We Can’t Win a Right To The City Unless #Black Lives Matter

Right to the City Alliance - March 2015

Wall Street, the financial center of the most powerful city in the world, was built and maintained  through slave labor. The massive profiteering of big banks and private equity firms that prevails, rides on the backs of black and brown families. Movements across America confronting the crisis of foreclosure, gentrification and displacement, need to have black leaders who help define the vision for our right to the city.

Here in the United States, the recent momentum built in the fight against state violence and for a world where #blacklivesmatter has given new spark to all of us.  We have been energized by this opportunity to deepen the level of dialogue amongst our base, supporters and larger movement family about history, strategy, structural inequality and how to strengthen the connections between struggles for social, economic, environmental, and racial justice. The spirit of openness and honesty that this historic moment provides allows us to stretch and make connections beyond our immediate needs and interests.  That’s how strong movements are built.   We’re seeing this kind of stretching happen all around us as we witness this movement of black and brown youth rising up to articulate issues of racial inequity.

Working to win a right to the city for all puts us in direct opposition with the process of urban restructuring (popularly known as gentrification)  that the free market enforces on our communities.  It’s a process that is heavily reliant on the policing of working class, black and brown communities to impose destabilization and displacement.  Police violence – and the threat of it – is an intimate part of our daily lives.

Making amends for the systematic historical violence – physical, economic, social and psychological – inflicted on black communities requires no less (but plenty more) than a complete transformation of our economic and political structures.

According to the Nation magazine’s piece, “We’ll Need an Economic Program to Make Black Lives Matter”, “In 1966, along with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and other organizers and scholars, Martin Luther King Jr. released the now all-but-forgotten Freedom Budget for All Americans, which included full employment, universal healthcare and good housing for all. “The Freedom Budget is essential if the Negro people are to make further progress,” he wrote. “It is essential if we are to maintain social peace. It is a political necessity.”

Ta-Nahisi Coates’ recent article in The Atlantic brilliantly articulates his Case for Reparations by illustrating the racist history of housing policy in the Unites States.

Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.

In a place like Ferguson, we can see how the impact of the relationship between predatory lending, the foreclosure crisis, criminalization of youth of color, and a general upsurge in racial profiling by the police force can cause widespread feelings of disinvestment and futility in the current system and it’s function in protecting and serving them. As stated in a Bill Moyers’ special, “Nationally, 17 percent of homeowners are underwater — they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are actually worth. In Ferguson, that figure sits at 50 percent. Because so many homeowners are struggling, the town is ripe for institutional investors.”

As we see a growing rise of renters and struggling homeowners across America, we know that black and brown families are suffering with rising rents and falling wages the most. We know that they are at the highest risk in losing their stake in the American dream and the right to the city.

Organizations in the right to the city network and beyond, all over the country, have been embracing the idea that #blacklivesmatter. Right to the City (RTC) emerged in 2007 as a unified response to gentrification and a call to halt the displacement of low-income people, people of color, marginalized LGBTQ communities, and youth of color from their historic urban neighborhoods. This may seem only  like a fight for land and housing for black and brown communities, but it is a fight to make sure that we are aligned with a mission that says we need our memories, our culture, our neighborhoods, our art,  because black lives matter.

Former RTC Steering Committee Chairperson and co-creator of #blacklivesmatter Alicia Garza discussed the emancipatory impact of black liberation in her Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement:

When Black people get free, everybody gets free. ” #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.

As an alliance, Right To The City exists to amplify the voices of people who are most-impacted by structural inequality, expressed in the call to Reclaim, Remain, Rebuild our cities to ensure Homes For All.  This is about both strategy (people with the most investment in changing things will take the strongest leadership in doing so) as well as values.

Expressing love, support and solidarity with Ferguson or NYC protesters (or sisters and brothers in struggles for justice anywhere) is about fighting white supremacy and capitalism, and bringing power into our hands and communities collectively.  It isn’t about hating or discriminating against white people, or spreading our already-limited capacities thinner, by taking on issues not directly related to expanding truly affordable housing.

This is about actively addressing our country’s history of structural racism, specifically anti- black racism and expanding the way we think about state violence to include how our current economy is and has historically been violent towards black lives. This is connected to housing, democracy and all the other foundations of a true right to the city. And above all, it’s about honoring a new generation of young people seeking to find solidarity, support and resilience through our movement.

In this time, there needs to be a clear sense of equality in how we care for and empathize with each other.  As scholar Orisanmi Burton put it,

You see, the brilliance of the “blacklivesmatter” rallying cry is that it is addressed, not to the perpetrators of state violence, nor to their supporters, but to the movement itself.  It is addressed to black people and to non-black allies who recognize that their destinies are linked by a common fate.  Those who stand arm-in-arm, blocking traffic, are saying, “black lives matter to us.”  That black lives have no value to the state is as clear as (Officer) Darren Wilson’s conscience.

We know that to build a society in which black lives truly do matter, communities need democratic control over the resources needed to produce safe, equitable, nourishing, livelihoods.   This is an inextricable part of our collective cry for a right to the city.

 

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

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 on the foundation's website.

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 AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.