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.

February 26, 2021

Honoring Black histories & futures: NFG's February Newsletter

To honor Black histories and futures, Neighborhood Funders Group is excited to share with you a new report from Funders for a Just Economy and the Amplify Fund on the critical Black women-led organizing redefining Nashville, Tennessee. The first report for our multi-city Building Power in Place project, Nashville: Reshaping the City Towards an Economy for All, tells a small part of a big story. The report features the work of Stand Up Nashville (SUN), The Equity Alliance (TEA), and the Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee (CLC) — each helmed by Black women who have built a powerful collaborative infrastructure with few resources but tremendous political and economic results for low-income residents of color. Quite relevant for the early 100 days of a new presidential administration, their work addresses the importance of elections and goes far beyond these moments for a much broader vision of shared governance.

Black History Month is as much about honoring the past as it is about recognizing the way Black communities continue to define a future that is radically more equitable, sustainable, and democratic for all. This report traces the ways in which Nashville organizers have built on local histories of abolitionist and civil rights activism, while developing expansive new models confronting issues like predatory gentrification following climate disasters. How have SUN, TEA, and CLC achieved such milestones as record registration of voters of color, landmark transparency and accountability laws, growth in worker voice, and more? How do they face obstacles like repressive state preemption policy and corporations like Amazon with deep pockets? Learn more here.

NFG’s commitment to place-based organizing is informed by an approach to Black history and futures stemming from Black feminist movements and scholars. They recognize no one formula, story, or sequence for transformative movements which are in fact rooted in local realities, multi-faceted struggles, and, as Angela Davis explains, constant efforts to “enlarge and expand and complicate and deepen our theories and practices of freedom.” The responsibility of NFG as a network of funders starts, then, right at the local — in trusting grassroots expertise, recognizing intersectional realities (including our own implication in racial capitalism), and moving maximal resources to support Black-led movements’ expansive vision.

The recommendations in our Nashville report stem from conversation with local organizers and funders and through Amplify’s long-term work, and offer key principles that can apply nationally. But as Fannie Lou Hamer noted, “There is one thing you have got to learn about our movement. Three people are better than no people." It’s going to take much more than recognizing these movements; it will take organizing our colleagues in and across our institutions to join in fully funding Black-led movements like those in Nashville, especially the ones that may not even have the resources to get on national radar. So make sure to share the report with colleagues, invite another funder to our next events (more information in this month's newsletter), and keep bringing new folks to the conversation!

Thank you to the SUN, TEA, and CLC organizers and local funders who shared their time, stories, and strategies with us. Going forward, NFG will continue to strengthen the ways we move from intention into action to honor Black histories and support Black futures from the local and up.

Thank you,
Rob, Manisha, and Neda — Funders for a Just Economy
 

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January 27, 2021

Be vigilant and move the money: NFG's January 2021 Newsletter

In NFG’s final Strike Watch blog of 2020, Manisha Vaze — Director of our Funders for a Just Economy Program — issued this call to action:

“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.”

As we wrap up this first month of 2021 and continue to celebrate — and fund! — the Black women, women of color, Indigenous activists, and queer and trans organizers who made possible the many progressive electoral wins across the country, we at NFG are asking our community of grantmakers to heed this call to stay vigilant and resource the movements that are building power for systemic change.

The moment that we are now facing is part of the trajectory toward justice set by Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities who have been working to dismantle deliberately oppressive systems that have existed for generations. BIPOC leaders and communities have fueled long-term, power building movements and created the critical organizing infrastructure to win elections up and down ballots, defund the police, and change the predominant narratives and policies of racial capitalism — all too often at significant risk of violence, with little media attention or notice, and inadequate funding.

Philanthropy has the power and resources to fund the boldest movements for liberation, justice, and systemic change. Grantmakers can shed onerous funding practices and trust grassroots leaders to use grant funds as they see fit for the health of their organizers and movements. Funders must be more than reactive and fully lean into a vision of what is possible now that uprisings for racial justice and electoral victories led by Black organizers have opened up more opportunities for change than ever.

And NFG is here to support grantmakers with joy, creativity, and community as you remain vigilant and do this necessary work to move resources and shift power. Below are highlights from our programs for how you can keep co-conspiring with NFG this year to propel racial, economic, gender, and climate justice.

Onwards,
The NFG team


 

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

 
Amplify Fund

Amplify Fund is a funder collaborative that supports Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income communities to build power and to influence decisions about the places they live and work.

