March 25, 2020

"Intersections of Justice in the Time of Coronavirus" by Cara Page & Eesha Pandit

In the midst of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, NFG stands with our communities and workers who are in crisis. As we help organize with frontline leaders and philanthropy to meet the immediate needs of our communities at this time, NFG also remains committed to long-term transformation towards a just and equitable society.

The essay below was written by Cara Page and Eesha Pandit, who are part of the Funders for Justice community, and urges us to hold this moment for movement & philanthropists to understand what led us here and explore opportunities towards transforming our futures.

Opportunity for A New Frame

This moment asks us to consider how we might pivot and adapt in a way that centers collective care, safety, and protection for each other. This is a good time to re-examine our relationship with vulnerability. Many of us are feeling vulnerable ourselves, while naming communities that require particular care and are more susceptible to COVID-19, including our elders and people living with long term chronic illness. This is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of vulnerability, dis/ability, and chronic illness, at both the individual and structural level. Many of us are now thinking about accessibility and the goods and services we do and do not have access to today. As writer and disability justice activist Mia Mingus says, “accessibility is concrete resistance to the isolation of disabled people.” Now, when many of us are facing isolation for the first time, we must align ourselves in meaningful social and structural ways with people living with disabilities and deepen our political work to ensure that an understanding of ableism impacts all our movements for justice. 

Perhaps most prescient in this call from disability justice advocates is a reminder of our interdependency. Many of us are facing the realization that the “myth of independence” is truly just that, and that we cannot sustain ourselves and our communities alone. We cannot meet all our needs alone. We cannot stay safe alone. At this moment, a public health crisis is creating social, medical, and political trauma that is awakening many of us to the fact our health, safety and well-being are interconnected whether we are in a global health crisis or not. This understanding is the basis of so much work for disability and healing justice, and it is a perfect moment to listen and learn from those organizers. We see many communities building care and mutual aid networks, which is something to consider for both the short and long term haul in the context of increased global fascism and climate change. As we continue to name all the ways our communities are connected and interdependent, it is our work now to name and identify the ways that movements for justice are, as well. 

This creates a powerful moment for a transformative justice and healing justice frameworks to permeate our work. As powerfully named in the Astraea Healing Justice Report, “healing justice is a response to this trauma, lifting up practices that support resilience, wellness, safety and security as a necessary part of organizing and movement work. This increases the strength and long-term sustainability of our movements.” 

This moment is a call to action, a call to slowing down and reconfiguring what is important, listening deeply to what communities are asking for, in the short and long term. It is vital to be mindful of what is urgent and why, and how this urgency impacts the people we work with and will care for and protect each other towards our future.

Perspective and Context

Sitting amidst the chaos of COVID-19, it is difficult to get perspective on where to gather the most sensitive and relevant information for our collective survival without being bombarded with messages from media and the federal government of xenophobia, anti-Asian racism, or pathologizing vulnerable communities that are most impacted, including the elderly community and people living with long term chronic illness. We are wading through a delicate balance of tapping into community and ancestral-led strategies while still needing to rely on a federally funded public healthcare system that, historically, is part of government structures that weaponize disease and that have harmed and marginalized so many of our communities.

What we have learned from history could provide a critical intervention for this moment. The scapegoating of Chinese communities for COVID-19 harkens to the ‘Yellow Peril’ that began in the 19th century, scapegoating Chinese immigrants based on a white supremacist ideology that were seen as a threat to the economy and national security. This ideology remains abhorrently present today in government rhetoric and policy. Criminalizing communities to justify violence and state control is not a new or recent phenomenon. We saw African immigrant communities blamed for Ebola, gay men pathologized for HIV/AIDS, and the list goes on. Such blaming and shaming is rooted in a white, able-bodied, Christian-supremacist lens of who is expendable, criminalized, and/or dangerous. 

This is a moment for our work to counter the myths, truths, and fear of Anti-Asian, xenophobic violence and ideologies that come though the media under the false guise of national security. To be vigilant, we must understand the role of philanthropy, both historically and in contemporary times, that have contributed to funding harmful ideologies.Take for example the 1900’s eugenic and ethnic cleansing under the tenet  of public health, (source: pg. 107; Killing the Black Body; Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts) in the US that was funded by wealthy donors.  

This is the time to ensure that we do not perpetuate government hate-speak and harmful bias. Rhetorical shifts in how we talk about certain people as “dangerous” or “criminal” is an oft-used and effective war tactic. As we watch the growing militarization of this pandemic, we have to resist an “us and them” mentality rooted in implicit fear of one another, and in this case, a fear that can be used to violently attack and blame entire Asian communities here and around the world. Which can also extend to other vulnerable communities that will be blamed and shamed for needing care (eg. incarcerated and detained communities, elders and people with immune challenges) if seen too dependent on the state. As funders, whether we are anchored in domestic funding or global, we must note and name that our government’s (US imperialist) policy choices in this time will frightfully impact communities around the world (e.g Iran sanctions). 

We also know that the need for housing, electricity, clean water, and access to dignified healthcare are quintessential to public health. And yet, we are embroiled in a national debate about the ethics of providing water and electricity to low income/ working class communities during these times. Creating a deep fracture between the logic of community wellbeing and the competing logic of corporate socialism and greed. These fractures and ethical inconsistencies existed in our society long before this pandemic even began, and this moment reminds us that the ground is always shifting for marginalized communities.

