December 17, 2020

Strike Watch 2020 Review: Defund the Police to Build Worker Power

By Manisha Vaze, Director, NFG Funders for a Just Economy

As we close this year, it’s probably safe to assume that you, like me, are emotionally and physically exhausted. The never-ending tragedy of this year’s global pandemic, the job loss, the deep inequality of the economic and health systems, and the new exposure for many Americans to systemic racial injustice, racial terror, and state violence overlayed our own personal losses and struggles. For me, while my partner and I were lucky enough to keep our jobs, it included family and friends who had COVID-19, a family member killed by the police, and much time away from our loved ones. I’m really ready for a winter break.

Prior to joining NFG, I organized alongside immigrant families facing deportation in New York City and with chronically un- and underemployed people in South Los Angeles. My political education is rooted in the organizing I was involved in as a student in the early 2000s, and movement responses to 9/11 shaped my experiences of centering Black and Indigenous communities in our fight against surveillance and violence against Arab, South Asian, and Muslim communities. We organized to address the continued consolidation of corporate power, surveillance technology and data control, as well as new austerity policies, unimaginable (at the time) job loss. We confronted radically accelerated separation of families, detention, and deportation of migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and hand-in-hand with police. I learned to listen to people, dream big, demand what we actually need (not just what is winnable), and build towards that interlocking vision of economic and social justice through strategic and incremental wins and constantly evolving tactics.

Today, as the new US federal administration begins to take shape, some may be content with a collective sigh of relief. However, the organizer in me is asking you to stay vigilant and move resources to where movements are directing us: to organizing, power building, and movements calling to defund the police as a pathway to community and worker justice. We have an enormous opportunity in philanthropy to truly support, through solidarity and resources, the visionary movements that are building power for systemic change. Movement organizers have made significant gains in 2020. The cultural shifts we’ve experienced as a result have unprecedented numbers of people calling for abolition of the police and ICE, supporting unions in new industries, and shifting and expanding public budgets. Organizations have built and formed stronger coalitions, multi-racial, multi-gender, and multi-sectoral movements. And, importantly for our sector, the highly-visible organizing power of community members and workers has moved foundations to understand how philanthropy has supported extreme wealth accumulation and is entrenched in the perpetuation of racial capitalism and heteropatriarchy. Collectively, this has resulted in foundations increasing their investment in organizing and advocacy efforts toward economic and racial justice.

 

To some vocal pundits and media, defunding the police sounds like a new concept born out of the George Floyd uprisings, but it is a decades-old call to action, voiced by Black feminist leaders and those most impacted by police violence. Visionary movements that have been calling for defunding the police see how this strategy releases revenue that can be invested into infrastructure, social protections, housing, worker protections, and other community needs. Upending the power of police unions, not just “reforming” them, will allow more opportunities for strategic campaigns that realign public budgets and real community safety to meet the community’s needs and the goals of philanthropy’s investments in economic justice and equity.

Furthermore, defunding the police, ICE and violent surveillance forces offers an opportunity to align with workers expanding the labor movement. Police unions have since their inception had contentious relationships to workers calling for better working conditions, safety nets, and social protections. The expansion of policing in the late 19th century was precisely to bust labor organizing during work stoppages and strikes. In the last decades, we have seen countless examples of employers using immigration (now ICE) raids to threaten workers who attempt to organize. The labor movement has long recognized the antagonistic role police played on the picket line, and chose not to build with their unions. And the reality is that while some police unions are part of these institutional labor structures, most police associations are not – maintaining a business association 501(c)(6) status instead of a tradition labor union status or 501(c)(5).

If we’re serious about worker power and contesting for governing power in the US it’s important to recognize how the police and carceral systems hamstring the movement’s ability to make strategic and progressive policy gains. Their outsized power influences public budgets, dictates narratives about community safety, and render them immune to scrutiny and accountability. All of this leaves community members and workers who organize to increase funding for public schools, transportation, job quality, healthcare and other needs, fighting for scraps. The good news is, the decision to prioritize criminalization over community care and economic development is a relatively new one, borne of decades interlocking efforts to shift public narrative, policy and power. This orientation is by no means inevitable, and can be countered by a concerted, long-term power-building effort that includes partnership from philanthropy.

At NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy, I am privileged to work with funders who inspire me to think differently about philanthropic work and grant making, and have led efforts in our network to understand power, how to shift it to transform communities, and learn how racial capitalism undergirds our economic system and impacts our work in philanthropy. Most recently, FJE interviewed Jidan Terry-Koon, FJE Coordinating Committee member and Director of People pathways at the San Francisco Foundation who shared that if funders truly centered the most marginalized, especially Black and Indigenous workers in their economic justice grantmaking, they would understand the connection between building the power of all workers and shifting funds away from the police and carceral systems. FJE members have also formed deeper partnerships with Funders for Justice (FFJ), now an independent organization, to support movements to divest from the police and the carceral system and invest in community safety, housing, and other public investments.

We need to open ourselves up to a longer arc of change. The leadership of worker movements and coalitions inspires me to envision where we could be in the next twenty years. Learning from FJE’s programming, I know we can move more money for justice. Movement leaders have called for these changes in philanthropy before, and I’m recommending them again. Philanthropy must mobilize to:

  • Make multi-year, general support investments and grants in base building and organizing.
  • Collaborate with other funders to ensure that we’re building community power and supporting local and regional ecosystems.
  • Influence funders to deeply fund organizing efforts that build community and worker power, and especially worker organizations that build power to make impact (in addition to and) beyond their workplaces to support the common good.
  • Fund groups that are building a new transformative economy through alternative wealth building including cooperative models and other small business development.
  • Advocate to increase your yearly grantmaking, and your institutions assets, resources, and influence to support power building and organizing.
  • Learn about your institution’s finances and make adjustments to divest from the criminal and carceral systems and invest in non-extractive industries.
  • Utilize your relationships with allies in organized labor to fund collaborative efforts that build power locally and shift state and federal policy.
  • Continue your own education and build consciousness amongst your colleagues about the history of the mass accumulation of  wealth in philanthropy rom centuries of corporations extracting wealth from enslaved people, people who are incarcerated, workers who are not paid living wages and without any job security or social protections, and a rigged tax system benefiting the wealthy.

We must support the movement’s call to defund the police and abolishing ICE as a pathway to building worker power. This year showed us that, if forced to, funders can move money quickly – let’s not wait until we’re forced to again. As funders of the worker justice movement, we can no longer stay out of this fight. As I count the days until the end of the year, I will be taking time to rest, heal, and get ready. We have much more work to do.

To learn more about how philanthropy can move resources to movement groups calling to defund the police and reimagine community safety, make sure to read and share Funders for Justice’s Divest/Invest online toolkit for funders. To continue to support and build community and worker power and racial, gender, economic and climate justice, stay connected to Rob and me to help advance NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy program.

Photos by Manisha Vaze from Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police protests in Los Angeles, California in Summer 2020.

September 13, 2021

Welcoming IRSG's Movement Advisors

NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG) launched its inaugural committee of Movement Advisors in August 2021. These Advisors will deepen IRSG's work to increase philanthropy's accountability to rural movement leaders. These seven rural leaders reflect the powerful and broad diversity of rural communities, representing a range of geographies, issues, races, cultures, and more. What these leaders and their organizations all have in common is that they are organizing and building power in rural areas. Their work is core to building and preserving a true multiracial democracy and protecting the health, safety, economic opportunity, and ability for rural communities to thrive.

While IRSG and our partners hold existing relationships with each of these seven leaders, we are honored to formalize this year-long engagement by supporting these leaders with honoraria and providing a platform to lift up their work before philanthropy. IRSG will follow the Advisors' lead and center their priorities and strategies as we design our program offerings and resources. We look forward to opportunities to build relationships among the IRSG Movement Advisors and between the Advisors and funders in our network over the twelve month duration of this engagement, and in our shared work for years to come.


