In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Manisha Vaze, Senior Program Manager of NFG's Funders for a Just Economy, reflects on funder strategy discussions for building worker power.
These days, between the news cycle and continued attacks on working families, it can feel overwhelming to push forward our agenda for justice. This feeling isn’t a new one – movement work comes with big ups and downs, especially as the political landscape shifts. While conservative forces are oppressing people of color and social movements more than ever, the movements we support have also stepped up their level of risk-taking and proven over and over again that our voices wield a lot of power.
To me, this feeling of power amidst chaos is what it felt like to be at this year’s NFG National Convening in St. Louis. It was a moment of reprieve from grieving the barrage of terrible government policies and state violence impacting Black and Latinx communities and transgender women of color. It felt empowering to be standing in community with other funders, discussing how best to resource the movement for justice, and hearing from inspiring speakers who shared their stories and brilliance.
There were several standout moments for me during the conference related to the Funders for a Just Economy’s (FJE) goals and objectives as a network. This year, our network wanted to explore shifts in the economy, the rise of political power in the financial sector (a process called financialization), and the moves the worker justice movement was taking in reaction to Supreme Court decisions that were going to be announced during the conference.
One of the financialization workshops provided a phenomenal overview of how the economy and the financial sector were built from a history of slavery, genocide, racism, and sexism. Speakers from the Action Center on Race and the Economy, Americans for Financial Reform, Grassroots Collaborative, and the Partnership for Working Families shared how communities of color and women of color in particular have been excluded from opportunities for wealth creation and have been targets of wealth extraction. In another workshop on financialization and disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico, José García of the Ford Foundation joined speakers from the Center for Popular Democracy, the Maria Fund, and Public Accountability Initiative/LittleSis to describe how these themes continue today. They spoke on how wealth is being extracted from the colony as more and more policies towards privatization benefit investors instead of Puerto Ricans.
The conference’s learning tours also provided an opportunity for grounding ourselves in the context of St. Louis, MO. I joined many FJE members on a tour that was led by the Organization for Black Struggle and Missouri Jobs with Justice. As we drove through the neighborhood towards the Organization for Black Struggle’s office, we learned how decades of racist city policies left neighborhoods bereft of economic opportunity and prosperity.
Once at the office, members of both organizations described their organizing strategies to shift power in the state. Currently, communities are engaged in policy solutions that aim to curb the influence of money in politics, raise the minimum wage, and improve the lives of workers in Missouri. Most recently, these organizations were key partners in the educational effort that led to the huge victory of repealing the state’s “right to work” legislation. Repealing this legislation removed limits to workers’ abilities to collectively ensure they have better pay and improved working conditions.
FJE and the LIFT Fund organized a Labor Strategy session on the learning tour to discuss upcoming challenges to labor unions after the looming (and now ruled) decision on Janus v. AFSCME at the Supreme Court. Major themes that funders were grappling with during the discussion included how to develop a funding strategy in this new political landscape and context, how to shape the future of work, how to work with unions and their members, understand new frameworks for collective bargaining, and build power and our vision for change.
And finally, FJE’s dinner programming was another highlight for me. The arts collective Bread and Roses performed a few of the vignettes from their production, A Workers’ Opera, that shared how “right to work” policies have always been fueled by locking workers of color out of industries and shared benefits. And at the conference’s awards reception, NFG Award for Excellence honoree Molly Shultz Hafid and Discount Foundation Legacy Award winner Enrique Balcazar inspired us all to think creatively about how we show up, use our power and influence, and become better movement partners.
As FJE looks ahead, our network will continue to analyze the political landscape and strategize together to further develop our vision for moving money for justice. We will also continue to have deeper dive discussions to address financialization, shape the future of work, and learn about how Labor and the worker justice movement is evolving.
The NFG conference reaffirmed for me what we can do together to push the boundaries in our powerful roles as funders, and foster long-term partnerships with community organizations that are building momentum and shifting power. It was a call to action: our communities cannot wait for us to get it right. History has shown us that those with power will fight – by derailing our progressive agenda and using violence – to maintain white supremacy and capital. And history has also shown us that bold action, escalation, culture shift, and people power can and will prevail. I look forward to continuing to stand in power with each of you.
Follow FJE on Twitter at @FundJustEconomy.
Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on our Member Blog.