October 21, 2020

Strike Watch: Solidago Foundation's Rebecca Greenberg on Funding Democracy Defense from Georgia to Arizona

Strike Watch brings you original content from FJE on urgent economic justice issues and the latest developments in grassroots efforts to build worker power - and where funders can partner and are taking action. This week, we bring you an in-depth interview with Rebecca Greenberg of the Solidago Foundation, who shares how and why the foundation has gone all-in on shoring up grassroots movements in four US states at the front-line of electoral defense. The Black and brown-led organizations Solidago partners with build power for low-income communities to advance a just economy and progressive co-governance; they see electoral defense pre- and post-election as inseparable from this mission. We are grateful for Rebecca taking time to share learning on the critical ways electoral defense work is having an impact and will be crucial for what comes next in Georgia, Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina - and for honing in on key practices for funders supporting such movements!

Can you share a bit about where and how Solidago is focusing when it comes to election defense, protection and post-election support, and what you’re hearing from the ground?

Given that it's the biggest election of our lifetimes, we have focused our 2020 grantmaking in four core states: Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota and North Carolina. In terms of what we’ve been seeing, I would say top lines are voter suppression. This isn’t new in any of the places where we've been and with the groups that we're talking to. They're kind of like, “Welcome to our world, welcome to our lives, welcome to what has always been true.”

COVID-19 has completely shifted the terrain in every way. Leaders, organizers and communities on the ground have ramped up and pivoted to phone, text, and digital and online strategies, and the groups are able to organize and connect with folks as it relates to their Get Out the Vote (GOTV) work, as well as how as it links to mutual aid networks and rapid response. Many plans for this shift and expansion in GOTV have been in the works already as part of the way organizations are deeply connected and responsive to community needs.

"There is persistently a high level of calculated state-sanctioned repression that is overtly racialized across all of our core states - and beyond. Just because none of this is a surprise to groups doesn't make it less challenging to overcome and to combat."

What folks are facing in terms of voter suppression is multi-faceted: safe in-person voting and worries about mail and all of the misinformation and disinformation floating out in the cyber space. Organizations are physically helping people get to voting places safely with physical distancing and other barriers. There's an interesting difference in mobilizing in states where there's already a culture of vote by mail - like Arizona where roughly 70% of voters vote by absentee ballot – versus North Carolina where less than four percent of voters participated in voting from home in the last election. In different places there is also risk of violence - real threats that have already surfaced in all four of our core states (AZ, GA, MN and NC). In North Carolina for example, during the primaries in February, white militias and white supremacist groups showed up armed in the back of trucks or cars, with guns out, at the freeways where folks were getting off to go to their polling places. This has happened even prior to this cycle in the eastern part of the state, where over 20% of the state’s Black community population lives. Along with armed violence there’s the weaponizing of COVID-19, where states are creating their policy around and practices around election administration to repress votes, like the limiting of ballot boxes. Particularly egregious in Georgia, this includes actual in-person voter intimidation tactics by refusing to wear masks or passing local policies, ordinances or rules making it not legal to wear a mask at an in-person polling place. Outside of polling places, there are hostile forces taking masks off and coughing on folks waiting in line - a fear and intimidation tactic particularly directed at people of color and Black voters disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It is very intentional, very calculated and perverse.

Georgia definitely received a lot of attention after the Abrams campaign in 2018, and there is persistently a high level of calculated state-sanctioned repression that is overtly racialized across all of our core states - and beyond. Just because none of this is a surprise to groups doesn't make it less challenging to overcome and to combat. The repression of elections is methodical, and there's political will and buy-in at the state and now national level for the system to function in this way.

How did Solidago – a long time supporter of economic justice and worker movements – decide to jump into election defense, and how have you extended support?

The foundation has been in a period of transition over the last year. At the beginning of 2020 the Board decided that the foundation was going to return to its original trajectory, to spend all the assets of the foundation down and to sunset by 2022-2023. Our Board prioritized the election. This is not changing our theory of change and the way that we have been committed to supporting base-building community rooted groups, organizing, mobilizing, working with and for communities of color low-income communities of color. Now, this year, we are supporting those groups in their work around this election. The geographies where we focused after a lot of analysis are swing states where are there contested elections up and down the ballot, where there is a progressive ecosystem of movement of independent political organizations and power-building groups, and where there is an opportunity for us to come in to support with flexible resources. In the Spring we did a docket that was very focused on GOTV on the [501](c)(3) side -  non-partisan and supporting long-term power building organizations doing that work. Our (c)(4) sister foundation supported related organizations in long-term power building groups working more explicitly on the political and electoral organizing side, in relationship with their non-partisan integrated voter engagement work.

