In the early 1990s, I developed a growing concern about the funding of social change organizations. At that time I had worked for a dozen or more years at the Women’s Project in Arkansas and in the Battered Women’s movement locally and nationally. My connections to social change organizations were extensive, and I had had many opportunities to observe their struggles with funding.
Here are some observations that raised my concerns:
• It was a constant struggle for the Women’s Project to maintain a left analysis that engaged the community in systemic change-—and to receive finding that did not attempt to modify our work;
• The Battered Women’s movement had moved from local, grassroots organizing to “professional” service delivery fended by government entities;
• Staff of nonprofit organizations were spending an extraordinary amount of time on fundraising and a rapidly decreasing amount of time on organizing;
• There was a dreadful competition among groups for fundraising and less cooperation in working together;
• There was a loss of political force and commitment to movement building;
• Very few organizations seemed to have an active membership base committed to organizing for change.
During this time, many people talked about the disorganization and weakness of the progressive movement. I came to understand this problem to be not the result of a failure in vision and courage but of the impact of prolonged attacks under McCarthyism and Cointelpro—and of the effect of becoming a nonprofit “sector” controlled by the state
As with all politics, these issues are complex. As part of this panel of speakers, we cannot give a very nuanced analysis here, but we can lay the groundwork for a more detailed discussion. While I do not want to disparage the significant work that has. been done by nonprofits (of which I have been a part) nor the work of those who have tried to reform philanthropy, I’d like for us to consider what we might do to fend a radical movement in a time of rapacious capitalism.
As an example of the impact of the 501c3 (tax-exempt status) on our work, a brief history of the battered women’s movement perhaps is helpful. This movement arose in the 1970s in the space created by the Women’s Movement. Women in cities and small towns across the country came together to describe our experiences with male violence. Through those discussions we learned that there were great commonalities in the experiences, and we were not alone nor unique in what we had suffered. Groups of women in large and small communities analyzed these common themes and then determined actions to provide safety and to end violence against women. We knew that we had to change radically the power relationships between women and men.
These beginnings were community-based and constituency-led—by women who had experienced violence. As programs were developed, women sought tax-exempt status for battered women’s shelters and credibility in communities for financial support. The latter demanded hours of public education, often in hostile environments such as men’s clubs and law enforcement agencies. When the goals of tax-exempt status and community credibility were achieved (albeit with considerable sacrifice such as being lesbian-baited, facing woman-hating jokes and accusations of being home-wreckers), the funders from all sources—individual, foundations, and government—began making demands for certain policies and practices.
It was in this environment that what we call “the professionalization of the movement” began. We began seeing new standards set for the highest level jobs, i.e., a social work degree and a different more business-like approach to working with battered women. Rather than a popular education approach (sharing stories of abuse, developing analysis, and taking action) where any skilled facilitator could be a leader, therapeutic groups and individual sessions were offered. Battered women’s organizations began to reflect corporations in their structure and policies. Domestic violence was redefined as an individual mental health issue requiring therapists rather than a social justice issue that required organizing. Though some organizing continued, most organizations moved to service delivery, accompanied by advocacy. Some of us think that the last big act of autonomy and defiance by the first wave of the battered women’s movement was NCADV’s rejection of a $600,000 grant because the Department of Justice would not permit reference to lesbian battering, an analysis of racism, or promotion of organizing.
Though it is difficult to date particular changes, it seems that it was at this time that the movement split between those who thought we must work equally hard to combine service delivery with efforts to end violence against women—and those who thought that it was most critical to partner with government agencies and make necessary compromises to receive funding for service delivery and advocacy. Through the VAW Act, funding and partnerships became real, and battered women’s organizations engaged in cooperative work with the Department of Justice, with finding available to maintain O in ways we had never experienced before.
Have the past 25 years of work to end violence against women been a failure because it has moved from a central focus of social change to one of social service? No. Many things have been accomplished: extraordinary public education, new laws and public policies, thousands of lives saved. However, the work was modified in ways that allowed some challenge to systems and to power—but only so much—in order to maintain finding stability. And there has been no indication that violence against women has diminished. The culture of violence remains to be changed. And this is a social justice issue, where the question is called, “How do we get to the cause of violence and change it so that women can be autonomous, self-determined, and safe?’