  

Angel Garcia (he/him/his)

California for Pesticide Reform & CAPS (Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety)
Agro-Citrus Lands of  Tulare County, CA

Email: Angel@pesticidereform.org 
Website: https://www.pesticidereform.org/

Angel is the Organizing Director with Californians for Pesticide Reform and founder of the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety. Born and raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Angel also has deep ties to the Mixtec village of San Jeronimo nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre in southern Mexico. His previous experience includes working with transnational indigenous communities, farmworker families and rural families in the San Joaquin Valley. Angel holds a B.A. in Latin American & Latino Studies and Politics from University of California, Santa Cruz. He is based in Tulare County and is the proud parent of two kids – Anuri and Urian.


  

Eowyn Corral (they/she)

Dakota Rural Action
Dakota/Plains Region

Email: eowync@dakotarural.org
Website: www.dakotarural.org 

Eowyn Corral, director of development and programs at Dakota Rural Action and the current chair of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, has focused on local and regional food & ag policy for the last 10 years. Based in the Dakotas, the occupied lands of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (the Great Sioux Nations), and utilizing grassroots community organizing as the foundation, Dakota Rural Action works on agricultural policy at the local, regional, national, and tribal arenas. Eowyn comes to this work via a love for fiber animals, seasonal foods, and textile arts. Originally from southern California and of Michoacán descent, Eowyn plans to find their way back to the west coast to raise animals on pasture on a multigenerational farm for the golden years of life.


  

Jaime Arredondo (he/him/él)

CAPACES Leadership Institute
Oregon

Email: jaime@capacesleadership.org 
Website: https://capacesleadership.org

Jaime is a proud immigrant from Las Ranas, Michoacan, Mexico. He has over 16 years of experience working in movement building community-based organizations. Some of his favorite roles have included: tour guide, smiles provider, peace maker, convener, agitator (with a smile), storyteller, and wannabe graphic designer and handy person.


  

Janssen Hang (he/him/his)

Hmong American Farmers Association
Midwest/Minnesota

Email: janssen@hmongfarmers.com
Website: https://www.hmongfarmers.com

Janssen Hang is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Hmong American Farmers Association. Janssen grew up growing, harvesting and selling vegetables for the local food economy and currently runs his family-owned value-added business making spring rolls and egg rolls at the downtown Saint Paul Farmers Market. A 2001 Saint Olaf graduate in Biology and Asian Studies, Janssen has over 20 years of experience in agriculture, 12 years in small business management, and 7 years as a licensed-real estate agent. Janssen is also one among just a few certified Hmong Mekongs (cultural broker). Janssen likes to spend his free time with his family in the outdoors.


  

Brandi Mack (she/her/we)

The Butterfly Movement
Sonora/Tuolumne County and Oakland, CA

Email: bhealthybholistic@gmail.com
Website: www.thebutterflymovement.com / www.brandimack.com

Brandi is a mother of three beautiful daughters, a Holistic Health Educator, Therapeutic Massage Therapist, Trauma-Informed Youth developer, Powerful Presenter, and Permaculture Designer. She holds a bachelor's degree in Human Service Management, and a certification from Star Hawk's Earth Activist Training. Brandi has worked and trained in holistic health and ecological sustainability with youth and adults for over 15 years. Brandi is currently the National Director of The Butterfly Movement which is committed to healing the wounds of our Soul (through Rebuilding and Re-Framing our emotional selves), planting a Seed of faith as we Regenerate and Reconnect our hearts and our hands to the earth, leading ultimately to manifestation in the Soil of our Reactivated lives!  

Currently, Brandi serves on the following boards: The North America Permaculture Magazine, Northern California Resilience Network and the Northern California Women in Permaculture.


