December 6, 2017

What It's Going to Take to Change Philanthropy

In October 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ), a program of Neighborhood Funders Group, hosted a funder briefing on the Freedom Cities Movement at the NoVo Foundation office in New York City. FFJ got the chance to sit down and talk with NoVo's Ramatu Bangura, Program Officer for Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights, and Jesenia Santana, Program Officer for the Initiative to End Violence Against Girls and Women, about the foundation's vision and funding of the movement.


Ramatu Bangura

FFJ: The last year or couple years have been really the challenging ones in many parts of the country with police accountability and gender and racial justice. As you've tried to grapple with everything that's going on, what have you learned about the role of philanthropy in this work? 

Ramatu: Jesenia and I came into our roles as Program Officers coming from working as advocates and activists.  While we’ve had an opportunity to help shape NoVo’s response to this current moment, NoVo has since its inception been a funder that both invests in and is in invested in movement building. Therefore, I don’t see a drastic change or uptick in that commitment. Instead, our work has been trying to figure out how to respond to this very particular moment—figuring out what our role should be in dialogue and community with both our existing partners and new and emerging work. Our role is not to take up space better suited to activists, but to figure out ideologically and logistically how we get the resources to folks, how we remain open to dialogue and conversation, how we respond rapidly, and how we influence our sector to do better.

Jesenia Santana

Jesenia: A couple of things—our partners have always told us that the way that change that can happen is for philanthropy to support people on the ground to do base-building and organizing work, provide long-term and flexible support, make sure that groups have what they need to build and sustain their capacity to respond to these kinds of moments and acts of resistance.

R: As a sector, we must continue to question ourselves in terms of how we silo work. By necessity, the power of movements in the current moment is that the work is both intersectional and inter-related. We hope to challenge ourselves to reflect that back to our partners by continuously examining how we do our work.

FFJ: It sounds you have to move, in some ways, out of your comfort zone, and building on what you'd done, but maybe moving a little bit faster and getting out there and asking a little bit more.

J: It’s actually not been a huge leap. An intersectional analysis, flexible and long-term funding is our comfort zone. Our question is more about how we can all work together to influence philanthropy as a whole to think more holistically about how it funds across movements. We continue to engage with the philanthropic sector to act on that question. 

FFJ: What do you see as the place to begin? Where does the community have the leverage to begin to change all the things that need to be changed? Is there a logical place to start?

J: We believe the place to begin is with women and girls. Women and girls are already leading movements for change both visibly and invisibly, even as the gendered way that they experience violence may go unaddressed. However, when movements are able to recognize violence against women and girls-- you get insights into the way in which patriarchy, hierarchy, imperialism works. Without addressing all the levels at which people experience violence—both structural and interpersonal—you miss opportunities to address the roots causes that lead to this violence at a systems level as well as within families and communities...

Centering the most impacted is the way in which we can support community working toward systemic change. Obviously we don’t create movements, but we can support the vision for a social change and create conditions that support the activists leading this work. Again, our challenge is how do we best support and move resources to the base that’s already mobilizing? Our approach is to support movement-building and capacity-building, so that they can strategize with each other and share resources with each other. How we can use philanthropic resources to deliberately create spaces to reflect, imagine new realities, collaborate and build solidarity across movements. 

FFJ: Why did you join Funders for Justice and what is the benefit to you, being part of this group?

R: I came to FFJ through the calls, it was a really great space to hear what was going on right away, to connect with other funders who are really interested in learning if we’re really trying to understand how we should respond.  It was a really great place for us to connect to movement leaders to understand what’s needed. As an institution, we have an eye towards the field and community-based work, and also an eye towards the funding world, and in particular towards supporting women and girls.  We are also interested in learning how other funders are showing up in the work. Being able to see where there might have been gaps, we could really raise issues within the funding community in terms of women and girls. Where there were places we could plug into and lend our particular perspective, and I think that was crucial in determining our work.

FFJ: As you have those national conversations, is there a consensus forming around the philanthropic response to police accountability as it relates to gender and racial justice?

J: We see growing attention to addressing the rights of incarcerated women and girls within the philanthropic sector but there is still a huge gap in centering gender justice within the overall criminal legal system reform and anti-mass incarceration conversations that this sector is having. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls are pushing us all to ensure that when we are working to address police accountability, that we are not forgetting the specific and particular ways in which arrest and incarceration impacts women and girls—and its because of their activism that I am hopeful that the philanthropic sector will incorporate a gender justice framework to this issue. 

FFJ: Let's talk about divest-invest/community control of the police. In particular, your support of general community self-determination efforts that are rooted in gender justice and transformation of systems.

