On the Precipice

Photo credit: Franceska Gámez (Trust Your Struggle Collective) & Nathanial Baysa

We’re getting near the edge.

Nonviolent protests sparked by the murder of Black people (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others) are filling the streets of more than 400 cities, all to proclaim a simple truth: Black Lives Matter. Remember the police response to far-right armed militia who stormed state capitals demanding the right to bad haircuts during COVID? That’s right, you don’t, because it was totally peaceful. Contrast that with the violent, aggressive, and instigating response of police to the Black Lives Matter protesters. They have been met by batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, flash-bangs, and beatings.

Worse still, officials paint the protestors as the cause of the problem. The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful, but nonviolent protest has never equated to peaceful protest. Nonviolence is a powerful practice when these amazing Black, Brown, Native, Asian, White, cis, gay, trans, people with disabilities, young and old protestors solemnly assert their right to be, to breathe, to live free of humiliation, abject poverty, and domination. And in refusing to bow down, they so infuriate the police that those forces who claim to protect and serve us publicly show the world the violence they usually reserve only for those oppressed communities. Nonviolence is a strategy of making this state-sponsored violence visible. 

That is what we are watching in real time: the violence of the police being unleashed. If the police can choose to be peaceful in response to White people who are armed and aggressive, why do they never choose to use the same de-escalating responses to protests by Black people? The bald fact that police treat people entirely differently based on skin color is unacceptable to the values of our democracy. That fact must change or there will be no justice, and there will be no peace.

And make no mistake, state violence against its own citizens means the unravelling of the republic. If people protesting systemic oppression are labeled thugs or terrorists for demanding their human rights, then all of philanthropy’s elaborate theories of change and program areas are bullshit with a bow. We will have fiddled while the Constitution burned. Please, please do not talk to me now about the importance of future funding for that after-school tutoring program you love. That is an insult to the gravity of this moment. It is a breach of the values your foundation says it upholds. It is an insult to the ideal of the person you say you are.

My father, a civil rights leader in Florida, understood what real allies said and did. He had an odd affection for a white woman, a wealthy northerner named Mrs. Peabody who was the mother of the then-Governor of Massachusetts. A religious woman, she was horrified by the racial injustices she saw on television, but she didn’t just talk about her principles. She sent cash for the cause to my father to use as he saw fit—for bail, for signs, for food to feed volunteers during late night strategy meetings. And when push came to shove— literally—Mrs. Peabody showed up to confront the KKK and face the violent hatred of the police force. She put her body on the line for her principles, to be the person she believed her faith called her to be.

For those of us working in the privileged world of philanthropy, this is our Mrs. Peabody moment. 

Do we do what Mrs. Peabody did? Do we stand as allies to the movement? Do we stand for human rights in this country or just in other countries? Do we put our privilege between the protestors and the police? 

Our resources pale in comparison to government’s, but we can do our part to change the course of this country’s future by funding Black-led organizations right now. This means making more grants to people who are literally defending the ideals of our democracy with their bodies. We can and must support them now. A flood of grants to these groups from individual donors, corporations, and foundations will send a signal that no matter how uncomfortable it might make our boards feel, we stand beside the people our foundations were created to help.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “a riot is the voice of the unheard.” We cannot allow those voices to be silenced without redress. Just as we cannot unsee the murder of George Floyd, we cannot stand on the sidelines while our neighbors are pushed to the edge by indifference to COVID’s spread among poor people, unemployment rates never seen in our lifetime, and gleeful calls for more violence from our leaders. Protestors are people who have no easy choices, but despite the risks have made a brave choice. 

I know, I know. Your foundation doesn’t fund this. Literally EVERYTHING in this country has changed in the last six months and so must your foundation. 

The moment after one goes over the precipice feels like you are flying. Right up until you hit the bottom. Our country is on the precipice. We must stand with the people who are preventing our democracy from going over the edge.

Crystal Hayling is Executive Director of The Libra Foundation, based in San Francisco, funding organizations working to advance human rights and racial, economic, and social justice.

The Libra Foundation believes funders must show up for justice and democracy in every way we can — especially this year. Over the past few years, Libra has initiated a transition toward funding Black and POC-led organizing groups resulting in profound shifts at the local and state levels. But these organizers simply do not have the resources they need, and we are inviting philanthropy to step up and join us in giving more money, right now, directly to Black and POC-led movement groups. Our goal is to leverage millions of new dollars in funder contributions for organizations on the frontlines of this struggle that fit these crucial criteria:

  • Black-led organizations. Black leaders uniquely understand the pain their community is experiencing, what the needs are, and how to address them. Funders need to get out of the way and let them lead in this crisis.
  • Working for inclusive free and fair elections. We have already seen how COVID-19 has impacted voting in several states. This increases growing concern about voter suppression tactics and misinformation during the 2020 election, just months away.
  • Working to defund prisons and police. More tanks and helicopters are not the way to increase community safety. The carceral system has been the daily enforcer of historic oppressive policies that disproportionately target Black Americans. The groups working to take apart this system need sustained support to develop and advance strategies that actually enhance community safety and prosperity.

Many funders have asked, well what are we supposed to do? We certainly do not have all of the answers, but we are inviting conversations about what we have funded and other places to give. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about giving to save our democracy against the racism that threatens to destroy it.

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