April 2, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Zachary Norris

Photo of Zarchary

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.

July 24, 2020

Strike Watch: Voices from the Strike for Black Lives

Photo: Gus Moody and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL.

PIctured left: Gus and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL during the J20 Strike for Black Lives. Photo Credit: Fight for 15 Florida. 

Hundreds of workers walked out of work from coast to coast Monday, July 20th as part of coordinated Strike 4 Black Lives. Centering the Movement 4 Black Lives and 60-plus labor and community organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the strike (dubbed J20) included both full walkouts and 8 minute 46 second work stoppages commemorating the killing of George Floyd by police. Workers came from a range of “essential” industries, including mobile “gig”, healthcare, fast food, education, childcare and janitorial. While there were unified national demands that included the right to unionize and real corporate action to protect Black workers and repair intergenerational harms, many groups also tied in the need for tailored local responses challenging racial and economic inequality, including in response to specific and systematic discrimination incidents.

In Florida, McDonald’s workers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the days prior charging that the company subjected them to a "racially hostile work environment” and retaliation for speaking up. One of the workers named in the suit, Monice, is employed in a Lakeland McDonald’s, east of Tampa. She described in a video: “Back in March, I was racially discriminated against: she... told me that all Black people want is a handout. All we do is smoke weed all day and be violent, angry and upset if we don’t get what we want.” Monica clearly and calmly explained her situation, only to be then told “...but you know I’m right.” The company had been also sued in Florida in April for systemic sexual harassment, with plaintiffs from more than 100 of the locations in the state.

FJE had the opportunity to interview Augusta (who goes by Gus), another Lakeland McDonald's worker and a leader of the SEIU-backed Fight for 15 Florida who took the streets on the 20th. Alongside challenging discrimination via the lawsuit, Gus and workers are looking to pass Florida's Amendment 2, the $15 Minimum Wage Initiative, which is on the ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment this November.  Amendment 2 would increase the state's minimum wage from $8.56 in 2020 to $15.00 by 2026. Gus shared a bit about his experiences in the central Florida McDonald's where he works and what it means to be a Black worker in the US today.

What brought you to take part in the Strike for Black Lives this week?

Honestly, I want to end racism and workplace hostility and discrimination. I see the connections to racism in everyday action. In today’s society, racism looks like how you go about doing your everyday routine and treat people along the way.

For example, in my job, racial discrimination looks like when you are scheduled outside of your availability, and you go talk to your General Manager. She acts like she doesn’t have your availability at hand, and tells you to re-do your availability sheet. You do that, and she snatches the paper out of your hand, and treats you with disrespect.

Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46. I get paid $9.25. After this pandemic and really not being able to get the hours I could usually make or need — that makes life hard. You have to choose: what bill am I going to pay? I have two children I’m responsible for, and I want to give them my all. It hurts to not be able to do that. I feel like if I could make more, I could make things better for them. Maybe not great, but at least better.

What was the J20 strike like for you?

The day of the strike, we rode around the building and made our presence known: by stepping out there, out of work, we were saying, enough is enough. Do us right.

A good amount of people that showed up to support the strike and showed love. Just to be able to see those people meant a lot. I met was a lot of people willing to help — stopping to say, ‘Hey man, you need something to eat? Don’t hesitate to call me.’ I’m not saying I would take them up on it — but just them offering, and they don’t even know me? That’s what America should be about; that’s what we can be about as a country. They could have been somewhere else — but then they came to support strangers as part of a movement. They see the racism and discrimination every day on social media, on the news, they could just ignore us — so it was truly amazing to have so many people out.

Say it’s one year from now. What does success look like? How have things changed at work?

The workplace would be friendly: it would be an open from the top to the bottom. If I’m the CEO I wouldn’t feel like my position is too big to come talk to the crew trainer or the crew members. I would want there to be an equal playing ground in the workplace. General managers wouldn’t be abusing their positions because they would know someone above them would actually be holding them accountable.

What was the response from your employers at McDonald's?

For some of my coworkers that went back the next day they have been really experiencing a hard time. In America, we get punished these days for giving our opinion, for using our freedom of speech.  You can’t let it bring you down though. You have to keep saying: this isn’t right. This was my first big action, but I’lll be doing much more. Having so many organizations having your back and saying, ‘You know what, we’re not going to stand for this. This story needs to be told' — that’s an amazing feeling to have. Just being a part of [a movement] makes it all worth it.

Where do you see the connections between what you experience in your workplace and the situation with policing of Black lives?

Just like you can’t be a general manager and abuse your crew members, you can’t have someone that is there to protect and serve you end up hurting you, or end up putting you in jail for trumped up charges. The police just feel like they can just put you in jail because they have that authority, that privilege. Just like a general manager, law enforcement needs to be held to a better standard. They are the people we have to walk our communities. They are supposed to be here to help us and not just come to the situation ready to hurt us. They should not be able to hurt, harm and kill. What it comes down to though is all these people in power — they are abusing that power. That abuse goes on at a larger scale in society, but it starts in everyday life.

How do you think foundations and individuals can support?

Action is a big thing for me: you can’t just say you care. You have to show it. You have to really prove when the situation arises that you are here to really get us to better days. To get there is going to take a lot of work. We’re all going to keep having to put it in. It should have all changed day George Floyd died — yet America is still running on retaliation, discrimination and hatred.

Enough is enough. We already have a global pandemic. To continue to live as a Black person in America you not only a face a pandemic, you have society attacking you as well. We are going to have to stand together because at the end of the day, we all are going to need each other.  We need to do better in life and focus on what is right. 

And when the change comes, our workplace will be a much better organization to the public and to each other. Keeping [the strikes and actions] going is raising some eyebrows and gets people to understand, things need to change, today.

You can follow Gus and his fellow workers' continued campaign for the Fight for 15 nationally and locally  And read more about how to support the broader Movement for Black Lives here.

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 installments? Reach out to robert@nfg.org.

 

July 23, 2020

Highlights from Amplify this July

“We’ve been busy in these internet streets,” as Melody Baker, Amplify’s Senior Program Officer said on a recent staff call. 

  • We were thrilled to end June and begin July with so many of you at the start of NFG’s 2020 virtual convening series: 40 Years Strong. On the fourth day of programming, on Thursday, July 2, Melody joined Jazmin Segura, Program Officer for the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA) and Syma Mirza, Staff Consultant at HouseUS, to talk about Building Philanthropic Infrastructure to Build Power during the Democratizing Development session.
  • Just a few days later on July 8, Amplify Director Amy Morris, joined Jazmin Segura again, along with Beatrice Camacho, Tenant Organizer at the North Bay Organizing Project, for a 60-minute webinar hosted by the Funders Network (TFN) called Keeping it Local: Strategies to Support Power-Building and Economic Self-Determination. They all shared clear analysis along with vivid and accessible stories of their work.  A full recording of the webinar is available here and many of the images that Amy shared about Amplify’s structure are available for download on our webpage here.
  • In addition to Zooming at funder conferences, we hosted our second Amplification session facilitated by Social Movement Technologies (SMT), a non-profit training hub providing organizing support to build power and win campaigns in the digital age. SMT highlighted how groups are combining online with offline action in this moment to build power and win change, and shared technical information about digital campaign tools and tactics that organizations can use to engage members, expand their reach, and be heard by decision-makers. Over 50 Amplify grantees registered, including a number of organizations supported through our sister fund, the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA). All materials were offered in English and Spanish, and simultaneous interpretation was provided by Lingovox.
  • We encourage you to check out the full list of Amplify grantees here, and follow us and them on social media.

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