushed to pass historic legislation limiting ICE's controversial fingerprint-sharing "Secure Communities" (S-Comm) program in California and preventing the criminalization of queer and trans migrants. Providence Youth Student Movement moved forward the Rhode Island Racial Profiling Prevention Act and is working to pass the City of Providence Community Safety Act, Audre Lorde Project helped pass the Medicaid and Welfare Justice Campaign that provides trans* inclusive health care in New York, and Power Inside worked to pass the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act in Maryland.

The LGBTQ organizations we support are led by the people most affected by systems of oppression: people of color, youth, trans women of color, people in the sex trades, homeless or unstably housed people, migrants and people with experience of incarceration. Their work is intersectional at its core, bringing together issues of race, gender identity and expression, sexuality, class and immigration status, among others. Astraea’s focus on anti-criminalization reflects a priority identified by the movement. A report published by FIERCE in 2014 Moving Up, Fighting Back: Creating a Path to LGBTQ Youth Liberation, revealed that the most critical issues impacting LGBTQ youth today are criminalization; policing; lack of housing; immigration restrictions; and concerns of safety and violence, including bias violence, school-based violence, and intimate partner/ sexual violence. Astraea understands criminalization and policing not as isolated cases of discrimination but as symptoms of systemic and structural oppression.

Our support to these organizations and movements aims to:

  • Increase police accountability, policies, protocols and measures to decrease police
    abuse against LGBTQ people.
  • Increase the resiliency and leadership capacity of populations most affected by criminalization.
  • Increase the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ people through transformative justice,
    healing justice, and other creative responses to violence.
  • Strengthen connectivity, communication, and synergy between LGBTQ organizations working against criminalization at a national level.

In the last four decades, Astraea’s U.S. Fund has strategically directed grants to people of color- led organizations and projects that advance LGBTQ racial and economic justice. In the past three years we have been listening and learning from our grantee partners and from the grassroots movements they lead, and we have deepened our commitment to support organizations and initiatives that stand against the criminalization of LGBTQI people of color and immigrant communities and that increase their safety. These organizations work against different forms of violence including interpersonal and institutional violence such as police violence and laws/policies that criminalize aspects of LGBTQ people’s lives, dignity and livelihoods.

We are inspired by the work of Freedom Inc. and our grantee partners who have been carving the rode for this current movement moment for over fifteen years.

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.