“As a Senior Program Officer, I really spend a lot of time speaking with powerful leaders across the country who are working on issues related to development and building power in their communities. They are truth tellers, all working in their respective places to challenge harmful policies and politics and fighting with their communities and their bases for just and equitable development,” says Amplify's Melody Baker.

In 2021, Amplify will continue to focus on 2 key outcomes from our Theory of Change, while reconsidering the current time limitations and distribution of decision-making power.

Video thumbnail with silhouettes of protestors and text that says, "95% of Amplify grantees are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) led. Many of the leaders are women or gender non-binary.

Keep up with Amplify through our quarterly newsletter, photos and videos on social media, and "live" events with Amplify staff, steering committee members, local funder partners and grantees.

To learn more about some of our 54 grantees, watch (and share) our newly released 7 minute video. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Democratizing Development Program (DDP)

Across the country, millions of Americans are facing eviction or on the cliff to potential homelessness. The call for short-term eviction moratoriums is not enough to heal and repair our communities and to stop homelessness. We need a housing overhaul.

In 2021, DDP will continue to bring together community voices and philanthropic leaders moving forward BIPOC organizing and policy solutions for land, housing, community ownership and power. We will further showcase intersectional frameworks and tools of the future of community development, philanthropy, and issues of gentrification, policing, evictions, and future solutions like #LandBack, community land trusts, and others.

We are starting off the year by partnering with philanthropic, health, and housing justice leaders linking the current health and housing crises to racial justice and power building. We will highlight leaders that are moving forward with land, power, and reparations strategies to advance a future of philanthropy leveraging more its assets to support Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. Join us to:

  • Strategize around intersectional approaches that protect tenants, preserve communities, and produce affordable housing solutions that build community power and community needs
  • Engage a broader range of funders at the intersections of housing, community safety and justice, education, health, jobs, climate, gender, and racial justice to center the needs of how housing is inextricably linked to a broad range of needs
  • Advance conversations on community development and ownership models that allow residents to influence local decisions and create longer-term benefits for themselves
  • Deepen philanthropic partnerships and alignment with the broader housing justice movement
     

Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG)

IRSG holds a core assertion that multiracial rural organizing is a cornerstone to a multiracial democracy, and that philanthropy has a critical role to play in building a strong participatory democracy that engages all communities.

In 2021, IRSG will offer a variety of ways for funders to connect, learn, and mobilize resources to support rural equity work — particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color led multiracial rural organizing infrastructure — in an urgent effort to strengthen our democracy. We welcome you to co-conspire with IRSG as we:

  • Launch a committee of Movement Advisors to deepen our accountability to rural community-led work
  • Offer a curated set of resources, calls to action, and timely updates from rural organizers and funders supporting rural equity in a regular newsletter
  • Share out actionable research in the form of rural infrastructure scans and funder recommendations, including a report and accompanying toolkits based on rural New York infrastructure, with actionable resources for funders across the country
  • Provide programming featuring multiracial rural organizing work on issues ranging from rural infrastructure (broadband, electric cooperatives) to agroecology (opportunities to organize and build power in rural communities based on their role in food systems), and how to sustain and build power coming out of the census and election work
     

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE)

FJE has been on a learning journey to increase consciousness around how movements and communities and workers build power, focused particularly on movements led by people of color toward racial, gender, and economic justice. FJE has begun to align our network around a common agenda, understanding new ways to liberate philanthropy’s accumulated wealth, diving deep into supporting worker and community power, and deepening our understanding of racial capitalism.

Last year, at the onset of the crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, FJE broadened its work to discuss how we can redefine safety through an exploration of the police power, police unions, and defunding the police, developing a fuller picture of workplace violence and health, and learning from experts about how proto-fascist, white nationalist, and white power groups are building towards their vision of authoritarianism and white supremacy that undergirds conservative ideology.

FJE continues the drumbeat to fund and sustain a longer-term path to power, so Black, Indigenous, and people of color, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants can realize and attain justice and build power toward a true democracy.

Coming up, FJE will be hosting our annual Policy Briefing in March to discuss how movement partners are continuing to build a powerful movement for inclusive worker power, considering both rising fascism and the new federal administration, and to share how funders can support multi-racial, multi-gender movements toward policy wins that build community and worker power, combat austerity policies, and support transformational and longer-term strategies toward racial, gender, climate and economic justice. Stay tuned for a save the date and an invitation to the 2021 FJE kick-off call for NFG members.
 

Philanthropy Forward

Fellows from Philanthropy Forward's two cohorts have been continuing to organize together as a community of visionary leaders who center racial and gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy. Check out highlights from Philanthropy Forward's fellows here.
 

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