While the Occupy Wall Street drama unfolds around the U.S., in Oakland, New York City, Portland, Boston and many other places, the philanthropic sector is trying to figure out how to engage, to be supportive or to participate. Like many other funders, PDF has, with a supportive donor, bought tents, water and other supplies for Occupy Oakland. PDF’s Program Director, Kazu Haga, has been involved and frequently in the blogosphere around the Occupy Oakland movement. We are respectful of the energy, commitments and time of those involved. Kazu’s blogs have dissected the tough tactical challenges of the day-to-day activity.
At PDF we also are discussing philanthropy, movement building and the long haul. We have a critical question.
How do we marry the long term, non-profit social justice movement, and particularly the public foundations and other progressive funding entities, with the short-term, immediate explosion of the Occupy Movement?
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
PDF and other funders like the North Star Fund and the Funding Exchange in New York, Crossroads Fund in Chicago, the Mackenzie River Gathering in Portland, have been supporting the social justice work that goes on every day in many Occupy communities for decades. This is the hard, steady work of educating people and communities, building leaders, preventing evictions, assisting the elderly and immigrant people, supporting veterans. Many of the occupiers hail and call these places home, and are connected with non-profits, fiscally sponsored groups, churches or other community-based organizations. Other folk come from no organized entity.
While recognizing the energy and fullness of a new mass movement, it is important that PDF and others keep working with the groups we have been working with, that we don’t go “all in” with the Occupy Movement to the detriment of the long-term organizers and community organizations. The sixties and seventies generations built a legion of non-profits and foundations and we sustained a social justice movement through tough, often defensive times as the right wing ascended. Our large non-profit community has been raising many of these same issues for a long time. In 2008, many of those who voted for Obama came from the organized, informed, active communities we have been supporting, but again, they came from housing groups, immigrant rights groups, etc.
Funders cannot always respond quickly enough, and we can’t just keep buying water and tents. And timing is everything. This generations’ revolution is not necessarily going to come solely from the non-profit world. The occupiers have upped the ante and made inequality in all its ugly forms a broad-based and open conversation.
As organized philanthropy, we should be careful not to get in the way of this moment’s new methodology and perspective. This movement does not need to become tax-exempt so that we can support them. The occupiers come from all over, and it is a new phenomenon drawing on the Arab Spring, drawing on the social justice non-profit sector and drawing on labor struggles. But to date it is not dependent on philanthropy. That is a beautiful thing. We can be mentors, trainers and supporters, but this is a new day for many social justice organizers, so we need to find new ways to engage as funders.
So the question continues, how do we coalesce the long-term social justice movement, the public foundations and other progressive funding entities with the short-term, immediate explosion of the Occupy Movement? Our job as funders and leaders in the non-profit world is to help make these movements compatible and complementary. Indeed we need to keep strengthening the entire social justice movement in this time of short money, tough fund-raising and ongoing long term structural issues.
The Occupy Movement is illuminating the traditional non-profit sector’s shortcomings with a bonfire, but organizers and activists have been shining a light on the desire for social justice for decades. Together we could create a conflagration.