October 20, 2020

Philanthropy Isn’t Doing Enough to Support Youth-Led Voter-Mobilization Efforts

Alejandra Ruiz, Executive Director of the Youth Engagement Fund, and Lori Bezahler, President of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, write about youth of color civic engagement and voter mobilization work as a core opportunity for grantmaking on racial equity, leadership development, and building people centered long-term infrastructure that transforms our communities and democracy. This op-ed was originally published here in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Alejandra was part of the 2019-2020 Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The Youth Engagement Fund is a donor collaborative dedicated to increasing the civic participation and electoral power of young people. The Hazen Foundation is a longtime NFG member and is comitted to supporting organization and leadership of young people and communities of color in dismantling structural inequity based on race and class.


 

Three youth-vote organizers with Arizona Coalition for Change stand together wearing orange t-shirts that say, "Voting is dope. You registered?" Photo credit: Alexa-Rio Osaki.
Youth-vote organizers with Arizona Coalition for Change. Photo by Alexa-Rio Osaki.

Through their votes and their activism, young people — especially youth of color — are transforming the electorate. Youth organizing accounts for a major share of voter mobilization efforts in key battleground states such as Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. These states are in play in the upcoming election thanks in large part to years of persistent organizing by youth-led groups.

Despite their effectiveness, young leaders are often overlooked by donors and excluded from strategy tables of more established organizations, even as they mobilize hundreds of thousands of voters for the November election — and beyond. If we value a just and functioning democracy with an electorate truly representative of the populace, we must support the efforts of young organizers of color who are doing the critical work of building an electorate that will not only vote but will also hold government leaders accountable to those who elected them.

Unfortunately, philanthropy has yet to offer the level of support young leaders need. When the Youth Engagement Fund, which one of us leads, recently asked a group of about 50 donors whether they believed young people of color are key stakeholders in democracy, 100 percent agreed. Yet follow-up questions revealed that fewer than 25 percent of the donors support the young people who are doing this work, and of those that do, less than 25 percent are supporting youth of color.

The reality is that even donors who understand the importance of voting efforts led by youth of color aren’t ready to fund them. But to truly eradicate structural inequalities, philanthropy must resolve this disconnect. Offering nice words isn’t enough. Philanthropy needs to provide tangible support, resources, and funding.

Consider the demographics. Young people today are one of the nation’s most important voting blocs. Americans under the age of 39 now make up 37 percent of eligible voters, marking a notable shift in the generational, racial, and ethnic makeup of voters from previous election years.

Young voters of color can wield tremendous power in this election, as they did in 2018 when 31 percent cast a ballot — the largest turnout in a quarter of a century. Their participation increased in every state, reaching as high as 40 percent in some states and proving decisive in several statewide races. The youth vote could have a disproportionate impact on the presidential, Senate, and House elections in 10 key states this year, according to research from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement.

Ready to Lead

In a nation with far lower voter participation than most other developed countries, young voters of color are positioned to assume a leadership role.

Black and Latinx youth have proven especially effective at connecting with young people who have long been ignored by traditional voter-engagement efforts. Through our work leading the Youth Engagement Fund and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, we’ve seen the power of these youth leaders first-hand through groups such as One ArizonaDream Defenders in Florida, and Women Engaged in Georgia. These organizations combine traditional get-out-the-vote, voter-registration, and voter-education efforts with sustained engagement of their peers focused on developing lifelong civic involvement.

Similar groups are also hard at work in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, which could become the next set of swing states later this decade. Mississippi Votes, for instance, has events planned through the election season to mobilize voters through prizes and virtual parties, while Woke Vote in Alabama already broke voter registration records earlier in the year through get-out-the- vote efforts at protests for Black lives.

Young people understand the connection between inspiring their peers to vote and engaging them on issues such as racial justice, immigration, and climate change. And unlike many of their more established adult counterparts, these young organizers can adapt quickly to changing environments.

