What Does it Look Like to Occupy Philanthropy?

In late June, Funding Exchange helped organize a call with funders about the Occupy movement. The call focused on three areas: what Occupy-related work are funders currently supporting? How is research reflecting dynamics we witnessed on the ground? And in what ways have funders transformed as a result of the Occupy movement?

Occupy Philanthropy, launched in early 2012, was begun by a group of funders and donor activists to share and develop strategies for supporting Occupy and Occupy-related organizing efforts, and to move philanthropy toward being more responsive to the calls for social and economic justice articulated by the Occupy moment.

This call was organized by the Occupy Philanthropy Organizing Committee, made up of EDGE Funders Alliance (formerly Funders Network on Trade and Globalization), Access Strategies FundBen & Jerry’s Foundation, Solidago Foundation, Sister Fund, The Chorus Fund, The Good Shephard Fund, Quixote Foundation, Parker Street Foundation, and Funding Exchange.

Over 45 funders RSVP’d for the call; in solidarity with Occupy, we had assistance from InterOccupy who allowed us to use the technology they use to organize communication and hosts virtual meetings across all the Occupy sites. The call was facilitated by Kelly Bates, executive director of Access Strategies Fund.

The first segment of the call focused on what funders are seeing on the ground with OWS and related efforts, and featured Theresa Earl from the Movement Resource Group, the fund set up by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s and others. Following a grantmaking model similar to Funding Exchange, their funding panels are comprised of half activists and half funders, who review proposals, go on site visits and make funding recommendations.

From her vantage point as an Occupy Boston activist, Theresa has learned a lot about exciting and creative Occupy work going on around the country. Then other funders on the call shared examples of projects they are supporting, advancing or participating in. Some projects were local initiatives, such as actions against fracking or worker abuse, but most were national, largely collaborative, efforts. Examples of the latter include the following:

  • Occupytogether.org – a website that connects individuals to the #occupy movement with information, tools, connections and more
  • Occupy Manifest: a leadership training designed by occupiers, for occupiers (occupymanifest.org)
  • The Working World: a non-profit organization that provides investment capital and technical support for worker cooperatives using an innovative finance model
  • The Unity Alliance, a national coalition of workers’ rights organizations, using the 99% spring platform to conduct trainings around direct action and civil disobedience to their constituents. Focusing on racial as well as economic justice.
  • National Student Power Convergences: taking place August 10-14 in Columbus, OH
  • Occupy the Dream: working with Black clergy around a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics; also focusing on voter suppression work.
  • EDGE Funders: are participating in a conference to plan for the next World Social Forum which will be in Tunisia in April 2013. The older and younger generations of activists are coming together to learn from one another.

New Research on Millenials, Activism and Race

In the second segment of the call, Rinku Sen from the Applied Research Center and editor of Color Lines, eschewed the idea of Millennials being a ‘post-racial’ generation – they talk about race and have a commitment to racial justice and equity. However, a recent ARC report Millenials, Activism and Race about politically-active Millenials demonstrates some important differences among them around race and class analyses.

Here are some highlights from the report’s findings as shared by Rinku Sen:

  • Young people had a commitment to building a society in which people share, and they saw this as being effective.
  • The public lack of awareness of history and the system and the doctrine of individualism were the greatest barriers to this. They also saw racism and xenophobia as a barrier, and consumerism and complacency.
  • All cited family as an influence that moved them into the work but people of color cited this explicitly whereas white people emphasized friends, books, education and media.
  • All participants thought that race was a factor but people who were active in community-based organizations were more comfortable bringing race into the analysis, whereas people most active in Occupy had a clearer critique of capitalism but less facility with questions of race and gender.

On another level, Rinku discussed the political spectrum – how different people occupying various points on that spectrum might relate to each other.

She described this as a situation where on one end there is emphasis on affecting institutions, and on the other, people who are trying to emphasize building alternatives. This is not a “conservative to progressive” spectrum but rather a tactical spectrum. All the points on that spectrum help influence the agenda. She suggested you find where you fit and coordinate with others rather than dismiss them. Coordination is not entirely necessary, however, as long as all can continue moving forward.

Answering questions from people on the call, Rinku pointed out that Millenials need to be able to talk about how race continues to play out in today’s society, not just historically, and understand the relationship between the system and the effect on people of color.

When asked about how to bridge the difficulty of bridging Occupies and community organizations, she said that there is work being done to address this. She said that community-based organizations are not always ready to receive support from Occupy activists; and that Occupy activists have few collaboration skills, leading to basic mistakes.

One participant stated that what they found to be most important in bringing CBOs and Occupy groups together (in their work doing direct action training around housing justice) is to have the necessary political training built into the infrastructure of the collaboration.

Call for More Community-led Grantmaking

The last segment of the call focused on how funding and organizing around Occupy has impacted the culture and conversation in philanthropic institutions and philanthropists personally. Some foundations shared that they have shifted managerially – creating more horizontal structure in decision-making.

Funding Exchange was at the forefront of community-led grantmaking nearly 35 years ago, and we are pleased that Occupy has influenced foundations to start including community members in their decision-making processes.

Similarly, a representative from Take Back the Land shared that they are finally seeing a shift in attitudes around direct action and civil disobedience. They are getting more calls than ever from people asking for training in this skill.

Another participant shared that something she has taken from Occupy is the importance of knowing where money is being held – what our endowments are doing, what our investments are supporting.

The call energized funders and helped spread crucial information. For more information about how you can help Occupy Philanthropy, visit them on the web: http://occupyphilanthropy.org/