Youth on the Move: How Funders Can Support the Growing Movement of Young People of Color in 2015

Funders Collaborative for Youth Organizing, Jan 9, 2015

As we begin 2015, we at the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) have been re-inspired by the undeniable potential for young people of color to play a transformative role in advancing social justice.  Young people of color are demonstrating a readiness to organize that has not been seen in many years.  For funders and others who care about youth leadership and social and racial justice, it is an important time to support the actions taking place across the country to help them coalesce into a sustained movement.  For funders who care about young people, education, health and host of other issues, now is the time to invest not just in direct youth services, but also in the leadership of young people to address the roots of inequality.  Doing this will require an understanding of current youth organizing forms, strategic use of existing resources, and the identification of new resources and strategies to support the youth organizing field.

The conditions facing young people of color are dire: from violence at the hands of police to deportations to the closure of public schools.  In 2014 we saw young people rising to challenge these injustices in ways we could not have predicted.  This included massive protests against police brutality in Ferguson, New York, and beyond; continued pressure from undocumented young people for real immigration reform; a host of victories addressing racial disparities in school discipline; and young people leading the People's Climate March in New York.  Taken together, these events signify that a new generation of organizations and leaders for racial and social justice are taking hold.

This is a clear moment when young people of color are ready to organize.  It is essential that there are structures to support their ongoing engagement and the growth of their power (research has shown that young people of color are eager to engage in solving issues in their communities, but that the challenge has been the lack of opportunity to do so).  The effective support of youth organizing requires an understanding of the diversity of the youth organizing forms that have developed and the different kinds of support needed by each.  Of particular importance is how to support both the new organizational forms that have developed out of this moment and require new kinds of support, as well as the established youth organizing groups that play fundamental roles in sustaining this movement.  There is also a need and opportunity to bring together these different youth organizing forms to learn from each other and create shared strategy.  Based on our experience tracking the field of youth organizing, the following are some of our thoughts on how funders can support the leadership that young people are taking in this moment.

New Strategies for Supporting New Organizational Forms
One of the most exciting things in this moment has been the development of new youth organizing forms that grew in response to particular crisis.  Just as organizational forms are changing, philanthropy will need to change to keep up.  As supporting organizations such as the Wildfire Project have pointed out, these groups that have grown out of "movement moments" are using a momentum based organizing strategy that differs from traditional community organizing approaches.  Funders will need to understand these differences and help these organizations identify appropriate supports.  In addition, many of the new organizations are not 501c3s and some will never be.  This is true of new organizations growing in places like Ferguson as well as many United We Dream affiliates.  While these organizations do not have non-profit status, they are playing crucial roles and need support.  An interesting example of an innovative structure to support new leaders is the fellowship program developed by Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, which provides stipends and training to young leaders.  Funders will have to find new ways to support these organizations as well helping them access training on alternative organizational structures.

Being Ready for the Next Crisis
Funders must also improve how we fund organizations on the ground in crisis moments, as we are without a doubt destined for more events like those in Ferguson, MO, New York, and Sanford, FL.  Funders want to be helpful in these moments, but the slow pace of grant cycles and lack of knowledge about who represents authentic leadership on the ground have often been barriers to rapid support.  National and local organizers are developing models for how to coordinate activities in these moments as evidenced by groups like the Ferguson Action Team.  Funders will also need to think about how we can be better coordinated to support rapid response in the next crisis.

Supporting Existing Youth Organizing Groups
While there is much excitement about new organizations in this moment, it is crucial to recognize that existing youth organizing groups are continuing to play crucial roles.  For example, Make the Road New York and its Youth Power Project has played a vital role in protests in New York. Their organizer Jose Lopez was part of the group of young leaders who met with President Obama in December and was recently appointed to the President's Commission on 21st Century Policing.  Jose began organizing with Make the Road at the age of 13 is an example of the kind of leaders developed by youth organizing groups.  In addition, three networks largely consisting of youth organizing groups, Alliance for Education Justice, Community Justice Network for Youth, and the Journey 4 Justice Alliance, worked together to organize a National Youth Action Against State Violence in December with coordinated actions across the country connecting police brutality, juvenile justice, and educational justice.  As established organizations with deep roots in their local communities, these organizations are able to engage large numbers of young people who have been motivated to become active by recent events and sustain their engagement for the long haul.  These organizations are often engaging younger young people (middle and high school age) than other organizations.  Engaging young people during adolescent years can support their long-term engagement in social justice.  While the field of youth organizing has grown and matured in recent years and these groups play vital roles in movement moments, funding for this work has declined.  These groups will need additional resources to support the many more young people who are ready to be engaged.

From Protest to Political Power
With the power of young people rising it will be critical to create a variety of opportunities for them to utilize that power.  As one of the fastest growing parts of our society, young people of color represent an increasingly important part of our electorate, but youth have often been an afterthought in elections, and opportunities for them to play meaningful roles have been slim.  While youth organizing groups have traditionally been more engaged in issue-based organizing rather than elections, a set of groups have integrated nonpartisan voter engagement into their organizing work with great success, and there is potential for more groups to do the same with proper resources and training.  Supporting youth organizing groups that want to include voter engagement in their work could be a powerful way to support this movement to build meaningful political power.  FCYO will soon release a report on youth organizing and voter engagement to spur this conversation.

FCYO Field Building Work
FCYO is now preparing to launch a set of new projects to help build a stronger and more stable youth organizing field that is capable of addressing the challenges and opportunities of the current moment.  Our new Youth Community Organizing Resource Exchange (Youth CORE, to be announced soon) will create regular opportunities for youth organizing groups from across the country to come together, learn from each other, and develop shared strategy.  This will include an upcoming national strategy meeting for groups addressing criminalization of youth of color to discuss how to sustain the momentum of the current moment as well as a large national convening in the fall of 2015 and regular webinars throughout the year.  Some of the greatest potential for building meaningful power lies in connecting the different youth organizing forms that have arisen in recent years.  In addition, FCYO is developing a new series of learning sessions for funders to deepen knowledge about youth organizing, learn about trends in the field, and discuss strategy for increasing resources for this work.  An announcement with dates for upcoming webinars are in person briefings will be coming soon.

Closing: A Pivotal Moment
The demographic shift taking place in the United States creates an opportunity for young people of color to shape the future and create a more just and equitable society, but demography is not destiny and justice and equality are not assured.  We are seeing a backlash against young people of color in forms including police brutality, mass incarceration, and voter suppression.  Young people are demonstrating their willingness to take on these challenges.  The questions are can they turn this moment into a sustained movement and can we help gather the resources needed to do so?  While a great deal of funding goes to addressing the symptoms of racial inequality, very little goes to support the leadership of young people of color themselves to address root causes and create lasting systemic change.  Now is the time to support the bold leadership of young people.

September 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)