They have proven especially adept at harnessing a robust digital infrastructure during the pandemic. For example, New Mexico Dream Team, which is led by immigrant youth, quickly pivoted their in-person programs online through digital organizing and offline engagement. They were well positioned for such a move given the group’s previous experience running campaigns through online media, phone banks, and texting because immigration checkpoints made it difficult to reach parts of their communities in person. In Georgia, Women Engaged heightened its online programming by hosting summer civic learning trainings and amplifying social media messaging. These strategies allowed them to connect with youth who were not previously politically engaged.

How such groups are funded — not just how much funding they receive — is critically important. Both of our organizations put young people of color at the center of our work as decision makers and leaders and base our funding on trust and collaboration. At Hazen, our decision to distribute all our assets over five years was made in consultation with young people of color who challenged us to meet the needs of the moment and free up capital to invest in the communities that need it now. At the Youth Engagement Fund, our multiyear support for youth-led groups includes funding, executive and wellness coaching, mentorship, and skills training in areas such as fundraising, management, and storytelling.

The innovative efforts of Black, Latinx, and other young leaders of color should be a source of excitement and inspiration to all who care about democracy. These young people have accomplished much on their own, but they can do so much more with our help. We need to provide the resources they need to succeed and then get out of the way so they can keep doing their vital work during this election and in the years to come.

May 31, 2022

Discount Foundation Legacy Award

   

The Discount Legacy Award annually identifies, supports, and celebrates an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and contributed significantly to workers’ rights movements in the United States and/or globally. Through public recognition and a $20,000 stipend, we hope to recognize and amplify the work of individuals at the intersections leading the way toward justice for low-wage workers of color. This is a one of a kind opportunity to recognize the often unheard voices of worker movements - that includes volunteers, members, workplace leaders, and more who are transforming the lives and rights of their fellow low-wage workers of color. 

Created in partnership with Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Neighborhood Funders Group’s Funders for a Just Economy, the Discount Foundation Legacy Award was launched in 2015 to commemorate and carry on the legacy of the Foundation’s decades-long history of supporting leading edge organizing in the worker justice arena beyond its spend down as a foundation in 2014.


  

El Premio Discount Legacy identifica, apoya y celebra anualmente a una persona que ha demostrado un liderazgo sobresaliente y ha contribuido significativamente a los movimientos por los derechos de los trabajadores en los Estados Unidos o en todo el mundo. A través del reconocimiento público y un estipendio de $20,000, esperamos reconocer y ampliar el trabajo de las personas en las intersecciones que lideran el camino hacia la justicia para los trabajadores de color con salarios bajos. Esta es una oportunidad única para reconocer las voces a menudo inauditas de los movimientos de trabajadores, que incluyen voluntarios, miembros, líderes en el lugar de trabajo y más que están transformando las vidas y los derechos de sus compañeros trabajadores de color con salarios bajos. 

Creado en asociación con Jobs With Justice Education Fund y los Funders for a Just Economy del Neighborhood Funders Group, el Premio Discount Foundation Legacy se lanzó en 2015 para celebrar y continuar el legado de décadas de historia de la Fundación de apoyar la organización de vanguardia en el campo de la justicia laboral más allá del exceso de gastos como fundación en 2014. 


 
  

 

2022 Awardee:

Wendy Melendez Garcia

Worker Leader, Local 32BJ SEIU District 615

Wendy Melendez Garcia is a longstanding worker leader at SEIU 32BJ District 615, the New  England division of janitors, security officers, and airport workers, and a janitor at Tufts Medical Center in downtown Boston. She has been a key leader in contract campaigns that have raised the wages of Boston-area janitors to become among the highest paid in the nation at over $20 per hour, with other benefits such as fully-paid family health care and access to lawyers for immigration services.

“Wendy fosters in other people this contagious spirit of hers, in which we raise hell, crack jokes,  and care for each other as whole humans, so that — despite what can be bad odds for low-wage workers of color — we continue to fight, and we continue to dream.” -Victor Yang, nominated Wendy for this award.