We also have to ask ourselves how much we have given up by being in the finder- controlled box. As the government was moving toward the right during the Reagan years, we were seeking relationships with government. They were writing the rules and we were doing our best to shape the work within those rules and to defend the achievements we had made. As Reagan was destroying the tax base and eliminating human services, we were concentrating on service delivery As every social issue was being racialized by the right, we were both taking on anti-racist education 4 excluding women of color from our professionalized, corporate-style leadership. As young feminists found fewer and fewer places to express their politics they came to battered women’s programs and found that the new systems gave little space for shared power or advancement up the leadership hierarchy. At what cost did we get government finding and community acceptability?
It was this experience in this many-faceted battered women’s movement (that I loved) that led me to dwell on the effect of chasing money through our non-profit status. I observed the impact of finding conditions bringing changes to the progressive nonprofit world in general:
• An increase of charity and volunteerism to replace the government’s role in meeting human needs;
• An increase of service delivery, using low-paid workers (majority women);
• A decrease in organizing to confront and change power relationships;
• An increase in financial dependence on foundations and government funding for nonprofits;
• A decrease of membership organizations;
• An increase of professionalism;
• A decrease of constituency leadership;
• Organizations modeled on corporations, with executive directors (even when there’s only 3 staff), CEOs, etc., and a focus on outcomes and deliverables;
• Nonprofits competing with one another for finding, limiting our partnerships and collective work (hr change;
• One to three year f cycles leading us to short-term efforts instead of long- term vision and strategies;
• Reform efforts instead of radical work;
• Less public dissent;
• The creation of a non-profit sector which, by offering just enough services and advocacy to keep people mollified, makes the world safe for capitalism.
All of these, I believe, are linked at least in part to the 501c3 and our pursuit of tax- exempt finding sources.
First, let me say that I believe the government should fond services. That’s one of the reasons we pay taxes: to enable the human needs of all of us to be met. The questions (hr us at this conference are whether government-funded organizations and programs, in a time of rightwing control, will allow us to act in just and humane ways, will they support oppressed people to gain power, and will they initiate a revolution against the hand that feeds them? Do we need services? Yes, of course, and we need good liberals to make sure they are delivered justly to everyone. Will the provision of social services alone bring about true social justice? I think not.
Second, we cannot expect the government or foundations to hind our most radical work. The government or corporate entities will not thud us to change them at their core or to take them down. It is our work to bring about radical social change through demanding justice and fairness. It is our job to figure out how to support this work
When I think of radical or revolutionary groups, I think of the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Zapatistas, the early Labor Movement, etc. Somehow I cannot imagine these groups going on a foundation visit or writing a large government pant. And yet their work has had a tremendous impact on the world we know today.
What do these groups have in common? They are radical groups that are built around either a membership or a group of people who closely represent people who have suffered injustice. They provide a place and way for people to express their passion, and they have constituency-based leadership. Their financial support conies from people who believe in them, at the core of their work is organizing.
I think there are lessons to be learned from radical groups around the world: the African National Congress, the Landless People’s Movement of Brazil, ACT UP, and our own Incite!Women of Color Against Violence and Critical Resistance. We can learn, for instance, from the Black Panthers about adding service delivery to organizing—or in the case of many of our own organizations, adding organizing to service delivery. We can learn from the Zapatistas about how we must start small and local and build democratic units where people have genuine voice. And we can bring to Incite our question about how we do the work, how it draws people by its heat; how it appeals to the whole self, how it is imbedded as a way of life.
For our radical work to be true to people’s needs and the courageous actions they demand, it will have to draw funding from individuals who believe in it wholeheartedly. It will require no less a commitment than that which millions of people make every Sunday when they enter a place of worship and drop a check or a $5 bill in the collection plate. How will this commitment come about? Our victories will come through authentically connected membership and organizing. Collectively, we have to build a sense of possibility, grow muscles and courage and joy in the work, and stay strong together in the vision and practice of a transformed world.
