August 16, 2018

Standing in Our Power Together

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Manisha Vaze, Senior Program Manager of NFG's Funders for a Just Economy, reflects on funder strategy discussions for building worker power.


These days, between the news cycle and continued attacks on working families, it can feel overwhelming to push forward our agenda for justice. This feeling isn’t a new one – movement work comes with big ups and downs, especially as the political landscape shifts. While conservative forces are oppressing people of color and social movements more than ever, the movements we support have also stepped up their level of risk-taking and proven over and over again that our voices wield a lot of power.

To me, this feeling of power amidst chaos is what it felt like to be at this year’s NFG National Convening in St. Louis. It was a moment of reprieve from grieving the barrage of terrible government policies and state violence impacting Black and Latinx communities and transgender women of color. It felt empowering to be standing in community with other funders, discussing how best to resource the movement for justice, and hearing from inspiring speakers who shared their stories and brilliance.

There were several standout moments for me during the conference related to the Funders for a Just Economy’s (FJE) goals and objectives as a network. This year, our network wanted to explore shifts in the economy, the rise of political power in the financial sector (a process called financialization), and the moves the worker justice movement was taking in reaction to Supreme Court decisions that were going to be announced during the conference.

One of the financialization workshops provided a phenomenal overview of how the economy and the financial sector were built from a history of slavery, genocide, racism, and sexism. Speakers from the Action Center on Race and the Economy, Americans for Financial Reform, Grassroots Collaborative, and the Partnership for Working Families shared how communities of color and women of color in particular have been excluded from opportunities for wealth creation and have been targets of wealth extraction. In another workshop on financialization and disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico, José García of the Ford Foundation joined speakers from the Center for Popular Democracy, the Maria Fund, and Public Accountability Initiative/LittleSis to describe how these themes continue today. They spoke on how wealth is being extracted from the colony as more and more policies towards privatization benefit investors instead of Puerto Ricans.

The conference’s learning tours also provided an opportunity for grounding ourselves in the context of St. Louis, MO. I joined many FJE members on a tour that was led by the Organization for Black Struggle and Missouri Jobs with Justice. As we drove through the neighborhood towards the Organization for Black Struggle’s office, we learned how decades of racist city policies left neighborhoods bereft of economic opportunity and prosperity.

Screen_Shot_2018-08-16_at_12.41.07_PM.pngOnce at the office, members of both organizations described their organizing strategies to shift power in the state. Currently, communities are engaged in policy solutions that aim to curb the influence of money in politics, raise the minimum wage, and improve the lives of workers in Missouri. Most recently, these organizations were key partners in the educational effort that led to the huge victory of repealing the state’s “right to work” legislation. Repealing this legislation removed limits to workers’ abilities to collectively ensure they have better pay and improved working conditions.

FJE and the LIFT Fund organized a Labor Strategy session on the learning tour to discuss upcoming challenges to labor unions after the looming (and now ruled) decision on Janus v. AFSCME at the Supreme Court. Major themes that funders were grappling with during the discussion included how to develop a funding strategy in this new political landscape and context, how to shape the future of work, how to work with unions and their members, understand new frameworks for collective bargaining, and build power and our vision for change.

And finally, FJE’s dinner programming was another highlight for me. The arts collective Bread and Roses performed a few of the vignettes from their production, A Workers’ Opera, that shared how “right to work” policies have always been fueled by locking workers of color out of industries and shared benefits. And at the conference’s awards reception, NFG Award for Excellence honoree Molly Shultz Hafid and Discount Foundation Legacy Award winner Enrique Balcazar inspired us all to think creatively about how we show up, use our power and influence, and become better movement partners.

As FJE looks ahead, our network will continue to analyze the political landscape and strategize together to further develop our vision for moving money for justice. We will also continue to have deeper dive discussions to address financialization, shape the future of work, and learn about how Labor and the worker justice movement is evolving.

The NFG conference reaffirmed for me what we can do together to push the boundaries in our powerful roles as funders, and foster long-term partnerships with community organizations that are building momentum and shifting power. It was a call to action: our communities cannot wait for us to get it right. History has shown us that those with power will fight – by derailing our progressive agenda and using violence – to maintain white supremacy and capital. And history has also shown us that bold action, escalation, culture shift, and people power can and will prevail. I look forward to continuing to stand in power with each of you.


Follow FJE on Twitter at @FundJustEconomy.

Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on the NFG blog.

 

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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.