They are institutions, not individuals | The American Conservative
Organize Right is a regular column with less beat than a meander on the topic of organizing: how the right does it, like the left, lessons from its history and its impact on the present.
One of the recurring aspects of right-wing culture – normal, fringe, and similar – is a fascination with the crucial man’s idea. Blame our individualism or our obsession with great men of history or our admiration for business owners; Hero-hungry righties are fixated on the idea that individuals can change their own lives or even their history by choosing one course of action and doing it fearlessly while leaving their followers behind. This is how we imagine our heroes – and our villains too.
Case in point: George Soros. His organizations do a lot for Team Lefty, but he’s not the be-all and end-all of the Left, any more than the late Saul Alinsky was the be-all and end-all of the organization. But Soros and Alinsky are the names righties know, so let’s hang on to them and imagine them as the other team’s version of our own heroic decision-maker – or, if you like, the puppeteer characters from the Ben Garrison cartoons. That’s why you see people on the right swearing that organizing is all about Alinsky, or that George Soros pays every black block.
But to people who actually worked with George Soros and people like him, he looks very different. Just ask Gara LaMarche. You’ve never heard of him, but he worked for Soros at the Open Society Institute for 11 years (his résumé also includes ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and stints as president of the Atlantic Philanthropies and Democracy Alliance). Most recently, LaMarche was the guest editor of a special philanthropy issue for the online left-wing magazine The Forge.
The Forge is a strategic magazine and common room for organizers published by Lindsay Zafir. Its start-up was funded by the Bauman Foundation, Ford Foundation, Needmor Fund, and Rockefeller Family Fund, and its editorial advisory committee and publishing committee include representatives from groups from the Center for Popular Democracy, UNITE HERE, Sunrise Foundation, the AFL-CIO, and a variety of other important groups that you’ve probably never heard of. We are talking about a certain subset of well-connected organizers; the operator-industrial complex, if you will.
The LaMarche magazine issue features contributions from academics as well as past and present representatives of various organizations – some minor and some power players you’ve heard of (and some power players you don’t know). Contributors write about the role of philanthropy in the organization, how they see it, and where they ultimately want to go. More on that in a moment, but first, what does George Soros look like to a guy who worked with George Soros, and how did George Soros get started with this whole bottom-up organization?
According to LaMarche’s own post, George Soros was slowly coming to appreciate bottom-up organization. The first step was to fund educational projects by people from this world: veteran civil rights organizer Bob Moses (in his new project a community education that helps children have a better future through algebra lessons) and Ernesto Cortes from Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, founder of the church organization group Communities Organized for Public Service and the Alliance Schools Strategies. As LaMarche puts it:
Moses and Cortez [sic] were national “brands” but I remained largely ignorant of more local grassroots initiatives. Then one day a board member of what was then the Jewish Fund for Justice (now Bend the Arc) asked if she could visit me with the director of the fund, Marlene Provizer, to tell me about her work. I said I would like to learn from it, but that support was unlikely as it didn’t seem to fit into any of our articulated program areas.
They walked into my office one afternoon and walked me through the organization’s approach, which at the time included wealthy, mostly Jewish, donors, motivated by the tradition of social justice of their beliefs, donating to a joint fund, which in turn was mostly black and white brown groups across the country working on poverty, education and justice issues. I was blinded by the diversity of the groups and attracted to their approach to redistribution. When my friend asked for a million dollars at the end of our meeting, I said, “Nice try.” But after they left, I shared my enthusiasm with others at Open Society, and we ended up offering the fund a multi-million multi-year Challenge scholarship.
From the point of view of LaMarche and its contributors, George Soros and similar persons and organizations are not sovereigns to whom you obey. They are cats to be looked after. Contributor Cecile Richards, who you may recall from the headlines she made during her previous appearance on Planned Parenthood, believes that living donors like Soros are more difficult to manage than institutions like her current position at the Ford Foundation. It’s not that the Ford Foundation isn’t a slow and lumbering beast, but living individuals who actually control the wallet are less predictable, which means they are harder to influence.
And radical left want to influence them. This concept will be difficult to understand for many Righty readers, especially at our base. But LaMarche and his contributors – from our point of view, absolutely dripping Regarding Resources and Support – Feel like the real problem with the resources and the support they are receiving is that Radicals cannot adequately control it. The two scientists Megan Ming Francis and Erica Kohl-Arenas argue that foundations all too often have a moderating influence on radicals and that this needs to be changed:
As large foundations continue to demand change and promise to support them with their dollars, we need to make sure they are not responding to the moment by supporting reformist or palliative programs. Paul Ylvisaker, a key figure in the Ford Foundation’s funding allocation in the 1960s, once advised the Foundation’s staff “to seek consensus on approach and solution. Consensus is an institutional imperative these days, simply to minimize the friction caused by institutions operating in overcrowded social and political environments. ”That was bad advice for philanthropy then – and it is bad today Advice. Instead, foundation leaders need to allocate resources to local groups to build new forms of community security, welfare, and empowerment – and trust that these organizations know how to do their jobs.
While several papers make recommendations on how to reform foundations, the main message of the reasoning is what it always is – to really change things, foundations and philanthropists need to make special structural changes to ensure leftist outcomes and leftist business practices. Sometimes it’s just about giving grassroots organizations more money and less oversight (be honest: who of us wouldn’t want that in our own lives?). But it also involves structural changes in the way decisions are made and money is given.