She organized cleaners at Boston’s Logan Airport as part of a decade-long union drive, leading  workers through strike after strike. She helped navigate racial tensions between Eastern  European, Latinx, and African immigrant workers; and just last year, the union ratified their first-ever contract. She has taken a leave of absence from her job to fight in contract campaigns in other states, with  other janitors, and has organized workers to strike at non-unionized cleaning companies. While she would be quick to say that such victories are collective efforts - and indeed they are - Wendy is one of the key figures agitating and leading from behind. She has also led victories that often go unseen, most critically in her leadership development of those around her, which shifted the culture of the union.
“Oftentimes she is able to be a portavoz (spokesperson) for others who may not have the courage to speak up — she is the one who will say it directly to union management and employers.” - Victor Yang, nominated Wendy for this award.

Top 10 2022 Candidates

We have so many amazing nominees for the Discount Foundation Legacy Award, and the nominations remind us, year after year, of the vast, interconnected and often invisible work of frontline workers and community building movements, mutual aid, and solidarity globally. We invite you to learn more about the top ten candidates and to reach out to support their work:

Award Runner Up: Nap Pempena, Secretary General, Migrante USA

Nap was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. He believes that worker organizing must be fought alongside the fight for broader social change. Nap started organizing in 2009 in the Philippines as a student organizer and elected student government council member at the University of the Philippines. When he migrated to Los Angeles in 2010, he continued to organize among Filipino youth and students and  among fellow undocumented students. He eventually transitioned to organizing Filipino  immigrant workers, including labor-trafficked workers in Los Angeles. He then started to get more directly involved in organizing victims of trafficking and wage  theft in Los Angeles in 2015. When he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, he helped  support and organize dozens of Rainbow Bright workers, caregivers who were victims of  trafficking, wage theft and sexual abuse. 

In 2018, he was elected as Secretary General of Migrante USA, an alliance of 13 Filipino immigrant worker organizations in the U.S. To fulfill the mission of Migrant  USA, Nap believes that migrant workers possess the knowledge and power necessary to  achieve victories and contribute to the liberation of our communities. During the pandemic, Nap has defended the rights and welfare of young hotel workers on temporary J-1 visas who were displaced by the shutdowns through the national Support J-1 Workers campaign. He has exemplified boldness, courage, persistence, and determination to fight for the  rights of exploited migrant workers despite repeated and ongoing attacks against him and his organization.

Antonio "Toño" Solis, Leader, Las Deliveristas Unidos

Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU) is a collective of app delivery workers who are fighting for justice.

Antonio Dominguez Alcala, Worker Leader, CLEAN Carwash Worker Center
The mission of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign is to support and empower car wash workers in Los Angeles, CA as they improve and create long-lasting change in their workplaces, lives, and communities. 

Armando Arzate, Member Leader, Workers' Dignity/Dignidad Obrera

Workers’ Dignity is a worker-led center in Nashville, Tennessee organizing for economic justice and dignity for all. They are developing solutions to wage theft and the systemic abuse of workers by building power through relationships with fellow low-wage workers and allies.

Maria Salinas, Worker Leader, North Bay Jobs with Justice/Movimiento Cultural de la Unión Indígena

North Bay Jobs with Justice is dedicated to bringing community and labor together in the fight for workers' rights. Movimiento Cultural de la Unión Indígena seeks to reclaim and preserve indigenous cultures, provide educational information to the public on indigenous cultures, and to implement programs that enhance the civic participation and the economic and social well-being of indigenous communities.

Nita Carter, Outreach Coordinator/Lead Organizer, Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights

Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rightsprovides legal advocacy and training for low-wage Black workers through direction action/public awareness campaigns, legal advocacy and popular education.

Rocío Caravantes, Healing to Action

Healing to Action builds the leadership and collective power of the communities most impacted by gender-based violence to achieve economic and social equality.

