On October 4th 2016, I joined a team of Black Lives Matter national and Mid-West organizers, including local Black organizers from Columbus, Ohio. We came to organize in response to the killing of Tyre King, a 13 year old Black boy shot in the back of the head by police on an alleged would be robbery with a group of friends. He died on September 14th 2016. Our mission as a national team in Columbus was to support local efforts in the creation of a Black-led organizing collective to support Tyre King’s family in achieving justice for his murder. In addition, we were there to expand their base of local Black people in the community, so that they could better mobilize their community and escalate action 61qlloo. Ultimately, to hold the city accountable for yet another atrocity where another Black life was taken through state sanctioned violence, this time by the Columbus Police Department.

Upon my arrival to Columbus, our team was briefed on the cultural and political landscape of Columbus, Ohio, and the events leading up to the unfortunate shooting lead to Tyre’s death. In the response to the state sanctioned killing committed by Columbus Police Department a local organization, People’s Justice Project, led an action a week prior to my arrival. Ohio Students for Black Liberation, an independent collective of Ohio State students and faculty, also conducted an action at the Ohio Union. As reported by Socialist Worker, People’s Justice Project met with City Council President Zach Klein to demand the re-evaluation of the Summer Safety Initiative launched by the police department (and that was also responsible for the killing of Henry Green that preceded the killing of Tyre King).

However, that meeting came with stipulations to have Klein commit to meet the demand calling for money divested from the program for re-allocation to community projects like People’s Justice Project. It is important to also note that Zach Klein was running for County Prosecutor, at a time when the then current County Prosecutor, Ron O’Brien presided over the cases of Tyre King and Henry Green. He had a political incentive to consider this demand in legitimizing his candidacy to voters. It also should be noted that the People Justice Project itself is a project of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative with a 501c3 and 501c4 status. As a progressive organization they of course supported Klein, with much emphasis on their electoral organizing, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) work, where for better or worse he ended up losing his race against Republican candidate O’Brien.

Some people in our movement believe that it is part of the non-profit “hustle” to take grant money from the government, funders, donors, and intermediaries. As long as the intent is to support grassroots efforts in the building of grassroots political bases in cities and towns across the US, they can ask questions later about accountability to their benefactors later; however, the impact of funding such efforts have been challenging and have created organizing tactics that have undermined political actions. Instead of furthering our objectives, resting our laurels with the establishment has bolstered the status quo in the case of Columbus.

Funders and donors can fund anchor social movement organizations and cadre formations who claim to do base building organizing work locally in communities. Those of us in the non-profit sector attune to these dynamics have seen grant-making efforts that fund initiatives that tokenize, placate or manipulate the participation of local Black organizers and community members through collusion with private and governmental institutions, and labor unions that support their own political interests.

Whether intentional or unintentional, those formations who position themselves as movement ‘first responders’ to acute crises of racial injustice more often than not wind up crisis pimping communities impacted by state sanctioned violence. They exacerbate the re-traumatization of predominantly Black communities already suffering from poverty and anti-black structural racism. This is especially true when there are no feedback mechanisms where social movement networks, anchor organizations, and leadership are accountable to local community bases. This is where social movement encapsulation is created.

Social movement encapsulation happens when pathways for participation, information, and resource mobilization become restrictive and enclosed. The movement’s infrastructure and organizational forms isolate themselves from the capacity to reflect and learn, let alone absorb new members. This happens through a variety of different factors whether through cult of personality, lack of embodied values and principles that embrace direct democracy, lack of pathways for membership, overemphasis on conformity to implicit expectations within an organizational form versus critical evaluation and alignment. As a result, there is minimal building of political power capable of disrupting the status quo or offering alternatives to that power beneficial to those at the margins. When these dynamics are at play while donors and funders are investing in them, they can facilitate the process of encapsuation. 

