November 13, 2020

Strike Watch - Election 2020: Workers Redefine the Map, as Corporate Tech Pours Millions to Undermine Rights

While the public eye (rightfully) centered on the US presidency this election, worker-led organizing made tremendous waves across the country in ballot initiative, issue-based wins and get out the vote mobilization, including in closely-watched swing states. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy also pushed their agendas of racialized and gendered inequality ahead, most notably California’s anti-labor rights "gig" worker proposition. While the full significance of the election is still unfurling, the results point to the power of long-term, worker-led organizing led by unions, place-based worker organizations, and abolitionist movements. These efforts belie any easy answers from red or blue maps - but instead point to the critical ways intersectional movements build across the losses, lessons, and confrontations with corporate agendas that line the hard road to ground-breaking wins.

#RedforEd Returns, Victorious

In Arizona, voters boosted school spending and, specifically, teacher salaries through a 3.5% tax on those making more than $250,000. Proposition 208 came as a direct response to teacher labor organizing, especially the 2018 Red for Ed strikes in Arizona, a wave of teacher’s actions that started in anti-labor states like Arizona and eventually reached Democratic-led, but austerity-stripped cities. The 2018 Arizona strike brought a 20% raise for teachers but did not meet demands for school staff funding, guarantees for raises or spending to meet national standards. But organizing among teachers did not flag, including a more recent set of strike actions to challenge early re-opening of schools in the COVID-19 crisis and the fight for Proposition 208, accompanied by a jump in teacher union membership 10%. Similar measures to increase taxes (including via cannabis legalization) to boost school spending won across Wisconsin localities and in other states, including a new tax measure to fund Universal Pre-K in Colorado. 

Fight for 15 Breaks Through in the South

Florida surprised many when it passed a minimum wage of $15, with a significant 60% of the vote and a transformative bump from the current minimum of $8.56. While actively challenged by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the wage hike was advanced by an extensive door knocking this election season and long-term campaign of strikes and actions since 2012 by the Fight for $15 coalition. Spearheaded in part by SEIU and including the Sierra Club Florida, Florida Immigration Coalition, the Poor People’s Campaign, and Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) chapters, the Fight for $15 had recently been an active part of the Strike for Black Lives, featured in our recent Strike Watch.  Get Out the Vote efforts by the multi-racial, multi-issue New Florida Majority coalition, tied to national Seed the Vote 501(c)(4) and PAC networks in swing states, also pointed voters to the amendment, part of the latest in the NFM labor-community coalition’s efforts on worker’s rights. The Florida win tiptoe on the heels of two voter-approved Southern minimum wage hikes in 2018 in Missouri and Arkansas, that won by more than 62% and 68% respectively.

Making Paid Sick and Medical Leave a Public Good

Colorado residents turned out at 57% to support paid family and medical leave for 12 weeks through Proposition 118. Voters pulled off what legislators had failed to do in multiple sessions, with lawmakers having faced some of the most expensive lobbying efforts in 2019 in Colorado against the bill by local Chambers of Commerce and corporate interests. Through a pay-in system by workers and businesses, the new measure covers up to 12 weeks for childbirth, adoption, medical emergencies in their families, a family member’s active-duty military service, and reasons related to abuse and sexual assault – with a higher pay rate coverage for lower-wage employees. The structure shows the influence of growing, more comprehensive organizing on this issue, in that the policy is inclusive of all workers and publicly-managed, in ways prior state-level bills have not been.

Proposition 22 and the Challenge of Corporate Tech Spending

Speaking of expensive measures, there was also devastating news on the ballot initiative front for workers – most notably with the passage of Proposition 22 in California. The $200 million dollar effort by Uber (now merged with Postmates), Lyft, Doordash and other tech corporations that rely on vulnerable low-wage service labor was the most expensive ballot measure in California history. The law now excludes app-tied workers from the state minimum to a pay guarantee that only amount to $5.64 an hour, limited health benefits based on hourly requirements, and exclusion from NLRB collective bargaining, worker’s compensation and other rights. It is also sealed with an unprecedented provision requiring 7/8th legislative majority to overturn. Researchers and organizers have noted the dangerous move to create a permanent “third category” exemption to labor law will most hurt mostly older Black, Latinx, indigenous, immigrant and women workers  for generations to come – similar to the 1930s New Deal exclusions of domestic and farm labor. While Lyft and other companies are signaling an interest in a vaguely-defined relationship with bigger labor unions  via “sectoral bargaining,” organizers have pointed to this as a trojan horse that would further undermine worker’s voice, and usher in another era of labor suppression similar to company unions of the pre-New Deal era and the 1947 post-Taft Hartley “business unionism” era targeting labor power.

