I received two wonderful surprises in the mail today. Usually my mail is boring: bills, Bon Marche flyers, credit card solicitations, and junk-mail from Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, UNICEF, and a host of other large, national, “progressive” groups. There is, however, one national group that I give money to on a regular basis, and I look forward to receiving their bi-monthly newsletter: Resist.
Resist is a funding organization. Folks give them money, and they donate that money in the form of small grants to small, mostly local, progressive groups. In addition, their bi-monthly newsletter focuses on issues or groups that they’ve been supporting throughout the year. Every Feb./Mar. issue contains a roster of the groups they supported in the previous year. This issue made some fine reading.
It included groups like Fight Back Now! in Burlington, VT, which used its $2,000 grant to fund “The Powerhouse, a community center that provides a shared environment for activism, advocacy, community building and outreach efforts.” Great idea. Another group, the Land Loss Fund, also received $2,000 “for the Black Land Loss Summit and to develop a newsletter exploring land loss issues among Black farmers”–a topic that few of us know anything about.
Reading the Resist roster is like peeking into the lives of isolated activists around the nation: “$300 to help stabilize group organizing on behalf of victims of mixed chemical and chlorine spill after lead organizer’s husband was badly beaten under suspicious circumstances” (for the Alberton Community Coalition for Environmental Health in Missoula, Montana). It can also give us a more down-to-earth view of some highly-sensationalized events of the past year: “$300 to defray the expenses involved in organizing the local community to attend Matthew Shepard’s funderal in order to stand in solidarity with his family and to oppose the presence of homophobic protesters” (for the Lambda Community Center, Ft. Collins, Colorado).
There’s another reason why I like to donate to Resist: they don’t just make grants for special projects, they fund general operating expenses. From paying for computer upgrades to funding rent and staff salaries, they help with the nuts and bolts of organizing. For example: “$2,000 to fund bookkeeping assistance, the publication of the newsletter El Aviso, and filing for tax-exempt status.” Read that again. They give money to groups in spite of, and not because of, their tax status. Which means that all the little, community-based, ad-hoc groups who don’t have the knowledge or ability or time or inclination to petition the IRS for non-profit status can still find a source for funds. For those groups, $2,000 can mean a lot.
More importantly, after 31 years in existence, Resist is now big enough to start making multi-year grants. For decades here in the U.S., right-wing foundations have done what left-wing foundations refused to do: commit money to smaller, activist groups over long periods of time to nurture “The Movement.” So-called “progressive” foundations–often funded by rich individuals who want to have direct control of where the money goes–usually give one-year grants. As a consequence, many groups on the left are forced to spend time writing reports, holding the donor’s hand, and re-drafting grant applications every year. That time and effort can be better used on organizing work. The drift of the dominant political climate to the far right is a testament to how well the multi-year grant strategy works. It’s about time somebody on the left figured this out.
To get in touch with Resist, contact them at: 259 Elm Street, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144, (617) 623-5110, http://www.resistinc.org. (And congratulations to our friends at the Student Action Network here in Seattle, who received a $2,000 grant from Resist “to support Ruckus, a progressive student news journal at the University of Washington that examines political issues and trains new activists and journalists as part of building a forceful student movement.” Way to go!)
The other sweet surprise I got this week was buried inside the March 29th issue of The Nation. Now, I’m not what you’d call a Nation fan; I don’t do a back-flip every Thursday when I see it in my mail box. Usually, I just flip through and read Alex Cockburn, Katha Pollitt, the letters section (to see which of those two is beating up on Christopher Hitchens this week), and flip all the way to the back to devour Stuart Klawans’s movie critiques. Anyone who starts his column with: “Monday: Screening of Garry Marshall’s The Other Sister, which seems to be about a goldfish. Whenever the characters have to make a decision, the film cuts to a close-up of the cute little fella swimming in his bowl…” gets my attention immediately.
This week, somewhere on the way between Pollitt and Klawans–in fact, on the back of Katha’s column–is a new and wonderful feature: “The Nation Indicators,” by Doug Henwood. Henwood is the author of “Wall Street,” an irreverent examination of one of the pillars of the U.S. economy (and the World’s economy, for that matter). He also writes and edits a bi-monthly newsletter called The Left Business Observer (LBO), a must-read for anyone who wants to make sense of economic “news.”
Anyway, this new feature is a snazzy, two-color compilation of graphs reprinted from the LBO, including a comparison of wage growth over 30 years for the poorest 20% of Americans vs. the middle 20% vs. the richest 5%. Needless to say, the graphed lines denoting the poor and the middle-class are flat, while the richest 5% climbs off the chart. Even more fun is his graph entitled How Long It Takes the Average Worker to Buy a “Share” of the S&P 500 (1890-1998), wherein we see that our great-grandparents living in 1920 had to work about 5 times less than we do to become members of the stock-owning class. That’s based on wages paid for industrial jobs, which pay far better than the average service-sector, fast-food, retail sales, bicycle messenger, part-time, temp job.
I’m happy to see Doug Henwood’s material in a magazine where he’ll get more exposure. Now, it’d be really wonderful if The Nation would run some of his articles, too …