Tag Archives: donating money

Zeph’s story

I’m a mid-forties white genderqueer person born and raised in Montreal and raised again as an adult queerdo in the Mission District in San Francisco. I came from an owning-class Canadian WASP family. I can thank them for good teeth and education and vacation opportunities and also for legacies of silence, repression and anger. In 1987 I landed in San Francisco desperate for connection and found it among all the small-town escapees, queers from every quarter who had managed to walk-crawl-run to a city where they could find others like themselves.

I came for a visit and stayed. I dropped out of college. I got my real education. Friends hooked me up with under-the-table work doing housepainting, bookstore work, manufacturing, commercial kitchen work, you name it. The community in San Francisco was the first place I had felt relatively safe and sane. I learned about street economies and I absorbed a lot of politics and went to a lot of protests.

When I turned 25 I found out that I had inherited stocks from my paternal grandfather that at this point were worth somewhere around a quarter million dollars. They were controlled by my Dad, who worked at a firm that invested wealthy peoples’ money for them. (And yes, they all played golf together on weekends.) I ignored this information for years because I had a terrible relationship with my Dad and didn’t want to ask him for anything EVER, particularly money. But I also felt guilty and conflicted, knowing I could have access to this resource and seeing so much struggle around me while I had this huge insurance policy.

When my Dad finally retired, a family friend in the good ol’ boys’ club took over management of those stocks and I was finally able to put aside my family baggage enough to step up to the task of redistribution. I did a ton of research, found Resource Generation, went to a couple of Making Money Make Change (MMMC) conferences, “came out” (with mixed results) to friends in my life, and in the end distributed about 75% of my inheritance, mostly to community-based foundations and some directly to organizations doing work I admired. I chose foundations with strong leadership by women, queers and folks of color, hoping they would be better gatekeepers than I could be on my own. Resource Generation and MMMC were super useful as a starting point, but I didn’t stay involved because it felt limited for rich folks to talk in closed spaces only with other rich folks about social justice. It inherently excludes the wisdom of those who know economic injustice from the inside out.

I didn’t redistribute 100% of my inheritance because I figured I was on my own from there on—my family was both threatened and hurt when I gave away this money and I assumed I wouldn’t inherit again. I didn’t want to find myself in a bad situation because of medical bills or some other crisis and have my friends and family say, “well, you had money but you gave it all away–why should we help you now?”

It was a surprise to me that my Dad gave me more assets when he became sick with cancer. As a raised-poor, formerly homeless friend said to me, “Wow, when you’re born with money the world just keeps giving it you, huh?” Before Dad died, he called me on the phone and asked me to agree I wouldn’t spend it on anything that wasn’t an investment in my future security. I thought for a minute silently about how my individual security is closely wrapped up with the security of communities I depend on, and I agreed.

I want to both honor my Dad’s concern (that I’m going to die broke and alone) and also take a lesson from an ex-lover who I was dating while I was divesting my previous inheritance. At the time, she was struggling to get into nursing school, cause she was coming up on 40 and she was tired of being poor. At the time she expressed a lot of frustration that I wasn’t putting those resources to work in a way that more directly supported the community we were both part of. It’s true, why was I funneling cash to the nonprofit industrial complex when folks we both knew were struggling with basics like health care, housing and work? Her own upbringing taught her that if you have a dime, you share it with your family and friends. I told her I felt overwhelmed by the potential minefield of being a gatekeeper in my own community, and I also wanted to support movements and organizations that were working on root causes and with communities outside of the mostly-white queerpunk circles I knew personally.

I don’t have answers. I am trying to act strategically, and I am also trying to learn what some of my working class friends have told me they take for granted: the habit of sharing as a daily act, without heroics or fancy labels like “philanthropy.” It gets complicated, but I am continuing to act on that principle–that I as an individual am only going to be healthy and safe if those around me are healthy and safe.

What I Gave and Where I Gave It: 2008 Giving Plan

Tyrone Boucher

Where The Money Came From (and some history)

My dad set up a trust fund for me when I was young, with stock from a software company he started. The company ended up making lots of money, and my trust fund grew to about $400,000. When I turned 25 (last year), the option opened up for the trustees to begin transferring the money into my control.

Because of my involvement in economic justice organizing, I’d already had lots of conversations about class, inheritance, and giving with my father by the time I started to get the money. He agreed to arrange for $200,000 to be transferred into a brokerage account that I controlled. I used some of the money to pay him back for my expenses he’d paid for in the past (like school), and put most of the rest of it into my giving plan.

