November 6, 2017

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Jenny Arwade, Interviewed by Manuela Arciniegas

Next up in our discussion series with FFJs Field Advisors, Manuela Arciniegas (Associate Program Officer at the Andrus Family Fund) interviews Jenny Arwade (FFJ Field Advisor and Co-Executive Director of Communities United). Read the interview below to learn more on how Communities United changing the narrative of reinvestment, leading the charge on invest/divest strategies and campaigns, and developing sustainable leadership at the helm of the social justice movement.

What are some of the ways Communities United is providing national leadership in social justice movements?

We’re best known for our work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, but Communities United (CU) is leading the way on a number of fronts. All of our efforts bend toward holistic racial justice—we recognize that nobody is faced with a single-issue struggle.

CU convenes Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) through which youth of color worked for and won the nation’s most comprehensive statewide school discipline reform, SB100. This new law ends zero tolerance at all publicly-funded schools in Illinois, places stronger standards on the use of exclusionary discipline, and paves the way for restorative practices to take hold. Young people are currently organizing to ensure effective implementation in Black and Brown communities across the state. We’ve also secured ground-breaking policy change to prevent the displacement of renters from foreclosed buildings and preserve those buildings as long-term affordable housing. On healthcare, we’re working to expand access to care for the uninsured and underinsured in Cook County, including young adults, undocumented people, LGBTQ individuals, and the formerly incarcerated.

Several years ago we launched a statewide effort, Reimagine Justice Illinois, through which young people, survivors, and formerly incarcerated individuals have been organizing to advance community-led justice reinvestment efforts. We think it’s deep community investment that leads to transformation.

Can you talk about the recent report you co-authored and how the narrative of reinvestment is taking hold in the social justice movement?

We got a lot of traction with this national report I co-authored with Jim Freeman from the Grassroots Action Support Team, and allies from Padres Y Jovenes Unidos and Make the Road New York. It’s titled “The $3.4 Trillion Mistake: The Cost of Mass Incarceration and Criminalization and How Justice Reinvestment Can Bring a Better Future for All.” It’s been a powerful and motivating tool in communities with policymakers, allies, and all sorts of stakeholders.

Over the past 30 years there was $3.4 trillion in surplus justice spending across police, corrections, judicial/legal, and immigration enforcement. We wrote about what could be done with just one year of surplus justice spending, or $206 billion.

For example, it could have created over 1 million new living-wage jobs; provided 1 million new social workers, psychologists, conflict mediators, mental health drug counselors, and drug treatment counselors to address public health and safety issues; and created a universal pre- school system for all 3- and 4-year olds in the country that would be free for low-income families and affordable for middle class families.

Whether we’ve been talking with young people, faith leaders, or formerly incarcerated individuals, the idea of invest/divest has brought people to tears. The dominant narrative has focused on how communities have suffered chronic disinvestment which is devastating enough. Then to hear how many trillions of dollars have been invested in these same communities to incarcerate, deport, and tear apart families -- it’s even more devastating in a way. But it’s also a game-changer in that it allows people to fight the age-old adage that there isn’t enough money to rejuvenate our communities. People can tangibly feel that the resources are there to fund all the things they want to see in their communities. It adds new energy and resolve to their movements to unlock and reinvest those resources.

The report has also allowed organizers to step back from their work and to hold a broader vision for transformative change, and to see new opportunities for movements to intersect to create the type of power that is needed to effect deep and lasting change.

To build on the release of the report, we have formed the Grassroots Alliance on Justice Reinvestment with our co-authors and with additional groups in Florida including Dream Defenders, Power U Center for Social Change and Community Justice Project. By convening and sharing strategies and narratives across states, we believe we will be able to move the needle on community-led justice reinvestment efforts.

Can you talk about how Communities United’s work on the invest/divest strategy and the recent campaign wins and lessons learned?