This results in the inequitable distribution of resources received from philanthropic efforts and donors across the movement’s networked ecosystem. Such a disconnect in distribution creates an encapsulated social movement industry comprised of social movement organizations that serve as non-accountable gatekeepers for the very status quo establishments our movement seeks to transform. Resources are not thought of as assets to be shared across a network but rather to be bottlenecked among movement leadership leaving our movements to be resource rich and coordination poor. It leaves marginalized communities no more prepared nor resourced than they were when a crisis happens as we saw in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. It also leaves families unsupported and displaced socially, emotionally, and financially, especially when they are victimized by state sanctioned violence as in this case.

Untitled presentationThis image is an oversimplication for purposes of clarity, however the reality is often much of the money goes to the organization and/or coalition with a backbone or anchor institution itself, and very little to grassroots efforts that does not have a 501c3 status. Even for the efforts led by black and brown organizers who hold an anti-black racist and class politic that have that tax status who recieve little to no resources face these similiar challenges. Also, organizations may be slow to support emerging grassroots efforts. They usually do so by hiring them and when they don’t fit into the culture or aligned politically they end up leaving the organization.  And finally, funders and donors traditionally have their own organizational strategies and seldomly collaborate with others. Funders are usually seen as the sole source of resource, so then they have a lot of power since they decide how and where funds go. i.e – focus on electoral organizing, policy and advocacy strategies, etc.

What we see, at best, is where some foundations are supporting this movement to shift policing in this country and also are funding work that subjugates and undermines the movement’s efforts. For instance, California foundations or Wells Fargo in Charlotte can fund conversations around Community and Police relations when there has been enough evidence collected through the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing nationally that inherently tells us there should be a decentralization of power in police departments so that there is community control over how public safety is created and functions especially in predominantly Black communities.

We see resources being used to host barbecues or in the case of St. Louis Police Foundation money was used to purchase an ice cream truck to support community and police relations. Another example of this, was when donor Michael Jordan funded the NAACP Legal Defense Fund while funding the International Association of Chiefs of Police to legitimize the institution of policing through the creation of tool kits and resources on community police relations and implicit bias training. Meanwhile, in the case of the killing of Philando Castile, the officer’s attorney states in Time, “This had nothing to do with race and everything to do with the presence of the gun that Mr. Castile had.”

The question I will leave us with, especially as many of us are looking to prepare for the multiple crises we are in,  with Donald Trump as our President-elect is:

What if we took the opportunity as movements to define and prioritize our practices of distributing resources to further our political objectives when receiving or generating funds, while having in mind how it will impact our immediate and long term goals?

In the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform the third policy demands under reparations calls for,

“Reparations for the wealth extracted from our communities through environmental racism, slavery, food apartheid, housing discrimination and racialized capitalism in the form of corporate and government reparations focused on healing ongoing physical and mental trauma, and ensuring our access and control of food sources, housing and land.”

Our donor and funder organizing for movement building should not just be about getting money to movements in the here and now, but to also transform how we give so that the extractive and transactional nature of how we give is made obsolete. Instead, we need to design participatory structures that give those marginalized, decision-making power in how resources can support the strengthening of relationships, resource mobilization, and institution building in our movements. Social movement organizations alone can’t create the conditions to support communities to thrive in dealing with crisis preparedness. By ending the investment of social movement encapsulation, movements can be resourced in new ways that incentivizes relationship building in our networks that get resources to the grassroots and the individuals and communities that have been directly affected by crisis. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity for movement networks to share resources that maximizes the use funds that would otherwise go to a limited group of leaders or organizations. 

      • Networked movements require a shift from solely foundation-centered funding to a broader conceptualization of resources. That support grassroots movement activity through fast and flexible resources. These resources can support movement security, healing, network leadership development, building, and transformative relational culture.
      • We call this broader approach a living resource system to recognize the complex range of resources that need to be identified, linked, moved and in some case restructured to support the dynamic nature of networked movements. In this system we can address power and the tensions of the two economies (a movement gifting economy vs. the non-profit economy): how can non-organizational actions also get supported?
      • This approach recognizes that everyone has access to resources and can help move those resources to places where they are needed. The more people see themselves as resource mobilizers, the more transformative movements can become.

For more information, questions or feedback, please reach Allen Kwabena Frimpong, allen@movementnetlab.org