The MSC Storytelling Series: Kristen Zimmerman

In this installment we get to know activist, artist and storyteller Kristen Zimmerman — co-founder of Movement Strategy Center (MSC) and Root. Rise. Pollinate!, and illustrator of the new graphic guide Ten Thousand Beloved Communities, a project of  Beloved Communities Network.

“It feels important to start to have other ways of thinking about ourselves or our responsibilities, beyond being an activist or beyond being an advocate or even an organizer,” says Kristen Zimmerman — activist, artist, storyteller, and cofounder of MSC. She continues, “it’s really about … how do you form community?”

Zimmerman “landed in the Bay Area” after a few years working in Asia. Her work in California — much like the work she was doing in Nepal — involved the power of storytelling and culture building, within the spectrum of youth organizing. It was in this work where she crossed paths with Taj James, another of MSC’s co-founders and current Board President. Their first encounter was at an event for an organization called Media Alliance — Zimmerman sensed a “potent connection,” and that the two were “going to know each other for a while.” 

She was right: James was also working with youth organizers at Coleman Advocates for Children. He saw a common thread between his work and Zimmerman’s focus on “participatory action research with youth.” She said James understood “how the different offerings and gifts that different people might have fit together,” and quickly pulled her into a youth-led juvenile justice organization in San Francisco. That early collaboration included a study of recommended reforms with “a parallel youth-led research project” that involved interviewing young people and advocacy “around what should happen.” The project “was really powerful” and “impacted a lot of the trajectories of the young people,” many of whom “kept in touch.” 

Later, while James “decided he was going to start Movement Strategy Center,” Zimmerman was compelled to document some of the local creative and “youth-led efforts,” that, in her opinion, felt like “a cultural moment.” The work was crucial. At that time, the general perception of young people was that they were largely “jaded and inactive.” 

Her storytelling project needed a home, and “none of the established organizations felt right.” She met with James, and they decided her work could be a founding project of whatever it was that James was cooking up. She recalled that everyone involved was “very entrepreneurial,” with projects involving storytelling, personal wellness, alliance building and strategy, social networks, and spirituality. “It was very much just a collection of experiments.” 

“We're not therapists, we're not trained to be healers … But we can bring healing and transformation and embodied practice to groups.”

It felt right, and lasting. At one point, Zimmerman found herself “thinking about multiple decades of change” and how it was likely she’d be with MSC for many years of partnership. That “culture shift” around sustainable organizing appealed to her — especially the focus on collaborative alliances that eliminated the ways organizers often competed with each other for resources.

Even so, organizing was exhausting. There was a realization that “we’re not therapists, we’re not trained to be healers … But we can bring healing and transformation and embodied practice to groups” by collaborating with people who are focused on individual healing and wellness. That was the aha moment — MSC would be an integration of movement work paired with the holistic, emotional support and spirituality needed to sustain the difficulties of movement work.

Enter Norma Wong: James and Zimmerman met Wong when she was working with Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice — a small organizing group focused on Asian communities in Oakland. The group was experiencing growing pains, and while Zimmerman and James consulted on movement and alliance building, Wong was helping them stay grounded and move through conflict with their vision intact. That intimate collaboration “created the beta template” for MSC.

Wong’s ongoing involvement and expertise kept “integrating the embodiment work with the strategy work.” They landed on applied zone work — “also called forward stance.” Early projects included the Move to End Violence, the Transitions Initiative, the Forward Together project (their first project that was rooted in Indigeneity), and a number of other projects and writings.

Kristen, far right, with two participants sitting on the ground by a tree, brainstorming during a transitions lab retreat.

Zimmermanm’s sense of spirituality didn’t start with Wong, though. She explained “a difficult relationship with organized religion,” but a familial “connection to land” — forests, forestry, small-scale farming, and nature in general. Years later, she recalled her mother telling her, “oh yeah, [nature is] our family’s spirituality.”

Her art rounded out that sense of spirituality. As an undergrad, Zimmerman majored in visual arts but felt “a little bit like a misfit in the art department.” Unlike many of her peers, her artwork was “always really community oriented” and “story oriented.” A lot was collaborative, involving immigrant and refugee youth as well as young people in domestic violence shelters. The work was a way to center these youths, who could feel misplaced within “their community’s trajectory,” and to help them “have a healing relationship to their story.” 

Later, an itch to work abroad coincided with a friend’s return from working in education and storytelling within minority and refugee communities in Nepal and Tibet. Inspired, Zimmerman and her friend wrote letters to the Tibetan Department of Education along with the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Congress, two activist groups. In essence, the letters said, “hey, we have this idea. Is it of use to you?”

That sense of community often seemed so lost in the United States: “it takes so much more energy and feels you have to hold the community together rather than the community holding you.” 

That idea became “an intercultural project, doing work both with youth here and youth there, and specifically young people who were navigating questions around identity, belonging, and their own place in a longer arc of their community.” They “collaborated for three years in different spots” with community organizing groups, recent political refugees, elders who had left Tibet, and teachers who were facilitating opportunities for young people to ask questions, develop stories, and interview one another while creating “magazines and exhibits and advocacy efforts.”

The work was a formative experience — “making meaning and helping people find belonging, helping [herself] find belonging,” and learning “how people heal and repair relationships with intergenerational trauma.” Zimmerman “was lucky enough to live in really wonderful communities,” sharing meals, building relationships, and creating art. She had a “visceral sense” of being a guest in a foreign country and in a family’s home, while also “being held by community.” These communities were strong enough to not only support the folks who had always been there, but to hold newcomers. Paired with her exposure to the sense of community in Tibetan Buddhism, she felt inspired “to figure out how to repair and create community in a similar way” at home. That sense of community often seemed so lost in the United States: “it takes so much more energy and feels you have to hold the community together rather than the community holding you.”

“The pollination part feels evocative, it feels more poetic, and it also feels like, yeah, there's a connector part and a life giving part and that feels really important.”

Later, a series of life experiences — the birth of her son, who has Down syndrome, the traumatic loss of her sister when her son was four, and the loss of her mother shortly thereafter — inspired a number of questions: “how do you actually repair human relat​​ionships to each other? How do you form functional communities that are really rooted in place? How do you attend to spirit as part of the center of systemic and cultural transformation?”

It all inspired the here and now: in 2018, alongside Shawna Wakefield and Rufaro Gwarada, Zimmerman founded Root. Rise. Pollinate!, an MSN partner. The project supports a transnational community of individual and collective feminist changemakers with learning and networking opportunities as well as regenerative mind-body-spirit practices. The idea of “pollination” is central: collective changemaking “is really about pollinating new ways of being in a new worldview.” 

