August 21, 2020

Strike Watch: San Francisco Foundation's Jidan Terry-Koon on Finding our (Philanthropic) Front Lines

As part of our ongoing coverage and analysis of the many uprising for economic justice – from the Strikes for Black Lives to fights for basic protections in the age of COVID-19 – we wanted to get the perspectives from FJE members on how they are changing their practices to better support economic justice organizing in this dynamic moment. FJE was fortunate to sit (virtually) down with San Francisco Foundation’s Jidan Terry-Koon, MPA, Director of SFF’s People pathway. She oversees a unique portfolio that integrates criminal justice, worker organizing, and community wealth building towards economic inclusion with a movement building and intersectional lens. Terry-Koon is also our newest FJE Coordinating Committee member, and we’re excited for her contributions and leadership in our community. (For more on how to join broader FJE and our committees, please reach out to

Tell us a little about your journey into philanthropy: What motivated you to take up this portfolio linking economic and transformative justice at San Francisco Foundation, and to join FJE’s coordinating committee?

I come from a movement family and grassroots organizing, particularly with young people. I had come up in unpaid organizing as a youth, got in trouble with the law, and was referred to the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) when I was a freshman in high school. That was my first formal experience with nonprofits in youth development and direct services for systems change. EBAYC was a formative experience for me and I spent years afterwards diving into different aspects of social change that I was exposed to there: direct services, grassroots policy change, leadership development, faith based organizing (via EBAYC’s long-time partner PICO affiliate), coalition building, and civic engagement. Among other things, I ran a multi-service youth center with a youth organizing group called Youth Together in the Bay. I consulted at the Movement Strategy Center (MSC) around alliance building and transformative organizing. Right prior to starting in philanthropy 3.5 years ago, I was doing integrated voter engagement with what used to be Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, California (now Power CA). At the time, I was the Deputy Director and once we hit 2016, I was clear that I needed to find work that was more sustainable for a mom with young kids.

I’m the fourth generation of my family that’s Chinese living here in the Bay Area, but I’m the first generation born and raised here because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. I have a really deep connection to the Bay Area. I could see the area changing all around me, and when I looked at the agenda that Fred Blackwell brought in when he took the helm at SFF, I thought, “I could get down with this.” It was about racial and economic equity explicitly – within the context of displacement specifically. SFF had 3 main teams on the grantmaking side – People, Power and Place. Just seeing there was a standalone Power team made me feel like, “Oh yeah, if there’s anywhere in philanthropy I can make a home, this is it.”

After I entered philanthropy, I’ve been trying to find places where my politics are aligned. It’s not enough to be an individual funder who “gets it” – I see institutions that have a number of people who “get it” in terms of what non-profit life is like and with firm understanding of racial justice and social change. However, that doesn’t mean that those individuals automatically lead to the institutions or philanthropy acting in ways that more partnered with and accountable to community. Just like in organizing, it’s important to be part of networks outside of one’s organization in order to take on collective work to shift institutions and the philanthropic sector. I’m looking for folks to be in community with – to learn from, to get support from, and to move together with - in philanthropy to advance a common narrative about why there is so much economic inequity (like racial capitalism) and to open up the endless possibilities derived from the work of folks on the ground to make a better, more inclusive economic system. Having a shared analysis about the problem helps to get us to common solutions. In philanthropy, people don’t always want to spend time to come together to build a common analysis. I love FJE because its a vehicle dedicated to just that.

From your position, how do you see workers taking the lead on the conversation challenging criminalization and working towards abolition? How has this changed/grown over the last few months, with the rise of worker and BLM organizing?

