More is required of us

by Vanessa Daniel, Groundswell Fund

August 5, 2016 - Health & Environmental Funders Network

“I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.” – Michelle Alexander

What more is required of those of us working in philanthropy at this moment in history?

Over the past two years the streets have swelled with unprecedented levels of protest proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” across the U.S. and around the globe. Jesse Williams stood before us, as Alice Walker pens, with “a soul made of everything,” speaking clear throated truth – a truth about the lethal poison of American racism now being voiced by a growing chorus of celebrities and athletes and everyday people at their dinner tables and on social media.

Perhaps it is because of the herculean quality of this effort, powered by the thousands of people who have found the courage to stand up and say “enough!”, that the executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by the police, sank our spirits so low. The atmosphere feels thick with the question: why hasn’t any of it been enough?

Last week, my four-year-old daughter happened to open an old photo album to a picture of a rally that my friends and I organized as college students. The rally was in response to the murder of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant who was shot 41 times in a hail of bullets by plainclothes police officers in the vestibule of his New York apartment. One of our classmates had grown up in the same building and her family still lived there. We went to her building and stood in that vestibule, in that narrow space with walls riddled with bullet holes, and grieved the loss of Diallo’s life. That was nearly 20 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of rallies and protests against police brutality that I’ve attended in the 20 years since. Looking at that photo, I felt profound grief. I asked myself, over the past 20 years, what has changed? In the past 50 years, what has changed?

My wife and I spent an evening last week frantically looking through the mail for updated registration stickers for her car because she knows that for her, as a Black woman, a simple traffic stop for outdated tags could end in murder by the police – even when you follow orders, even when you have a four- year- old child in the backseat. Our hearts sink into our stomachs when we look into the bright and open face of our ten-year-old nephew. We know, like his grandmother and great-grandmother knew about the generations of black children before him, that until we win major societal change, there is nothing within our power that can be done to protect him from the police.

What has changed?

It is a difficult question. Difficult for those who would bury their heads in the sand of a “post-racial America” that doesn’t exist. Difficult for those of us who have worked for justice all of our lives and want to believe that the sweat and blood of so many freedom fighters has gotten us further along than we actually are. But it is a question we must ask. And, we must answer truthfully, that, in fact, not nearly enough has changed for racial justice in America. As the push for change intensifies, white supremacy roils and pushes back. Things are actually getting worse for Black people. When things get worse for Black people they get worse for a lot of other people by extension: people of color, women, queer folks and even poor white people.

We can’t stop at the question ‘What has changed?’ There is a more important question that all of us must ask ourselves: what more is required of us? What more can we do to stand up for Black lives and to dismantle the larger systems of racism that underpin not only the murder of Black people by the police, but also the taking of Black lives in less visible ways: through lack of jobs, inadequate schooling and healthcare, lack of access to reproductive justice, unsafe housing – the list goes on.

There are different answers being offered to this question from different groups. Celebrities and high profile athletes are now risking their careers and fame to speak out publicly. Black Communities are mobilizing in larger numbers to do more. More white people are trying to change hearts and minds within their own families by having tough conversations about race, that they used to avoid, at the dinner table.

Today, I raise the question for philanthropy, particularly for white and non-black people of color donors and foundation staff: what more is required of us to advance racial justice? It is a question I have been grappling with as a biracial Sri Lankan/white American working in philanthropy.

I have been fortunate to have worked shoulder to shoulder with white colleagues who have fought for racial justice in the philanthropic sector. I have seen multiracial efforts work to mobilize money for Black Lives Matter, and for women of color-led work; and to diversify foundation staff and boards. In a field like philanthropy, which is statistically whiter than corporate America and in which white people still hold the vast majority of economic and political power, the movement toward racial justice will be glacial without significant numbers of white colleagues taking concerted action to advance the effort. The hard reality is that although some white colleagues have taken action, not enough have made a commitment to work for racial justice. How do we know this? The state of giving in our field reveals it. The current overall share of philanthropic giving to Black-led organizations makes bank lending to Black families at the height of redlining look generous in comparison.

What more is required of us?

For white colleagues in particular but also non-Black colleagues of color, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves a few questions:

  •  When was the last time I spoke up to call out racial bias and racial disparities in funding during a meeting, instead of waiting for Black colleagues to do it? Do I value Black lives enough to start doing this, even when I feel afraid?
  • Have I taken the time to read, attend workshops, watch films and educate myself on what I never learned in school about what Black people experience in this country and how I can be an ally and co-conspirator in advancing racial justice?
  • Have I pushed my institution, and the funder/donor affinity groups I am a part of, to collect data on racial demographics of the leadership of our grantees? Or have I sat silently while the lack of data in philanthropy covers up persistent divestment from people of color-led work?
  • Have I set aside my own discomfort and my own fear of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake to work hard for racial justice because I know that Black lives are more important than white comfort?
  • Have I initiated conversations with white colleagues about racial justice and encouraged/supported them to advance racial justice in their work? Or have I avoided the topic because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable?
  •  Have I mounted a sustained challenge to grantmaking practices in my institution that have historically resulted in people of color-led organizations receiving the least amount of funding? Have I advocated for more grant funding for Black-led work, even if it means reducing grant dollars to white-led work to make this move towards equity possible?
  • Have I spoken up to demand diversity in hiring practices and board/trustee recruitment to attract and retain Black candidates into decision making positions within my institution?
  • Do I enable my white-led grantees to ignore racial injustice or do I require them to describe their work, or lack thereof, to advance racial justice in their proposals and then prioritize funding to those who demonstrate real solidarity with people of color?”
  • Have I risked anything that matters to me in order to use my proximity to the levers of money and power to stand up for Black lives and move more funding to Black-led work?

On one point I want to be clear: I am not saying white colleagues should match their colleagues of color in the intensity of the work to fight for racial justice in our field. I am saying they should exceed us. If you cannot honestly answer yes to these questions, if you have been sitting on your hands while Black people are dying, then no matter how good your intentions are, you are part of the problem. If you have been on the sidelines, break time is over. It’s your turn to be part of the solution. You are up to bat.

This may not come as welcome news to many people in our field. Philanthropy coddles and constrains those of us working within it with a culture that is famous for valuing comfort above justice, and the capitulation to the status quo over the backbone to speak up. Many people in our ranks may wish it didn’t feel so hard to stand up and do the right thing, but as Michelle Alexander so eloquently notes, “And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.”

And so do we.

Vanessa Daniel is the Executive Director of Groundswell Fund, which supports a stronger, more effective U.S. movement for reproductive justice by mobilizing new funding and capacity-building resources to grassroots organizing efforts led by low-income women, women of color and transgender people. Vanessa has 18 years of experience working in social justice movements as a union and community organizer, researcher, freelance journalist, and social justice grantmaker. She serves on the Steering Committees of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network and the Health and Environmental Funders Network.

View blog post on the Health and Environmental Funders Network site, and at it's original posting on MomsRising.org.

Find More By:

News type: 
September 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

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 content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)