She cited a Transitions Initiative-era question: how do “we jump or leap from cultures rooted in violence and separation, extraction, domination, all of that, to cultures and ways of being and seeing the world that are really rooted in our connection and mutuality and care?” The answer is in forming community and connecting to other communities. It’s “a different way of thinking and being” and “the pollination part feels evocative, it feels more poetic, and it also feels like, yeah, there’s a connector part and a life giving part and that feels really important.” 

Illustration by Kristen Zimmerman

Now, she is bringing that sense of community and collaboration to a forthcoming graphic novel. In collaboration with Movement Strategy Network (MSN) partner Beloved Communities Network, this graphic guide to building world-transforming communities features writings by 25 leaders, a foreward by adrienne maree brown, and illustrations by Zimmerman. Ten Thousand Beloved Communities is about deepening relationships to people and places through a lens of indigeneity. The book defines the story and lineage of Beloved Community, and features stories of Beloved Community in action along with practices to help readers integrate Beloved Community and the wisdom of the Transitions Initiatives into their daily lives. 

MSC’s Transitions Initiative, and the affiliated Labs, are mentioned frequently. Some featured culture nights and, chuckling, Zimmerman told us “you could talk to everybody about their culture night moment.” Normally she might’ve gone “up and painted a painting” but “it’s not the same as performing.” One night she mustered up the courage to sing the Bill Withers classic “Lovely Day.” She said: “It’s a testimony to the community side of the work that I could do that … That people joined in … It was the most beautiful thing and I wasn’t doing it alone, which was awesome.”


Judith LeBlanc: A Movement Icon Goes to Harvard

One of Movement Strategy Center’s Board Members Brings Native Organizing to Cambridge

Judith LeBlanc isn’t just one of Movement Strategy Center’s board members — she’s a movement icon. LeBlanc, an enrolled member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, probably wouldn’t admit to her icon status. You’d more likely hear her refer to herself as a proud grandmother, a proud citizen of the Caddo Nation, or just a fan of ice cream and fry bread.

Illustration by James Bradford

But she’s an absolute force. Just look at her resume: LeBlanc serves as the Executive Director of the Native Organizers Alliance; a field director for Peace Action; a National CoChair for United for Peace and Justice; a board member for IllumiNative; and the chair of the board of NDN Collective. Judith was a 2019 Roddenberry Fellow and, before her board position at MSC, she worked for four years as a member of MSC’s Transitions Lab community. 

This fall she also made time to serve as a Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School alongside a former governor of Wyoming, a former Secretary of State for West Virginia, and a former Prime Minister of Sweden — in addition to other luminaries of politics, business, and academia. She is leading a study group of lucky Harvard students that will focus on exploring Indigenous rights and Native and Indigenous organizing across the country.

At a September forum at the university, LeBlanc was a breath of fresh air among the far right doom and gloom. She called Election Day “a snapshot of the balance of politics.” She continued: “Everything that happens between elections — on issues at the grassroots level — is what shapes the outcome of elections.” She is thrilled by “a historic high number of Natives” running for office and the “vibrancy at the tribal and grassroots level … Native people are highly aware of the threats to sovereignty and the impact of systemic racism and they understand that elections matter.”

 “Everything that happens between elections — on issues at the grassroots level — is what shapes the outcome of elections.”

With Harvard Kennedy School students
With Harvard Kennedy School students

After a recent Institute of Politics event, LeBlanc took to Facebook: “truth telling, good food, and great conversation with Mark Trahant, Phil Deloria, and Libero Della Piana. So proud of our people at Harvard who are preparing for sovereignty and self determination!”

Her enthusiasm was still palpable a few weeks later. In a conversation with LeBlanc, she noted that not only were the first Native women elected to the Congress in 2018, but that now, for the first time in over 230 years, there is Native Alaskan representation in the House of Representatives.

And all this in the same month that the Department of the Interior announced nearly 650 geographic locations with names containing an offensive slur for Indigenous women would be renamed — with input from Native communities. Though it didn’t come a moment too soon, it’s still impressive that this historic mass renaming is occurring less than a year after Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary — formally declared the word a derogatory term and began this process.

Last year, LeBlanc was involved in the Red Road to D.C. project — a two week national trek that saw a 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole created by a group of Lummi Nation artists journey from Washington state to Washington D.C. The House of Tears Carvers — the Lummi traditional carvers behind the monumental artwork — consider totem poles to be much more than art. LeBlanc agrees: “they tell our stories, they gather prayers, and give us guidance for how we walk.”

And that was exactly the intention of the tour — as co-sponsored by the Native Organizers Alliance and chaperoned by LeBlanc herself. At her speech on the National Mall, she drove the project’s mission home: calling on the Biden Administration to both “recognize the traditional, legal, and inherent rights of Native nations and Indigenous peoples to protect sacred places” across the country and recognize their own ancestral responsibilities to protect sacred places for future generations. LeBlanc was joined by Secretary Haaland and multiple speakers that day, each representing different tribes and speaking to the needs of their ancestral lands.

 “What’s the medicine we need? That medicine is to heal the land. But first, we must bring people together to heal themselves, to understand their relationship to land and place and history.”

She also spoke of her hope to “bring people together to recognize what it is that will make us stronger.” She asked: “what’s the medicine we need? That medicine is to heal the land. But first, we must bring people together to heal themselves, to understand their relationship to land and place and history.” She continued, “the future is Indigenous … And I say that to mean that the future is when we will recognize our relationality — that we’re related — when we recognize that we have common struggles in order to make sure that our descendants live a good life.”

These sentiments aren’t new. From her work on behalf of the Wounded Knee Defense/Offense Committee on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the early 1970s, to Standing Rock pipeline protests beginning in 2016, LeBlanc has espoused the value of cultural strategy and how “walking in ancestral knowledge” can “[define] the present” and shape the future. She also believes in establishing your role in the community or communities you hold yourself accountable to — in order “to be a good relative” in community.

At the end of the day, LeBlanc’s packed schedule, list of achievements, and everyday ethos all comes down to her respect for the role of the traditional practices of her people and all Indigenous people.

A big congratulations on your stint at Harvard, Judith — and in all your achievements and their throughline in peace, interdependence, community, and self-determination. Like and share this blog in honor of Judith and Native American History Month.