Transforming Our Lens

We must strip away the dichotomy of “us and them” and begin by framing collective care, safety, and protection; we could then see an ecosystem of care that has the potential to value all bodies, and all communities’ well being and safety. Instead, the logic of profit over people is emerging once again in an economy of corporate care that fuels capitalism over communal well-being. This harkens to the warning made by Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in which she tracks a long history of “the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”  This is a moment to remain cautious about where resources are being directed, by whom, and to what end. How will this continue to deepen inequities between corporations and communities.   

As we increasingly hear the word “crisis,” which evokes panic and a fear-based response, this is an opportunity to be clear and intentional about exactly what the crisis is. In fact, though we are indeed facing a public health crisis in the form of a virus, many of our communities live in crisis and economic disparities constantly. These crises, such as lack of access to dignified and quality health care and housing, a living wage, electricity, running water and freedom from state, communal, and interpersonal violence, are created and sustained by institutions and social structures that are working as intended. 

So, we face an important paradox: On one hand, the spread of this particular virus means that we need information, support, and practical care from our government as well as public and private institutions. On the other hand, many of us know that reliance on the public health care system, a system that was never made for us or by us, poses its own danger to our communities.  Our task requires holding this complicated and contradictory dynamic with clarity and intention. We can do this by distinguishing between immediate need and long-term structural changes, while deepening our analysis with historical context and lessons learned from many of our communities at the margins.

The Economics of Care

In the economy of healthcare within the medical industrial complex, grounded in a gendered, ableist, classist, and racist economic structure preserving a social safety net for those with wealth, the need for safety will result in the exploitation of cheap labor of many, for the safety of some — all in the name of national wellbeing and security. This includes city and government workers (eg. public transportation, sanitation), front line healthcare workers including hospital staff providing cleaning and food services, alongside nurses and physicians at higher risk for COVID-19 without adequate protection and realistic working hours, as well as those whose livelihoods are at risk due to hospital closures.It also includes healthcare workers, domestic workers and caregivers that are employed to take care of other people’s families without job security or health insurance for themselves or their families. 

“Most domestic workers in the United States today are black women and women of color, and this was also true in the 1930s...The Occupational Safety and Health Act that mandates basic protections excludes domestic workers,’ says  Ai Jen Poo, Founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, in the March 9th, NY Times Op-ed, “Protect Caregivers from Coronavirus.” In fact, so many low income communities already live in conditions that make safety and quarantine impossible to achieve. Take for example those who are food insecure, people who are unhoused, those living without clean running water in their homes, and so many others who live in precarity. 

Also at high risk are institutionalized communities, including detained and incarcerated people who were already unable to receive adequate healthcare while their labor is exploited. People being held in prisons, jails, and detention centers around the country are acutely at risk given that they are being held in spaces designed to maximize control over them, not to minimize disease transmission or to efficiently deliver health care. 

What we are witnessing is the deep need for more community-led economies of care, rooted in interdependence, healing justice, mutual aid, and collective care and safety strategies. Despite not having infrastructure, we are seeing communities respond innovatively to this moment based on building short and long term vision including: mutual aid and care networks; policy and legislative strategies to protect health care workers. What could we imagine if we were funded for the long haul to build global infrastructure that sustains across disciplines, care and safety strategies that both recovers and sustains the earth, while regenerating healing traditions of our communities? This is the vision many of us have asked for in healing justice strategies within the US, and now the ask is global and rooted in care and protection. 

Towards Taking Sustained Action

As we consider what solutions can meet both our immediate needs and begin to build our futures, we believe there are a few anchoring strategies that can help us respond and rise to the challenges before us, not just in the immediate days, but for the long haul:

  • Grounding in analysis. We cannot fall prey to the US imperialism and xenophobic fears being perpetuated. In the coming days we will see the rise of militarism and  nationalist US imperialist rhetoric. Our work is to ensure that we do not succumb to this curation of fear. We need to keep focused on how this pandemic has already impacted the communities that were most vulnerable to begin with and stay grounded in our collective care & safety response. The focus should not be to blame and scapegoat Chinese communities and all East Asian communities, but to deepen our understanding of our interdependence and interconnectedness. 

  • Leaning into intersectionality. Our political frameworks and understanding of this moment offer an opportunity to deepen our intersectional analysis and collective memory on amplifying collective well being, care, and safety strategies that have worked in our past and can be amplified in our futures. What can we learn inside global movements that deeply impacts and connects our survival during this pandemic and future crises? These political frameworks that fuel our movements include Economic Justice, Racial Justice, Disability Justice, Healing Justice, Holistic Security, Transformative Justice, Reproductive Justice Racial and Gender Justice, Trans Justice, Environmental Justice, and Climate Justice. 

  • Build public and political discourse to interrupt the medical industrial complex as an extension of state control & violence. We will need to transform our relationship to an archaic and harmful military and medical industry that will blame & criminalize before looking for solutions that don’t perpetuate harm. How are we interrupting generational trauma from the medical industrial complex and building collective care and safety strategies globally. (To learn more go to Changing Frequencies; @changingfrequencies.)  

  • Stepping into the policy change arena. There is no room for paternalism in policy change. We believe that all our communities, particularly those most vulnerable in this time, know what they need to be safe and well. If we are not vigilant, dangerous policies will be implemented without us in the room, both during this pandemic and once it is over. Activists, organizers, grantmakers, and all community advocates should resist ceding the ground of policy work. It’s time to support grassroots organizations, who work directly with impacted communities to shape and influence our policy solutions,and we hope that many, many more of us join this fight for policy that puts the needs of the people first. (For more information please visit The Center for Advancing Innovative Policy.) 

 

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

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 by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

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 AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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