  

Fabiola Ortiz Valdez (she/her/ella)

Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA)
Syracuse, NY

Email: fabiola@foodchainworkers.org 
Website: https://foodchainworkers.org

Fabiola is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. She worked as an organizer in her home country supporting the work of Zapatista communities in Chiapas. Fabiola has worked with migrant farmworkers in the U.S. since 2009, first as a health case manager and researcher in the egg, dairy, Apple, and blueberry industries in Maine. Later she worked as a researcher and labor organizer with dairy workers in New York at the Workers Center of CNY. She has also participated and led research projects with different immigrant communities across the country. Fabiola is currently the Lead Organizer for the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain. Before joining FCWA Fabiola was an organizer for the New York immigration coalition (NYIC), an organization that advocates for immigrants rights in your state.  Fabiola currently lives in Syracuse, NY, she has a MA in Cultural Anthropology and is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Syracuse University. 


  

Julianne Jackson (she/her/they/them)

Partnership for Safety and Justice
Oregon

Email: julianne@safetyandjustice.org
Website: https://safetyandjustice.org

Julianne is a mom, survivor, and racial justice advocate who uses her voice to speak up for change. She is the founder of Black Joy Oregon, a grassroots advocacy group that promotes Black joy, female leadership development, and culture throughout Oregon. Prior to joining Partnership for Safety & Justice, Julianne worked in social services, mental health, and community education. She also has experience as an organizer in the labor movement, and she has served as committee chair for the Salem-Keizer NAACP. In her role at PSJ, she will continue to work tirelessly to advance racial and economic justice locally and across the state. In her off-time, you can find her performing as a singer songwriter and traveling Oregon.
 

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September 5, 2021

Reflections on Labor Day with Larry Williams, Jr. of UnionBase

This Labor Day, NFG’s Director of the Funders for a Just Economy program, Manisha Vaze, met with Larry Williams, Jr., Cofounder of UnionBase, and formerly a Labor and Just Transition Coordinator at the Sierra Club and President of the Progressive Workers Union. In this interview, Manisha and Larry talked about Larry’s work and his vision for the labor movement and for building worker power.  


 
Can you start off by sharing the story of why you started UnionBase? What is the central issue you are hoping to address with Unionbase?

UnionBase is a company and tech platform focused on improving the labor movement and accelerating it’s growth. We’ve been around since 2015 and started as a search engine for unions. Based on user feedback we pivoted to becoming a communication and education platform, building the tools workers need to build power in their workplace. As we started supporting workers we realized there is a serious need for educational content on how to organize and build power in the workplace. As a result we started a magazine that now serves union locals around the United States and Canada, as well as relationships with some of America’s largest unions. 

We see our mission as not only helping people join unions but also helping unions to become better partners to the communities where they work and their members live. We’re also trying to educate people about the history of work, the future of work, and our shared responsibility in directing that future. I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

It feels like there’s a resurgence of energy around worker organizing, collective bargaining, and the labor movement. What are some issues that come up as we garner more support for the labor movement?

I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

The organized labor movement can be hard to understand but is key to empowering communities, workers, and fighting climate change. For labor to continue to grow and evolve into a more diverse and powerful movement it needs to start looking outward and engaging young people. It is more likely now than anytime before that young people do not know about the history of the labor movement and its achievements. 

Though they may come from a working class family, young people may not relate to the traditional message of pride in being a worker or even identify as a “worker”.  As some employers are having trouble finding people to do in-person jobs because of COVID-19, young people are saying, “Why would I want to be a waitress or work in an office and risk my life to make a very low wage when I can work for myself?” 

Simultaneously, some young people are excited like never before to build power for themselves and their community starting in the workplace and we see that in the increasing number of organizing campaigns happening across the United States.

Can you talk more about the experience of organizing your own workplace? What did you learn and what were some challenges?

I had the blessing of experiencing first hand what can happen when workers build for a better future but forming a union. I was the first President of Progressive Workers Union (PWU), a decentralized, independent union that was started by workers employed at the Sierra Club. PWU’s organizing efforts captured the imagination of many nonprofits workers around the country when we won what has become the model for how to represent staff who work at nonprofits. 

There are many notable victories in the contract that make Sierra Club a better organization and allowed for a much better relationship between all staff and the organization’s leadership. The first contract includes many important improvements but a few worth naming are Compensatory Time, Family Sustaining Wages and improved Paid Family Leave.

