At the time of President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, I had a very frank conversation with Ken Silverstein where I said of all the panicked liberals running around like chickens with their heads cut off, “This is identity politics run amok!” Now we read this week that these same actors are causing the implosion of the nationwide network known as the Women’s March.
I for one could not be happier and see this development as a sort of holiday gift, better than any knick-knacks I got in my stocking from Santa!
This is not unexpected and we at Washington Babylon were admittedly prepping our readers for this over the past several weeks, when word on the grapevine told us the news was imminent.
We published that because we knew this following paragraph, printed in the Chicago Tribune, was coming soon:
While Women’s March Chicago organizers cited high costs and limited volunteer hours as the main reasons for nixing the annual rally and march, the break comes amid splintering within the national Women’s March leadership following accusations of anti-Semitism and scrutiny of its ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan… Women’s March Chicago leaders say they’ll commemorate the anniversary of the original march with another activity but haven’t released any details on the location or nature of the event.
This could not be more glorious. I’ve always seen this Democratic Party-aligned Resistance® as hypocritical, racist, trans-phobic, and exclusionary to the working class, as have several other activist-thinkers I highly esteem. One Black radical woman organizer from Providence I admire who is the veteran of struggles dating back decades said at a meeting, “I ain’t being led by the Pink Pussy Hat Brigade,” which is all I needed in terms of marching orders.
What can be blamed for these issues besides the obvious ones tied to Minister Farrakhan, who really is just a kind of smokescreen for larger contradictions? Besides the obvious hypocrisies around racism, imperialism, and colonialism, there is a fundamental flaw that lies at the heart of the matter, one that can be defined as the nonprofit-industrial complex.
For decades now, ever since Ralph Nader led the consumer movement so successfully that he was labelled a threat in the infamous Powell Memorandum, progressives and radicals have been inclined to follow this process of organizing:
- Build a base of activists who are mobilized by what amounts to a single issue, whether it is a shady big business deal with local government, pollution, provision of healthcare or other public services, something tied into an identity demographic’s pressing needs (abortion, transgender bathrooms, ad infinitum), or something in that line of thinking.
- Develop a Board of Directors out of a group of middle- and upper-class supporter-allies who have time to spare once a month on the pressing business of the base.
- File papers to become a 501 (c) nonprofit organization with the Secretary of State so to develop an institutionalized impact upon the original issue.
- File for grants from a bevy of sources that are available nationwide, as viable sources of operating funds for these nonprofits might otherwise not be accrued from membership dues or individual donors.
The problem, of course, comes with those pesky grants. Many of them come from major Democratic Party donors and therefore have major strings attached, limiting the scope of what the nonprofit can and will do in its advocacy efforts. And even if that pitfall is avoided, the IRS can always be deployed on any group that steps out of line and gets too radical. In this way, nonprofits domesticate and gentrify activists, turning them into cogs that serve as free public relations officers for their corporate funders. Think Wal-Mart is awful and worth boycotting? Hey, they gave a generous $1 million grant to the local nonprofit focusing its work on impoverished blind paraplegic children with leukemia.