Our invest/divest strategies range from pushing for re-allocation of funds from school police into student supports to addressing gun violence in Chicago through a reinvestment lens. One example of recent success is that just a few months ago, young people from Communities United and our VOYCE alliance (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education) came just one vote shy of passing through the Illinois legislature what would have been a nationally groundbreaking policy change. The policy promoted divestment from school police and investment in restorative justice programs and other trauma-informed supports for young people, especially in schools and communities most heavily impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. This would have been done through the creation of state-level financial incentives and a matching grant program to support schools in making this transition—for example, if schools decided to shift funds away from one school-based police officer, they would get double the funding that was devoted to that position to go toward school psychologists, counselors, or other trauma-informed programming. This would not only stem the school-to-prison pipeline, but would give schools and districts the resources to more effectively address student misbehavior and create positive school climates.

Right as young people were in the middle of bringing this back to Springfield and organizing to win, and the same day that their bill passed through the Illinois House Education Committee, the Parkland tragedy hit. As with other mass school shootings, we knew the collateral consequences could be devastating for communities of color which have been hit with more school police, as well as recent proposals to arm teachers… all in the name of “school safety.” Rather than addressing the root causes of violence, these approaches added rocket fuel to the school-to-prison pipeline.

But tragedies sometimes spark movements, and youth of color are refusing to allow the Parkland tragedy to have the same outcomes. Young people in our communities have been uniting and building movement with young people from Parkland and across the country. They are determined to continue forward movement on shifting resources from approaches that criminalize into approaches that restore and support young people.

Recently CU youth interacted with Parkland youth. Can you talk about what supports and knowledge CU youth were able to provide that you find is integral to changing the national conversation on youth and gun violence?

After the Parkland tragedy, young people from Communities United had the opportunity to travel to Parkland and meet with survivors from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and share their common yet unique struggles with gun violence. They felt an instant connection because of the tragedies they have faced with gun violence and the loved ones lost.

In the words of youth leader Alex King, "When I saw what happened, it automatically hurt me as well as it hurt the Parkland students, because no one should be lost, especially in a place, an environment where you think that you should be the safest—in school."

In the midst of the launch of March 4 Our Lives, CU youth joined with youth from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to launch the Good Kids Mad City movement to demand investments in youth employment, mental health resources, and trauma-informed schools to address root causes of gun violence and a youth vision for school safety in solidarity with the demands for gun control emerging from Parkland. These demands were not new, building off years of past organizing by young people around these issues, but the current moment provided a critical opportunity to elevate this platform and bring more people into the movement.

One of our youth leaders, Alex King, went on to be one of the speakers at the March 4 Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., speaking to over a million people present about the need to come together as family as the movement continues. "Our pain makes us family. Us hurting together brings us closer together to fight for something better." Sharing his experience losing his nephew to gun violence, and the trauma young people of color face on a daily basis in cities like Chicago, he shared the need to act with urgency to address gun violence as it impacts youth of color in cities across the country.

At the Chicago rally, CU leader Amina Henderson-Redwan was the closing speaker of the day, sharing her experience organizing fellow students to bring about reinvestment and resources to end gun violence. She shared the story of losing her father when she was nine years old, and again losing a loved one in February of this year. She reminded the crowd of over 80,000 people that youth in Chicago’s neighborhoods “have lost so many people that we can’t even count them anymore.” With 22 young people having been shot per month between September 2011 to April 2018, she demanded that solutions to gun violence in Chicago must go beyond gun control, but be rooted in strategies that invest in people rather than continuing the cycle of incarceration that has failed to create safer communities.

Recently, Alex King authored an op-ed featured in Teen Vogue, in response to the calls to “harden” schools. In his Op-ed, Alex brings to light how zero-tolerance policies have not resulted in safer schools or communities, and emphasizes the need for investment in education, employment, mental health as solutions to violence.

Can you share your insights on what it takes to develop sustainable, powerful leadership at the helm of the social justice movement? Are there any reflections that are particular to your leadership development among youth of color? Among women? Around your own leadership? How can funders support?

Providing long-term general operating support is by far the most powerful way to develop sustainable powerful leadership at the helm of social justice movements, and this is true especially when we are talking about women, youth of color, and I’ve seen the impact in my own development. When foundations have given large grants over long periods of time with minimal reporting requirements it is a game changer. It allows us to really focus on building the types of movement and power that are necessary to change conditions in our communities. It allows us to take a leap of faith to organize toward a vision that we are often told is unachievable.