Sandbranch, Texas, and the Intersectionality of American Water

Movement Strategy Center Considers Water Equity, the Clean Water Act, and the Repercussions of Sackett v. EPA

Water seems fairly innocuous — you open your tap and water comes out. You assume it’s safe, it’s clean, it’s drinkable. Maybe you prefer Poland Spring or Lacroix, or you use a Brita, but you assume you can drink your water. You certainly feel comfortable bathing in it, washing your dishes with it, using it to prepare meals, or sloshing it into the dog bowl.

But water is a hot topic right now. Take the recent crises in Mississippi’s capital, the years of inaction and litigation in Flint, Michigan, and our country’s generally poor water infrastructure in many majority BIPOC cities and towns. At Movement Strategy Center (MSC), we are crowdfunding in support of the residents of Sandbranch — a Texas Freedman’s Settlement that still lacks clean, running water, despite its location just outside Dallas, one of the most prosperous cities in our country.

Our water is a hot topic at the Supreme Court, too. Sackett v. EPA is an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that could broadly affect the Clean Water Act, which was ratified way back in 1972 and just celebrated its 50th anniversary. And it may wind up being the most significant attack on America’s clean water laws since the 1970s.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sackett case, it involves a couple who hoped to build a home near a lake in Idaho. To do so, they began to fill the property — a federally protected wetland — with gravel. The EPA, citing the Clean Water Act and its broad protection of the “waters of the United States,” halted the work and required the gravel’s removal. That was back in 2007. Since then, the case has bounced around the court system and will now be heard before the Supreme Court.

The Sacketts’ lawyers will argue that the wetlands in question are not “waters of the United States,” and thus not subject to federal regulation.

We know what you’re thinking. It’s water; and it’s in the United States. What’s the question?

We turned to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a little clarity. Per Jon Devine, the director of NRDC’s federal water policy team: “Congress intended the phrase to be interpreted very broadly.” 

When lawmakers were drafting the Clean Water Act … They envisioned its protections as extending to all the various bodies of water that make up a watershed, many of which people use for recreation, fishing, and drinking-water supply. And while those lawmakers may not have been hydrologists, they nevertheless understood the fundamental interrelatedness of these different bodies of water. “So the very earliest regulations set forth by the EPA were inclusive … All the relevant parts of an aquatic ecosystem, including streams, wetlands, and small ponds — things that aren’t necessarily connected to the tributary system on the surface, but that still bear all kinds of ecological relationships to that system and to one another.

He noted that, over the years, various parties — often developers and polluters — have attempted to litigate the meaning of the term; and until the early 2000s, those parties usually lost.

The Clean Water Act was nonpartisan, and it was passed in reaction to massive fish die-offs and dangerous levels of mercury and raw sewage in our waterways.

In 2006, another case surrounding another wetland drainage project was brought before the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy stuck to the script — his opinion maintained that “waters of the United States” didn’t need to be visibly contiguous to warrant protection; and that if destroying or polluting one wetland or pond or creek could affect the health of a second body of water, then said waterway deserves protection. Both the Bush and Obama administrations subscribed to this viewpoint.

That said, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia saw things differently: his opinion centered on navigable waters. If it can’t accommodate a boat — well, protection shouldn’t be necessary.

That opinion, though ludicrous, was supported by the Trump administration and has opened the door to cases like Sackett v. EPA. And, crucially, it could make poking holes in the Clean Water Act a whole lot easier. And that’s a travesty: the Clean Water Act was nonpartisan, and it was passed in reaction to massive fish die-offs and dangerous levels of mercury and raw sewage in our waterways — not to mention the fact that Ohio’s Cuyahoga River literally caught fire and Lake Erie was projected to become biologically dead. 

And while our waters have improved immensely, many waterways are still unhealthy and face further degradation from “forever chemicals” and increases in urban and agricultural run-off as developers pave over natural spaces and farmers and property owners doubledown on fertilizer and pesticide use. That’s to say nothing of climate change: drought, water scarcity, and just how hard our wetlands work in storing carbon. 

We hope the Clean Water Act remains intact in the face of our overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court. And, like Kennedy’s subscription to the interconnectedness of American waters — from seasonal ponds and small swaths of wetland to our largest lakes and most powerful rivers; we must recognize the interconnectedness and intersectionality of the American water system. We can not forget our brothers and sisters in Sandbranch, and in other communities all over the country that lack clean water infrastructure.

The people of Sandbranch — property owners and taxpayers — are represented by the Sandbranch Planning Committee and are working tirelessly to not only bring water to their community, but increase access to fresh food, equitable healthcare, and basic infrastructure (streetlights, trash removal, signage) to their community. With help from MSC, the Chisholm Legacy Project, and the Until Justice Corporation, the Sandbranch Revitalization Fund is starting with the installation of Hydropanels — a solar-powered system that can supply households with safe, clean running water pulled directly from the atmosphere. 

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has joined the crusade. The organization is sponsoring Hydropanels for two homes in the community while working to raise additional funds and urge other large environmental organizations to make similar investments in Sandbranch and other frontline communities struggling to access clean drinking water.

“It is shameful that hundreds of years after its founding by emancipated men and women, this community does not have reliable access to clean and safe water,” said Dr. Adrienne Hollis, vice president of environmental justice, public health, and community revitalization at the NWF.

Members of NWF and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined Tonette Byrd, who leads the local Until Justice initiative and has led efforts to bring Hydropanels to Sandbranch, at a town hall meeting in October. Byrd, who has worked closely with the community and built relationships with its members, said in an interview, “this community deserves better and what I see happening in this community should not happen anywhere in the United States.” 

She continued: “we are thrilled to be working with the community to ensure that this innovative technology can begin to help address these historic environmental injustices and provide renewable, reliable, and affordable water for community residents. Other environmental groups, federal, and state partners should invest in this and other similar efforts to address water insecurity in frontline communities in Texas and across the country.”

The members of this community have been oppressed by systemic racism and environmental injustice for over a century. Phyllis Gage, a longtime resident, said, “we’re paying taxes. So where’s my tax money going?” Her comments remind us that these Americans need far more than Hydropanels. These are a sort of band-aid — residents need city water and sewage services, food justice, land justice, and opportunity; and all of it must be rooted in a Just Transition.

“This innovative technology can begin to help address these historic environmental injustices and provide renewable, reliable, and affordable water for community residents.”