June 30, 2004
We are living in political times when the progressive left is generally perceived to be in disarray. Though thousands of nonprofit organizations, both large and small, are working on a wide array of social and economic issues, we are often disconnected, lacking a united vision and effort, protective of turf and competitive with one another for limited sources of funding. Moreover, the majority of our organizations do not have a base of politically-educated constituencies who can move issues. The power of information, ideas, access to people, shared leadership, collectively developed vision and strategies is in the hands of a few, often the director and senior staff rather than dispersed throughout the organization and its constituency Consequently, the progressive left is lacking the numbers of inspired and politically involved people necessary to mount a movement. There is something wrong with how we are conducting the business of social change.
One difficulty is that we are fighting the major oppressions of our time and trying to create a better world, but we are not living the values we want society to embrace. That’s exactly what many young and/or new organizers often say is at the heart of the problem: we are conducting our organizations as though they were a business, reflecting the same structures of board rooms and CEOs or “executive” directors where the power is held primarily at the top—as are the highest wages. Young/new organizers often say that the biggest struggle they face is not with opposing forces in society but with the politics of their organization that allows them little voice, leadership or mobility. They come to social change work expecting organizations that pursue justice to be different from for-profit organizations; they expect them to mirror the politics they espouse. They expect them, above all others, to be the place where they can bring their whole selves. When justice organizations follow authoritarian and anti-democratic internal policies, many of these young/new organizers are disillusioned and leave to seek places where they can live their politics and have a chance to grow.
During a time in which large numbers of people in this country have lost faith in the political process and in both elected leaders and community leaders—so much so that people do not vote or volunteer in their communities—perhaps the most important thing that could happen would be the restoration of the public faith. We may not be able to restore it soon in our government or corporations, but we can change the institutions we have created ourselves, where we live our vision of a just and equitable society. Among nonprofits, that change would require creating a closely woven but transparent fabric of integrity: matching our internal organizational politics to the external political demands we make. That is, if we demand equality, we must practice it within our organization. If we do not practice our core values, then why would anyone want to join us in our pursuit of justice? If our work in communities focuses on democratic participation and economic justice, then we must practice it internally: justice and equality begin at home.
Here are some of the critical questions for social change organizations to use as an inventory of our internal work:
1. How are decisions made? Are all of those who are impacted by the decision a part of the decision making? How do you do an internal power analysis?
2. Who sets the agenda? 1-low is work assigned? What are the systems of accountability?
3. How is access to information (people, ideas) shared? Who gets to attend meetings, conferences? Who speaks to the press? Who is allowed to be the voice of the organization in public and decision-making places? Who interacts with the board?
4. How does in-house education take place? Are there funds for staff education?
5. How does one take on leadership? How does one advance?
6. How is the constituency involved in each of these questions? Decision-making, agenda setting, access to information, political education, leadership?
7. Are traditionally underrepresented groups (people of color, les/gay/hi/trans, poor people, people with disabilities) aggressively recruited for staff?
8. Does the staff do intensive work on barriers such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism, to make sure that the organization welcomes all voices and makes a place of equality for them?
9. Who is not at the table when you meet?
10. How is the external politic of the organization practiced internally?
1. Who does the fundraising?
2. Who determines salaries and raises?
3. Is there more than a $15,000 gap between the lowest paid and the highest?
4. Are health benefits, travel allowances, etc., the same for everyone?
5. Is childcare provided for meetings, events, and staff travel?
6. Who decides how resources will be apportioned organizationally? Are all of those who are impacted by the decision a part of the decision making?
7. Is there money for enabling your constituency to attend meetings outside your community?
8. How is the external politic of your organization practiced internally? Does your organization reflect the world you want to create?
These are simple but hard questions for groups that have progressive politics and work within old structures that mirror the practices of the corporations we criticize. When we can change them, we will create a blue print for how society can be different—beginning with us.
In The Time Of The Right: Reflections On Liberation is now available.
A major icon of the Reagan era was the welfare queen, developed carefully in the media by conservative leaders to evoke taxpayer disgust and resentment. This icon was female, Black, unmarried, drove a Cadillac, and had gangs of children whose very existence brought her great financial benefits from the government.
