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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May 21, 2020

NFG Announces New President: Adriana Rocha

For Immediate Release
May 21, 2020

OAKLAND, CA —  Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), a national affinity group that organizes philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive, is excited to name Adriana Rocha as its next leader. 

After a nationwide search, Rocha will become the 6th President in NFG’s 40-year history. She is a seasoned, action-oriented leader committed to social justice who brings a wealth of nonprofit and philanthropy experience to the role. Rocha has served as NFG’s Vice President of Programs since May 2017. In this role, she supported NFG in deepening its programming — including the development and launch of the Philanthropy Forward leadership program for CEOs and the Integrated Rural Strategies Group — and led the organization’s 2018 and 2020 National Convenings.

“I am thrilled and honored to be NFG’s next President. Having been directly influenced by NFG programs as a prior member, to being an NFG staff member & leader, to now moving into NFG’s President role, I have the breadth of both perspectives and experience to lead what is needed in this moment for NFG to thrive.” said Rocha.  

Rocha and Sarita Ahuja served as Interim Co-Directors for the past ten months after NFG’s former President, Dennis Quirin, stepped down to become Executive Director at the Raikes Foundation in July 2019. 

During its early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important. 

“We deeply trust Adriana is the bold, skilled, and creative President we all need at NFG to usher in an exciting new era and build on our 40 strong years of success and expertise. She is able to both foster the necessary partnerships and push philanthropy to create a stronger, collective vision of justice. She embodies the values & goals of members, board, and staff, and her joy is magnetic!” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

Rocha asserted that, “With NFG’s current momentum, growth, and clarity, I believe that NFG is poised to continue to be the home for philanthropy and leader on place-based grantmaking and community power building. I am so excited for what’s to come for NFG in community with our talented and dedicated staff, board, members, supporters, and movement leaders.”

Grantmakers can join NFG in congratulating Rocha and get a sense of the organization’s next phase by participating in NFG’s 2020 virtual convening series, which will kick off with plenary sessions on June 30 and July 1 and continue through the rest of the year. 

To request an interview with Adriana Rocha or a member of NFG’s Board of Directors, please contact Courtney Banayad, Director of Development and Communications, at courtney@nfg.org or (510) 444-6063, ext. 14.

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About Neighborhood Funders Group 

Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) organizes philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive. As a leading affinity group, NFG brings together funders to learn, connect, collaborate, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus and to explore shifting power and philanthropic resources toward supporting racial, economic, gender, and climate justice movements across the United States. With 120 institutional members and over 1500 individual grantmakers and members in its network, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.
 

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May 21, 2020

Strike Watch: From Food to Fashion, Workers are Countering Corporate Talking Points with Organizing for Economic Security and Protection

Updates from the Front Lines & How Funders can Support Growing Movements

As mostly-conservative state governors and the federal government enforce rapid re-opening and block closures in some sectors like meatpacking, workers continue to put their livelihood on the line to protect themselves through strikes and other actions. Employees are coalescing under the banners of established labor (including in the first union election since the pandemic), worker advocacy and organizing non-profits and a new crop of grassroots unions. These endeavors are exposing the hollowness of multinational companies like Walmart’s public relations campaigns thanking workers or making conspicuous donations, while ignoring their own worker demands for basics like paid sick leave. Even marketers are taking notice and asking if, in one industry analysts’ commentary, “employees and these coalitions, specifically, will become just as influential as shareholders on some levels.”

In some manufacturing sectors, the benefits of strong organizing and early strikes are showing. In GM plants, strikes and United Auto Worker pressure have meant a total reorganization of production towards manufacturing protective equipment, and the company has responded to worker and union demands for sanitized, safe, streamlined conditions. But such measures are going to be tested as thousands go back to auto work in the next week (even while the global supply chain stutters due to closures in Mexico and other areas).  

The fight is only growing in a range of other production sectors, including apparel factories from Selma, Alabama to Bangladesh. The clothing manufacturer Everlane saw it’s progressive brand image focused on an ethical supply chain vaporize when it fired 300-plus workers in the midst of the crisis, targeting most who were trying to unionize via the Communication Workers of America.

In the service sector, the SEIU-led Fight for $15 has continued actions that include one-day strikes, protests and lawsuits targeting McDonalds and other fast-food companies – the latest held in 20 cities on Wednesday, May 20th. In dozens of states, workers are falling sick in these restaurants, but neither workers nor communities are being informed. Workers are calling for “$15 x 2” hazard wages, protective gear, and paid 2-week work-site closures when there is illness. Companies are falling back on the same excuses of franchising, while instituting almost-comedic “incentives” like a free meal or, even worse, themed days like “crazy sock days”.

Receiving most media attention has been logistics and grocery workerslike Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods workers who have staged many recent strikes, including a walkout May 1st. Part of this is in response to the limited nature of reforms instituted – including the planned expiration of hazard pay in early May – that have become even more glaring with Jeff Bezos’ soon-to-be-trillionaire status.