Troy Walcott, Co-Founder and President, People's Choice Communications

People’s Choice Communications is an employee-owned social enterprise launched by members of IBEW Local #3 to bridge the digital divide and help our neighbors get connected to the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia Badillo, Member Leader, Workers Defense Project; Board Member, Workers Defense Action Fund
Workers Defense Project is a community organization for low-wage, immigrant workers in the Texas construction industry, standing alongside workers as they fight to be paid a living wage and protected in their work.


2021 Awardee:

Crispin Hernandez

Organizer at Workers' Center of Central New York

"Yo soy Crispin Hernandez  Mixteco del Sur de Mexico. Yo vengo de un lugar donde nació el maíz. Yo trabajé en la agricultura por unos años en específico en la industria lechera. Ahorita soy organizador del Centro de Trabajadores de Nueva York Central." My name is Crispin Hernandez and I am Mixteco from southern Mexico. I come from the lands where corn was first cultivated. I have worked in agriculture for several years, specifically in the milk industry. Currently, I am an organizer at the Workers Center of Central New York.

“All workers deserve to have a voice and be heard at their place of work, and farmworkers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” states Crispin Hernandez, who was fired from his job as a dairy worker in Lowville, NY in 2015 after his boss saw him meeting after work with co-workers and human rights organizers to discuss workplace conditions. In May of 2016, he filed suit against the State of New York, challenging the legality of the State Employment Relations Act for categorically excluding farmworkers from collective bargaining protections despite the guarantee contained in New York’s bill of rights that all "employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." In May of 2019, New York’s Supreme Court Appellate Division issued a ruling affirming the constitutional right of farmworker to organize, while compelling the state legislature to enact strong collective bargaining protections for farmworkers in June of last year. Thanks to Crispin’s courage and leadership, some 80,000 farmworkers can now exercise their right to freely associate in defense of their common interests and negotiate collectively to improve their working conditions.
 
As an organizer with the Workers’ Center of New York, Crispin is working to educate and organize farmworkers to understand their new rights and put them into practice, including leadership in efforts such as the Green Light NY campaign, which successfully won legislation to restore access to drivers licenses for undocumented New Yorkers. Both among workers and farmworker advocates, Crispin is widely respected for his leadership and incisive analysis of the issues affecting New York’s farmworkers. He models a style of leadership and organizing that centers the experience of farmworker communities, uplifts and develops the power of directly impacted people, and emphasizes the collective nature of social change work.

Learn more about Workers' Center of Central New York.


 

Top 10 2021 Candidates

Award Runner Up:
Rev. Cherri Murphy, Faith Rooted Organizer, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy

Minister Cherri Murphy is a lead organizer with Gig Workers Rising and Faith Rooted Organizer with East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.  She is also a doctoral candidate at Berkeley School of Theology. Gig Workers Rising has been a key voice for workers in the face of the billions being poured in by tech companies like Uber, Doordash and Lyft to strip labor rights for predominantly workers of color. Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy is a project of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) advances economic, racial, and social justice by building a just economy based on good jobs and healthy communities. They aim to address the root causes of economic injustice by developing strategic alliances among community, labor, and people of faith to build power and create change with low-income workers and communities of color.


Abdirahman Muse, Executive Director, Awood Center
The Awood Center is a community organization in Minneapolis focused on advocating for and educating Minnesota’s growing East African communities about their labor rights by educating, organizing, developing leadership and mobilizing to improve the economic and political life of the community and all working people.
 
Antonio Dominguez Alcala, Worker Leader, CLEAN Carwash Worker Center
The mission of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign is to support and empower car wash workers in Los Angeles, CA as they improve and create long-lasting change in their workplaces, lives, and communities. 
 
Armando Arzate, Member Leader, Workers' Dignity/Dignidad Obrera
Workers’ Dignity is a worker-led center in Nashville, Tennessee organizing for economic justice and dignity for all. They are developing solutions to wage theft and the systemic abuse of workers by building power through relationships with fellow low-wage workers and allies.
 
