Grassroots fundraising and the joys of worker co-ops

I left my heart in Muir Woods (photo by Posadas)

Hello dear Enough readers! So many things to write about, so little time in life, you know what I mean? As I was lying in bed last night making lists in my head of all the things I want to write for Enough, I realized I should say something about these two amazing conferences I was at last month during a typically whirlwindy (though still filled with beautiful nature trips) Bay Area visit.

One was the Money for Our Movements conference (f.k.a. Raising Change, which I wrote about in 2008). Grassroots fundraising is still radical, y’all. I’m not only talking about any old individual-donor-solicitation/direct-mail-campaign/donor-cultivation grassroots fundraising, but transformative, anticapitalist, community-rooted, reconceptualization and redistribution of resources. Highlights of that conference for me included spending time with my friend Susan Raffo (Twin Cities residents, you should really get in touch with her for bodywork, facilitation, and sheer brilliance), who co-presented a workshop with David Nicholson and Kate Eubank featuring a social justice resource sharing model they developed (check out the description of the workshop called Resource (R)evolution on Susan’s website). It’s awesome and I think it’s going to change everything. Hopefully more on that to come (maybe I can get Susan to write something about their work for us to share on Enough…). Susan edited the book that sparked some of my early self-reflective class analysis, and continues to write things that inspire me and influence my thinking all the time, like this essay: Radical acts of queer love: some lessons from September 11th.

Another highlight was seeing the incomparable Cara Page, who is doing incredible reproductive and healing justice work in the South and is a visionary genius of the highest order: witness. She also gave a keynote at the conference (along with Ai-jen Poo, a very smart and awesome organizer with Domestic Workers United – check out their blog). Cara recently wrote this piece reflecting on the healing justice work that changed my life at the USSF, which I really think you should read.

Also, Tiny and I gave a workshop about engaging major donors in collective liberation, which was deep and involved a story circle about sharing resources from a place of community and love. I left feeling extra reflective about how important it is to be holistic in the work we do if we aim to really change or transform anything. The power dynamics in fundraising are so connected to the trauma people experience under capitalism and white supremacy, and I appreciated the space to acknowledge that fundraising can be really triggering for those reasons. Conversation about grassroots fundraising is often so technical and skills-based, which is important but doesn’t always leave room for vision and connecting to the real reasons we’re doing the work we do. I was also grateful for Susan’s and other workshops at the conference (like an awesome one about challenging white supremacy in fundraising) for creating that space.

In the spirit of doing way too much in one week, I also attended the US Federation of Worker Co-ops conference with three of my coworkers. Have I mentioned that I work in a co-op? The theme of the conference was “The Work We Do is the Solution,” and I’m here to tell you that worker co-ops really are a solution, people. You know how we talk about needing to not just resist oppressive structures and institutions but also build new ones based in justice? It’s like that. I had an unfounded fear that this conference would be filled only with manly, alienating bicycle mechanics, but instead there were domestic worker collectives, recycling collectives, taxi driver collectives, restaurant and grocery and facilitation collectives, and so many others, all with different approaches to collectivity and worker ownership.

On that note, I really recommend the book Horizontalism for more co-op inspiration – it uses personal testimonies to describe the popular uprising in Argentina in 2001, when the people overthrew the national government (several times in a row) and built/took over hundreds of autonomous, co-operative institutions to support their lives, from factories to schools to hospitals to barbershops to grocery stores. It goes well with the movie The Take. I read Horizontalism with my study group last year during a minor slump in my co-op enthusiasm and felt vigorously re-inspired.  I sometimes get bogged down in the challenges of working collectively (especially in a consensus-based organization, which my co-op is), but these kinds of texts and spaces remind me how intertwined the worker co-op movement is with Left movements for liberation.

p.s. Do I use too many embedded links? There’s just so much I want you to know about. I store it up.

2 thoughts on “Grassroots fundraising and the joys of worker co-ops

  1. Kim

    Tyrone, I loved the links and I doubt I would have found these things independently. Susan’s piece about love was exactly what I needed and hearing Cara speak was very powerful.
    A friend called me a horizontalist recently. I didn’t know what he meant but it was clear from the tone he didn’t hold it in high regard. I found out what it meant and had no problem with it and knowing that you might be counted among them makes me feel like I’m in damn good company.

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