The times that I felt most supported as a woman of color in this work have been when I’ve gotten calls out of the blue by funders I am in partnership with who have believed in our work and organizing so much that they have made deep investments that we didn’t even ask for. When a funder is in such true partnership with us that they so intimately understand our vision and what we are fighting for, and what the resources are that are needed to get there—that is powerful. That is transformational.

As women of color, our commitment is to collective leadership. It’s about having vision, but it’s about getting the job done—whether it’s in our day-to-day lives, as mothers, or in the movement. Allies in philanthropy play a critical role in supporting our leadership in the field, but also in being a part of that collective of people that at the end of the day helps to magnify and be a part of the demand for change to the point that we see real changes in conditions in our lives, in our schools, and in our communities.

What should funders be doing in this moment to support social movements and lasting change?

There’s no better way to support social movements and lasting change than to make sure resources get directly to the ground to those most directly impacted who are leading change in their communities. Grassroots-led efforts are critical to not only creating the initial demand for change, but building the power necessary to ensure long-term sustainable shifts in resources from systems that cause harm to systems that restore and support our communities. A great example of current movements under way is the work of the Grassroots Alliance for Justice Reinvestment and Good Kids Mad City. Through these intergenerational efforts, youth of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, and survivors of violence have been coming together to win tangible concrete reinvestment in schools and communities that moves the needle forward and paves the way for longer-term change.


Jenny Arwade is Co-Executive Director of Chicago-based Communities United (CU), a racial justice organization which brings together young people and adult allies to advance social change and systems transformation. CU’s approach is centered on the creation of intentional healing and justice spaces, transformative civic engagement and leadership development approaches, and the development of broad-based alliances. Jenny has 17 years of organizing experience during which time she has supported young people and adult allies in creating the nation’s most comprehensive statewide school discipline reform, advancing strategies through an invest/divest framework to shift resources from police in schools and incarceration into school and community supports, and more. Jenny is a graduate of Princeton University, serves as Vice Chair of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, and is a field representative on the Board of Advisors for the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing

Manuela Arciniegas is the Associate Program Officer for the Andrus Family Fund, where she manages the capacity building initiative and a national community organizing portfolio serving youth impacted by juvenile justice, foster care, immigration detention, and other disruptive systems.

Manuela brings over 15 years of experience in social justice, community organizing, youth development, and cultural arts education. She is actively engaged in moving philanthropic resources with an eye towards improving leadership pipelines, civic engagement, systems’ wide reforms led by directly impacted youth through her membership on a number of funder advisory tables including the New York City Youth Funders, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy NYC Steering Committee, Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing and the Youth Engagement Fund.  She is currently conducting dissertation research for her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center focusing on how Afro-Caribbean religious music creates power and cultural change. When not working at AFF Manuela directs The Legacy Women, a drum ensemble for women ages 23-55 that teaches and performs folk Afro-Caribbean music of resistance.

Manuela graduated cum laude with a Bachelors in Government from Harvard University.



In the spring of 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ) launched its inaugural cohort of Advisors – nine field leaders recognized for their leadership in community power-building, racial and gender justice, police accountability campaigns, and anti-criminalization movements. We asked them to share their insights on the current political climate, how we can build a vision for the world we want, and what funders can do in this moment. 

January 13, 2021

Discount Foundation Legacy Award

The nominations are now open for the 2021 Discount Foundation Legacy Award!

The Discount Legacy Award annually identifies, supports and celebrates an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and contributed significantly to workers’ rights movements in the United States and/or globally. Through public recognition and a $20,000 stipend, we hope to recognize and amplify the work of individuals at the intersections leading the way toward justice for low-wage workers of color. This is a one of a kind opportunity to recognize the often unheard voices of worker movements - that includes volunteers, members, workplace leaders, and more who are transforming the lives and rights of their fellow low-wage workers of color. 