Election protection surfaced as a key need, and the questions we asked ourselves were: Is this a body of work that exists separate and apart from the other core work of base-building and independent political power? The answer is no - it is baked into the work because it is so steeped in the systems that folks are dealing with, practices and policies so extremely and unabashedly racialized and directed at Black and brown communities, including citizen militias, white supremacists and white nationalists. In some case there might be a specific plan or body work with national networks guiding and helping state-based groups in election defense, but it’s part and parcel of what movement organizations do over the long-term.

And it shows up differently across our focus states: In Arizona, several amazing Latinx movement leaders grew up organizing in response to fighting for their lives while living in the SB 1070 days under Arpaio, and now - together with a multi-racial coalition of movement allies - are leading the work in the state. That has shaped an amazing set of groups where there's already a culture of vote-by-mail, but where there are still many challenges and systemic roadblocks for communities of color, Black and Native communities to access the ballot. In particular, Native American communities have been deeply impacted by COVID-19, but there is movement energy around supporting and connecting their organizing in this process. In Arizona, we have been supporting the coalitions and voter engagement tables, which hasn’t historically been Solidago's approach. In some states, groups have told us that for Election Protection work, it is helpful to support the tables as that’s where this work lives. Still, we tend to think that if we have the flexibility and ability, we should support the scrappy groups on the ground without intermediaries. At least in some of these places, when it comes to election protection, groups have affirmed that they are in relationship and alignment through the tables. Our strategy is to resource the groups directly and also support this shared infrastructure.

Solidago is unique in many ways in its extensive support for 501(c)(4) organizations. What ways are you funding these groups, and do you think that it’s important for economic and social justice funders to consider resourcing this part of movements?

For a lot of the organizations we've been in relationship with over the years, we helped support getting their (c)(4) up. These are now off and running; our work has been to both support lobbying dollars on the (c)(4) side and unrestricted dollars in alignment with the work on the (c)(3) side. “Election Protection” is typically more thought of as the (c)(3) kind of universe where it's non-partisan, so it was interesting to hear from groups in the (c)(4) spaces that they need support here too. (c)(4) work is more than just persuasion. In this space, non-partisan voter engagement work includes know-your-rights on how to access the ballot and equipping the volunteers and staff, at every level of the organization, with the ability to actually engage with the community to answer questions about how voting affects someone’s life right now.

Being able to provide support for language access came up in some of the (c)(4) groups in Georgia, for example with the AAPI population heavily concentrated and growing in the greater Atlanta area. As with many other states, Georgia is not providing adequate language access in vote-by-mail materials, so (c)(4) dollars can be used to provide translation for persuasive information accessible to groups of voters who otherwise do not have access. Where in-person contact is limited because of COVID-19 digital and print materials in appropriate languages are able to reach more people, more quickly.

When we are looking at the likelihood of a contested election and what's going to happen in the days, weeks and months following November 3rd, we want to be able to resource groups’ tool belts, which they have created and built over time. We want to ensure that at any given moment they're able to do a mass mobilization in coordination with others in their town, in the city and at the state level; to lobby with their elected officials; to participate in strategic litigation efforts; to fight and advocate for policy change. All those different tactics at their disposal also advance economic justice.

Can you share some of the ways you’re seeing the connection on the ground between the pre- and post-elections organizing happening, and the work for economic justice?

We can’t lose sight that this election is about more than the president. There are key races up and down the ballot in a lot of different places, and for many state-based groups it is but one more step towards progressive governance. In these final weeks it's all hands on deck to get as many people out to vote as possible, and the groups we work with are also continuing to build plans and prepare for what's going to happen when redistricting starts in January or in places where the state or local level dynamics and politics might present opportunities for passing some progressive legislation.

"As folks organize, it’s clear how in critical elections at every level, economic justice is at stake. For instance...Georgia 9 to 5, in partnership with other groups like Black Voters Matter, is challenging devastating real life implications of what happens when the public utilities are controlled by conservative forces."