Dealing with this money has been an ongoing process of talking with my family, understanding kind-of-complicated financial and tax stuff, making compromises (mostly about moving more slowly than I’d like), and getting clear on my own motivations and vision. I’m planning to give away 50-60% of the money from my trust fund by 2010, and most of the rest of it later, as I get access to it.

I’ve been really glad to have this opportunity for honest conversations with my family and community about wealth, class, and giving. I try to share my giving plan as much as possible if people are interested, mostly to start community dialogue and get feedback and provide an example of giving money with a social justice framework. I always like hearing people’s thoughts and ideas and impressions. I hope this can be a tool to inspire people to create new and interesting ways to give money – there are so many different ways to do this and I sure don’t have it all figured out.

Values

1. The vast majority of my giving goes to social justice organizing (i.e. groups that organize communities to fight the root causes of injustice).

2. I give almost entirely to groups that are led by the communities they are organizing; specifically, folks who are most directly affected by oppression – people of color, poor/low-income people, queer and trans people, women, etc.

3. I give to organizations with a multi-issue analysis because I believe that all forms of oppression are connected, and that everyone’s liberation is bound up together.

4. I give without regard to 501c3 status or whether or not my donation will be tax-deductible.

5. I strive for accountability and transparency in my giving by sharing my giving plan freely and soliciting direct input from other activists, organizers, friends, and family.

6. I always give unrestricted donations rather than requiring that my gift be used for a specific purpose or project.

7. I make multi-year commitments as much as possible, and try to be clear with the recipients about how much I can give and for how long.

8. A percentage of my giving goes to social justice foundations with activist-advised funds, because I believe they do important work to support grassroots organizing and reshape philanthropy in positive ways, and that they are an important model for shifting the decision-making in social justice funding from individual donors (particularly folks with privilege) to community activists. I also know that the grant application and review processes that come with foundation funding can drain the time and energy of organizations – so, I chose to give the majority of my donations directly to orgs.

9. I make a point to give to individuals when I can, because I want to live in a world where people support each other and share resources within networks and communities.

10. When possible, I try to pair my giving with fundraising and donor organizing. I believe that donations can go farther when I use them as an opportunity to educate and engage with other donors about my choices, so I always give publicly rather than anonymously and try to use my giving to help get other people to give.

Process

I was intimidated by the idea of creating a giving plan, because I wondered how I would ever be able to choose between all of the amazing social justice organizations that I wanted to support. I had been giving smaller amounts somewhat haphazardly for a few years before I began gaining access to my inheritance, but I’d never created a clear plan.

When I finally sat down to do it, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I made a list of all the organizations I’d given to in the past, and all the organizations I’d always meant to give to. I wanted to give consistent support to these groups, so I added them all to my new, multi-year giving plan.

I wanted my giving plan to reflect a wider range of organizations than the ones I was personally familiar with, so I informally approached several organizers in my extended community whose work I admired and asked them for input. They recommended organizations with whom they shared values and who they saw as allies in their work (I also specifically asked for organizations who had a hard time getting funding from traditional sources), and these organizations also went on my giving plan.

The process of trying to figure all this out has taught me that there are so many ways to give money, and most of them are both useful and challenging in their own ways. I try not to get too caught up in working towards perfection, because there is definitely no perfect or best way to create a giving plan. I think of giving money as one small facet of my social justice work that hopefully reflects my broader commitment to wealth redistribution, anti-oppression, and grassroots organizing.

Here’s how it worked out:

Anti-Incarceration

Safe Streets/Strong Communities $7000 ($5,000 was for Expungement Day (partnered with Critical Resistance NOLA))

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children $2500

Critical Resistance $150 through monthly sustainer program + $600 for CR10

Critical Resistance New Orleans $2000

Anti-Violence/Transformative Jusitce

Communities Against Rape and Abuse $500

Generation 5 $360 (through monthly sustainer program)

Healthcare

New Orleans Women’s Health and Justice Initiative/INCITE! New Orleans $6000

Women With A Vision (New Orleans) $2000

Third Root Community Health Clinic $2000 (Half of this donation is a “loan” – to be paid forward to another community health project in 2009.)

