July 12, 2018

Philanthropy’s Role in Holding Tension

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, Megan Armentrout, Program Associate at the Incarnate Word Foundation and St. Louis local, reflects on the possibilities of shifting philanthropy's focus to long-term change.


headshot-megan.jpgWhen I first started in philanthropy just two years ago my boss said, “Keep an eye out for Neighborhood Funders Group - they are your people”. I had just missed the 2016 convening in Oakland and learned I had to wait another two years before the next convening. To my surprise, the 2018 convening was being held in St. Louis and I was asked to serve on the Program Committee as a local partner. The decision to hold the convening in St. Louis, the city I call home with such a rich history and recent national spotlight, only made sense. 

Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice highlighted issues at the intersection of race, class, gender, and environment. Activists and funders held space for discussion around strategy (how do we actualize the deep change that must take place) and contemplation for healing (how do we encourage a movement rooted in radical self-care). Strategy and healing, an interwoven cycle, must be at the heart of our movements and philanthropy must do better to support those integral parts.

In his opening keynote, Rev. Starsky Wilson rooted people in place as he spoke of St. Louis. A city caught in the tension between what it thought it was and the wounding underbelly beneath. In 2014, a movement of the people did not allow for that underbelly to remain just under the surface. The Ferguson Uprising brought it out to the streets and forced the city (and the country) to take a long, hard look in the mirror and wrestle with its “soul-trauma” - and I can think of no better imagery of this than the mirror casket created by local activists and carried to the Ferguson police department during the uprising. 

This is a deep tension and Rev. Wilson urged us to “hold the tension long enough for people’s actions to change”. I’m left contemplating the role of philanthropy in holding this tension. In our fast-paced world, driven by the forces of instant-gratification and capitalism, philanthropy continues to shift priorities every 3-5 years. What would it actually look like for philanthropy to join the long-game with organizers who are in it for the long-haul? Are we well situated to use our power to hold the tension long enough for things to shift around us? What does that look like and how do we do this well?


I kept these questions close to my chest as I navigated through the rest of the conference. 

Organizers, funders, and neighborhood activists helped answer this question in pieces and it is up to us to work this out; to stay accountable to the movement before us for a more just and equitable society. Post-conference I’m still ruminating and a couple key points have stuck with me. Edgar Villanueva brought me back to hope rooted in forward progression in his session on Decolonizing Wealth. He spoke of this process as a path toward healing the trauma so many communities have faced so that their “possibilities are endless”. Philanthropy is a center of power and concentrated wealth existing at the core of capitalism and yet I believe philanthropy has the ability to create lasting change in the world around us and liberate itself from the strongholds of white supremacy and colonization. As we decolonize wealth, we can move toward the solidarity philanthropy Aaron Tanaka spoke of when he said, “if the money isn't ours to begin with, solidarity philanthropy would urge us to put money back into the communities that money was taken from”.  

Holding the tension requires a recognition of the root of the problem, holding fast with an unwavering stance until others begin to recognize the complex nature of justice issues plaguing our nation. In this way, I believe philanthropy does have the power to hold the tension, both in funders’ ability to shift and move conversation as well as long-term, continued support of folks on the ground doing the work day in and day out. 

I knew by the first program committee phone call that I had found “my people”. It was by the end of this convening that I knew I found “my home”. This beautiful, radical, intentional group of people, representing a multitude of institutions across the country, is a mirror of the philanthropy I want to see in the world. The philanthropy I now have hope in to hold the tension, to enter into brave space with others, and play an active role in the healing of systemic wounds. May it be so.

Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.

Follow the Incarnate Word Foundation at @IWFSTL.

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

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June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

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

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

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