Resourcing & Supporting Intersectional Work

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Resourcing & Supporting Intersectional Work

I want to begin be thanking all of the Conversation Leaders for volunteering their time, effort, and knowledge to this very important conversation on Intersectional Human Rights Organizing. Please take a moment to click on individual Conversation Leaders' profiles to learn more about the work they do and support the organizations and causes they represent. A stronger human rights community can be built through the support and encouragement of an engaged network of activists and practitioners.

In particular, I want to thank the Organization for Human Rights and Democracy and Yolande Tomlinson for their effort and dedication to putting together this conversation.

The following questions serve as a framework for this discussion thread on 'Resourcing & Supporting Intersectional Work': 

What funding strategies have you used to resource the work? And how can foundations and traditional lines of funding better support intersectional work, organizations, and movements?

What sorts of organizational structures and infrastructure are needed to nurture and/or strengthen an intersectional approach?

What are or has been some support strategies for building strong, effective, and long-lasting movements grounded in an intersectional approach? (This could include examples that range from supporting and caring for yourself to other individuals, organizations, or movements)

Organizational Structures & Infrastructure Needed

Because of its radical character and powerful potential for correcting historic wrongs rooted in capitalist, white supremacist, and hetero-patriarchal oppression, intersectional human rights organizing that aims for not only broad, but deep connections is going to be a struggle to resource.  This type of organizing is never going to be funded like some major non-profits are.  Our current social, political, and economic systems are not designed to make it easy for the marginalized to coalesce. 

So, in order to overcome this situation, we're going to have to develop methods to fund our work directly from the grassroots or the people most impacted.  This isn't an impossible task, though it is a difficult one.  A good model for intersectional human rights organizing would be labor unions.  They're resourced by their members and are not necessarily beholden to any other forces.  In fact, labor unions were stronger in the days before automatic dues checkoff or automatic bankdraft.  This tells us economic self sufficiency is possible.  We'll just have to creatively employ various strategies for individual and organizational giving.  This is not say that resources from the foundation world should be rejected.  No.  But, we must recognize that in order for intersectional human rights organizing to realize its full potential, the most affected must be at the center of not only the organizing, but also the resourcing of the work.

Having said that, I'm not an expert, and I'm still thinking through this question.  I would love to dialogue about ways we can achieve this. 

Individual Donor Cultivation

I agree with you, Terence, that we have to come up with new and varied sources for funding intersectional work, and for exactly the reasons you have pointed out. I also agree that the resourcing (money, time, ideas, agenda) must come from the grassrootss or those directly affected. In addition to membership, because not everyone will want to be a member or might meet the membership criteria and if we are talking about folks who have limited funds because of the oppression they suffer, we will also have to think about resources, namely money, coming from non-members, but people who support the work in full, portions of the work, or the people doing the work. Building our individual donor network of these supporters, I think, is another way to raise funds and do the work.

Political campaigns use this strategy to raise funds and some larger national non-profits also employ this approach. This basic idea is also what's built into crowd funding platforms, though I find it displeasing that they take what I consider a large percentage of the money raised (and even larger if you don't meet your fundraising target). Social media, personal and professional networks present great opportunities for cultivating these donors.   


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Crowd funding...

I concur with your comments. While I think there likely are some "usual suspects" that would support true intersectional work, they are few and far between. I also think that we have to think creatively. Sometimes, we need to think about what services we can provide for compensation. We also might think about directly impacted people beyond the ones who immediately come to mind as sources of support.

One of the things I have thought about a lot is the need to consider resources that are not financial that help us to get our work done. I know these are things we do without thinking, but I just want to raise up the value of those items.

Yolande, I am wondering if you can talk more about your ideas about crowd funding. I must be honest and say I struggle with this, so I am eager to hear your thoughts.

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Reclaiming our tools for crowd funding

Thanks for the question, James.