Queer and Trans Justice

Southerners On New Ground $2300

Sylvia Rivera Law Project $3000

Arts and Culture

Esperanza Center $2500

IDA $3000 (one time gift to help them buy their land)

Sins Invalid $500

Anti-Poverty/Homelessness

POOR Magazine $2500

Welfare Rights Organization (New Orleans) $2000

Coalition on Homelessness $2500

Western Regional Advocacy Project $250

Social Justice Foundations

21st Century Foundation $2000 (Through Gulf South Allied Funders (gsaf.info))

Bread and Roses Community Fund $50

Immigrant Justice

New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice $3000

Madre Tierra $6000

Other

Resource Generation $1500

Catalyst Project $2080 (monthly sustainer plus one-time gift)

KINDRED $2000

Making Money Make Change $100

ticket for NOLA activist to attend NPA conference $373

Misc urgent appeals $2000

TOTAL YEARLY GIVING $62,158

Letter To My Dad About Giving Away Money

 by Tyrone Boucher   
 
I wrote this letter to my dad as part of an ongoing dialogue we were having shortly before I turned 25 and began to get some access to the trust fund he set up for me. I wanted to explain why I planned to give away the money, why I thought it was important and useful, and why I wanted him to be involved.
      

Hey dad, 
 
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my email! I read it several times, and I’m sure I’ll return to it frequently as I continue to think about this stuff. Everything you wrote about economics was really interesting, and gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I view wealth accumulation. I have a lot of thoughts prompted in part by some really awesome books I’m reading right now about the racial wealth divide and political economy respectively, and I would really love to talk more this stuff as I finish those books and pull my thoughts together.
 
For right now, though, I want to respond to some of the more personal stuff you wrote – as well as bring up stuff that is really timely right now in regards to my giving and my own relationship to wealth.
 
I’ll start with this: as I mentioned, I recently joined a donor circle called Gulf South Allied Funders. This move (even though I already have a million things on my plate) was really important to me, because GSAF is a group I’ve been inspired by since it began a little over a year ago. Beyond just the fact that I think a lot about the impact of Katrina and its obvious connection to racism – and want to help support social justice in the Gulf South however I can – GSAF uses a model of giving that I find really exciting and thoughtful. I’ve already explained some of this, but the basic history/model is this: nine young (white) people with varying degrees of access to financial wealth (who knew each other through their work with Resource Generation) came together in the wake of Katrina with the goal of leveraging their resources and class privilege to support the equitable rebuilding of the Gulf South. They acknowledged that they weren’t a part of the communities most violently affected by the hurricane and the racist devastation that came with it, and had the goal of working with a regranting institution that was connected to those communities and more able to identify and strategically fund the important work that was being done. That’s how they ended up partnering with the 21st Century Foundation – a Black community foundation with longstanding relationships to community organizations in the south.
 
Most of the money that GSAF helps channel to 21CF doesn’t come from the personal giving of the nine original members of the group – it comes from fundraising within the communities that those folks have access to. This includes their families, friends, churches, etc. as well as the Resource Generation community – and also a few established donor networks (Women Donor’s Network, Threshold Foundation) that have been asked to match or double the funds that GSAF raises.
 
I think about this when talking with you or mom about the idea that the money in my trust fund isn’t substantial enough to actually make an impact in social justice movements. I agree with you that just giving the $400,000 or so that I have to a grassroots organization or activist-led regranting institution won’t catalyze a revolution. But there are a couple reasons why I still feel compelled to give, and give a significant portion of what I have.
 
The first is sort of what I described above – the way that my wealth and class privilege give me access to communities that have more resources than I do, and a certain amount of leverage in communicating with those communities. Maybe not always as an individual, but in teaming up with GSAF I become a part of a powerful donor network with connections, influence, and lots and lots of money.
 
It feels really weird. A lot of the folks I meet in these communities have very different politics than me, and I don’t always agree with the ways some other donors and donor networks choose to use their resources and power. But, as I’m discovering more and more, just being a self identified “person with wealth” gives me a certain “in” in this world. Rich people, even progressive rich people, have a tendency to take each other seriously in way that they don’t with other groups (particularly groups that most directly and urgently need funding). And though the reasons and dynamics behind that feel fucked-up and oppressive, one thing that I have come to believe in the course of my activist work is the importance of organizing in the communities I come from. Working with Resource Generation and GSAF and Making Money Make Change feel like ways that I can learn to acknowledge and take responsibility for my own privilege while simultaneously using it to “leverage” power in a way that 1) is accountable to grassroots movements, 2) challenges other wealthy people to be less oppressive, and 3) supports the vision of the more just world that I would like to see.
 