Also, the entire organization now does a yearly pay review which allows the union to ensure that there is parity amongst staff across the organization and its affiliates. Every year, the union compares salary with the MIT wage scale. Through this analysis, pay inequality impacting women and people of color can be addressed. This was a unique solution we were able to negotiate through the union contract and was a victory for both the employer and employees.

What are the benefits for major organizations when they have a unionized workforce?

In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers.

There are several ways that unionized workers create more value for the organizations where they work. Most people think unions only care about wages. While fair pay is important, what people don’t realize is the respect that union workers have for the work that they do. Workers in a union are more secure in their jobs and produce better work. One thing that is core to why PWU works is that most workers come to nonprofit organizations as young people hoping to change the world. Nonprofits have an unintended habit of exploiting young workers until they burn out, then replacing them with another young person. In PWU all of the unit representatives, bargaining teams, and union leadership saw a vision for changing this paradigm, and believed that forming a union was the place to achieve a vision of changing this reality and we did it. For example, recently the Intercept wrote about how the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Micheal Brune, was stepping down. All throughout that media’s reporting, and in the internal report, you can see how many ways the union took on sexual assault cases. In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers. 

Over the past several years and throughout this pandemic, workers have been in motion – striking and demanding better wages, health protections, working conditions and benefits in solidarity with the larger community. These campaigns have also been connecting worker justice to other social movements, like the movements to divest from policing and ICE, climate justice, and disaster recovery and relief. What do you think about these new unionization and collective bargaining efforts and what are the opportunities you see for the labor movement overall?

This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed.

This moment has the potential to be a new golden age for labor and we’ve been preparing for it for the last ten years. Even prior to the pandemic, the working conditions of millions of Americans were revealed to be unbearable, and their income, which has stagnated in the face of skyrocketing living costs, is unsustainable. The pandemic has shined an even brighter light on this issue as many frontline workers lauded as heroes have been, in reality, treated as disposable. Without the protections and voice that comes with being in a union, frontline workers have been incapable of getting the hazard pay, protections, and living wages they have more than earned. Also, the labor movement has struggled to address issues of police brutality within its own membership. This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed. The only answer is that people from underrepresented and impacted communities must be supported as legitimate leadership of unions. That means not just being in the room but making sure they are leading the decision making process. 

You mentioned that we’re in a make it or break it moment. What do you see as the best path forward? How might funders be supportive?

Funders should look for the people who are building relationships and doing organizing work, who have success doing it, and then figure out what is the quickest path to get the money to them with reasonable accountability but maintaining the least amount of control possible. Then they will see what their investment can do a lot better than if they request endless reports that may not reflect the value of the work being done. The people who are doing the work often have a difficult time connecting with funding opportunities despite their record of success.

I recognize the challenge for funders: they have a lot of rules and organizational things [to consider]. But, I think that there needs to be a more light weight process for making the connection between the people who need the money and the people who have the money.

Cover of Workplace Leader, a magazine for workers by UnionBase.

Also, funders should be setting an expectation that employers follow labor law and normalize unionization. Funders can take an active role in supporting workers by setting standards for their major funding recipients. For example, funders can use the MIT family sustaining wage calculator and other normative standards that help employers and workers find agreement. That way we're all on the same side and able to seek labor peace. It's about smarter decision making, engaging employers, the employees, and funders in productive conversations.

What’s next or upcoming for you and UnionBase?

UnionBase is scaling up to continue helping workers transform themselves for a new era of work. Meanwhile, we will continue to push the organized labor movement to expand outside of its comfort zone. Many workers are asking themselves, “How do you start and run a union with values centered around justice and equity?” UnionBase will be engaging in conversations with interested unions and funders to directly support the education of workers who want to organize traditional, independent and decentralized unions. 

Thank you so much, Larry! I'm really excited to see how UnionBase will continue to bloom.

 
More resources to learn about UnionBase: