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The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

Tre Johnson wrote a perspective piece, When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs, for The Washington Post in June 2020 that is a reality check for white-identifying allies and accomplices. He speaks of the anxiety and trauma of being pulled over by the police - once at the age of 10, again at 16, 22, and 36. And now, at 42 he watches as George Floyd, the latest racial killing scrolls across the news. Over and over he sees his white, liberal, educated friends respond to racialized death at the hands of police by reading, talking about their reading, and listening. It's not enough. I encourage you to read Tre Johnson's full article at The Washington Post and his other works which I will link below.

The point I'm trying to make is that racialized violence against people of color, particularly Black people, is not new. We've seen violence against Black people in America as early as 1619, the beginning of the slave trade. When the Declaration of Independence was penned, it was written by white men to benefit white men. Black Americans had to fight to gain those same rights over centuries. When we talk about American capitalism and unearned wealth, we have to look at the slave trade and the wealth that it accrued for white plantation owners and the generational wealth it provided their families, even after the abolition of slavery. When we talk about the prison system, we have to look at the intersections between slavery and Jim Crow which helped define what the prison system is today. When we talk about poverty, we have to talk about segregation, redlining, evictions, and inherited wealth. If you are coming to this work now, welcome! But know, the impetus is on you to educate yourself and participate in this movement in ways that are actionable. As you seek to learn and implement those learnings into your personal and professional spaces, do not rely on the free labor of Black people to educate you on a system that you have grown up in and benefited from.

In collaboration with the Association of Philanthropic Counsel (APC), Talem is leading bi-monthly conversations on the book, Incite! The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. It may seem incongruent that I would share a book recommendation and discussion space in the same place where I call for action. I do this because much of the reading around anti-racism is focused on generalized concepts such as White Fragility and How to Be an Anti-Racist. If we want to go deeper, to create sustainable change in our personal and professional nonprofit and activist spheres, we need to understand how whiteness, white supremacy, capitalism, and philanthropy intertwine. We need to question what we have been told about the professionalization of nonprofits being the best model to move progressive movements forward. We need to imagine a funding structure that allows movement-building to be successful without blunting its political goals to satisfy government and foundation requirements.

Our call to educate is intertwined with making actionable change; as we discuss how we, as consultants, can incorporate these activists' insights into our own consulting firms, the nonprofits, and movements we serve. I'm sharing the discussion questions and action items I've drafted for The Revolution Will Not Be Funded in hopes that other nonprofit professionals will take this opportunity to critically think about the long-term consequences of the "nonprofit industrial complex" and what it means for themselves and their nonprofits. Below are questions and additional resources related to Part 1 of the book. A separate post will follow for Part 2 and 3.

Preface, Foreward, and Introduction

  • What strengths or limitations do you see nonprofits having in their work to serve communities?

  • What insights can the history of charities and philanthropy in the U.S. give us today?

  • How do foundations provide a cover for white supremacy and blunt progressive movements?

  • Do you think it's dangerous that foundations have created their own vision for the world? See examples of Pew Foundation, John T. Rockefeller III, and their support of population control.

Part I

The political logic of the nonprofit industrial complex, Dylan Rodriguez

  • Is history repeating itself as we see radical Black liberationists and revolutionaries criminalized and repressed - much like in the late 1960s and early 1970s?

  • Law and order mobilized state violence to protect and recuperate the white national body during White Reconstruction from racial "Others." How are we seeing that play out under our current administration and implicitly supported by the nonprofit sector?

  • Rodriguez states "the non-profit industrial complex has actually facilitated, and continues to facilitate, the violent state-organized repression of radical and revolutionary elements within the Black and Third World liberation movements... and what remains of such liberation structures today." When discussing both conservative and liberal-progressive foundations where do we see that exist in today's movements and what can be done beyond the acknowledgment of past and present harm?

In the shadow of the shadow state, Ruth Wilson Gilmore

  • How do the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) compare? What do you think of the comparison being made?

  • Businesses/capitalists have essentially kept individual wages for all U.S. workers flat since 1973 while relying on the nonprofit sector to pick up the additional work to support workers/communities. The required services by nonprofits have grown in the last five decades as government-subsidized services have decreased.

    • Nonprofits have been forced to professionalize and compete for government contracts to provide services defined by the funder rather than the nonprofit. How does this take away from nonprofits' ability to best serve their community members and adequately provide services?

    • Grassroots organizations are not usually the recipients of public funds and are working to organize ordinary people to ensure their communities are not “abandoned” by the government. What can funders and fundraisers do to ensure these organizations have the resources necessary to organize, advocate, and create systemic change from the bottom up?

  • Looking back at historical models (What is to be done? 1949-1962 section, In the Shadow of the Shadow State article) what are some models or activities that can be updated and used in our current movements?

Black Awakening in Capitalist America, Robert L. Allen

  • Allen provides an example of the Ford Foundation and its efforts to fund the Cleveland chapter of CORE. Why do you think it was deemed a success/failure based on the different perspectives shared? Do you agree with the author that black capitalism is doomed to fail just as American corporate capitalism was said to have failed the philanthropy movement?

Democratizing American philanthropy, Christine E. Ahn

  • America’s 65,000 private foundations are undemocratic and unaccountable to the public. Most private foundations are governed by a handful of very wealthy people who are affiliated with the foundation by family or business ties. What can we do to promote transparency within the foundation and DAF system?

  • It is estimated that at least 45% of the $500 billion foundations hold in their coffers belong to the American public. When a foundation is created today, the burden of lost tax revenue is borne by citizens today in the form of a tax expenditure with the promise that it will be paid out in the future. In what ways can we create public accountability for foundations and DAF’s as they exist in their current state?

  • Money managers and foundation managers are primarily wealthy white men which may explain why only 8% of foundation funding goes to organizations lead by the BIPOC community and about 1.7% (in 2002) went to civil rights and social action. How can we reform or uproot the current managers of the system to change the agenda?

  • At the end of the 20th century, the Right had raised more than $1 billion to fund ideas. The success of conservative philanthropy and unintended consequences is discussed in Democratizing American Philanthropy. Imagine your group or organization has come into $1,000,000. Without discussing how it would be used, discuss the changes that would take place within your group or organization in order to accommodate the funding and the funder. How might this change social dynamics, administrative duties, change, or relationships with people you serve?

  • Microsoft/Bill Gates shares patent protection (TRIPS) rules of the World Trade Organization with the drug companies that he invests in to ship low-cost AIDS drugs to Africa. While he is spending $6 billion through the Gates Foundation to vaccinate Africans from disease, it could be argued that he could be more helpful by using his money and influence to advocate for change to trade protection laws thereby reducing costs for drugs so African countries are able to buy them. However, changing TRIPS would adversely impact Microsoft and its hold on its patents. What are the implications of this for long-term institutional change when there is no motivation from the most powerful foundations to change the system?

Buy Local: Where to purchase The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

Additional Readings and Resources

Read more from Tre Johnson and follow him on Twitter @Tre_John_son.

Readings from the articles’ authors in Part 1:


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