Food scarcity has become a central aspect of their plans: a centralized, community Hydropanel will maintain a community garden to grow fresh produce for Sandbranch residents. Meanwhile, residents point to their rising property taxes — in 2020 tax rates doubled and, in some cases, tripled for landowners. This despite the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designation that limits property improvements and buyout offers beginning in 2005 that offered some residents only $350 for their properties.

Sandbranch’s water crisis touches every part of every resident’s life — how could it not? Safe, clean water is essential — to people, to productivity, to the natural world. It’s all connected — much like the “waters of the United States” cited in Sackett v. EPA. We need the Clean Water Act to remain intact. And, in Sandbranch, we need to support the installation of Hydropanels — a first step in bringing equity to this tiny but mighty Texas community. Please donate what you can to the #SandbranchIsRising campaign; and please share this blog. Water is life.


The How of Transformative Change

MSC Board Member, Tomas Garduno, on Getting to the “How,” and Other Insights from the Transitions Labs 

Originally published on December 2, 2014

A few weeks ago I got to spend two days in Oakland with a tremendous group of wonderful people brought together by the Movement Strategy Center.

We came together to explore one big question: how do we transition from a world of domination and extraction to a world of resilience and regeneration?

Over the course of the gathering we discovered that why we were coming together was less important than how.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, the answer to the big question is actually pretty straightforward: stop dominating and extracting and start cooperating and connecting.

The deep question within the question is how we do this.

In other words, we need embodied practice — the conscious, steady physical development of awareness that makes cooperation, connection, compassion, and effective movement strategy possible.

Embodied practice is how we get to the how.

Embodied practice — whether it’s somatics or Forward Stance or just breathing together — is how we proactively develop the strength, insight, and joy to transform a world that includes the injustices of Ferguson and Ayotzinapa and Bhopal.

More and more social justice movements, and even society at large, are beginning to understand the power of embodied practice — and I think we’re all going to be better for it.

In fact, that may be the only way to get to that world of resilience and regeneration.

Tomás works as a social justice strategist, most recently as the national field director for Mijente, an independent political home for Chicanx/Latinx organizing. He has over 20 years experience in political strategy and campaign development and worked as a community organizer, campaign manager, and strategic advisor for 22 grassroots social justice organizations, four candidate campaigns, and five institutes and universities. His most formative experiences were his time as co-director of the SouthWest Organizing Project and organizer of the People’s Climate March. Tomás is a Native New Mexican Chicano, born and raised in Albuquerque. He currently lives in Brooklyn.


Changing Funder Habits to Change the Game

Justice Funder’s Co-Director, Dana Kawaoka-Chen on the Habit Shifting Takeaways from the Transitions Labs

Originally published on December 12, 2014

We need new habits — philanthropic habits, that is. We need new habits that reflect the state of our country as it is now: a first world nation where young Black men are 21 times more likely than their White peers to be killed by police, where one third of the workforce is comprised of contingent workers, and where our country’s carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to what will likely be the warmest year ever recorded on the planet.

Habits are recurrent, unconscious patterns of behavior that are acquired through frequent repetition. Earlier this year, Staci Haines of Generative Somatics introduced me to the concept of 300/3,000: the idea that it takes a person 300 repetitions of a behavior before that behavior can be a conscious action you choose, then 3,000 repetitions of that behavior before it becomes an automatic response — think of a professional golfer changing her swing, or a baseball pitcher changing the release of a pitch.

While these are very physical examples, I think they apply in a philanthropic context.

What of our current grantmaking habits actually constrain movement? What of these habits are actually based on a dated analysis of the world? What new habits will get us a different outcome? How can grantmakers play a different role with community groups and thereby change the rules of the game?

Jen Sokolove of the Compton Foundation recently wrote on the What is a Justice Funder? blog: “funding only the kind of work with which we’re comfortable is precisely what limits innovation.”

To Compton’s credit, they are very transparently trying to develop new philanthropic habits to “build alignment across real divisions.” Another grantmaker to change their habits very publicly to “increase the net grant” is the Unitarian Universalist Veatch program at Shelter Rock who recently did away with asking for the “fake funder budget?

In my work with the Bay Area Justice Funders Network, I have observed that changes in strategy at philanthropic institutions aren’t always accompanied by a change in the grantmaking practices to carry out the new strategy, or vice versa. The results are challenging for the funder and their grantee partners. And when multiplied across multiple institutions, what is the cumulative effect on our ability to transform systems at the scale we need? What philanthropic habits get us closer to transformation?

Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on habits from a very unique perspective. The Movement Strategy Center hosted a two day Transitions Lab where two dozen social justice leaders and funders gathered and, among other things, found ourselves passing a ball around in a circle. What this playful exercise surfaced for me was how rote our individual and group behavior can be unless we are intentionally trying to be different. It didn’t matter whether the prompt was for us to share the ball “abundantly” or “competitively,” we all have life experiences to draw from that allowed us to play together when bound by these rules. But this exercise made me think about how we play when we know that the current rules aren’t the ones we want to operate under anymore. Then what? How do we develop a new schema to work from?

”I am clear that we in philanthropy need new habits to support new ways of intersectional organizing, as well as new habits to radically transform the very systems that allow and perpetuate state violence without accountability.”

I am clear that we in philanthropy need new habits to support new ways of intersectional organizing, as well as new habits to radically transform the very systems that allow and perpetuate state violence without accountability. We need new habits because the very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results.

While I may not yet have the answers to these questions, our group exercise of throwing the ball reinforced my belief that we need to intentionally choose what habits are moving us closer to what we want and what new habits we need to develop.

So, let’s talk … What habits need to go?

What new habits are folks trying on?

Who is interested in practicing some new ones together?

Dana Kawaoka-Chen is the Network Director for the Bay Area Justice Funders Network. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @justicefunders.


A Black-owned Farm Blooms
in Sonoma County

Inspired by Octavia E. Butler, Pandora Thomas Grows Fruit and Community at EARTHseed Farm

As climate disasters dominate headlines, and rent hikes, state-sponsored violence, and union-busting billionaires fuel social inequalities, the premise of the Parable Series, sci-fi books by the beloved ancestor and New York Times best-selling writer Octavia E. Butler, can feel more like prophecy than speculative fiction.

Photo of Pandora Thomash EARTHseed by Paige Green Photography for Made Local Magazine
Photo by Paige Green Photography for Made Local Magazine

The staffers and activists that populate MSC’s ecosystem are “positively obsessed” with the series; and that includes Pandora Thomas — a former Climate Fellow with the People’s Climate Innovation Center. Thomas is the founder and land steward of EARTHseed Farm — a 14-acre  solar-powered farm and orchard — the first Black-owned farm in Sonoma County. And, she named her farm after a religion that Butler created for said series of books. 