Here is an example of a relatively value-neutral structural change advocated by Phil Radford, who was Executive Director of Greenpeace in the US and is now CEO of Progressive Power Lab – essentially a venture capitalist equivalent for left-wing nonprofits and corporations. Radford argues that philanthropists are best at helping:
not just to fund more organizing, but also to provide catalytic funding to meet the 50/50 rule: to help organizing groups get fifty percent of their funding from philanthropy and fifty percent from their grassroots and businesses achieve. To get there, philanthropy should invest five to ten percent of its funds in the independent revenue generation programs of mission-oriented organizations, shifting its funding priorities from policy-making to power-building.
However, most of the proposed changes are nowhere near as simple and practical. Many of the contributors are keen to use left-wing organizational techniques to grab and redirect what we believe is thoroughly captured but contained in their under-left institutions. For example, here is Farhad Ebrahimi, whose Chorus Foundation is spending its endowment to bring about “a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States”:
With an information deficit theory of change, “organizing” the board is a fairly low bar. We send them a few readings, there is a compelling presentation, and we have a solid conversation. That’s all fine and good, but what about power mapping your board of directors, developing the leadership of certain board members to challenge consolidated power and investing not only in their training but also in their skills and relationships? Consensual board members are good. Attuned board members who can speak powerfully when needed are great. And coordinated board members who can speak powerfully and organize their colleagues to do the same are fantastic.
… My own endeavor is to use family philanthropy as a reparation tactic, with the rather big caveat that it explicitly questions what words like “philanthropy” or “investment” normally mean. And I believe that the concept of reparations literally requires a rethink in our entire political economy – not just in the current system of “paying off a debt”. There is no justice on a scale within the confines of racial capitalism.
Philanthropy, as it is conventionally understood, is the product of racial capitalism.
If you really want to see where left philanthropy – and left organizing, by the way – is headed in the future, you should learn the term “racial capitalism” because it is likely to become mainstream in the same way that “privilege” is. The concept comes from the work of the late U.C. Cedric Robinson, Santa Barbara political scientist. He did not coined the term; per a profile from 2017 by UCLA professor Robin D.G. Kelly in Boston Rating, Robinson borrowed a term originally used to describe apartheid in South Africa in particular and appropriated it to describe capitalism in general. The idea of racial capitalism appears in several of the Forge essays, most notably that of Adriana Rocha and Manisha Vaze. Rocha heads the Neighborhood Funders Group; Vaze is Strategy and Program Director at Funders for a Just Economy. They put their point of view quite blatantly:
There are many limitations to the ability of philanthropy to dismantle racial capitalism. Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes philanthropy as wealth stolen twice. The rich accumulate their wealth through forced deprivation of labor, land, and culture from black, indigenous, and colored communities, and then protect their profits from taxes by philanthropic institutions, which generally make charitable investments in institutions built for them. Philanthropic institutions have long been used to promote settler colonialism, white cultural norms, and white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, and Christian ideologies. They create a false sense of scarcity and overdependence on their donations, and through their decisions about who to fund, develop narratives about who is listening and deserving care. Meanwhile, the corporations whose profits underlie philanthropic institutions are shirking responsibility for the welfare of their low-wage workers, defrauding our tax system, limiting the government’s ability to regulate them, and contributing little to local public finances.
Most boards of trustees are represented by wealthy individuals who have a personal interest in maintaining the status quo. Boards are tasked with making investment decisions without understanding the needs of the community or making any contribution from the community. Since most nonprofits rely on foundation funds for their work, the wealthy can also use their philanthropic efforts to silence and crush radical resistance efforts, movements, and grassroots power.
If you are on the right side reading this, your reaction is: “Philanthropic foundations as being naturally right? You’re kidding, aren’t you? “
No, they’re not kidding, and as the last few years have shown, radical left-wing ideas are hard to laugh about because leftists have more opportunities to popularize their marginal ideas than your mainstream ideas. One of the most important things they do, like Rocha and Vaze in particular, is to provide detailed steps with actions to take and lists of people who can help you. Rocha and Vaze don’t just talk about the importance of educating yourself; They help you tell where to get indoctrinated and who can give you checklists of tasks to help turn your philanthropic institute into a machine for dismantling racial capitalism (which, as you have noticed, simply means “capitalism”) . Her post talks about communities to join, from peers to study groups, and encourages donors to ease both better fund organizers (who want better salaries and civic things like retirement benefits) and their bigger jobs, including traveling to make themselves easier network with like-minded groups around the world. Rocha and Vasa advise, “If philanthropy fails to take action to demolish racial capitalism, it will continue to be complicit in maintaining the status quo and unable to meet the growing needs of the most severely affected communities.” They want each other not complicit, right?
Again, and I can’t stress it enough, don’t get attached to any of these people I mentioned now that you know their names. The left is not a top-down hierarchy with neat checkboxes. Right-handers, especially naive right-handers, like to imagine that one big bad guy rules everything in the other team. There isn’t one, and this decentralized approach seems slightly better than our decision-maker model.
If we want to oppose the left and its philanthropic power, perhaps we should understand how they see themselves. And maybe – just maybe – the famous heroic model of change isn’t how permanent change actually works.
David Hines has a background in international human rights work with a focus on post-disappearance recovery and mass murder. He lives in Los Angeles.
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