So, the idea of crowdfunding as I see it is based in principles of community support, collective responsibility, shared rewards, and the power of individuals to come together to realize a broader vision or goal. These are principles, I think, that are antithetical to the prevailing capitalist model of sucking resources from the many for a few, exploiting the individual/worker by profiting from his/her surplus labor, devaluing the individual's labor, time, ideas, health, safety etc in order to max profit, and concentrating power among a few (in this case financial resources but also claiming ownership of ideas and products that belong to the collective). Although many of the current crowdfunding platforms operate on these principles, by and large, they function to prop up capitalism rather than work to undermine and dismantle it at its core. For example, the campaigns that tend to be successful are ones that can produce a product or widget or they tend offer equity/stock in a potential company. These projects tend to have wider appeal for a variety of reasons mainly because they are not threatening to the current order. Instead, these platforms offer a way for some us who are the excesses of capitalism to still participate in the capitalist dream by utilizing a cooperative model. What's also troubling is that these platforms charge a percentage fee for their services. So you have to raise the money keeping in mind that you have to fork over some portion of it. The more money you raise, the lower your percentage. But this model doesn't benefit small grassroots groups who are not raising hundreds of thousands or millions (we could set our goals that high, but again you end up paying more on this if you don't meet your target.) They also do not share their email/contact lists with users, so you have to go through them each time you want to raise money and you don’t have access to the people who are supporters. For these reasons, I see these platforms as supporting capitalism rather than threatening it. This is of course a broad reading and I'm sure one or two examples exist to "challenge" this reading, but exceptions don't disprove the rule. I'm also sure that new models are cropping up every day as there's an increase in the number and types of platforms and growing.

So, my alternative is, what if we reclaim these cooperative principles of raising money, but don't use these platforms for doing it? Instead, organizations or grassroots groups create their own appeal campaign in much the same way that the platform allows, utilizing your member and supporter databases, social media followers, churches, local businesses, etc as likely donors/supporters.

While it's difficult to fund "intersectionality" we can fund the constitutive parts on an intersectional campaign. E.g., some people will give because of racial justice, some will give because of workers' rights, and still others will give for education or so forth. What this means is we have to know our audience and what appeals to them, but also utilize the opportunity to educate these donors on a broader understanding of the issue(s) they care about and how they are connected. We can do this is formal ways such as trainings, but also through the fundraising process, such as keeping them informed throughout the campaign and demonstrating as we go along how the issues interconnect in the work we are doing. If we start from the whole, we may never get a lot of people to donate, but if we start where they are and allow them to see the interconnections, we will get more people to donate. This is the same idea Thandabantu expressed in his reference to Ella Baker and how many who understood race and class oppression began also identifying gender oppression. My one-one-engagements with people, teaching in classrooms, and working in small community-based groups demonstrate the effectiveness of this tactic, and I think we can also marshal it for fundraising purposes. 

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That sounds right

Thanks so much for that response, Yolande. I think you are exactly right. I have 99 problems with crowdsoursing as it is mostly done now. In addition to your comments, I think it fundamentally lacks community accountability. When we raise money through our one-on-ones with folks who are invested in the work, we expect to be held accountable -- and I think that is important. I don't see that in the crowdsourcing world.

With that said, I love the idea of reclaiming cooperative principles of raising money, but outside these platforms. I think that is part and parcel of reclaiming histories and processes. Great work has been done using these principles in the past, often by relying on folks with far fewer material resources than many of us now have. So I think it is absolutely doable.

And no doubt that fundin the constitutive parts of a campaign is the way to go.

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For Cooperation Jackson's

For Cooperation Jackson's Holiday (December until New Year's day) and February "Show your Love" fund drive, I created an independant platform so to speak with our website. I set it up modeling the way I had done one previously on Indigogo but we got all the money, no fees and everyone was automatically added to our mailing list.

I saved the page but it is not live anymore, but I could share with anyone who wants to see it by request.

I did all the things you do for the popular platforms, made a short video appeal, had suggested donation levels with catchy names and thank you gifts, set a schedule for using twitter and facebook along with mailchimp to spread the word and give updates. I recruited some people to committ to helping push as well (that part didn't work out so well, but could).

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Sharing Resources

Saki, That's great to hear that Cooperation Jackson was able to do that. I would love to hear/see how it was done to replicate for ourselves.

Your willingness to share (and this platform itself) speaks to something else that's needed for doing this working, which is a willingness among organizers and organizations to share resources, ideas, lists and such. I've worked in coalitions, where we were not all working from the same principles and it made it difficult to achieve our goals because some organizations were unwilling to share their contact lists. In the example I'm thinking of specifically, they were concerned about a large national organization coming in and benefiting from their work without them also benefiting directly or equally from the outcomes. In many ways, I understand such a position, especially when marginalized communities are often the object of study and their ideas/resources/techniques are coopted and utilized without your input or direct benefit. This also means that large national or international organizations need to be mindful of their interactions with smaller groups not to reinforce perceptions of them as "users" and to think of other ways to share resources with smaller groups, recognizing the limited funding with which they are operate--especially when they are doing mutli-issue, intersectional work.