Linda Oalican, Co-founder and Executive Director, Damayan Migrant Workers Association
Damayan empowers low-wage workers in New York to fight for their labor, health, gender, and immigrant rights. Established in 2002, their purpose is to build leadership at the grassroots level to eliminate labor trafficking, fight labor fraud and wage theft, and to demand fair labor standards to achieve economic and social justice.
 
Megan Macaraeg, Organizing Director, Beloved Community Incubator
Beloved Community Incubator supports and organizes resources for community-based cooperatives and social enterprises in Washington, D.C. that have a vision for racial and economic equity and unlikely relationships.
 
Mohamed Attia, Director, Street Vendor Project
The Street Vendor Project is a membership-based project with more than 1,800 active vendor members who are working together to create a vendors' movement for permanent change in New York City.
 
Myriam Ramirez, Community Organizer, Make the Road Pennsylvania
Make the Road Pennsylvania is dedicated to organizing the working class in Latino communities, building power for Justice.
 
Nap Pempena, Secretary General, Migrante USA

Migrante USA is an alliance of Filipino worker and migrant organizations dedicated to fighting for rights and welfare of Filipinos in the U.S. and for the genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines. 
 
Virginia Badillo, Member Leader, Workers Defense Project; Board Member, Workers Defense Action Fund
Workers Defense Project is a community organization for low-wage, immigrant workers in the Texas construction industry, standing alongside workers as they fight to be paid a living wage and protected in their work.


 

2020 Awardee:

Andrea Dehlendorf

Co-Executive Director of United for Respect

Andrea DehlendorfAndrea Dehlendorf is Co-Executive Director of United for Respect, a national organization building power for people working in low wage jobs by centering their voices, experiences and solutions in the national movement fighting for the future of work, our economy and corporate regulation. With Andrea’s fierce leadership, United for Respect organizes people employed at the country’s largest employers to amplify their demands on corporate leaders in the service economy and policymakers to provide family-sustaining jobs. United for Respect leverages technology — social media and a new digital platform, WorkIt — to support people working in retail by bringing them into communities of support and action with one another. Through online peer networks and on-the-ground base-building strategies, United for Respect scaffolds the leadership and stories of working people to advocate for solutions to the pressing needs of the country’s massive low-wage workforce.

Andrea’s roots in the movement go deep, and include seminal experiences winning major victories with people working in the most unstable and precarious low wage service jobs, from janitors to hotel workers. Prior to United for Respect, Andrea worked on some the labor movements most innovating campaigns including Justice for Janitors, Airport Workers United and hotel worker organizing in Las Vegas. She lives in Oakland, CA with her twelve year old son.

Learn about United for Respect.


 

2019 Awardee:

Odessa Kelly

Co-Chair of Stand Up Nashville

Odessa KellyA native of Nashville, Odessa Kelly works diligently to bring positive and equitable change to the Nashville community by serving as co-chair for Stand Up Nashville, a coalition of community-based organizations and labor unions that represent the working people of Nashville who have seen our city transformed by development, but have not shared in the benefits of that growth. She also serves as Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), Economic Equity & Jobs task force chair. Her work with NOAH has included building one of the largest and most powerful social justice movements in Nashville. She has advocated for the working class and underserved communities in Nashville, issues ranging from affordable housing to establishing the first ever Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in the state of Tennessee. She believes that Nashville has the potential to achieve a progressive paradigm shift -- a cultural shift in how a traditional southern city becomes a leader in the progressive movement across the country.

Learn about Stand Up Nashville.