Earthseed, as revealed in the series, is a religion based on the idea that “God is Change” and adaptation is crucial: all the seeds of all life on earth can be transplanted and, through adaptation, will grow in many different situations or places. The concept resonates in the world of transformative movement building:

All that you touch, you Change. 

All that you Change Changes you. 

The only lasting truth is Change. 

– Octavia Butler, from the Parable of the Sower

All that is to say: when our core staff convened at our Oakland office this summer, it was a perfect opportunity to pay a visit to EARTHseed Farm. Like its namesake religion, the farm practices relationship-based design while reconnecting and evolving in its Afro-Indigenous principles and practices. 

Butler’s character Lauren Oya Olamina’s commitment to spreading the message of Earthseed is not unlike Thomas’ goals for her farm. Thomas envisioned a place where Black and Indigenous communities can reclaim their relationship to the earth, their history, and the future. With the permission and blessings of the Graton Rancheria Tribe, a federation of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo groups, Thomas, a passionate global citizen, established her Black-led and operated farm in March 2021. In addition, Thomas works as a caregiver for her mother and globally as a teacher, writer, designer, and speaker, and co-founded the Black Permaculture Network. 

Located on the ancestral lands of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Peoples in California’s Sonoma County, the farm is an example of permaculture stewardship in action: an ecological design system embedded in Indigenous wisdom that elevates ecosystem health while meeting human needs. The rows of fruit trees and berry brambles — which are bordered with flowers and herbs for cutting and drying — are managed by a group of like-minded practitioners and sing with bees and butterflies. Crops include various apples and pears, persimmons, plums, pluots, guavas, and mixed berries.

Signs throughout the farm remind us that berries are a self-protecting bunch and to pay our respects to the fruits we pick. The sign asks patrons to introduce themselves to the fruit, ask for its permission, and send appreciation for all it does for us.

Honoring ancestors and the land is integral to the EARTHseed Farm mission. Signs throughout the farm remind us that berries (and their thorns) are a self-protecting bunch; and that we should always pay our respects to the fruit we pick. Signs ask patrons to introduce themselves to the fruit, ask for its permission, and send appreciation for all it does for us.   

EARTHseed sells produce wholesale and runs a popular U-pick program from May to November that is open to the public. During our visit, we ran into visitors like Janie, from the East Bay, who is a big fan of the Parable Series and brought her friends to pick fruit after discovering the farm in a Google search for Butler’s Earthseed concept. U-Pick Steward Lisbeth Paniagua walked the group through the farm, educating the guests on permaculture design while showing off the ripest fruits and berries. 

EARTHseed’s wellness and health products are produced by Herb Diva Abi, the owner of the Stinging Nettles, or otherwise sourced from Black-owned farms.

We also met Abi Huff, a.k.a. “Herb Diva,” the owner of the Stinging Nettle and director of Healing Clinic Collective — an MSC fiscally sponsored project — restocking the farm store shelves with herbal creams and insect repellents. She shared her warm memories of the Black to the Land Gatherings EARTHseed hosted last Spring to reconnect folks to the roots of Afro-Indigenous wisdom. Their first event was in partnership with CAFF and gathered BIPOC land stewards from the region. Huff told us what an incredible experience it was to arrive at the event and be greeted by so many beautiful Black and brown faces — in an area that isn’t famed for its diversity. She told us the series was a fantastic way to build and support the community. 

Thomas has long been known for building relationships and sharing her ideology with neighbors across age, race, and economics — spreading ideas of resilience and self-determination. This particular Saturday morning as we entered the farm, we were greeted to the sounds of resident musicians, Leon and Kevin, who featured bluegrass tunes and traditional African instruments including the African Burkina Faso. 

With freshly cut flowers from their garden, and a note to the entire EARTHseed Farm family, neighbors living across the street from the farm stopped by to introduce themselves and welcome the EARTHseed team.

Later, we met Thomas’ neighbors from across the lane. They arrived bearing freshly cut flowers from their garden along with a note to the entire EARTHseed Farm family. We spent the next hour or so with the couple, walking the grounds, checking out the resident pigs, taking in the impressive solar panels, and attempting to identify the butterflies swarming otherworldly passion flowers studding a thicket of passionfruit vines. Thomas and her neighbors chatted like old friends — so it is no surprise that she has made quite a splash for herself within the tight-knit community along Sullivan Road in Sebastopol.

Visiting EARTHseed Farm was an inspiring treat and fed our imaginations. As communities work diligently to reverse historic harms and restore regenerative systems that honor our humanity, EARTHseed Farm is a place of solace, refuge, and healing for the Afro-Indigenous community, and for food- and nature-lovers of all stripes.

The farm is a part of Thomas’ new Sankofa Project — one of MSC’s new FSPs and member of the Movement Strategy Network. Sankofa will include Thomas’ work with Marin City and Urban Permaculture Institute. You can support this work through donations, by volunteering, by stopping by to shop or pick fruit, or by spreading the word about this remarkable farm. Share this blog and share the possibilities EARTHseed Farm can inspire. And check out the sights and sounds of EARTHseed in our gallery below.


Honoring the Legacy of Sandbranch:
Yesterday and Today

In its 142-year history, the town of Sandbranch, Texas, has seen many births and deaths. Today, this unincorporated village outside Dallas is attempting a long overdue rebirth — but residents here, devoted to their community but envisioning a safer, cleaner, and more flourishing version of it — don’t look forward without looking back. 

In 1878, an intrepid group of people from Louisiana — newly emancipated from slavery — traveled to Texas seeking a place to settle. Together, they bought a parcel of land and built a homestead. They wanted to provide financial security and opportunity for themselves, and for their descendants. At its peak, Sandbranch — the only unincorporated settlement in Dallas county, and its most impoverished area — was home to about 400 residents. Today, one hundred residents remain. 

Back in 1910, local residents Doc Glenn, Charlie Stark, and Cicero Floyd donated over an acre of land for a cemetery; and it’s said to contain the graves of many formerly enslaved people.

Like their founders, Sandbranch residents are determined to live in a place that is a sanctuary — a healthy and thriving place to call home. Their current efforts involve a wholesale revitalization of Sandbranch. Led by the Sandbranch Planning Committee, the first priority is to provide drinking water directly to 25 households through the cutting-edge, sustainable, regenerative technology of HydroPanels. For a town without running water, this technology and the water it pulls from thin air is life. But there is so much more to their vision — plumbing, street lights, garbage collection, rezoning and reconstruction, community gardens and access to healthcare, new residents (and, hopefully, a return for some previous residents). 