To be eligible for the Award, a nominee must be active in worker justice, including but not limited to organizing and advocacy-related work. Additionally, nominees do not have to be employed at an organization or institution whose mission is to advance worker justice – they can be volunteers, members or other leaders at an organization or workplace organizing effort. We will not be asking questions regarding immigration or other legal status, and nominees do not have to reside in the US.

Nominees need to be nominated by someone other than themselves, through a simple, quick and accessible application process found here. The Award is meant only for individuals. Organizations, groups of individuals or institutions are not eligible for consideration. If you know anyone who you think should be recognized for their significant commitment to worker justice at any level - from a workplace to the neighborhood to the nation -  this is your chance to provide them a powerful boost and real resources they can use in whatever way they choose! 

In addition to being publicly recognized for their remarkable contributions to the movement, the 2021 Discount Foundation Legacy Award winner will receive a $20,000 stipend to provide them with the flexibility to expand upon their professional activities and achievements They will not be asked for any reporting requirements, and the funding has no specific strings attached or other specific obligations. The winner of the 2021 Discount Foundation Legacy Award will be invited to be honored at a virtual event in 2021. To learn more about the eligibility requirements and nomination process, please see our FAQs here — and please spread the word about this opportunity to your networks, colleagues and friends!

All nominations must be received by 11:59pm ET on March 11th, 2021 through the online nomination form. We’re happy to help answer questions about the award, or support with any trouble you have with the application — please reach out to emily@jwj.org.

Created in partnership with Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Neighborhood Funders Group’s Funders for a Just Economy, the Discount Foundation Legacy Award was launched in 2015 to commemorate and carry on the legacy of the Foundation’s decades-long history of supporting leading edge organizing in the worker justice arena beyond its spend down as a foundation in 2014.
 



 

Convocatoria de nominaciones para el premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 

¡Ya están abiertas las nominaciones para el Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021!

 

El Premio Discount Legacy identifica, apoya y celebra anualmente a una persona que ha demostrado un liderazgo sobresaliente y ha contribuido significativamente a los movimientos por los derechos de los trabajadores en los Estados Unidos o en todo el mundo. A través del reconocimiento público y un estipendio de $20,000, esperamos reconocer y ampliar el trabajo de las personas en las intersecciones que lideran el camino hacia la justicia para los trabajadores de color con salarios bajos. Esta es una oportunidad única para reconocer las voces a menudo inauditas de los movimientos de trabajadores, que incluyen voluntarios, miembros, líderes en el lugar de trabajo y más que están transformando las vidas y los derechos de sus compañeros trabajadores de color con salarios bajos. 

 

Para ser elegible para el premio, un nominado debe ser activo en la justicia laboral, lo que incluye, pero no se limita, a la organización y el trabajo relacionado con la defensa. Además, los nominados no tienen que estar empleados en una organización o institución cuya misión sea promover la justicia laboral; pueden ser voluntarios, miembros u otros líderes en una organización o esfuerzo de organización en el lugar de trabajo.  No haremos preguntas sobre inmigración u otro estado legal, y los nominados no tienen que residir en los EE. UU.

 

Los nominados deben ser nominados por alguien que no sea ellos mismos, a través de un proceso de solicitud simple, rápido y accesible que se encuentra aquí. El premio está destinado únicamente a individuos. No se tomará en cuenta a las organizaciones, los grupos de personas o las instituciones. Si conoce a alguien que crea que debería ser reconocido por su importante compromiso con la justicia laboral en cualquier nivel, desde el lugar de trabajo hasta el vecindario y la nación, esta es su oportunidad de brindarle un impulso poderoso y recursos reales que puede usar de la manera que elija. 

 

Además del reconocimiento público por sus notables contribuciones al movimiento, el ganador del Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 recibirá un estipendio de $20,000 para brindar la flexibilidad de expandir sus actividades y logros profesionales. No se le pedirá ningún requisito de presentación de informes y la financiación no tiene condiciones ni obligaciones específicas. Se invitará al ganador del Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 a un homenaje en un evento virtual en 2021. Para obtener más información sobre los requisitos de elegibilidad y el proceso de nominación, consulte nuestras preguntas frecuentes aquí y haga correr la voz sobre esta oportunidad en sus redes y entre compañeros y amigos. 

