Can we talk about it?
You ever notice those organizations that come to Black and Brown neighborhoods with clip boards once a year, usually around election time to remind you to vote and to tell you for whom you should vote.
Well, hundreds of thousands of dollars come in the form of grants and major donations to "civic engagement" organizations to do this work every election season. This allows them to pay themselves very handsomely.
Here's how it works:
- Prior to election season, they find injustices to spotlight in Black and Brown poor communities. Let's just use a pesky landlord giving tenants a hard time after a flood.
- They gain media exposure with buses filled to the brim with volunteers donning their organization's logo emblazoned shirts at rallies and protests. They hold press conferences where Black and Brown people speak.
- Here's where things get sticky. Eventually, the mayor or some other elected gets involved because of the ruckus that's been caused. The top brass at the organization meet with the elected officials on behalf of the Black and Brown people.
- Eventually, they win.
But guess who got points with the mayor to be cashed in later? Guess who parlays that campaign into a front page spread in the local paper? The executive director of the organization, not those who poured their time and effort into the fight. The power dynamic is off, and something has to change. We will never build power if we continue this phenomenon to happen.
When the checks come rolling in, those at the TOP make off like fat cats.
When it comes to deciding which issues to fight for next, it's those at the TOP who don't come from the neighborhoods or communities they're fighting on behalf of.
Those at the TOP get to meet with the mayor and the congresswoman.
Those at the TOP get their photo on the front page of the newspaper.
Those at the TOP get to leverage the weight of the community without a single member of said community in the room.
At the end of the day, there's an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.
If you're trying to engage BLACK PEOPLE you can't just hire some on staff, or throw some spare change at a token whose voice you mute when the real decisions are being made.
You can't just throw $12 an hour at canvassers when you're raking in $100,000 a year running the organization.
You see, we season our food differently, we communicate through different channels. We don't need to be hired as servers at the restaurant of civic engagement, we need to be able to set the menu and cook the food, too, but that's not happening locally.
That's if we're hired at all.
To some organizations, we just make good volunteers, seat fillers for buses, and spokespeople, but some organizations don't want to truly invest in Black and Brown talent through the PAYROLL.
And when the Houston Chronicle does the story on the "Hero" that saved Sunnyside, whose picture graces the article? One of the members of the community giving their own blood, sweat, and tears?
No, the Executive Director from Boston who makes $100,000+ a year on the backs of the injustices they "dabbled" in for the moment.
Think about behemoth organization(s) locally that benefit from the grassroots work of unfunded organizations. We organize a march or rally, and here they come with their signs and banner, yet they won't even consider hiring one of these people organizing the events.
Hole them accountable.
Next time they want you to hop on the bus for the photo-op, ask what the percentage of Black/Brown people are in upper management at said organization.
Ask who's on retainer as an ongoing consultant for the organization.
Ask who the donors are.
Ask who sits in the room when the plan was made to get on the bus.
We need to start asking questions.
Well-intentioned White progressives who run issue-based organizations are serving up the potato salad, and wondering why people in Sunny Side aren't eating it.
If we're serious about engaging those who aren't already engaged, some people are going to have to step aside and allow it to happen.
Don't select a token. Don't put us in the field.
MOVE OUT OF THE WAY.
A frank discussion around RACIAL EQUITY when it comes to leadership needs to happen in the "progressive" community.
Until Black and Brown people sit at C3 Voter Engagement tables where the 6 and 7 figure grants are chopped up, y'all will continue to have the same results: Nobody’s eating it.
I left Texas Organizing Project a few years ago because I realized the "glass ceiling" that existed. I was a token. I was a Black body giving legitimacy to the organization.
My executive director was well-intentioned, but had implicit biases herself. For some reason, very few Black people made it to management, but the majority of our membership were Black. We were fine for an entry-level staff position, but never moved up the food chain. From the sly comments, to actions, it wasn't a place internally that I felt I could grow.
I ended up leaving to run an org at the state level. I was the only Black face at these tables. I would later find out this lady was throwing me under the bus with funders. Wow.
Luckily, it didn't work. But damn, right?
It hurt my feelings at the moment, but taught me a valuable lesson. It's a dog eat dog world.
I know my people. My people know my people.
And if some of you would step off your "holier than thou" pedestal assuming they're the only people that can do the work, we could really get some things done.