In initial assessments, the lack of restrictions on corporate proposition spending opened the door for massive spending on a deceptive Yes on 22 campaign. Expensive, constant TV and radio ads included groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the manipulation of racial justice language and data (via spurious groups like the “Berkeley Research Group”) - not to mention the gig companies’ looming threat to leave California after courts enforced AB 5 this Fall. Some analysis points to the fact companies manipulated the app itself to make it appear that the workers picking up passengers or dropping off deliveries were supporting the corporate measure. Pro-22 ads had to be clicked through to access app functions – also questionable given the use of this private data for political purposes. (And in the middle of a pandemic-fueled food and restaurant delivery surge, Door Dash and others even offered stamped bags “Yes on 22.”)

Yet undeniable is the importance of continued organizing by Rideshare Drivers United, Gig Workers Rising, Gig Workers Collective and others – who have gained ground creatively in a terrain where they face the deep challenges reaching workers invisibly scattered across cities and rural regions. These groups’ effect on mobilizing the public in the Bay Area of California led to vote totals decisively against Prop 22 in tech stronghold Silicon Valley. Far from done fighting, gig worker-led organizations are now gearing up for battles across the US for the future of work that centers workers.

The Future Defined by Workers

Across the US this election, simplified mappings of red and blue fell apart in the face of investment in long-term deep, “ground game” organizing across labor and community organizations – from Black-women led groups like Georgia STAND-UP to Navajo and Latinx-youth led organizing by groups like LUCHA in Arizona. Often-invisible networks of non-funded grassroots organizing groups, including those tied to the Black Lives Matter uprisings, also mattered in building the energy and momentum among youth and marginalized voters. Cutting across these, too, was a massive in-person effort by labor unions like UNITE HERE (including numerous unemployed Black and brown hospitality workers) in key states where unions have ground presence.

Tweet from Isaac Bryan, @ib2_real, Director of Public Policy at UCLA's Ralph J Bunche Center, and Co-Chair of the Reimagine LA coalition that sponsored LA's succesful Measure J

If there is a consistent theme among the ballot struggles discussed above, it is that worker-led organizing that cuts across community and labor organizations - and the willingness to step up actions, from teacher’s to fast food strikes - can pay off big. Direct confrontation with corporate or legislative actors is an inevitable part of this process, as McDonalds' workers in Florida or teachers in Arizona can also share. And there are no campaigns that don’t face losses and setbacks. Much of the above organizing faced (well-funded) roadblocks and lost policy fights at times but kept building and learning – much as the gig worker movement is now doing.

This lesson was also reinforced by powerful gains in local measures on other intersecting issues of racial and economic justice, such as the significant Measure J in Los Angeles County supported by Black Lives Matter-LA, Justice LA coalition, Youth Justice Coalition and a wider network created called Reimagine LA. (The tweet featured to the left is from Reimagine LA co-chair Isaac Bryan, Director of Public Policy at UCLA's Ralph J Bunche Center.) Measure  J- part of a local progressive sweep - now permanently sets aside 10% of the County budget for alternatives to incarceration, including job programs serving Black and brown communities. Cities as varied as Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon passed police oversight measures, while Philadelphia banned stop-and-frisk decisively. At the state level, California abolition movements including Communities United for a Responsible Budget stopped algorithmic bail calculations, prison spending, and other attempts to scale back decarceration, while also advancing rights for parolee voting (legislation written by formerly-incarcerated residents). Needless to say, none of these shifts - like the multi-year battle to oust District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles - were won overnight, or without tensions and confrontations.

Georgia STAND-UP Director Deborah Scott's call in a recent Vox interview speak volumes to the nature of long-term organizing that is transforming the political landscape – and tangibly shifting workers’ lives: “Everything can’t be online for us because there’s a certain level of our population that does not respond there,” Scott said, describing a tactics that included safe door-knocking, protests, and reaching those seeking direct services. Building strategy means “making sure people really listen to the wisdom that we have because we’ve lived it.”

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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