A major icon of the 21st Century is the gay couple, developed carefully in the media by gay leaders to evoke sympathy and compassion. This couple is male/male or female/female, white, wants a wedding, drives a Subaru, and seeks benefits from the government. Both stand historically at the center of a swirling, culture-changing controversy about morals, values, money and power.
welfare queen arose from the 1980s, a decade dedicated to globalization,
corporatization, the trickle-down theory of economics, union-busting,
deregulation, anti-taxation, and privatization. It was a forceful, and ongoing,
agenda to bring more wealth to the powerful and to destroy the social contract
that was created following the Great Depression. The idea that we pay taxes
because we live in community and must provide care for each other was replaced
by the myth of scarcity and meanspiritedness: the idea that there is not enough
to go around and someone is going to take “mine” from me. America was to
eliminate those taxes and cut those benefits right out from under her.The
social contract was broken when human needs were successfully portrayed as
racialized problems that people of color had somehow wilfully created. The
welfare queen was created by Reagan to represent the immorality, greed, and tax
burden that are destroying our culture: a Black woman, under the authority of
no man, who takes the money of good honest people who pay their taxes. The way
to stop her and to save America was to eliminate those taxes and cut those benefits right from under her.
The marriage-seeking gay couple arose from the culture wars of the past three
decades in which sexuality outside of marriage was bad, family was narrowly
defined as married couples with children, and allegiance to country was blended
with belief in heterosexual, monogamous two-parent families. Good gay people
increasingly became identified as those who passed and who sought ways to
mainstream into a culture whose norm was white and middle-class. By the 1990s,
not many LGBT organizations were taking on the broken social contract that was
fracturing our society; instead, they were for the most part seeking equality
in a vastly unequal world. It was then that the path of the welfare queen and
the good gay couple began to merge. And the Right figured out how to combine
racism and homophobia in its strategies to move both its economic and social
The marriage-seeking gay couple arose from the culture wars of the past three decades in which sexuality outside of marriage was bad, family was narrowly defined as married couples with children, and allegiance to country was blended with belief in heterosexual, monogamous two-parent families. Good gay people increasingly became identified as those who passed and who sought ways to mainstream into a culture whose norm was white and middle-class. By the 1990s, not many LGBT organizations were taking on the broken social contract that was fracturing our society; instead, they were for the most part seeking equality in a vastly unequal world. It was then that the path of the welfare queen and the good gay couple began to merge. And the Right figured out how to combine racism and homophobia in its strategies to move both its economic and social agenda.
Their common road was displayed in 1992 in the two landmark ballot measures in and Colorado. These constitutional amendments called for prohibiting “minority status” and “quotas” for lesbians and gay men—that is, prohibiting something that no one in the LGBT community had ever called for. In their campaigns, they argued that “gay rights are special rights” and that only “deserving minorities” should receive civil rights, i.e., special rights. What they successfully accomplished in these campaigns was to redefine this country’s understanding of civil rights to be special rights (as opposed to civil rights being constitutionally granted to all) and to make people think that one had to be deserving in order to receive them. And who became defined as not deserving? Why, of course, LGBT people, depicted by both the mass media and our own as white, and the Black welfare queen. These amendments, defeated in Oregon and passed in Colorado, prepared the groundwork for the Right to attack affirmative action as a special right and to take Black communities the message that white gay men and lesbians are challenging both their morality and their civil rights gains.
These cultural, religious, and economic wars continue. The welfare reform act has virtually demolished welfare; no elected official dares to support increased taxation despite an enormous national debt, impoverished state governments, and diminishing human services; churches have become a major force in politics; and gay rights, abortion, and immigration remain the hot button issues of the media and elections. These conditions are the landscape for another shared path of the welfare queen and the gay couple.
This time, there are two seemingly separate but connected agendas, and both promote marriage. The Rightwing’s “pro-marriage” agenda comes with $300 million from Bush for marriage promotion for those who receive welfare, initiating a distinction between good families (married) and single parents (welfare queen). For the last decade, the Right’s web pages have been filled with concern about the breakdown of marriage, the need to keep gay marriage from weakening it further, and more importantly, with definitions of healthy families. They are set on a course to define narrowly what a legitimate family is and what support it can receive through church-based initiatives who deliver government benefits. The path leads to compulsary marriage granted by the state, delivering the benefits of small social units held under the authority of men and easily identified and controlled. Such units fit in nicely with the massive identification and surveillance of Homeland Security, whereas loosely woven, broadly defined families do not.