The second reason I feel compelled to give is a more personal, spiritual urge. I’m incredibly inspired by the folks I’ve met who gave away their inherited wealth to support social justice. I find it particularly inspiring when this giving includes an analysis of the inherent power dynamics of philanthropy and an effort to redistribute power in a way that transfers decision-making ability about the money to the hands of people and communities who are on the front lines of social justice work. I have seen the way that this intentional letting go of power has been transformative for many of my friends. It isn’t about whether or not the money is ultimately used most “effectively” (whatever that means), or about releasing the giver from the guilt of having lots of privilege. What has inspired me most is the idea that simply the act of giving and the just transfer of power that accompanies it is a radical act, and one that – in itself – is in alignment with a vision of social justice.
 
I know that in our conversations, I can (and often have) come across as filled with righteous indignation as well as guilt about my privilege. I do feel anger, as well as some guilt. However, I am finding those emotions to be less and less useful as a place from which to do activist work. Increasingly, am am supported and sustained by social justice work in a deep way – by the vision for a better world, as well as the art and community and support and political inspiration and personal growth and challenge that come out of radical movements. When I give money, I intend to be really conscious about not doing it from a place of guilt, but doing it from a place of love and joy and the desire to align my actions with my spiritual and political beliefs.
 
I’m also conscious that my own ability to consider giving away a big chunk of my financial “cushion” is directly related to the fact that I grew up so financially supported. I am extremely grateful for the feeling of safety and of being taken care of that was connected to being financially secure growing up, as well as for the many opportunites (various types of lessons, Farm and Wilderness, my bike trip and trip to Thailand, and many more) I was able to have. I know that these resources alone put me in a position to be able to have even more resources and security for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for the flexibility that having access to money and other resources has given me, and I’m even more grateful for your willingness to let me find my own path and for encouraging me to follow the things I’m passionate about.
 
I guess the reason I’m saying all of this to you is that I feel like I’m in a process of evaluating how much I need and how much I want to give away. I respect the decisions you make around supporting yourself and your loved ones, and I see (and really respect) that you haven’t been motivated by greed or the desire to accumulate wealth. I hope you can see where I’m coming from, and know that I’m explaining this all to you because I do respect and feel supported by you. I feel that you support me in my process about this stuff and you listen without judgement when I talk about class privilege and related issues that could be really loaded. I want to engage with you in this process, and get your feedback about the thoughts I’m having.
 
I also want to hear about the feelings that get brought up for you around safety and security when I talk about giving away money – because I have feelings about that stuff too. I remember a good conversation we had once when we were walking around the lake that touched on this stuff, and I want to explore what it would mean for my life not to have this big trust fund, and get your insight about obstacles and problems that I may not have thought about.
 
While I ponder all of this, it’s important to me to actively start the process of giving, which is why I’ve committed to GSAF and have been giving smaller amounts to other organizations more frequently. If you recall, we each gave GSAF $500 last year. You pretty much just gave because I asked you too, I think. I’d like to talk about the idea of both of us giving more this year - and if you are open to giving more, to be more engaged with me about what giving means, and why we’re doing it, and how we can come from different places but be on the same page about the act of giving. I don’t know if that sounds vague…what I’m trying to communicate is something about how giving money isn’t just something that I do because I should, or because I feel obligated to, but something that feels like an inspiring and empowering act. I’d like to share that with you in some way. Though I’m not attached to you increasing your donation, I would at least like to talk about it and continue to share what giving means to me.
 
Anyway, this is long, again. Obviously this stuff is on my mind a lot, and just writing it out is really useful. Thank you again for having this ongoing dialogue with me – I’m really excited about it. And I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.
 
xoxo Tyrone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes From New Orleans

March 2008 

 

Earlier this week I attended an amazing event put on by the Worker’s Center for Racial Justice here in New Orleans. In a chilly gym near the old St. Thomas housing development, a crowd of people gathered to celebrate victories. A group of organizers from the Congreso de Jornaleros (Day Laborer’s Congress) performed a play celebrating the victory of a group of Indian guestworkers who had been lured to the United States at huge personal cost, with false promises of permanent residency and steady employment. Instead of finding the anticipated American dream, they had been abused by an exploitative company, forced to sleep 24 to a room, prevented from leaving company premises, and threatened with deportation when they tried to organize.