An obvious answer would be the Strike For Black Lives on July 20th where thousands of workers across the country stood up for Black lives. One of our grantees is Jobs with Justice San Francisco – they led an action in San Francisco calling out the police union, uniting many local labor groups to put pressure on the local police officers association to not block proposed police reforms. There’s also a video that Institute on Othering and Belonging did for the Strike for Black Lives. It’s such a ripe time to connect race (anti-Blackness in particular), workers, and economy – which FJE is doing through its racial capitalism programming. That’s the thing – if people want to address systemic racism, you have to address our economic order. Those two things go together. Racial capitalism is specific about what the problem is and will lead us to more root cause solutions - more transformative solutions. A funder affinity group that I look towards for thought partnership, called ReWork the Bay, is conducting a learning community on racial capitalism this Fall – I’m really excited about that too.

Jobs with Justice SF in front of San Francisco City Hall on the Strike for Black Lives on July 20th, 2020. (Photo Credit: JwJ San Francisco)
Jobs with Justice SF in front of San Francisco City Hall on the Strike for Black Lives on July 20th, 2020. (Photo Credit: JwJ San Francisco)

However, I think there is a more layered response to the question that you asked. It's hard to answer this question for me in some respects because I don’t see the issues of workers as different than the demands that are being advanced by BLM. Many of the people on the streets are Black workers. The “worker” piece of their identity may not be the “leading” identity that is activated so in our siloed sector of philanthropy, it can be easy to not see that interaction of workers and the Movement for Black Lives. In addition, the Movement for Black Lives’ call is to defend ALL Black lives, Black life in all its facets – Black trans folks, Black workers, Black mothers, etc. So the entry way of race and Blackness brings us into all the other identities – of which “worker” is a key one. And it is important to center the race part of the identity because police violence and so much more impacts all Black people, whether one is a “worker” or not.

Secondly, a nuance that helps us see the intersection of Black people and workers is how we define “worker”. When I joined the People Team, I sought out mentorship in the worker organizing sector – and I was lucky enough to have Steven Pitts, formerly of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, play that role with me. One of the many things he taught me was that the Bay Area Black Workers Center (currently on haitus) defined “worker” as people who were working or people who want to work – so it didn’t depend on one’s employment status. This was an important way to define Black workers and worker power expansively as well as to take into explicit account the disproportionately high unemployment rates in the Black community due to systematic exclusion of Black people from the formal economy. So, folks that are out in the streets or advocating in others ways around abolition are Black workers – employed, unemployed, looking for a job, or excluded from big swaths of the labor market due to contact with the criminal justice system and anti-Black racism.

Thirdly, the issues of criminal justice, abolition, and economic dislocation in Black communities (and other communities of color) are intimately connected. As more people come into awareness of the inception of policing as rooted in fugitive slave patrols, we can remember that the origins of many parts of our criminal justice system (like the convict leasing system) are rooted in the history of racism against Black people in this country. And as we remember that, we can also remember that the police, and criminal justice system in general, were the frontlines of the enforcement of an economic system that required cheap or no-cost labor. To this day, this continues to be the case – thus all of FJE’s work on racial capitalism! Another thought partner and leader, Danielle Mahones, shared that when the Bay Area Black Worker Center began its campaign work, it conducted a survey of 300+ Black workers on their aspirations, needs, barriers, and so forth. The number one issue that these workers identified as a barrier to their well-being was the criminal justice system.

The idea that criminal justice and/or abolition are separate from issues of economic justice or workers is a symptom of how little philanthropy has centered Black communities – including in our approach to work, workers, and economy. I am convinced that if more of philanthropy that is engaged in economic advancement surveyed Black communities like the Bay Area Black Workers Center did, that we would already know that criminal justice is a core barrier. That is why I am so proud of how SFF and our team has put together a portfolio that (although we have a lot to learn still!) is intentionally trying to de-silo these issues. One final note is that our community wealth strategy also emanates from the historic efforts of Black communities in the South to establish the first land trusts where civil rights leaders could live, free from harassment and exercise self-determination. Philanthropy has such a huge opportunity right now to step back to connect these dots and center the experience of Black communities in how we define both issues as well as the strategies to get to a more inclusive economy.

