Lessons for Ferguson from 4,000 Miles Away

November 25, 2014   by Allison Brown, Program Officer, Open Society Foundations

Read the original post on the blog of the Open Society Foundations

 

We proceeded on a country road
His mother’s eyes red and swole
Her child was never comin’ home
Said a prayer for his soul
As the coffin had closed, committed to the earth below
First seed she had sown, would be a tree never grown
Shade that was never known
Who controls the Terrordome, the men with hearts made of stone
Who love only what they own
Mos Def, “Tree Never Grown,” Hip Hop for Respect (2000), in response to the killing of Amadou Diallo

Emotions are still smoldering in Ferguson, Missouri. A community rose up in hurt and anger after the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury had declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, for fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last summer.

Peaceful protesters and those who stoked the embers of outrage struggled to convey their disillusionment with a system that seems indifferent to the deep-rooted tensions between law enforcement and the black community—tensions that all too often result in a young man dead at the point of a policeman’s gun.

Officials rushed to condemn the actions of a small group of protesters who veered off the nonviolent path that most took in hopes of having their voices heard. Their pain is real, and it is being felt across the country, as evidenced by the sympathetic protests that sprang up in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York.

All the focus on Officer Wilson’s fate misses a larger point—and an opportunity for public debate about the root causes of the frustration that boiled over in Ferguson yesterday. After all, Michael Brown’s death is part of a tragic pattern borne of structural racism. In the three months since the college-bound 18-year-old was killed, at least eight black and brown people have lost their lives at the hands of police in the United States.

In just the past week, Akai Gurley, 28, an unarmed black man and the father of a two-year-old, was killed by a rookie officer in the stairwell of his Brooklyn apartment complex. A few days ago, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland was shot in the stomach by police and died the following day. An indictment against Officer Wilson would not have prevented these tragic deaths.

Could anything prevent yet another young black male in America from falling to a police bullet? Can a community, having suffered through this sort of tragedy, ever heal? There are lessons to be learned, and even a small measure of hope, in the story of the death of another young black man—this one in England.

Mark Duggan was a 29-year-old father of six living in Tottenham, North London, when he came under police suspicion during an investigation in the predominantly African and Caribbean neighborhood. In 2011, Duggan was shot and killed. The police claim he was preparing to open fire on them, though no evidence ever surfaced to support that claim. As in the Michael Brown case, Duggan was said by witnesses to have had his hands up in surrender when he was shot. In both cases, peaceful protests and palpable expressions of grief and mourning resulted in a highly militarized police response and days of violence.

Following the London uprising, 14 young people came together to film Riot from Wrong, a documentary that captures the moments immediately following Duggan’s killing and tries to shed light on the various individual and institutional factors that caused community members to act in ways that took a tremendous toll on their own homes, businesses, and neighborhood. The film represents a group of young people challenging the media conventions and law enforcement narrative about Mark Duggan. By holding a mirror up to the community, it helped it begin to rebuild.

The Open Society Foundations are hosting screenings of Riot from Wrong in Ferguson, Washington, D.C., and New York City in early December. The screenings will provide an occasion to look closely at the connection between Ferguson and London—and help show that the race and class disparities and social dysfunction underlying both episodes are not just American problems, but truly global ones.

Young black people in particular are using their voices to lead the charge to racial justice, in solidarity with whites, with the poor and working class, with Latinos and Arab and Asian Americans, and with the world. From Mexico to Hong Kong to France, protesters are using “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as their mantra, and quoting American hip-hop artists like KRS-One to decry unfair treatment, neglect, and often outright contempt by police and other governmental forces.

We hope the screening will help start a similar and desperately needed dialogue about what happened in Ferguson and about racial justice nationwide and around the world. It is only when police and the people understand each other that we can lay the foundation needed to make sure nothing like what happened on the streets of St. Louis County ever happens again.

Out of great tragedy can come greater understanding. We can look to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that arose 20 years ago in South Africa to investigate the effects of apartheid as one example—an example of sustained international reflection that showed how we the people can push and grow toward a more perfect world. Our steps, even our missteps, are building blocks and bring us closer to that world we crave.

Read the original post on the blog of the Open Society Foundations

 

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.