April 2, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Zachary Norris

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Zachary Norris, FFJ Field Advisor and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, tells us about his vision for change and the need to invest in building the foundation for marginalized communities to thrive.

What’s happening for Ella Baker Center in this moment?

It's a very exciting time for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights as we move to a new, permanent home in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood: a community advocacy and training center called Restore Oakland.

At Restore Oakland, community members will have access to a wide range of resources - training to get good jobs in the restaurant industry, conflict resolution through restorative justice approaches, housing and tenant rights advocacy, and a hub to organize around criminal justice reform and other issues impacting the community. Plus, Restore Oakland will house a vibrant restaurant serving delicious, healthy, affordable food.

At the same time, the Ella Baker Center continues to move programs focused on shifting resources away from prisons and punishment and toward investment in opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strong. We are currently organizing with Oakland community members to call for accountability and transparency of the Alameda County Sheriff, standing up to win change and community-led solutions for unsheltered Oaklanders who are being displaced and criminalized, and supporting legislation that takes important steps toward criminal justice reform in California.

How does your work connect to a vision for change in the communities that you work in?

Through our longstanding community organizing efforts, we have heard from residents that there is a need for a space where community members can come together to build their power and transform Oakland.

Coming together to organize and transform our communities is crucial when so many Oakland residents have been shut out of job and economic opportunities due to prior involvement with the criminal justice system, and decades of unjust economic and criminal justice policies. Our vision is rooted in restorative economics—the idea that all Oakland residents, including people who have been incarcerated, working people, immigrants and people of color, must shape and benefit from economic development in order for our communities to truly prosper.

At Restore Oakland, residents will build community and economic power, while restoring healing, opportunity, and justice. Our model is unique is because we lead with organizing and advocacy to build self-determination for our communities while also providing hands-on job training, business incubation, restorative justice mediation, and housing rights services — all in one space.

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

The country feels more divided than it has ever been.  One thing that has been under-examined in terms of how we got here is the criminal court system. The criminal court system is all about two sides. A two-sided court and prison system magnifies divides between rich and poor, between people of color and white folks. Authoritarians take the “Us vs. Them” mentality of the justice system and turn it into national policy.  We need an entirely new vision of community safety not based on two sides or us vs. them, but based on one whole.

Restorative Justice embodies this approach and is the process through which people are held accountable and yet still held in community. This approach isn’t possible in every case but this should be our go-to response, and incarceration should be the last resort.

It’s a win-win-win. That’s three wins: 1) people who have caused harm are much less likely to get in trouble again when they go through restorative justice; 2) an overwhelming majority of victims report being satisfied with it - that’s because people can see and benefit from the accountability that has happened; 3) restorative justice is about one circle involving lots of people in the question of how we get to safety.

People coming together is necessary if we are to be able to hold large institutions and powerful individuals accountable.  This is the democracy we need: a democracy where no one is immune from accountability and we are all within the circle of human family. By transforming our justice system we might just rescue our democracy.

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

As rent and housing segregation continues to rise in the Bay Area and cities across the country, both community members and the organizations that serve them are being priced out and displaced. In this moment it’s crucial to invest in forward-thinking, long-lasting change that will build the foundations that allow low-income and marginalized communities to thrive. Through Restore Oakland and together with the community, we are creating a better model for transformation and self-determination that can be replicated in other cities and communities.

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.