December 19, 2019

Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

In October 2019, Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening that brought foundations together for what many participants said was an unprecedented conversation on the racial and gendered inequality inseparable from US and global capitalism – and what funders can do to address these realities. The FJE program intends to continue the conversation throughout 2020 and integrate the frame of racial capitalism, power and resistance into all of our programming. As part of this process, we held a series of one-on-one dialogues with program officers who attended the event to talk about how how they are bringing the information from the event back to their institutions.

As we close 2019 and in the first weeks of 2020, we’ll post these conversations as a means to ground where we go next as a program. If you did not attend the event, these posts will share the conversations and strategies that emerged among community, philanthropic and academic speakers and attendees. If you did attend, we hope these posts provide insight into what your colleagues are considering as we head into a new year, ready to make change together. 


Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

An Interview with Altaf Rahamatulla,
Program Officer at the New York Foundation

Can you share a bit about your journey to grantmaking?

Part of the reason I came to social justice work is that my personal became my political. I come from a very diverse background—my Dad is Guyanese and my Mom is Italian and Honduran. Growing up in a single mother home, in a low income, immigrant family, issues of race, class, and gender shaped my experiences from an early age. Later, I became a student of history and politics, and I saw my family history and my own circumstances in a broader spectrum of movements for justice and structural change.

After college, I saw policy advocacy as my route – first, starting with economic justice and then moving into criminal justice reform. I wanted to explore that issue as one where I could engage explicitly with issues of race. I was at the Innocence Project for a few years – and it was incredibly profound work.  From there I thought to myself: if I want to work in social justice for my career, I should get to know what philanthropy is like.

I was at the Ford Foundation for almost five years, where I worked on a team focused on criminal justice, immigrant rights, and racial justice. From there, I joined the New York Foundation (NYF), where we support community organizing and grassroots advocacy here in New York City. Our funding seeks to elevate those most affected by different forms of inequality and oppression, develop emerging leaders, and support organizations that prioritize racial and gender justice.

A group of five people seated in a discussion circle at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

What brought you to NFG’s Racial Capitalism Convening?

I’ve been involved in NFG’s Democratizing Development Program while at NYF and since my time at Ford, so I am familiar with NFG’s work and moved by its leadership. Whenever y’all are doing an event, I’m there!

NFG’s space provides an ideological home for grantmakers who are working in their own ways to advance justice. I thought the Racial Capitalism meeting would be an opportunity to engage more deeply on issues of equity and see how different grantmakers were conceptualizing this context and political moment. I thought it was unique to open with the frame of racial capitalism, and that really encouraged and inspired me to come in and engage at the event.

Are there any key ideas or practices you’ve brought back to your foundation? 

Everything Dr. Ananya Roy shared, really! The conversation really grappled with contradictions of philanthropy, and Dr. Roy’s opening frame of the sector as emerging from twice-stolen wealth [cf. Gilmore 2009] was a dynamic way to start the day. How do we sit with these contradictions, while being champions for organizing and grassroots leaders? One of Dr. Roy’s questions really stuck with me: [referencing Colin Kaepernick,] how do we take a knee in this sector? It was a call to push our work, to be audacious, to be insurgent, and to be more explicit about our values. What I also found interesting was starting with a look into the historical root causes of structural oppression and inequalities and bringing that frame to understand the moment and the work of grantee partners to get a sense of how we move forward as grantmakers.

I was moved by how folks in the room saw the power, value, and need to support organizing and support communities of color. That view is rare in philanthropy, unfortunately. I will definitely be reviewing the article Dr. Roy shared on the political negotiations of program officers by Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas.  I want to explore this idea about what insurgency looks like in this sector.

I’m fortunate to work at an institution that has historically supported community organizing, and has a deep commitment to equity. We want to be explicit about what racial and gender justice looks like for us. We are working to make that commitment unequivocal in terms of our grantmaking, operations, communications and asset management.

The Racial Capitalism convening’s focus on power dynamics and the inextricable link between capitalism and racism provided an analytical and intellectual foundation to bolster our work here at the Foundation.

People seated several discussion circles at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

Can you tell us more about your current grantmaking process? 

NYF’s grantmaking process is open and collaborative. We accept proposals three times a year. Any organization can apply based on our guidelines. From that point, as a program team, we review each application, and based on our criteria, select a set of groups to explore in more depth. We do research, site visits, connect with trusted partners either in the philanthropic space, among grantees, or with board members who might be familiar with the groups. We then come back as a team to collectively decide on organizations to recommend to our Board, which has final decision-making authority over our grantmaking. We are a small foundation and unfortunately, we can only fund a limited number of grants each year. We primarily offer general multi-year support, and we place emphasis on startup organizations and those with limited access to other sources of funding. We provide up to five years renewable general support for startups, and three years for more established groups.

What role do you think FJE can play going forward in this conversation on race and capitalism? 

FJE can continue to be an ideological home – there’s power in cultivating a network of solidarity, strategy, and collaboration. Providing a space to elevate racial and economic justice, the importance of community organizing, and learning on funding efforts and campaigns across the country is really valuable.  It’s a space to have intense conversations on the issues that folks may not be able to have in their own institutions or with their Board. That’s how I’m seeing its value – that’s created through the bold programming NFG offers – through webinars, conferences, specific policy explorations, and site visits.

Thank you to Altaf for sharing his thoughts, time and energy with Funders for a Just Economy!

June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

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

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

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