The Indian workers united with the Workers’ Center and guestworkers from other countries to form an alliance, and were able to organize a strike and call media attention to the plight of immigrant workers post-Katrina. After the play celebrating their success, they hugged and shook hands with the day laborers, everyone started singing, a New Orleans brass band paraded into the gym, and the night segued into a boisterous dance party.


The program, which was translated into four different languages, was an amazing example of what many activists have called horizontal solidarity – solidarity based on a shared stake in the work, in which everyone involved has both something to gain and something to give by working together. Indian guestworkers, Latino day laborers, displaced New Orleans public housing residents, and activists from New Orleans and elsewhere all came together to support the common struggle against the racism, imperialism, and economic injustice that has raged out of control in the Gulf Coast since the storms.


I’m here in New Orleans for a month-long visit, and solidarity has been consistently on my mind. Since Katrina, this city has notoriously been a destination for young white activists to come and do volunteer work, largely hosted by the organization Common Ground. This has created a source of much-needed volunteer labor for the rebuilding process, but it has also skewed the racial demographics of the city (replacing many displaced, majority Black New Orleanians – nearly half of whom have been unable to return – with white activists from out-of-state) and created a lot of problematic dynamics rooted in racism and white supremacy. Groups like the Bay-Area-based Catalyst Project and New Orleans’ People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond have approached this situation as an opportunity for movement-building and anti-racist political education, and some white anti-racists from out of town have chosen to stay and build solidarity with local groups while working to challenge white supremacy. In a recent anti-racism discussion group here, several white activists asked questions about what solidarity looks like for those of us who aren’t direct casualties of State and capitalist repression. What is the role of white people, non-New Orleanians, people with access to affordable housing, to healthcare, to quality education – what is our role in this struggle? Is there a way we can help dismantle oppression by learning about the ways our privilege functions? Is there a way for us to use the privileges we have in the service of a larger movement?


Gulf South Allied Funders

The project that prompted my visit to New Orleans is an example of one attempt to put privilege to work for social justice. About a year ago, I joined a fundraising project called Gulf South Allied Funders (GSAF). The project was founded a year earlier by a group of fellow organizers connected to Resource Generation, a national organization whose goal is to organize young people with wealth around economic justice, anti-oppression, and social change philanthropy. The logic behind GSAF’s founding (directly post-Katrina) was that, as radical people with various types of access to wealth (personal inheritances, family foundations, connections to donor networks and wealthy communities), it would be useful for us to strategically direct whatever resources we could towards people of color-led, on-the-ground rebuilding efforts. We wanted to send money to grassroots organizations, and wanted to avoid the racist and paternalistic power dynamics common in traditional forms of philanthropy, especially when grantmaking is directed by wealthy white donors. We decided to use our resources to raise money (our goal – which we reached – was $1 million a year for three years), and to leave the distribution of the money to folks who already had trust and relationships with community-based organizations in the Gulf South. After some research, GSAF partnered with the 21st Century Foundation, a Black foundation with established connections to many of the organizations that are leading the grassroots rebuilding effort.


I chose to get involved in GSAF despite having many critiques about the dynamics of foundation funding, because it was one of the best models I’d seen for getting a large amount of money to New Orleans and surrounding areas, and doing it quickly, consistently, and at least somewhat sustainably. The fact is, wealth is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer (overwhelmingly white) hands. A minuscule percentage of U.S. wealth is used for philanthropy, and less than 3% of that goes to social justice organizing. Out of that 3%, the majority is still controlled by white funders and given with varying degrees of strings attached. Within this context – and particularly in the post-Katrina Gulf South, where the social justice infrastructure is still suffering from the devastation of the storms – there are few structures that are able to raise and distribute large amounts of money in a truly grassroots way. We conceptualized GSAF as a way of using our privilege and resources to increase the U.S. philanthropy dollars going towards social justice work, respond to the urgent need for funds in the Gulf, and shift the role of gatekeeper from disconnected white funders to Black funders and organizers with connections on the ground.


And the project has been successful in many ways. Established funding networks that GSAF members were connected to agreed to match and double what we raised; we asked all our friends and family to contribute; we threw house parties and held briefings and sent fundraising letters and
update letters and follow-up letters. And the money we raised went almost entirely to small, Black-led organizations doing the necessary work of organizing, rebuilding, and fighting for justice in the Gulf South.