How do you see grassroots groups leading right now in the front lines in shaping the frameworks and analysis, and helping us connect the dots for transformative change?

One framework that does a great job how things are related and that began to emerge out of the grassroots is the Just Transition framework. This is just my humble understanding, but it basically front and centers the economic order that puts profit before people and planet as the organizing principle of the world we live in, in other words: racial capitalism. That system uses race and racism to understand whose labor and lives are valued – and all of our social norms, such as gender and racism, are put in place to hold the economic order together. Basically, the military and the law enforcement infrastructure is just that: the front lines of the enforcement of the economic and social order. So when you think about the current movement, it makes sense that policing is a flashpoint. AND, people see beyond the police, and are really angry about the economic and social order the police are there to protect. That larger economic and social order is part of what’s being called into question. Just Transition as a framework does a great job of explaining how those things interrelate.

We have another grantee in Richmond, California: Safe Return project led by Tamisha Walker. She has built an organizing shop for and by formerly incarcerated and systems-impacted people not just taking on criminal justice issues but also other social justice issues. She’s working with the Institute of Othering and Belonging to bring the divest/invest criminal justice frame and Just Transitions together. They are working on that framework and going to produce a video together. What I see in that and in other work is people are linking economy and race and the environment. People are starting to connect the dots between all those things, and that synergy is going to build an amazing, powerful mega-movement. We are already seeing the work in the street, but the ideology and worldview is developing – some people and organizations have held these views for a long time but not at this reach. A lot of organizers have been working a long time trying to bring these movements together. It’s very inspiring - and what is needed.

What has your work taught you about how funders can be genuine partners for worker/Black and brown-led organizing (including labor unions) in these areas of economic justice and abolition?

In most of philanthropy, there is real pressure to go towards counting how many policy wins or how many campaigns that impact how many people. But I believe the way to go to is to fund movement building. We don’t control the political situation, but any time you invest in movement building you are investing in the leadership and infrastructure to build the capacity of communities to both be proactive as well as to respond to the changing political conditions. I look at the movement now and I’m like, that is the product of so many years of leadership development – wins as well losses, relationship building, all the things that don’t get counted or get the same kind of shine in philanthropy. From a value-add perspective, this the work that is the hardest to fund – so if you can get your shop to fund it, that could be the highest and best use of that funding.

I think it’s also how we make the language, analysis, and funding approach in our economic inclusion portfolio – how do we have it mirror that of social movements? Our team consults deeply with our grantees to create strategy, guidelines, and framing. Then we are able to be amplifiers of the worldview being pushed by organizing groups and use our time to educate our donors and other funders about that worldview. An example is our third strategy towards economic inclusion: Community Wealth. This strategy entails supporting groups that are re-imagining an economy based on democratic ownership and governance. We fund cooperatively owned business, land, and housing – and this is the kind of transformative restructuring of economy towards a vision like the one laid out in the Just Transitions framework.

Lastly, when and if we bring together groups for learning or other kinds of convenings or cohorts, its most useful when the idea for the convening or cohort emerges from grantees and they get be part of identifying the goals and universe of people that are invited as well as are engaged deeply in the design of those spaces. For example, grantees asked the People Team for a regional worker rights learning cohort. Well, when grantees ask for that type of thing, I am so excited! We enlisted the Chinese Progressive Association, Jobs with Justice SF, and the UC Berkeley Labor Center to identify the groups within our regional eco-system of worker rights organizations. Then, we surveyed those organizations about who they wanted to be in community with, their goals, and the topics they would want to learn about. Based on the survey, the Chinese Progressive Association was the group that came up the most times as a group that worker rights organizations wanted to be in community with so we asked them to co-design the cohort with the UC Berkeley Labor Center and SFF. We offered stipends above and beyond their existing core operating grants to participate in the cohort – with the hopes that this would help with making it okay for organizations to opt out of the cohort if it was not useful to them. These are just some examples of ways to work in partnership and even out the power dynamics between philanthropy and grantees.