 

Todas las nominaciones deben recibirse antes de las 11:59 p. m. ET del 11 de marzo de 2021 a través del formulario de nominación en línea. Nos complace ayudar a responder preguntas sobre el premio o brindar asistencia con cualquier problema que tenga con la solicitud, envíe un correo electrónico a emily@jwj.org.

 

Creado en asociación con Jobs With Justice Education Fund y los Funders for a Just Economy del Neighborhood Funders Group, el Premio Discount Foundation Legacy se lanzó en 2015 para celebrar y continuar el legado de décadas de historia de la Fundación de apoyar la organización de vanguardia en el campo de la justicia laboral más allá del exceso de gastos como fundación en 2014. 

 

 



 

2020 Awardee:

Andrea Dehlendorf

Co-Executive Director of United for Respect

Andrea DehlendorfAndrea Dehlendorf is Co-Executive Director of United for Respect, a national organization building power for people working in low wage jobs by centering their voices, experiences and solutions in the national movement fighting for the future of work, our economy and corporate regulation. With Andrea’s fierce leadership, United for Respect organizes people employed at the country’s largest employers to amplify their demands on corporate leaders in the service economy and policymakers to provide family-sustaining jobs. United for Respect leverages technology — social media and a new digital platform, WorkIt — to support people working in retail by bringing them into communities of support and action with one another. Through online peer networks and on-the-ground base-building strategies, United for Respect scaffolds the leadership and stories of working people to advocate for solutions to the pressing needs of the country’s massive low-wage workforce.

Andrea’s roots in the movement go deep, and include seminal experiences winning major victories with people working in the most unstable and precarious low wage service jobs, from janitors to hotel workers. Prior to United for Respect, Andrea worked on some the labor movements most innovating campaigns including Justice for Janitors, Airport Workers United and hotel worker organizing in Las Vegas. She lives in Oakland, CA with her twelve year old son.

Learn about United for Respect.


 

2019 Awardee:

Odessa Kelly

Co-Chair of Stand Up Nashville

Odessa KellyA native of Nashville, Odessa Kelly works diligently to bring positive and equitable change to the Nashville community by serving as co-chair for Stand Up Nashville, a coalition of community-based organizations and labor unions that represent the working people of Nashville who have seen our city transformed by development, but have not shared in the benefits of that growth. She also serves as Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), Economic Equity & Jobs task force chair. Her work with NOAH has included building one of the largest and most powerful social justice movements in Nashville. She has advocated for the working class and underserved communities in Nashville, issues ranging from affordable housing to establishing the first ever Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in the state of Tennessee. She believes that Nashville has the potential to achieve a progressive paradigm shift -- a cultural shift in how a traditional southern city becomes a leader in the progressive movement across the country.

Learn about Stand Up Nashville.


 

2018 Awardee:

Enrique Balcazar

Community Organizer and Leader at Migrant Justice

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar immigrated to the United States from Tabasco, Mexico when he was 17 years old. He joined his parents on a dairy farm in rural Vermont and worked for years on farms across the state. Enrique joined Migrant Justice and became a leader in the successful campaign to expand access to driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in Vermont. He became part of the organization's Farmworker Coordinating Committee and is now an organizer and spokesperson. Enrique is one of the principal architects of Milk with Dignity, a worker-led program securing human rights and economic justice in dairy supply chains. In 2017, during a national campaign calling on Ben & Jerry's to join the program, Enrique and fellow organizer Zully Palacios were arrested by ICE agents while leaving the Migrant Justice office. A wave of protests won their release from detention, though Enrique remains in deportation proceedings. Despite the government's persecution, Enrique continued to lead the Milk with Dignity campaign to victory, signing a historic contract with Ben & Jerry's in October, 2017. 

Learn about Migrant Justice.