The community’s hub — for meetings, prayer, social interaction, bottled water and food distribution, and a community of volunteers — is the Sandbranch Baptist Church. And, adjacent to the original sight of the church, on Simonds Road, is the Sandbranch Cemetery. Back in 1910, local residents Doc Glenn, Charlie Stark, and Cicero Floyd donated over an acre of land for a cemetery; and it’s said to contain the graves of many formerly enslaved people. Like the town of Sandbranch, the cemetery has seen years of neglect — becoming overgrown, with many gravemarkers lost, destroyed, or illegible.

In 2011, a sign was put up at the Sandbranch Cemetery. While still tricky to find, it’s a start. And, luckily more information about those buried in the cemetery has been discovered.  

Scroll down to learn a bit about the folks that called Sandbranch home.

Donate to the Sandbranch Revitalization Fund’s #H20atHome campaign to support the installation of those Hydropanels.

Left, Bud Franklins was born June 10, 1870, and passed away at 71 on August 24, 1941; right, George Linscome was laid to rest in his 70s.

Top left, a headstone at Sandbranch Cemetery; top right, Wilson Lem Anderson, a veteran, was born on February 19, 1917 in Anchorage, TX. He married Alpha Odell Neal Anderson on June 25, 1942. He lived in Stephens, TX and Atascosa, TX; and died on November 7, 1989, at the age of 72; bottom, May Anderson, known as “8th of May” — her birthday was May 8 — was married to Ordon.

Left, Peter Elber McGrew, known as “Darling Pete,” was born on October 17, 1925. He lived to be 24 years old; Right, John William Crawford was born on August 21, 1877, and died at 61. He grew up on the Crawford Ranch, the land that his father, James O. Crawford, (also buried in the Sandbranch Cemetery), had homesteaded in the 1870s. John did not stick around: he sold the land and moved to Millett, TX, where he worked as postmaster and ran an ice cream parlor.

James O. and Sarah “Sally” Frances Bennett Crawford.

Left, Callie A Slaughter, born July 22, 1870, was laid to rest on August 9, 1926; right, Jessie Wright’s tombstone is one of a handful of gravestones that have become so timeworn that the inscriptions are difficult to read.


The MSC Storytelling Series: Jacqui Patterson

In this installment we get to know researcher, advocate, and activist Jacqueline “Jacqui” Patterson founder and executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project former director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program; co-founder of Women of Color United; and proud board member of MSC.

“It wasn’t a coincidence, it wasn’t happenstance.” So says Jacqui Patterson — activist, founder of the Chisholm Legacy Project, and MSC board member — on how she made her way to Movement Strategy Center. 

She was introduced to MSC through Movement Generation but if it wasn’t that it would’ve been something else: “the universe … draws like-mission and like-spirited people together.” She knew from the beginning there was alignment in work and in mission and it became clearer as Patterson participated in MSC’s movement support work — the Transitions Labs, the facilitation of conversations and meetings, and the cultivation of projects. “There are so many points of resonance and alignment in everything that MSC does … Whether it is the heart of the people … Or the way that they facilitate conversations about collective organizing toward the world that we want, MSC has been an inspiration, a catalyst, and a facilitator of radical imagination and a radical love in action.”

Patterson hails from the southside of Chicago — a very urban place not far from the other, more suburban side of the tracks. Her neighborhood offered many of the great touchstones of city life — ice cream trucks, block parties, and community. But also some of the worst: there were gangs, the sound of gunshots weren’t uncommon, and concerns about her brother simply existing as a Black boy in America were pervasive. 

Her family blended two cultures — her mother came up to Chicago during the Great Migration from Dublin, Mississippi; her dad immigrated there from Jamaica. The result was an upbringing steeped in both Deep South and Jamaican influences: a culture of food (collard greens plus curried chicken) and music (rhythm and blues plus reggae). Patterson’s ancestry is in sub-Saharan Africa; her common history involves those ancestors being stolen from their homelands and brought to unceded territories in both the United States and Jamaica to become the enslaved labor behind the economy and the infrastructure of those respective lands. 

She says, “I am who I am out of that history and that story. And, I am who I am in celebration of the rich cultural heritage and in resistance to and in reparations from how the heritage and ties to nation and community were interrupted by colonialism. I do what I do to both celebrate and treasure that cultural heritage.”

There are so many points of resonance and alignment in everything that MSC does … Whether it is the heart of the people … Or the way that they facilitate conversations about collective organizing toward the world that we want, MSC has been an inspiration, a catalyst, and a facilitator of radical imagination and a radical love in action.

Her work reflects this. She is working to restore “linkages in some ways to the motherland,” and “address, redress, and correct the carnage and the aftermath of colonialism and where it has left our communities as a result of the systemic exploitation, extraction, and oppression.” The work centers on Black and BIPOC communities all over the world; and is in partnership with all “the aligned and the allied — anyone who is allied and aligned with the mission of Black liberation.”

For her, liberation ensures “that all people have self determination and have what they need to be whole and thriving.” And it starts with accountability — “my purpose is to be in service to the quest for self determination and liberation of Black frontline communities.” 

So much of that begins with being very “intentional about who is not even being thought of by those sitting at the table — much less are they even at the table.” In terms of climate justice, Patterson wants everyone to have a seat. Thus, a focus on chronically ignored Freedman’s Settlements — communities, many unincorporated, established by those “just emancipated from enslavement.” 

One, a community of only about 100 people outside Dallas, is Sandbranch, Texas. Stunningly, this unincorporated village adjacent to one of our country’s wealthiest cities has never had running water. Their well water was contaminated in the 1980s, and today, residents rely mainly on donated bottled water — not just for drinking, but for cooking and bathing. Stories like these are at the center of the Patterson-founded Chisholm Legacy Project — an organization that connects Black communities on the frontlines with the resources necessary to implement transformation. 

It isn’t easy work. And that’s why Patterson so valued the aforementioned Transitions Labs — these safe spaces offered community and reflection. A way to, at least metaphorically, refill your cup. These gatherings also made it clear that “all the work around social justice and systems change is intersectional.” A priceless opportunity “to explicitly be engaged with folks who are doing work from gender justice to education justice to general economic justice and so forth, and to really come together and talk about this notion of Just Transition and this ideal that we want as a society.” She acknowledges the concept “might sound utopian,” but for the frontliners in attendance that discussion and that space is “a necessity in order to survive and thrive as people.”