 

2018 Awardee:

Enrique Balcazar

Community Organizer and Leader at Migrant Justice

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar immigrated to the United States from Tabasco, Mexico when he was 17 years old. He joined his parents on a dairy farm in rural Vermont and worked for years on farms across the state. Enrique joined Migrant Justice and became a leader in the successful campaign to expand access to driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in Vermont. He became part of the organization's Farmworker Coordinating Committee and is now an organizer and spokesperson. Enrique is one of the principal architects of Milk with Dignity, a worker-led program securing human rights and economic justice in dairy supply chains. In 2017, during a national campaign calling on Ben & Jerry's to join the program, Enrique and fellow organizer Zully Palacios were arrested by ICE agents while leaving the Migrant Justice office. A wave of protests won their release from detention, though Enrique remains in deportation proceedings. Despite the government's persecution, Enrique continued to lead the Milk with Dignity campaign to victory, signing a historic contract with Ben & Jerry's in October, 2017. 

Learn about Migrant Justice.


 

2017 Awardee:

Luna Ranjit

Co-founder of Adhikaar and the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition

Luna Ranjit’s work is rooted in the community. For more than a decade, Luna guided Adhikaar's programs, research, policy advocacy, and partnerships, building visibility and power for the emerging Nepali-speaking immigrant community. As a co-founder of the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, she helped lead the way for the sweeping changes to improve working conditions in the nail salon industry. She also served on the advisory board of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salons Alliance. Luna has been quoted and featured in print and broadcast media on the issues related to workers’ rights, immigrant rights, language justice, and civic engagement. Her groundbreaking work has been recognized by many community organizations and elected officials. In 2016, she received the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize created to support and inspire innovative social change makers throughout the world.

Learn more about Adhikaar.


 

2016 Awardee:

Alfred Marshall

Organizer with the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice

As an organizer in New Orleans, Alfred works to win back power for structurally unemployed and underemployed Black men and women through campaigns to achieve higher wages and better standards in his community. Through Alfred’s tremendous organizing campaigns, he has helped win local hiring on post-Katrina public construction and development projects, a “Ban the Box” rule, and a living wage and paid sick leave ordinance for individuals employed under city contracts. “By sitting down and talking with other workers at the New Orleans Worker Center, I realized that we’re in this together,” Alfred said. “New Orleans won’t stop. I won’t stop. This award is bigger than I am. It’s all about doing the work on the ground. We’re shaking this world up."

Learn more about the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

 

 

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May 31, 2022

How NFG Celebrates Worker Justice Movements: NFG's May 2022 Newsletter

At the beginning of May — on International Workers' Day — Neighborhood Funders Group was excited to announce the winners of our 2022 Discount Foundation Legacy Award!

We're resharing this announcement and sending our sincerest congratulations to this year's awardee, Wendy Melendez Garcia of Local 32BJ SEIU District 615, as well as the runner-up and equally-inspiring Nap Pempena, Secretary General of Migrante USA. The award, which was created by NFG's Funders for a Just Economy in collaboration with the Jobs with Justice Education Foundation, propels the Discount Foundation's legacy of worker justice support — and includes public recognition and stipends for individuals leading the way toward justice for low-wage workers of color.
 
Year after year, dozens of amazing, unseen leaders globally are nominated for the Discount Award by the public, a reminder of the countless interconnected but often invisible efforts of individuals building movements, mutual aid, and community power towards a more just economy. We struggled picking just one awardee, and you can learn about (and connect to) all our top finalists. We were, though, unanimous in wanting to lift up the dedication of this year's winner and runner-up, so make sure to read about their work here!

We're sitting with the duality of both graver challenges than ever for low-wage workers of color and working class communities, alongside increasing momentum from exciting wins for worker justice, including curbing the corporate power of entities such as Amazon and Starbucks. As always, NFG is committed to supporting economic justice and worker power to rebuild an economy and democracy that works for all, ensures good quality jobs, and promotes prosperity and health.
 
What risks and bold moves are you as a funder making in alignment with movements for worker justice? NFG is your place to organize with philanthropy and move more money to racial, gender, economic, disability, and climate justice. We hope to see you at some of our upcoming events and would love to hear about the worker justice groups that you're funding. 

In solidarity,
The NFG team

read the newsletter

 

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