 

2017 Awardee:

Luna Ranjit

Co-founder of Adhikaar and the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition

Luna Ranjit’s work is rooted in the community. For more than a decade, Luna guided Adhikaar's programs, research, policy advocacy, and partnerships, building visibility and power for the emerging Nepali-speaking immigrant community. As a co-founder of the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, she helped lead the way for the sweeping changes to improve working conditions in the nail salon industry. She also served on the advisory board of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salons Alliance. Luna has been quoted and featured in print and broadcast media on the issues related to workers’ rights, immigrant rights, language justice, and civic engagement. Her groundbreaking work has been recognized by many community organizations and elected officials. In 2016, she received the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize created to support and inspire innovative social change makers throughout the world.

Learn more about Adhikaar.


 

2016 Awardee:

Alfred Marshall

Organizer with the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice

As an organizer in New Orleans, Alfred works to win back power for structurally unemployed and underemployed Black men and women through campaigns to achieve higher wages and better standards in his community. Through Alfred’s tremendous organizing campaigns, he has helped win local hiring on post-Katrina public construction and development projects, a “Ban the Box” rule, and a living wage and paid sick leave ordinance for individuals employed under city contracts. “By sitting down and talking with other workers at the New Orleans Worker Center, I realized that we’re in this together,” Alfred said. “New Orleans won’t stop. I won’t stop. This award is bigger than I am. It’s all about doing the work on the ground. We’re shaking this world up."

Learn more about the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

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December 17, 2020

Strike Watch 2020 Review: Defund the Police to Build Worker Power

By Manisha Vaze, Director, NFG Funders for a Just Economy

As we close this year, it’s probably safe to assume that you, like me, are emotionally and physically exhausted. The never-ending tragedy of this year’s global pandemic, the job loss, the deep inequality of the economic and health systems, and the new exposure for many Americans to systemic racial injustice, racial terror, and state violence overlayed our own personal losses and struggles. For me, while my partner and I were lucky enough to keep our jobs, it included family and friends who had COVID-19, a family member killed by the police, and much time away from our loved ones. I’m really ready for a winter break.

Prior to joining NFG, I organized alongside immigrant families facing deportation in New York City and with chronically un- and underemployed people in South Los Angeles. My political education is rooted in the organizing I was involved in as a student in the early 2000s, and movement responses to 9/11 shaped my experiences of centering Black and Indigenous communities in our fight against surveillance and violence against Arab, South Asian, and Muslim communities. We organized to address the continued consolidation of corporate power, surveillance technology and data control, as well as new austerity policies, unimaginable (at the time) job loss. We confronted radically accelerated separation of families, detention, and deportation of migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and hand-in-hand with police. I learned to listen to people, dream big, demand what we actually need (not just what is winnable), and build towards that interlocking vision of economic and social justice through strategic and incremental wins and constantly evolving tactics.

Today, as the new US federal administration begins to take shape, some may be content with a collective sigh of relief. However, the organizer in me is asking you to stay vigilant and move resources to where movements are directing us: to organizing, power building, and movements calling to defund the police as a pathway to community and worker justice. We have an enormous opportunity in philanthropy to truly support, through solidarity and resources, the visionary movements that are building power for systemic change. Movement organizers have made significant gains in 2020. The cultural shifts we’ve experienced as a result have unprecedented numbers of people calling for abolition of the police and ICE, supporting unions in new industries, and shifting and expanding public budgets. Organizations have built and formed stronger coalitions, multi-racial, multi-gender, and multi-sectoral movements. And, importantly for our sector, the highly-visible organizing power of community members and workers has moved foundations to understand how philanthropy has supported extreme wealth accumulation and is entrenched in the perpetuation of racial capitalism and heteropatriarchy. Collectively, this has resulted in foundations increasing their investment in organizing and advocacy efforts toward economic and racial justice.

 

To some vocal pundits and media, defunding the police sounds like a new concept born out of the George Floyd uprisings, but it is a decades-old call to action, voiced by Black feminist leaders and those most impacted by police violence. Visionary movements that have been calling for defunding the police see how this strategy releases revenue that can be invested into infrastructure, social protections, housing, worker protections, and other community needs. Upending the power of police unions, not just “reforming” them, will allow more opportunities for strategic campaigns that realign public budgets and real community safety to meet the community’s needs and the goals of philanthropy’s investments in economic justice and equity.

