Jews for Racial Justice Moving the Conversation About Police Brutality Into White Communities

Thursday, 02 July 2015

By Chris Crass, Truthout | Interview

As New York City erupted in December 2014 in mass, nonviolent, disruptive direct action after the non-indictment of the officer who murdered Eric Garner and the officers who were accomplices in this brutal crime, one of the actions that grabbed national headlines and many a heart, was organized by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ). Over 400 members of JFREJ, including Rabbis and other leaders in the Jewish community, took to the streets of the primarily white, wealthy and Jewish, Upper West Side. This civil disobedience was planned with their longtime partner organizations based in working-class communities of color, and coordinating actions across the city took place.

Tears ran down my face as I followed the news, often with my three-year-old son nearby, of powerful, defiant, Black life-affirming, white supremacist hegemony-defying, marches, vigils and large-scale direct actions ignited around the country after the Eric Garner non-indictment - and NYC was galvanizing us all. And JFREJ was a powerful force mobilizing a majority, but not entirely, white Jewish base of members and supporters to be courageous for Black Lives Matter. I've long loved JFREJ, which began in 1990 and has been deeply committed to long-term multiracial organizing and campaigns to build people's power for collective liberation. They are "inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power."

I knew that their actions in December were part of a years-long campaign against police violence in working-class communities of color, and that with their vision, strategy, organizing experience, infrastructure and leadership, they could offer insights and lessons for many of us around the country who are asking, "How do we help carry the momentum of these mass action times into long-term campaigns to win structural change?" Marjorie Dove, the executive director of JFREJ, shares from their organizational experience to help us think about that question.

Chris Crass: How are you working to move white people into the racial justice movement in this time? What's working? And what are you learning from what works?

Marjorie Dove: With grief and rage over the massacre of Black people in churches and through the hands of police and vigilantes, we organize against racism from a Jewish perspective, inspired by the strengths of all of our ancestors.

Jews engage with whiteness in complex ways. Anti-racist organizing from a Jewish perspective must begin with the diversity of our own experiences: JFREJ's membership encompasses the multicultural breadth of our community, including Mizrahi, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Black and Latin@ Jews. Some Jews may engage with Black Lives Matter as white allies while others bring their insights and experiences as Jews of Color. White Jews may often engage with whiteness through diasporic family histories and immigrant memories, alongside their current lived experiences of race privilege in the United States. For white Jews, our anti-racist work begins with ourselves - through deconstructing racialization and whiteness in ourselves and our community and fighting white supremacy in our organization, our movement and our city.

At JFREJ, we're currently working to move white people into racial justice work in ways that will last beyond this current movement moment. The Black Lives Matter movement has mobilized people across the country, and their energy has inspired many white Jews to get involved in our police accountability campaign and other anti-racism work in New York City. We want to make sure that we're training and organizing these hundreds of new members for the long haul, so they don't abandon this necessary work when the mainstream media moves on.

Because of the trust and accountability we've built with organizations led by people of color, poor and working-class and immigrant communities over the last 25 years, we've been able to mobilize white people into bold action and to take strategic risks in our work. In that time, our community has learned that relationships built on trust and commitment are the most important element of our work and that these relationships are cultivated through consistent and accountable action. Over months and years, we show up with our partners for campaign planning meetings, actions and press conferences, but also as volunteers for their events, donors at their fundraisers and for jail support when they get arrested. So when opportunities arise for strategic, visible action led by white members of our organization - whether that's a civil disobedience, a public demonstration, a meeting with city council members, or a media campaign - we take those opportunities head-on. Our partners trust us to bring the same level of rigor and accountability to the action we lead as we bring to the action we support.

A helpful accountability mechanism we use before taking action is to ask ourselves two questions: For the sake of what, and who will this benefit? When we're working in deep connection and alignment with our partner organizations and the larger movement against anti-Black racism, we show up better with each other. Being in the struggle together - with our bodies, our minds, and our resources - grounds us in what is most important. The moments when we have had to rely on each other (for jail support, for security at marches and protests), have helped us feel connected to each other and loosened the sense of isolation and alienation many of us grew up with because of racism and classism. As a community, JFREJ demonstrates that we are in this fight for the long haul.

Read the full article on truth-out.org.

 

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.