What keeps you showing up in your philanthropic work, and what are you looking to see accomplish going forward in philanthropy to support economic justice work?

A couple things excite me right now. The first is the opportunity for philanthropy to step back and connect the dots between issues of workers, abolition, economy, and the environment – through a lens that centralizes Black and Indigenous communities as well as other peoples of color. I want to learn with my team about how to deepen this practice, share with others, and expanding the reach of this approach. I want to learn a lot more about the landscape of Indigenous led and serving groups in the Bay Area.

"Find your front lines wherever it is – and really push. Part of the front line on the streets is the idea of risk, and for those of us in philanthropy, we are called to find those places where the risk is for us. That’s what I hope for out of FJE – finding my front lines with all of you, and finding ways to claim and hold the ground that movements have created for us."

The second thing that is calling me forward everyday is this idea of “find your frontline.” Right now in a movement moment, there is a loud call to honor the front lines – those folks on the street - as well as a recognition that everyone can make change from where-ever they are. In my professional life, I’m trying to find the front line in myself, within my own institution and with our partners in the field.

When I know that I’ve gotten to a front line within myself is when there is some amount of fear and unknown. When I feel anxious, my heart is beating fast, or I wrestle with something over a number of days – then I know I have found a front line. I’m trying to be more intentional and listening to my emotions and body so that I’m pushing harder and taking more risks. There is more space available now to push for more resources to grassroots organizations, to address white supremacy culture in philanthropy, to talk about racial capitalism, and so much more - I don’t want to leave anything on the table! I encourage other funders: Find your front lines wherever it is – and really push. Part of the front line on the streets is the idea of risk, and for those of us in philanthropy, we are called to find those places where the risk is for us. That’s what I hope for out of FJE – finding my front lines with all of you, and finding ways to claim and hold the ground that movements have created for us

The last thing that is inspiring me right now is the need to change philanthropic practices to maximize the leverage between formal 501(c)(3) organizing and “underground” movement building work. I’ve seen a lot of solidarity between people and groups in this movement moment – it’s inspiring to go out to a march and see literally everybody together. I want to really highlight the interplay between the formal 501(c)(3)s and the movement building that is happening. As philanthropy, we see 501(c)(3)s and fund those vehicles – but the transformative change like what we’ve witnessed over the last 2 – 3 months happens in movement and most of that should be unfunded. I say unfunded because that work needs to be unfunded to protect its integrity – we should not be able to say this direct action was taken by these people or attribute the work of so many every day people only to formal organizations and salaried positions. 501(c)(3)s are like plants in a garden – they show up as discreet entities above ground with certain kinds of flowers and fruits. However, underground is the movement space and if you looked there, you could see that the roots of the plants are all tangled up and there are unseen underground networks (like mushrooms) that knit things together. And everything over ground – all the fruit that you can count and eat – comes from the messiness and interconnectedness and undercover-ness of what happens under the soil. What happens under the soil needs to stay there: undisturbed and uncounted if the health of the plant and garden are to remain intact. If the 501(c)(3) work is organized in a certain way, it can be leveraged really well for movement building and not hinder it.

So, how do we, in philanthropy, help maximize the leverage between the 501(c)(3)s formal (overground) work and the movement building work (underground)? Some things we’ve done in our institution include, a week into the BLM uprisings, reaching out to our grantees to say: look, don’t worry about your grant outcomes, we understand those may be rapidly changing. If a year ago, they were thinking about reforming XYZ policy, we don’t want them to undershoot because so much more is possible right now. We ask that they do what they need to do; We understand that their staff is showing up in ways that go beyond the organization itself. Do the important work, the movement building work. We are still trying to navigate how we extend that beyond just this time, as we know that this is going to be a more protracted moment. That means that these temporary changes might actually help philanthropy change ongoing practices on how we determine outcomes, measurables, and things like that so we are supporting real, transformative change for the long-term.