R: NoVo supports Freedom, Inc. as part of our Adolescent Girls Rights portfolio. We came to learn about Freedom, Inc. because they were generous enough to share their perspective on the field for girls and young women of color in the U.S. as we build our strategy for that work. As we continued that conversation with M and Kabzuag, we were excited by how Freedom, Inc.’s analysis beautifully weaves together a gender, racial and youth justice lens, with a focus on the intersections of state and interpersonal violence. Their work challenges patriarchy, imperialism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and hetero-normativity while being intentional about providing substantive opportunities for girls and young women to participate in, learn from, and lead campaigns to structurally address the injustices they experience. 

Freedom, Inc. is not only doing the work, they are theorizing and creating knowledge about the movement from within the movement and that is powerful. From our conversations, we learned about the thoughtful way that M and Kabzuag both support Black and Hmong communities to build strong work in their own communities but how they continue to do the introspective and risky hard work of building solidarity across racial and ethnic difference in Black and Hmong communities.

J: I came in right as the Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families report [co-authored by the Ella Baker Center and Forward Together] came out. It highlights the ways in which women and girls have a specific and different experience both around having been incarcerated and around being in communities where people have been incarcerated. The particular burdens and challenges that they face as someone who’s home and caring for the family’s needs when someone’s been incarcerated.  We need to talk more about who pays when the women are home and are care-taking, are trying to make visits happen, are trying to hold provide emotional support for their incarcerated loved ones as well as the family waiting for them to come home.. When we think through who is paying for the cost of incarcerating millions of people in the United States, the answer is society pays—and women and children hold the largest cost. We’re paying upwards of $80 billion a year to incarcerate people. Is that really the best use of taxpayer dollars? Lets have a country that invests in education, housing and communities. How do we stop criminalizing poverty? The report did so much to amplify these conversations.

FFJ: What is it going to take to change philanthropy? Philanthropy has a pretty strong culture and, as you said, doesn’t always fund the intersectional, movement-oriented, or nimble work. 

J: First, philanthropy needs to trust more that the people on the ground doing the work know what they’re doing and know how to use the resources. Second, it needs to be in relationship with partners, where we can all vision together towards the world we want. We need to be willing to ask: What does it mean for us to also be transformational? How can we push ourselves to look towards a larger vision; not just to how things may be different in the next two years? I think a large part of this is about letting go of power—transformational work simply won’t happen without that. Philanthropy will also have to be open to experimentation and risk; in order to support transformational work, we have to embrace experimentation.

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July 24, 2020

Strike Watch: Voices from the Strike for Black Lives

Photo: Gus Moody and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL.

PIctured left: Gus and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL during the J20 Strike for Black Lives. Photo Credit: Fight for 15 Florida. 

Hundreds of workers walked out of work from coast to coast Monday, July 20th as part of coordinated Strike 4 Black Lives. Centering the Movement 4 Black Lives and 60-plus labor and community organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the strike (dubbed J20) included both full walkouts and 8 minute 46 second work stoppages commemorating the killing of George Floyd by police. Workers came from a range of “essential” industries, including mobile “gig”, healthcare, fast food, education, childcare and janitorial. While there were unified national demands that included the right to unionize and real corporate action to protect Black workers and repair intergenerational harms, many groups also tied in the need for tailored local responses challenging racial and economic inequality, including in response to specific and systematic discrimination incidents.

In Florida, McDonald’s workers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the days prior charging that the company subjected them to a "racially hostile work environment” and retaliation for speaking up. One of the workers named in the suit, Monice, is employed in a Lakeland McDonald’s, east of Tampa. She described in a video: “Back in March, I was racially discriminated against: she... told me that all Black people want is a handout. All we do is smoke weed all day and be violent, angry and upset if we don’t get what we want.” Monica clearly and calmly explained her situation, only to be then told “...but you know I’m right.” The company had been also sued in Florida in April for systemic sexual harassment, with plaintiffs from more than 100 of the locations in the state.

FJE had the opportunity to interview Augusta (who goes by Gus), another Lakeland McDonald's worker and a leader of the SEIU-backed Fight for 15 Florida who took the streets on the 20th. Alongside challenging discrimination via the lawsuit, Gus and workers are looking to pass Florida's Amendment 2, the $15 Minimum Wage Initiative, which is on the ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment this November.  Amendment 2 would increase the state's minimum wage from $8.56 in 2020 to $15.00 by 2026. Gus shared a bit about his experiences in the central Florida McDonald's where he works and what it means to be a Black worker in the US today.

What brought you to take part in the Strike for Black Lives this week?

Honestly, I want to end racism and workplace hostility and discrimination. I see the connections to racism in everyday action. In today’s society, racism looks like how you go about doing your everyday routine and treat people along the way.

For example, in my job, racial discrimination looks like when you are scheduled outside of your availability, and you go talk to your General Manager. She acts like she doesn’t have your availability at hand, and tells you to re-do your availability sheet. You do that, and she snatches the paper out of your hand, and treats you with disrespect.

Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46. I get paid $9.25. After this pandemic and really not being able to get the hours I could usually make or need — that makes life hard. You have to choose: what bill am I going to pay? I have two children I’m responsible for, and I want to give them my all. It hurts to not be able to do that. I feel like if I could make more, I could make things better for them. Maybe not great, but at least better.

What was the J20 strike like for you?

The day of the strike, we rode around the building and made our presence known: by stepping out there, out of work, we were saying, enough is enough. Do us right.

A good amount of people that showed up to support the strike and showed love. Just to be able to see those people meant a lot. I met was a lot of people willing to help — stopping to say, ‘Hey man, you need something to eat? Don’t hesitate to call me.’ I’m not saying I would take them up on it — but just them offering, and they don’t even know me? That’s what America should be about; that’s what we can be about as a country. They could have been somewhere else — but then they came to support strangers as part of a movement. They see the racism and discrimination every day on social media, on the news, they could just ignore us — so it was truly amazing to have so many people out.

Say it’s one year from now. What does success look like? How have things changed at work?

The workplace would be friendly: it would be an open from the top to the bottom. If I’m the CEO I wouldn’t feel like my position is too big to come talk to the crew trainer or the crew members. I would want there to be an equal playing ground in the workplace. General managers wouldn’t be abusing their positions because they would know someone above them would actually be holding them accountable.

What was the response from your employers at McDonald's?

For some of my coworkers that went back the next day they have been really experiencing a hard time. In America, we get punished these days for giving our opinion, for using our freedom of speech.  You can’t let it bring you down though. You have to keep saying: this isn’t right. This was my first big action, but I’lll be doing much more. Having so many organizations having your back and saying, ‘You know what, we’re not going to stand for this. This story needs to be told' — that’s an amazing feeling to have. Just being a part of [a movement] makes it all worth it.

Where do you see the connections between what you experience in your workplace and the situation with policing of Black lives?

Just like you can’t be a general manager and abuse your crew members, you can’t have someone that is there to protect and serve you end up hurting you, or end up putting you in jail for trumped up charges. The police just feel like they can just put you in jail because they have that authority, that privilege. Just like a general manager, law enforcement needs to be held to a better standard. They are the people we have to walk our communities. They are supposed to be here to help us and not just come to the situation ready to hurt us. They should not be able to hurt, harm and kill. What it comes down to though is all these people in power — they are abusing that power. That abuse goes on at a larger scale in society, but it starts in everyday life.

How do you think foundations and individuals can support?

Action is a big thing for me: you can’t just say you care. You have to show it. You have to really prove when the situation arises that you are here to really get us to better days. To get there is going to take a lot of work. We’re all going to keep having to put it in. It should have all changed day George Floyd died — yet America is still running on retaliation, discrimination and hatred.

Enough is enough. We already have a global pandemic. To continue to live as a Black person in America you not only a face a pandemic, you have society attacking you as well. We are going to have to stand together because at the end of the day, we all are going to need each other.  We need to do better in life and focus on what is right. 

And when the change comes, our workplace will be a much better organization to the public and to each other. Keeping [the strikes and actions] going is raising some eyebrows and gets people to understand, things need to change, today.

You can follow Gus and his fellow workers' continued campaign for the Fight for 15 nationally and locally  And read more about how to support the broader Movement for Black Lives here.

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 installments? Reach out to robert@nfg.org.

 

July 23, 2020

Highlights from Amplify this July

“We’ve been busy in these internet streets,” as Melody Baker, Amplify’s Senior Program Officer said on a recent staff call. 

  • We were thrilled to end June and begin July with so many of you at the start of NFG’s 2020 virtual convening series: 40 Years Strong. On the fourth day of programming, on Thursday, July 2, Melody joined Jazmin Segura, Program Officer for the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA) and Syma Mirza, Staff Consultant at HouseUS, to talk about Building Philanthropic Infrastructure to Build Power during the Democratizing Development session.
  • Just a few days later on July 8, Amplify Director Amy Morris, joined Jazmin Segura again, along with Beatrice Camacho, Tenant Organizer at the North Bay Organizing Project, for a 60-minute webinar hosted by the Funders Network (TFN) called Keeping it Local: Strategies to Support Power-Building and Economic Self-Determination. They all shared clear analysis along with vivid and accessible stories of their work.  A full recording of the webinar is available here and many of the images that Amy shared about Amplify’s structure are available for download on our webpage here.
  • In addition to Zooming at funder conferences, we hosted our second Amplification session facilitated by Social Movement Technologies (SMT), a non-profit training hub providing organizing support to build power and win campaigns in the digital age. SMT highlighted how groups are combining online with offline action in this moment to build power and win change, and shared technical information about digital campaign tools and tactics that organizations can use to engage members, expand their reach, and be heard by decision-makers. Over 50 Amplify grantees registered, including a number of organizations supported through our sister fund, the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA). All materials were offered in English and Spanish, and simultaneous interpretation was provided by Lingovox.
  • We encourage you to check out the full list of Amplify grantees here, and follow us and them on social media.

Keep an eye out for upcoming events and announcements:

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