Furthermore, defunding the police, ICE and violent surveillance forces offers an opportunity to align with workers expanding the labor movement. Police unions have since their inception had contentious relationships to workers calling for better working conditions, safety nets, and social protections. The expansion of policing in the late 19th century was precisely to bust labor organizing during work stoppages and strikes. In the last decades, we have seen countless examples of employers using immigration (now ICE) raids to threaten workers who attempt to organize. The labor movement has long recognized the antagonistic role police played on the picket line, and chose not to build with their unions. And the reality is that while some police unions are part of these institutional labor structures, most police associations are not – maintaining a business association 501(c)(6) status instead of a tradition labor union status or 501(c)(5).

If we’re serious about worker power and contesting for governing power in the US it’s important to recognize how the police and carceral systems hamstring the movement’s ability to make strategic and progressive policy gains. Their outsized power influences public budgets, dictates narratives about community safety, and render them immune to scrutiny and accountability. All of this leaves community members and workers who organize to increase funding for public schools, transportation, job quality, healthcare and other needs, fighting for scraps. The good news is, the decision to prioritize criminalization over community care and economic development is a relatively new one, borne of decades interlocking efforts to shift public narrative, policy and power. This orientation is by no means inevitable, and can be countered by a concerted, long-term power-building effort that includes partnership from philanthropy.

At NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy, I am privileged to work with funders who inspire me to think differently about philanthropic work and grant making, and have led efforts in our network to understand power, how to shift it to transform communities, and learn how racial capitalism undergirds our economic system and impacts our work in philanthropy. Most recently, FJE interviewed Jidan Terry-Koon, FJE Coordinating Committee member and Director of People pathways at the San Francisco Foundation who shared that if funders truly centered the most marginalized, especially Black and Indigenous workers in their economic justice grantmaking, they would understand the connection between building the power of all workers and shifting funds away from the police and carceral systems. FJE members have also formed deeper partnerships with Funders for Justice (FFJ), now an independent organization, to support movements to divest from the police and the carceral system and invest in community safety, housing, and other public investments.

We need to open ourselves up to a longer arc of change. The leadership of worker movements and coalitions inspires me to envision where we could be in the next twenty years. Learning from FJE’s programming, I know we can move more money for justice. Movement leaders have called for these changes in philanthropy before, and I’m recommending them again. Philanthropy must mobilize to:

  • Make multi-year, general support investments and grants in base building and organizing.
  • Collaborate with other funders to ensure that we’re building community power and supporting local and regional ecosystems.
  • Influence funders to deeply fund organizing efforts that build community and worker power, and especially worker organizations that build power to make impact (in addition to and) beyond their workplaces to support the common good.
  • Fund groups that are building a new transformative economy through alternative wealth building including cooperative models and other small business development.
  • Advocate to increase your yearly grantmaking, and your institutions assets, resources, and influence to support power building and organizing.
  • Learn about your institution’s finances and make adjustments to divest from the criminal and carceral systems and invest in non-extractive industries.
  • Utilize your relationships with allies in organized labor to fund collaborative efforts that build power locally and shift state and federal policy.
  • Continue your own education and build consciousness amongst your colleagues about the history of the mass accumulation of  wealth in philanthropy rom centuries of corporations extracting wealth from enslaved people, people who are incarcerated, workers who are not paid living wages and without any job security or social protections, and a rigged tax system benefiting the wealthy.

We must support the movement’s call to defund the police and abolishing ICE as a pathway to building worker power. This year showed us that, if forced to, funders can move money quickly – let’s not wait until we’re forced to again. As funders of the worker justice movement, we can no longer stay out of this fight. As I count the days until the end of the year, I will be taking time to rest, heal, and get ready. We have much more work to do.

To learn more about how philanthropy can move resources to movement groups calling to defund the police and reimagine community safety, make sure to read and share Funders for Justice’s Divest/Invest online toolkit for funders. To continue to support and build community and worker power and racial, gender, economic and climate justice, stay connected to Rob and me to help advance NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy program.

Photos by Manisha Vaze from Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police protests in Los Angeles, California in Summer 2020.