Thank you for sharing this. I

Thank you for sharing this. I agree much with what is expressed. I do not agree with unions in general or what is often termed the labor movement as a strong example of intersectional work

A People-Centered Approach

Because traditional NGOs, non-profit organizations can be suffocating in their approach to embodying an intersectional approach to doing human rights or social justice work, oppressed peoples need to and have been applying alternative structures in order to eradicate oppression. A "people-centered model" as discussed here is a great example of what it means for movements to come from, center on, and address multipe prevailing forces of oppression:

Intersectionality marries well with a people-centered approach to addressing oppression/human rights violations because of

  • its focus on those who are most directly affected by oppression;
  • its insistence on the inherent value of these lives;
  • its insistence on the need to address oppressive power in all it's forms and to do so collectively; and,
  • its decentering of dominant ideologies and practices.

Ajamu Baraka, former founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network, articulates the power of this marriage between intersectionality and human rights, here: He writes,

"The feature that distinguishes the people-centered framework from all of the prevailing schools of human rights theory and practice is that it is based on an explicit understanding that to realize the full range of the still developing human rights idea requires: 1) an epistemological break with a human rights orthodoxy grounded in Euro-centric liberalism, 2) a reconceptualization of human rights from the standpoint of oppressed groups, 3) a restructuring of prevailing social relationships that perpetuate oppression and 4) the acquiring of power on the part of the oppressed to bring about that restructuring."


Yes Indeed. One of the issues

Yes Indeed. One of the issues with huma nrights work (surely with NGOs) is the prevailing focus on structures and losing sight of the people and their complexities. Of course human rights work is ther to change the structures (as one tool among others) but a people centeresd approach that also has a storng eye for the underlying structures that victimize these people(s) is of high importance. I think e.g. Amnesty International could do this better in their urgent action campaigns.

A Few Thoughts on "Resourcing and Supporting Intersectional Work

Let me begin by offering a very personal "Thank-You" to everyone who has weighed in on this question regarding "Resourcing and Supporting Intersectional Work." Having worked within numerous organizational contexts, sometimes serving (fortunately, and then at times, unfortunately) as a board member; I experience this question as very unsettling. I say "unsettling" primarily because I (like Terence) am keenly aware that I am very far from having sufficient experience or/and expertise on which to base my comments. Still, I can say that I have a hunch that somehow, from the many negative organizational experiences that I've lived through I can distill something useful in this conversation. My most painful and recurring nightmare in organizational contexts is the mistreatment (the creation of injustices) of human beings (including me) who have entered those situations to fight injustices. In my way of thinking, then, "organizing an organization" is fundamentally about relationship building. In other words, our efforts to create movements that can create justice, real democracy, and peace will be based on how we relate to other human beings in order to collectively develop internal guidelines, processes, structures, and policies that are just and democratic. In turn, our ways of generating funding, and doing outreach to real and potential friends and allies must also be as democratic and justice-oriented as we can possibly make them. All of this sounds ideal, right?! Yet it's the only sure place that I personally know how to begin trying to embody an intersectional approach. I'm feeling booth informed and inspired by comments made by Paul and Yolande, so I will briefly comment regarding  excerpts: What does the alternative to oppressive uses of power look like? How are we going to avoid replicating those dynamics? One model we can look to is the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) here in the U.S. South in the 1960s. Barbara Ransby’s...contribution to our understanding of movement building in her bookabout Ella Baker describes who had been socialized in “sexist, even machoways…began to rethink and reject conventional notions of gender in the process ofconsidering the meanings of race and class and redefining their own identities.” 

The above excerpts prompt me to focus my attention mainly on the insight that as a single human actor within any organizational, or organizing, context, I need to be intentional about how I think and act to help create just and democratic building blocks for the organization. This requires me to carefully consider how my behaviors (which reflect my social location(s) and my evolving identity) help and/or hinder the creation of the necessary components and culture for a just, democratic, and people-centered organization--and movement.

Yolande's reference to Ajamu Baraka's organizational and political insights seem very helpful to me; though I am cautious about speaking of a single "standpoint" for entire peoples. Oppressed peoples have experiences that are often widely diverse, while they are nonetheless generally reflective of their oppressive conditions and contexts. in creating social justice organizations, we will need to remember the plethora of wrong-headed attempts to police behaviors while trying to build social justice organizations and movements. Being intentionally intersectional will mean that we must remain mindful about creating democratic and inclusive processes, structures, and policies that encourage continual input and modifications drawn from the varied and different experiences of members and potential members. This is risky, and unchartered, business. It requires--and it will require--the deliberateness and carefulness of a surgeon and the flexibility of a skateboarder.