In the context of this fundraising project, there have been a lot of questions and dynamics that we’ve continually struggled with. Although we’ve worked hard to shift power and challenge white supremacy within the funding world, it’s impossible to avoid situations in which racism and economic injustice play out in uncomfortable ways. Philanthropy is not pretty – it exists because of (and depends on) gross inequality, and comes from a structure that is the antithesis of grassroots. In order to raise money for GSAF, we sometimes fell back on tried-and-true fundraising tactics that were inherently classist, like briefings directed towards major donors and expensive fundraising dinners. These were effective for raising money, but were largely class-segregated and worked essentially by pampering wealthy people. We helped set up donor tours to the Gulf South, in which GSAF donors (with staff from 21CF) visited organizations in New Orleans and surrounding areas to hear about their work. These trips kept donors engaged, but also replicated familiar dynamics in which grassroots organizers were expected to take valuable time from their work to share and dialogue with wealthy funders.


Leveraging Privilege – Beyond Philanthropy

Despite all this, it’s pretty clear to me that the work we’ve done in GSAF is useful. We’ve managed to raise almost three million dollars for amazing grassroots organizing, and we’ve challenged some donor networks in anti-racist ways by engaging them in a process that was explicitly designed to challenge white supremacy within philanthropy. When we have access to powerful but problematic institutions, trying to leverage them for social justice can be a useful role for privileged people to play, as long as we make sure we’re not doing more harm than good. But I want to make sure that this isn’t where our work stops.


With Resource Generation and other organizations, I’ve done a lot of social justice organizing with other young people with inherited money. The U.S. is currently in the midst of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history, and I think it’s strategic to do anti-oppression organizing with the people who are poised to inherit that wealth and the massive social power that comes with it. This is often referred to as “donor organizing,” which is actually an inadequate term for what I hope we’re doing. I see it as more than just organizing young rich people to donate money to social justice activism, but also as anti-oppression work that asks class privileged folks to take responsibility for – and work against – economic injustice. We talk a lot in this work about “leveraging privilege,” and I think that concept is really useful in any work that privileged people do to fight oppression. But I want us to remember that “leveraging privilege” does not boil down to just leveraging money. The work I do with Resource Generation intersects with philanthropy for obvious reasons – giving money away is a really good way to use privilege in the service of social justice. But I think that sometimes some of the thinking that fuels social justice philanthropy – specifically, the stark distinction that is made between donors and activists, and philanthropy’s tendency towards keeping wealthy people validated and comfortable at the expense of challenging the status quo – can color our approach to social justice work generally as people with class privilege. I worry that we will get so caught up in the different strategic approaches to giving away money, or try so hard to give money in the best possible way (as if one exists), that we will mistake this for the actual work.


We leverage our privilege not because it’s a big gift we have to give to the social justice movement, but because leveraging privilege is the least we can do when the systems that provide that privilege are the same systems that keep the majority of the world oppressed. Money doesn’t cause social justice, activism and organizing do – and giving money is minimally useful when we don’t do the work to challenge the institutionalized power structures that make sure we’re the ones who have that money in the first place. Privilege makes us so disconnected from reality that it can be easy to step back from struggles that don’t seem to directly affect us – but if we truly believe in social justice, it’s important for us to be active participants in the fight.


Active Solidarity

The tendency to get so caught up in “working in our own communities” that we neglect doing the real work of organizing is notoriously a little endemic among privileged folks. Catherine Jones, in an essay called “The Work Is Not The Workshop: Talking and Doing, Visibility and Accountability in the White Anti-Racist Community,“* calls out the tendency of white anti-racists to get so tripped up by the What Is My Role question that we neglect plunging our hands into the actual struggle. She names the importance of anti-racist analysis, education, and internal work, but calls for white folks to put a little less time into “figuring out” exactly how to do the work and a little more time into actually doing it.

 

Here in New Orleans, I’ve been learning a lot about the recent history of post-Katrina social justice organizing. I’ve spent some time volunteering with local organizations, and I’ve felt extremely privileged to learn from and support the work of the passionate local organizers who are working together to fight for a just rebuilding of their city.

 

I’ve seen white activists, out-of-town volunteers, and recent transplants to New Orleans working hard to remain accountable and support the leadership and self-determination of the folks who live here and who are still struggling with the after-effects of Katrina - and I’ve also heard a great deal of criticism about white activists reproducing racist dynamics, failing to listen to the voices of Black New Orleanians, and generally doing more harm than good. Hearing critique like that (and seeing those dynamics in action) is always troubling – and often scary for allies who are hoping to work in solidarity. 