All the work around social justice and systems change is intersectional.

It can be hard for outsiders to understand what these retreats and workshops were like. Patterson describes them as a chance to step “away from the day to day, the list of deliverables … The nonprofit industrial complex.” Crucially, they offered an opportunity to discuss the roles and purpose of both the individuals and the organizations across various movements in “a space of ideating … Set up to accommodate all learning and being styles.” 

Attendees showed up with “a selfless sense of mission, so there was a level of trust and safety there.” And the work — deep conversation and reflection, “the practices: tai chi, somatics, embodiment … Various exercises that got you out of your head and into the culture” — fostered intimate connection. “We can go whole days, weeks, or months without thinking about that larger arc,” so the safe space to simply “think and be” was invaluable and unlike so many other gatherings and workshops.  

It was at one of these Transitions Labs in the Redwood Forest — “a generative environment” — that Patterson felt everything sort of gel: her work, her goals, her collaborations with MSC. The activity at hand involved focusing on “developing a seed of an idea and being with people who were like-minded, like-focused, and like-spirited who were also growing their own seeds.” The seed that “began to truly blossom” for Patterson that day — while laying on the floor with her peers and remembering the iconic book the Bridge Called My Back, a collection of radical writings by Black women — involved “work specifically focused on supporting the wellbeing of Black femmes.”

That “unformed dream” turned “into an action plan … That birthed the fourth element of focus of the Chisholm Legacy Project — the focus on Black femme support.” Patterson explained that she had observed the “level of weight on Black femmes in terms of holding so much, our families, our organizations, the movement, in the case of Alabama and Georgia — actual democracy. Yet so often you see our sisters in the struggle are so weighed down by that.” 

Sighting stress, premature deaths, and all the ways these weights can negatively manifest in the health of her peers inspired the project’s steadfast support of wellbeing. She believes this concept of “community care, organizational care, movement care — instead of just preaching self care to someone who is always going to put themselves last” is crucial to the future of the movement.   

Today, Patterson feels honored to continue to support MSC as a board member, calling the work “a blessing.” Likewise, she values “the opportunity to continue to be in relationship with the innovations team that is doing amazing work,” citing her participation as a founding member of the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners. She looks forward to “continuing to support Climate Innovation’s (soon to be renamed People’s Climate Innovation Center (PCIC)) team” and ensuring “that the communities that we work with — including the Black femme climate justice leaders — are able to connect with and be nurtured by the rich range of offerings that MSC has,” especially in terms of climate resilience planning and training and Black youth leadership development.

And, circling back to the Freedman’s Settlements and towns like Sandbranch, she looks forward to growing “the ways that MSC’s fiscal sponsorship and regranting programs can benefit some of the most marginalized Black communities in the United States.” She continued, “the hope is that MSC and the Chisholm Legacy Project can together support the self determination and liberation of these communities all over the nation.”

She also hopes that others — new friends of MSC, new members of the collective movement ecosystem — get the chance to experience something like MSC’s Transitions Labs. They so deeply and positively affected Patterson and she recalled — with a lot of laughter and a little bit of embarrassment — one opportunity where participants were invited to write letters of appreciation to each other. Other people maybe wrote one or two and I literally sat there and wrote super sappy love letters to everyone. I was just feeling literally just full of so much love for everyone who participated.” 


Navigating Tensions Within Capitalist Systems

Movement Strategy Center on Forging Authentic Relationships Between Funders and Movement Leaders

Movement Strategy Center (MSC) is values-aligned with the activist organizations we offer infrastructure to and thought partnership with; and dismantling white supremacy in philanthropy and intermediary services is fundamental to our goal and mission. But at the end of the day, we are a cog in the machine of capitalism; and capitalism is core to economic, racial, and environmental inequity we are fighting each and every day. 

It’s with this in mind that we cannot deny the obvious tensions between the philanthropic organizations that fund our works and the on-the-ground movement leaders we partner with.

 

 

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This thinking is by no means new or innovative — it’s ingrained enough within the greater philanthropic and activist ecosystems to warrant parody. There are dozens of social media accounts dedicated to poking holes in the nonprofit industrial complex. Two of our favorites, @nogodsnoprofts on Instagram and @philanthro_tea on Twitter, have amassed more than 4,000 followers thanks to a collection of memes and hot takes that are often humorous, honest, and entirely relatable.  

Dontay Wimberly, rapper and People’s Climate Innovation Center (formerly Climate Innovation) Young Black Climate Leader (YBCL), shared similar frustration in his Instagram stories. He noted that in 2020, $471 billion went to nonprofit organizations — nearly half a trillion dollars. “That’s how much money was given away — so imagine how much the ruling class has in the first place.” He continued, “capitalism is a zero-sum game … for the few to win, everyone else has to lose. That’s why nonprofits are so frustrating. They don’t really talk about capitalism … Then they would have to reconcile with the contradiction that nonprofits are a byproduct of capitalist exploitation.” 

And he’s right — without unfathomable wealth there would be no philanthropy. And without philanthropy, many of the activists behind crucial movement work would be hobbled. Wealth and philanthropy are essential — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do.   

Carla Dartis, MSC’s executive director, wonders: “how many philanthropic organizations and family foundations have direct access to small grassroots organizers? How many have activist organizers on their boards? Their advisory councils?” Without those folks involved in decision making how are funders supposed to fully understand needs? Without a seat on the table, where is the community and partnership? And when the organizers on the ground are honest about their needs, “they are seen as weak — they can never be seen as a true partner.”

Candace Clark, the resource organizing director at HEAL Food Alliance, one of MSC’s fiscally sponsored projects, agrees: “No one can tell you how to fix a problem in the community they aren’t a part of.” 

 

 

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Problems between philanthropic organizations and activists are compounded by what Dartis describes as a “model of scarcity.” These foundations have good intentions but the funding is rarely enough; the timelines too defined; the relationships too “episodic.” It’s nearly impossible for activists to secure enough funding and — crucially — unrestricted funding to support ongoing efforts, growth, or infrastructure. And, she adds: those deadlines and restrictions, that manufactured urgency, is “the white supremacy piece.” All organizations, large and small, need to be able to adapt or shift as circumstances change and hot button issues arise and established funding can rarely be diverted to tackle these issues.