The “gay marriage” agenda seeks the full benefits of marriage at the moment when these benefits are disappearing through the loss of the social contract. The fight is for access to one’s partner’s insurance coverage at a time when insurance is dwindling, for access to one’s partner’s social security benefits at a time when social security is in complete jeopardy, for tax benefits when taxes are not the issue but services are. Framed as a civil right, this course seeks equality in a world that daily destroys economic justice and creates a fractured society. As does the Right’s pro-marriage agenda, it calls for benefits, however few they might be, to be tied to legality and legitimacy, determined by the state.
LGBT engagement in the battle for marriage as a single focus risks missing the larger issue that surrounds it: how family is defined and, through that definition, who is determined to be legitimate in this society, who has standing, privileges, benefits. A narrow definition is based on state-determined legal status and includes who can adopt, who can provide foster care, who can retain custody, who can have in vitro fertilization, who is eligible for benefits—and ultimately, who has legitimacy as a full person in society. The Right’s effort to restrict the definition of family far overshadows the agenda to enforce heterosexual marriage.
Because the relentless constitutional amendment campaigns have opened every door for discussion of marriage, we now have a chance to use the marriage debate to move toward a larger goal. We as LGBT people do not want to contribute to a more restrictive, authoritarian society, especially one that particularly targets African American single mothers. We can take this moment to move the debate from marriage to the definition of family and the social contract. What, then, are some ways the LGBT community can move in concert to achieve common goals in a time in which the focus by the Right and our own people is on marriage? We can seize the moment and use it to shape what we want. Because the television sits at the center of most homes, this discussion of marriage is going on everywhere. There is no more silence or denial about the existence of LGBT people. Now is a rare moment of great opportunity to talk about every issue of importance to us.
Those issues are many, but I would place family high among them. This is not an argument for saccharine images of couples and children or for nostalgic images of two adults and children in a small house with a picket fence. Instead, it is recognition that our strongest social formations are small and are found in the ways we are bound to one another by commitment, love, loyalty, responsibility, and sometimes, but not always, biology. Worldwide, these formations are called family, tribe, clan—one’s people. What we have called family in the US has been fluid over time. Today, what we know as family (but is not necessarily legally recognized) includes many configurations: blended families of married couples and their children and relatives from other marriages; LGBT couples, with or without children; grandparents raising children; single parents and their children; unmarried people and their chosen families of committed friends; nuclear families; unmarried people living together; unmarried individuals and their children; old people living together for companionship and economics; married or single people with adopted or foster children–families who always have room for one more, whether blood related or not.
What we have in common is that we all want recognition and respect for our relationships, the means to take care of each other, freedom from unjust authority, a legitimate place in our communities.
To achieve these goals, we will have to develop some strategies such as these:
· Use our skills, born of necessity, for creating chosen families (we are experts);
· Broaden the definition of family within state agencies;
· Gain legal recognition of a wide range of relationships;
· Separate benefits and privileges from marital status;
· Work to establish a strong social contract that guarantees universal healthcare, genuine disaster relief, affordable housing, etc.
· Build a new cultural traditions for honoring relationships in ways that are not controlled by either the church or state;
· Join with others who face state opposition to their family composition and/or rights: immigrants, old people, single parents, former prisoners, battered women, poor people.
It makes sense that so many of us seek marriage because of our deep longing for public commitment or because of economic need. While a marriage strategy meets some of our individual short-term goals, we have the opportunity now to build a movement strategy that includes everyone and gives us much more. As Kay Whitlock In a Time of Broken Bones says, "We can follow a strategy that permits us to build bold, new relationships across many constituencies struggling for the integrity, stability, and security of many kinds of families and households. Far from being a tactical retreat, this approach stakes out new ground that permits us to forge new approaches to shattering the power of homophobic and racist “wedge” politics.
it creates new terrain on which to engage countless faith communities that care
passionately about economic justice. By it’s very nature, it deconstructs the
lethal sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that have stalked the marriage wars."
Our efforts for recognition of our lives and our right to be free and fully human are intimately connected with others who suffer injustice and who struggle for fairness and human dignity. Why not take this moment to go for what we want for all of us: a free and just society that is inclusive and provides broadly defined human rights based on equality and justice. Why not include it all in our vision: our individual and collective right to food, clothing, shelter, education, health, a clean environment, a living wage, safety, and relationships of our choice.