Multiple warehouse work sites in at least four states continue to organize under a new umbrella, Amazonians United. These are linked to both a global Amazon Workers International and the tech-worker led Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The Amazonians United organization has released an article detailing its approach: they note their work in fact predates COVID-19, when workers organized in Summer 2019 in Chicago for water during the hot summer, and that their strategies include bottom-up worker committees that are the hallmark of a solidarity unionism model.

Meanwhile, when major grocery chains like Kroger (which owns Ralphs, Fred Meyer and QFC) also attempted to roll back their $2-hazard pay on May 17, unionized workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles struck across grocery sites in Southern California – including in stores where several workers lost their lives. They were able to get additional $400 bonuses nationally, now labeled “thank you” pay,” with continued organizing planned by the union. UFCW scored another striking win when cereal packing workers for the private-equity created Hearthside Food Solutions in Memphis voted to unionize this week in the first union election since the pandemic, frustrated with issues including the reliance on temp employees and a lack of pay increases (except for management) post-COVID-19.

Newer to the supply-chain strike lines are truck drivers – who have blocked roads and held caravan protests. Among the first industries deregulated in the 1970s, they have challenges including fragmentation and independent status, yet coordinated grassroots protests in at least 8 states are showing signs of new worker-led integration. Such efforts open up the question of how independent workers can be better represented in now-growing labor movements. Some aren’t waiting for the answer: the budding home-based childcare union in California that gained recognition last November has shifted its organizing on a contract to helping the small business owners it represents survive, as its’  caregivers advocate in support of shifting their state-subsidized services to support other essential workers.

Agriculture and meatpacking continue to expose the areas of production that are often invisible from an urban lens. In the rural Yakima Valley of Washington (an area that has seen significant Latinx demographic shifts in the state), new independent farmworker unions like Familias Unidas por la Justicia  - led by mostly by women – have shut down at least six apple picking sites. With the rural area now hardest-hit with COVID-19 in the state, workers are asking for testing, paid sick leave, and protective equipment, and have already secured additional pay after a walkout at one company.

Meatpacking workers are organizing in response to massive outbreaks in US and Canadian factories, facing down sustained lobbying and advertising campaigns by billion-dollar global food conglomerates JBS (and subsidiaries like Pilgrim’s Pride), Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson. Following massive walk-outs, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Greeley, Colorado and other sites are pushing the state government to enforce measures, with some success in securing massive cleanings. Organizations like the Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA) are turning to legal avenues to sue Smithfield for its continued unsafe conditions, like scheduling breaks at once that cramp workers into one location.  The sporadic closure of other plants has led to speed ups at others, like the Milan, Missouri plant under the RCWA suit, with employees receiving short breaks totaling 60 minutes for 11-hour shifts. Unfortunately, the case was recently thrown out by a federal judge of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Packing plant workers are pushing for a re-organization of work, including staggered starts, shifts and breaks, as well as physical investment in partitions and expanded meal and break space. Like many sectors, employees are also calling for full pay for vulnerable and sick workers. Farm work and meatpacking have historically seen vehement anti-union efforts by companies, while relying upon a multi-racial (Latinx, indigenous, Black, and Asian) mostly-migrant workforce. Successive migration laws criminalizing workers and new waves of raids terrorizing work sites have added to a climate of fear and exacerbated existing labor shortages. These realities converge to create a disastrous situation for immigrant and/or Black workers who, via growing women-led multi-racial organizing, are refusing to let their market and policy-created vulnerability be confused for expendability.

Over 200 strikes have occurred since March 2020. Although the increase in strikes is significant and specific to the coronavirus crisis, it’s important to note that it follows a surge trend in strikes since 2018, as reported on by the Economic Policy Institute, showing that even before the public health crisis workers have been escalating their tactics to win improved rights, standards and job quality.

The Coordinating Committee of NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy is calling on its members to proactively respond to the growing demands of workers. We’ve developed a set of responses that you can take to support workers in this moment, including:

  • Support organizing and power building efforts and infrastructure, specifically among Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities and worker-led organizations, as they are hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Support, strategize and collaborate with labor unions and worker centers. To learn more about how, save the date for the FJE co-hosted labor and funder strategy call on June 10th at 10am PT.
  • Move resources to organizations educating and advocating for specific federal policies that will permanently impact and protect workers, like: unemployment insurance for all, permanent paid family and sick leave (not just as an emergency measure), pay guarantees for all, PPE for all workers, and negotiated protections and worker voice through stimulus funds that go to particular industries. FJE will be coordinating with you and other philanthropic affinity groups to share specific strategies to support workers in particular industries.
  • Support workers on strike through direct relief and general operating grants to community and worker-led organizations and/or union collaborations. Check out NFG’s COVID-19 relief resources page for the latest information about how funders can support groups and the JustFund Portal to learn about the resource needs of community groups.

For more information and/or to join NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy network, please email Robert Chlala, Program Manager of Funders for a Just Economy: robert@nfg.org, and follow us on Twitter: @FundJustEconomy

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