 

It’s crucial for us to listen to those critiques, and to respond to them by strengthening our anti-racist skills and analysis and shifting oppressive patterns – not by removing ourselves from the struggle or deciding that our only useful role is sending money, educating each other, and rooting from the sidelines for organizers from directly affected communities who have no choice but to fight. Often, when privileged activists take a strong stand to fight for social justice, we are accused of acting out of guilt and naive idealism. Although these are undoubtedly motivations sometimes (untangling all of our feelings about our role in oppression takes time), the critique implies that it isn’t the place of folks with privilege to fight for social justice on the front lines. Actually, it is our place to work hard, take risks, and use our skills as organizers while honoring the leadership of poor folks and folks of color. Activist and political prisoner David Gilbert writes, “There is nothing guilt-ridden about identifying with oppressed people – especially when they have been blazing the trail toward humane social change.”**


I want us to notice when the work we do to confront our own privilege turns into a new way of distancing ourselves from the in-the-trenches organizing that is being led by communities that are directly under attack. We all have tangible skills, and there are a million ways to put our skills to work - fundraising, press releases, childcare, journalism, web design, art, event planning, campaign strategizing, research, interpreting, phonebanking, being a medic, baking cookies for the meeting, etc. When we put most of our time into organizing other people with privilege, we are more able to avoid situations in which we don’t feel comfortable, or our own internalized supremacy is glaring, or it isn’t appropriate for us to take leadership. When white anti-racist activism gets defined as leading workshops and holding reading groups, or when activists with class privilege put all our energy into figuring out how to give away money in the most perfect way – and working with other rich people to try to get them to do the same – we’re not using all of our potential as allies and participants in a movement.


I’m inspired by the concept of collective liberation, the idea that social injustice doesn’t take place in a vacuum but is connected to a bigger power structure that affects all of us; that we shouldn’t do the work of fighting oppression out of guilt or obligation but out of the knowledge that all of our humanity and liberation is bound up together. I’m awestruck by the work of all the organizers of color who are leading social justice movements and building community power while also dealing with racism and economic oppression on a personal level. And I’m awestruck by the amazing and committed white anti-racists that I know, and by class-privileged folks who are challenging capitalism and economic injustice, and by everyone who is passionate about working for a more just world. I want us to do this work because we care about justice and because we care about each other. I want privileged folks to keep challenging racism, capitalism, and exploitation in our own communities and in the world; and I also want us all to be empowered to step up and get involved, to stop ignoring the struggles that are happening around us every day, to stop holding ourselves back just because we’re afraid of making mistakes. This is about all of us.


 

*http://colours.mahost.org/articles/jones.html

**From Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground Organization and the Politics of Solidarity by Dan Berger, p. 134

Some earlier conversations

The idea to create Enough came out of some conversations that started in July on my livejournal cruciferous and continued and continued and continued and continued and continued. It turns out people have a lot to say about this stuff, and that inspired us to dedicate this space to it. We hope you find it helpful.

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Privileged with Cancer

          It’s been four months since I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and six months since my long-term partner and I split up. Needless to say, thirty-one has been a fucking hard year for me. Less than five percent of women with ovarian cancer have my type, germ cell, and most of those who do are between the ages of fifteen and twenty. My diagnosis and treatment have impacted my life in deeper ways than I have words to adequately express, both negatively and positively, and I have faced enormous challenges. One of the major factors contributing to my ability to successfully meet these challenges has been my class identity. My recent experiences with cancer have provided me the opportunity to more viscerally understand the individual and institutional privileges I have access to and have inspired me to share this understanding with others in similarly privileged positions. Early on my process with cancer, I made the decision to use all the angles I could, however unfair it might be, to take care of my body and to save my life. While this decision feels like the right one, my experiences have continued to feel complicated and riddled with questions. What does it mean to be a radical with access to the best medical care in the country? What privileges are okay to use? Can I still be part of the “movement”, even though I belong to the owning class? What is the best way to leverage the resources I have towards social change? For those of us whose fire inside burns stronger with the possibility of a just world, where every human need gets met, where we are collectively liberated from oppression, I am hoping that my story will encourage discussion and action. Continue reading