Dr. Paul Street, a longtime activist-scholar, penned this insightful analysis about what sank the #BlackLivesMatter organization, one that undoubtedly offers many insights about the Women’s March as well:
You don’t have to be one of those conspiratorial curmudgeons who reduces every sign of popular protest to “George Soros money” to acknowledge that much of what passes for popular and progressive, grass-roots activism has been co-opted, taken over and/or created by corporate America, the corporate-funded “nonprofit industrial complex,” and Wall Street’s good friend, the Democratic Party, long known to leftists as “the graveyard of social movements.” This “corporatization of activism” (University of British Columbia professor Peter Dauvergne’s term) is ubiquitous across much of what passes for the left in the U.S. today. What about the racialist group Black Lives Matter, recipient of a mammoth $100 million grant from the Ford Foundation last year?… I first started wondering where BLM stood on the AstroTurf versus grass roots scale when I read an essay published three years ago in The Feminist Wire by Alicia Garza, one of BLM’s three black, lesbian and veteran public-interest careerist founders…
Black Lives Matter—founded by three veteran, professional-class, nonprofit activists and fundraisers (Garza, Cullors and Opal Tometi) with long prior “close ties to corporations, foundations, academia and government-sponsored agencies”—poses no…threat to the established order…
In August 2016, when I first heard that BLM had scored $100 million from the Ford Foundation and other elite philanthro-capitalists (including the Hill-Snowden Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, Solidaire, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Kellogg Foundation), I wrote it off as “fake news” from the right-wing noise machine…
But the story checked out. The remarkable grant—a vast sum of money off the charts of normal foundation giving—was a matter of public record. Fortune Magazine wrote that the gift “would make anyone sit up straighter if they read it in a pitch deck.” It was a curious statement: A “pitch deck” is a presentation venue for start-up businesses seeking investor backing…
As a former veteran, nonprofit, racial justice foundation grant recipient (I’ve spent years in the nonprofit industrial complex), I can assure readers that the Ford money comes with at least four strings attached.
First, there must be no calls for seriously radical revolution and lower- and working-class solidarity across racial and ethnic lines. Second, the progressive policy ideas are to be wrapped in middle-class language meant for foundation program officers and Democratic Party policy wonks, not the people in the streets, housing projects, low-paid jobs, jails and prisons. Third, the organizations receiving the elite foundation largesse are to take their cue from those already in power, not those on the margins. Fourth, the groups getting money under the BLM rubric or brand are to be (in the words of Black Agenda Report) “led exclusively by college-educated professionals answerable to self-perpetuating boards and philanthropic funders.” They are not to become mass-based organizations financially accountable to a rank-and-file membership. Money talks loudest, but the Ford Foundation is not content to let its cash speak for itself without top-down supervision and control. The BLM grant permits the funder to provide “auxiliary consulting and advice to a confederation of 14 groups linked to BLM.” The money and the “auxiliary services” have been coordinated through the so-called Black-Led Movement Fund, overseen by a for-profit company called Borealis Philanthropy. Ford and Borealis say they want to “support the infrastructure, innovation and dynamism of intersectional Black-led organizing.”
This all comes back to a very simple question: what’s next?
It would seem apparent that the following is true: a) Bernie Sanders will run for the nomination of the Democratic Party in 2020, but fail again because of his own flaws and ineptitude or because the party bosses set enough booby traps to trip up his efforts a la the 2016 super-delegates fiasco; b) the Democratic Socialists of America will continue to hash through their own internal contradictions caused by rapid growth, and won’t have a notable slate for at least another election cycle and in all probability another six years; c) the Democratic Party in the meantime will remain the war-mongering party of Wall Street, under complete control of the Clinton-Obama wing and willing to lose rather than winning by ceding power to progressives in its base; and d) Trump will continue trying to execute an admirable neo-isolationist policy internationally while implementing his deplorable nativist, white nationalist policy domestically.
As such, we are going to need a genuine movement, independent of the Democrats and their various auxiliaries and caucuses, opposing some of Trump’s policies while, yes, applauding and embracing others.
Look, I’ve got no illusions about Trump’s role in national politics, it’s self-evident that he has been shameless in catering to the absolute worst elements of the paleolibertarian tendencies of the Republican base (read more about that strange variety of political philosophy here, a combination of anti-government notions melded with social conservative ethics). But paleolibertarianism also has contained within its political coordinates for decades now a reliable anti-war framework. By contrast, the Democrats have routinely succeeded in getting progressives to sell-out anti-war principles in the name of neoliberal identity politics, which the Women’s March embodies.
Building an independent, progressive left project that is free of hypocrisy regarding key issues like climate change, war, empire, racism, sexism and homo/bi/trans-phobias is a heavy lift that has zero shortcuts. But if you look at the landscape and understand the problems we face not just as a country but as an organized civilized species, it’s not optional, it’s necessary.