Keynote Speaker Ethel Long Scott
Diane with Ethel Long Scott
and CEJ's Ronni Solman
Leonardo Vilchis, Ana Hernandez, and Elizabeth Blaney of Union de Vecinos
General Dogon of LA CAN
CEJ's Anthony Rivas
Dave with LA CAN's Steve Diaz
ROC-LA's Daniel Shin and Kathy Hoang with Diane
Dave with Kathy Stevens
Tim Sandoval, Diane Middleton, and Diane's husband, Dale McConnachie
2013 Pilot Educational Grants
Rethinking Our Priorities
The Middleton Foundation has learned about progressive community and labor organizing through the review of thousands of requests for funding and the administration and review of almost 300 individual projects. We have been fortunate to have a stable Board of Directors composed of both veteranos and young leaders with dozens of years of accumulated experience. (If you have not yet reviewed the website section “Our Board”, take a minute and check out the individuals that are referenced below).
Our standard practice has been that every board member has
This is what we observed with the groups we funded. We never funded organizations that mainly provided services. Even if the organization was doing real community/labor organizing and even if they were building capacity and doing leadership development, we concluded that this was still not the type of work we wanted to continue funding.
- Reviewed each and every individual request for funding
- Acted as an “investigator” to contact the group requesting funding and gain an in depth understanding of the nature of the work proposed
- Attend a board retreat where all information was synthesized and collective decisions made
- Follow the group for the entirety of the funding cycle
- Report back to the full board and evaluate the success of the project
Wage theft work provides an example of this. We would not fund straight “legal services/help the victims get back pay”. The next level of organization would train the victimized workers to file their own wage theft claims. After that, they might work with the most committed of these workers and teach them how to present the problem to other community organizations or even lobby. These efforts almost always yielded minimal results and, at best, benefited the individually wronged worker but did not change policy.
The reason was clear to us: wage theft is not a problem facing individual folks unfortunate enough to be working in a “bad” industry. The problem is inherent in the capitalist drive to maximize profits at all costs. Unless the workers understood they were fighting a class war and not battling an “evil boss”, they wouldn’t learn any lasting lessons from their struggle.
We thought about how this might change.
In 2013 our board decided that we needed a collective sabbatical to evaluate the Mission Statement and Funding Priorities of our organization in light of current economic and political developments.
We spent months reading and discussing our future direction with each other and our grantees.
Our initial conclusions were to:
- Reevaluate our current funding priorities with a goal of having a more substantial impact.
- Look at the groups we have funded with a view towards not just “are they doing good work” but are they training cadre to politically deal with the realities facing our class.
- Recognize that the issues being addressed were not as significant as the question of “are you expanding your organization/what success have you actually had at increasing your base as measured by folks you have trained, new leaders; emerging and effectively leading campaigns for change.”
CEJ (the Coalition for Educational Justice) was cited as on organization that was working to transform the educational system and consistently turning out cadre to lead “autonomous struggles” such that it would be difficult to “cut off all the heads”.
After our first round of discussions, we concluded that we wanted to consider changing the focus of our work to “training new leaders”. The question then became to define exactly what that meant in the context of practical labor and community struggles.
Because our board was composed of folks who all had extensive organizing experience, we had some great discussions as to definitions:
Capacity building – the ability to set an agenda, react, mobilize
Leadership training – public speaking, lobbying, goal setting
These are valuable skills but NOT what we wanted to do.
We eventually concluded that the key was
the politics of capitalism and how to effect change
an understanding of who the enemy is and how to advance a working class agenda
We wanted to test our hypotheses so we selected seven of our past grantees and invited them to send us proposals for funding pilot or test educational projects that would help us see what might work.
Working together at the grantee conference
In December 2013, we awarded four grants in the total amount of $20,000 to Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) (www.cangress.org), Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-LA) (http://rocunited.org/la/), Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) (https://sites.google.com/site/cejinla) and Union de Vecinos (www.uniondevecinos.net).
In March 2014, we convened a gathering of our board and members of the four organizations to collectively review how they were progressing. About 20 of us spent several hours discussing the relationship between the good work they were all doing and how to make it even better.
One of the main lessons we learned is that there was an “informal” process of talking about class and systemic issues but the practical work always won out and the needs of the immediate struggle always consumed all of the time and resources available.
LESSON # 1 – You need dedicated staff and time to plan and carry out education of your core members.
We also talked about the various ways education can take place: “acting your way into thinking”; “learning on the way out”; the issue of folks being at different levels of understanding, commitment, and formal education.
LESSON # 2 – Not one size fits all; adapt your educational program to fit your organization and your staff/members.
Briefly stated, other lessons were:
Pick fights that make a difference
Balance the practical action and theoretical understanding
Use whatever tools work – You Tube videos, speakers, readings, etc.
Don’t rely on your “instinctive” understanding of class issues – to make it real give it language and space
ABOVE ALL - teach folks HOW TO THINK IN RELATIONSHIP TO THEIR CLASS POSITION
We ended the conference with tremendous optimism:
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
CLARIFY YOUR VISION
The lessons we learned from these grantees are embodied in our lead article and formed the basis of the reformulation of our Mission Statement and Funding Priorities.
We hope you agree and will be inspired to submit some great proposals that we can fund to help take your core leaders to a higher level of understanding!