Photo Credit: Jobs with Justice, San Francisco. From July 20, 2020 Strike for Black Lives in San Francisco.

January 13, 2021

Discount Foundation Legacy Award

The nominations are now open for the 2021 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. 

To be eligible for the Award, a nominee must be active in worker justice, including but not limited to organizing and advocacy-related work. Additionally, nominees do not have to be employed at an organization or institution whose mission is to advance worker justice – they can be volunteers, members or other leaders at an organization or workplace organizing effort. We will not be asking questions regarding immigration or other legal status, and nominees do not have to reside in the US.

Nominees need to be nominated by someone other than themselves, through a simple, quick and accessible application process found here. The Award is meant only for individuals. Organizations, groups of individuals or institutions are not eligible for consideration. If you know anyone who you think should be recognized for their significant commitment to worker justice at any level - from a workplace to the neighborhood to the nation -  this is your chance to provide them a powerful boost and real resources they can use in whatever way they choose! 

In addition to being publicly recognized for their remarkable contributions to the movement, the 2021 Discount Foundation Legacy Award winner will receive a $20,000 stipend to provide them with the flexibility to expand upon their professional activities and achievements They will not be asked for any reporting requirements, and the funding has no specific strings attached or other specific obligations. The winner of the 2021 Discount Foundation Legacy Award will be invited to be honored at a virtual event in 2021. To learn more about the eligibility requirements and nomination process, please see our FAQs here — and please spread the word about this opportunity to your networks, colleagues and friends!

All nominations must be received by 11:59pm ET on March 11th, 2021 through the online nomination form. We’re happy to help answer questions about the award, or support with any trouble you have with the application — please reach out to

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.


Convocatoria de nominaciones para el premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 

¡Ya están abiertas las nominaciones para el Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021!

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. 

Para ser elegible para el premio, un nominado debe ser activo en la justicia laboral, lo que incluye, pero no se limita, a la organización y el trabajo relacionado con la defensa. Además, los nominados no tienen que estar empleados en una organización o institución cuya misión sea promover la justicia laboral; pueden ser voluntarios, miembros u otros líderes en una organización o esfuerzo de organización en el lugar de trabajo.  No haremos preguntas sobre inmigración u otro estado legal, y los nominados no tienen que residir en los EE. UU.

Los nominados deben ser nominados por alguien que no sea ellos mismos, a través de un proceso de solicitud simple, rápido y accesible que se encuentra aquí. El premio está destinado únicamente a individuos. No se tomará en cuenta a las organizaciones, los grupos de personas o las instituciones. Si conoce a alguien que crea que debería ser reconocido por su importante compromiso con la justicia laboral en cualquier nivel, desde el lugar de trabajo hasta el vecindario y la nación, esta es su oportunidad de brindarle un impulso poderoso y recursos reales que puede usar de la manera que elija. 

Además del reconocimiento público por sus notables contribuciones al movimiento, el ganador del Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 recibirá un estipendio de $20,000 para brindar la flexibilidad de expandir sus actividades y logros profesionales. No se le pedirá ningún requisito de presentación de informes y la financiación no tiene condiciones ni obligaciones específicas. Se invitará al ganador del Premio Discount Foundation Legacy 2021 a un homenaje en un evento virtual en 2021. Para obtener más información sobre los requisitos de elegibilidad y el proceso de nominación, consulte nuestras preguntas frecuentes aquí y haga correr la voz sobre esta oportunidad en sus redes y entre compañeros y amigos. 

Todas las nominaciones deben recibirse antes de las 11:59 p. m. ET del 11 de marzo de 2021 a través del formulario de nominación en línea. Nos complace ayudar a responder preguntas sobre el premio o brindar asistencia con cualquier problema que tenga con la solicitud, envíe un correo electrónico a

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. 



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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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.