I was particularly excited about the foundation agreeing to prioritize Georgia as one of the four states this year. Historically we have funded in some Southern states – in Texas, Florida and Virginia – but like a lot of institutions have not moved many resources in the deep South. It’s a good chance to be able to demystify what I hear a lot in philanthropy or in certain spaces – which is, “There’s a lot possibility and opportunity in the region but we don't really know how we can fund there - is there is the infrastructure there for us to be able to support.” The answer is, of course, the infrastructure is there and might look different; groups might call themselves something different than what you might be used to.  Relationships are incredibly important and organizations in the South have been building for a long time, with few resources. This is true of the grassroots worker center model and even some of the larger statewide organizations, who contend with the fact power and money is very concentrated in the metro Atlanta area. We’ve encouraged our board really support Black women’s leadership in this progressive ecosystem, leading statewide work and focusing on areas like coastal andsouthwestern GA. These organizations are targeting a smaller set of counties for particular state legislative races to shift power on the state level and chip away at exclusionary, destructive policies – with the last two years particularly terrible under Governor Kemp.

I want to also recognize that in Georgia in particular, we were introduced to a lot of this work by partners in philanthropy - so this isn't some like discovery that we made by any stretch of the imagination. We were lucky to be invited to a site visit organized by Jillian Murphy with the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund back in February and Melanie Allen who's now co-directing the Hive Fund for Gender and Climate. Both Jillian and Melanie, together with other colleagues, have been instrumental in helping us shape our understanding of the state.

As folks organize, it’s clear how in critical elections at every level, economic justice is at stake: For instance, In Georgia, economic justice groups, primarily Georgia 9 to 5, in partnership with other groups like Black Voters Matter, is challenging devastating real life implications of what happens when the public utilities are controlled by conservative forces (in GA, by the Public Service Commission, an elected body that gets little attention on the ballot). The fact Georgia is right to work state, the fact unemployment is skyrocketing and the minimum wage is already an unconscionable $5.15 per hour - all these forces are working against folks.  Our partners and Georgia 9 to 5 have shared devastating stories of community members in Southwest Georgia attempting to take their own life after trying to unsuccessfully resolve having their lights cut off and the ways their members are under stress and at risk. These stories get lost in the focus on the national elections, and yet they can also be shifted with building power locally.

What have you learned and honed in terms of funding practices from this last year of funding election defense – and where you think philanthropy can take action in this urgent moment?

As we have continued to move general operating support to groups organizing year-round via multi-issue, multi-racial organizing groups, we are also preparing emergency grants – a rapid response for after election day. We’re finalizing what that looks like and if we’ll just focus on the four states we are in currently, but Solidago not going to be requiring proposals from folks. Our goal is to respond - quickly - anticipating what might be a long road to deciding the election.

I think there are needs that groups have that might not seem like conventional power-building towards a strategic agenda, but that is crucial to support in this moment - folks are going to need PPE for their members to be able to vote and for people recruited to be poll workers or to help monitor counting of ballots. In some states like North Carolina there are longer cure periods than in Georgia for mistakes on your mail-in ballot, and groups may be involved with that process. This requires short-term sustained responsive support. The best bet is to keep offering flexible general operating support - it doesn't have to be a large grant. For us, we don’t move the same resource as larger national foundations, and can’t by definition offer longer-term funding as we plan to sunset, but we seek to make up with that in being flexible and fearless. The point is, at this moment, the funding does not have to be a huge, it just needs to be responsive:  what do groups really need to be able to provide the level of PPE, water, food, entertainment for people coming to vote, and how can we protect folks at the polls and after? How can we support the work folks will be doing to keep community mobilized, motivated and energized right after the election?

"Crucial healing work and supportive work is needed - it doesn't have to be conventional GOTV. And the good news is, it’s never too late to support: if you're not going to be a transactional political donor or a transactional anything donor then it's never too late."

People running organizations, volunteering and surviving in this insane time are tired, and as we talk about voter suppression or election protection, we have to uplift people being targeted -   Black, brown and low-income communities. No one has been given a reason to believe that any of their participation in this process matters, except for how groups and communities on the frontlines are asserting a voice for themselves through all of the amazing work in community and on the ground. That kind of inspiration is crucial and it’s really important and so keeping people sustained, motivated, and healthy who do this work day in and day out. That can't be undervalued. Crucial healing work and supportive work is needed - it doesn't have to be conventional GOTV. And the good news is, it’s never too late to support: if you're not going to be a transactional political donor or a transactional anything donor then it's never too late. Just ask the groups what they need and they'll tell you; build that relationship, now.

In the foundation world, we might just be paying attention now because we finally feel like we have something to lose. But folks on the ground have been experiencing this for much longer. We need to trust their decisions and that theirs is the strategy that's going to be deployed now. They have the plans, tactics, ability to mass mobilize, or sue the government. They have ideas on power building beyond the election. We have to respond in this moment by continuing to support groups to build and be ready to move their agendas across so many levels, and in ways that allow them to protect people and protect opportunities for economic justice.

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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