Jose Pienda, executive director for After Incarceration, an MSC fiscally sponsored project, understands this scarcity sentiment. Since his release from prison in 2020, Pienda has worked with the Restorative Center to pursue a personal restorative justice journey and provide restorative outlets for others. Pienda believes “if we replace competition with collaboration, we all have access to everything … At the end of the day, we are all working for each other.” But he doesn’t believe Big Philanthropy always works that way, referring to the status quo as “a competitive rat race mentality of how and where we get our resources.” 

Intermediaries can seem to complicate the situation by standing between one or more foundations and grantees. But MSC avoids this; and part of avoiding roadblocks is acknowledging that we exist in a sort of paradox between capitalism and liberation. We do not try to ignore the inherent capitalist hypocrisy that is the backbone of philanthropy.   

And we make mistakes — all of us do, big philanthropy and otherwise. But the key is accountability. Clark says, “accountability can feel like being reprimanded but that’s not the intention, it’s dialog, it’s sharing, it’s willingness.” Crucially, she adds that “accountability is transparency” and that means being “open to correcting mistakes.”

Terry Marshall, the cofounder of Intelligent Mischief — a member of MSC Movement Strategy Network (MSN), tells us, “anything that is real, started as imagination first.” MSC imagined a leader-full ecosystem of dynamic and strategic leaders, projects, teams, strategic initiatives, collaborations, and organizations working to advance BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and women and LGBTQIA+-led power building. We started as a group of organizers addressing the overlapping issues of our time collaboratively; who know the climate crisis is connected to the immigration crisis; and that racial justice can not be separated from gender justice. Our purpose is to strengthen projects on the ground and reshape collective futures while working towards equity and community — even with funders, large and small. 

 “Accountability can feel like being reprimanded but that’s not the intention, it’s dialog, it’s sharing, it’s willingness. Accountability is transparency and that means being open to correcting mistakes.”

It all comes down to being in a relationship with one another. Our fiscal sponsorship programs are based on a cohort system that builds on a nested network approach. The idea — which brings in classes of activist organizations — speaks to the concept of Beloved Community and to the need for power-building. Onboarding starts with goal and intention setting; and many goals include relationship building. It’s a crucial, foundational part of the work, and determines our resilience and ability to move forward together. In her book, Emergent Strategy, social movement facilitator adrienne maree brown reminisced about an offering of advice that MSC cofounder Taj James once shared: “don’t thingify, humanify! Shifting our way of being is our tangible outcome. Systems change comes from big groups making big shifts of being.”  

Anya de Marie, who helped develop this approach during her time as MSC’s chief fiscal sponsorship officer, said, “we created as much community as we could inside complicated and contradictory philanthropic and nonprofit cultures and constraints. Rather than an individualized focus on organizational development, we use a network-centered approach that is relational and trauma-responsive.” That rationale reflects MSC’s employee culture — it has been and continues to be a community and political home. And that sense of belonging can take the edge off the very difficult work and very difficult conversations that come with transformative movement building.

Movement building is relational work, and our relationships with our programs and partners allows us to be innovative and agile in our approaches. Mariame Kaba, author of We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, tells us, “being intentionally in relation to one another, a part of a collective, helps to not only imagine new worlds but also to imagine ourselves differently.” While most intermediaries offer a black and white, client-based approach, our services are designed to address a community’s complete need for resources; and our infrastructure is focused on access and transparency. 

This process extends to many of MSC’s partners. Clark, who is new to the HEAL Food Alliance team, notes that when they are working and planning with their member organizations — a diverse group comprised of rural and urban farmers, fisherfolk, farm and food chain workers, rural and urban communities, scientists, public health advocates, environmentalists, and indigenous groups — they strive for safe spaces, open communication, and the encouragement of all voices from all backgrounds and all geographies to speak their minds and “craft their stories.”

“Don’t thingify, Humanify! Shifting our way of being is our tangible outcome. Systems change comes from big groups making big shifts of being.”

Moving forward, MSC envisions sharing our movement building expertise and ultimately expanding our intermediary model to other activist communities and intermediaries. This equitable service toolkit will be offered to other intermediaries as a guide to setting up their projects and their ecosystems up for success while collectively shifting the paradigm of philanthropy. Crucially, this system will actively engage activists and communities around the model — which will strengthen communities all over. 

MSC proudly focuses on projects that are most impacted by inequities; we don’t have minimum budgets; and we work hard to facilitate powerbuilding and education for our fiscally sponsored partners — with financial literacy, business acumen, and operational knowledge. This not only expands their mission’s impact and their role in systemic change but it helps them walk the walk and talk the talk when in conversation with potential funders, partners, and employers.

This strategic investment in professional development is crucial, as staff and leadership within grassroots organizations sometimes lack the operational literacy required to operate in philanthropic circles. Our focus on building skills and expertise is unique in the world of intermediaries — we believe strategic investment in staff and partner education builds capacity for the movement and the movement leaders, at MSC and beyond. MSC’s Movement Infrastructure Innovation Center (MIIC) project advisor Jamillah Renard‘s financial literacy coaching and resources has increased our organizational breadth while granting our activist partners transferable skills that will increase their income capabilities.

All of this requires funding. And sometimes to get the funding communities need, activists need to be open to partnering with foundations and funders that may not be completely aligned in terms of mission and vision. Per Clark, “it’s important to be strategic, and to look at alignment even if it’s indirect. Compromise is nuanced and sometimes there are still benefits.” It’s hard to know who or what else every philanthropist and foundation is involved with; but it’s safe to say that they don’t set out to be extractive. And here is where communication is again key: “you can walk them through and they may be willing to see things differently.” That said, there are differing opinions on this throughout the transformative movement ecosystem and activists will need to do what’s right for themselves and their communities on a case by case basis.


Essential Shifts in Funding Practices

Movement Strategy Center on How Philanthropy Must Evolve

To decolonize philanthropy, and support this crucial movement work, we must be open to the concept of Emergent Strategy policies and culture building. Emergent Strategy, a book and framework written by facilitator adrienne maree brown, suggests that western culture tends to work against the emergent strategies and processes that are realized over time as intended goals collide with the shifting realities at hand. The writer explains that “emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” By being cognizant of how needs and environments change — including a holistic focus on authentic relationships and the evolving needs of movement leaders — philanthropy can reshape their values and what they’re advocating for.

“When we are fueled with a scarcity mindset, as so many of our communities have been conditioned to be, organizations scramble to do as much as they can before the funds run out.”

Philanthropy for social movements must begin to level the playing field and move away from the current hierarchies that temporarily fund outcomes rather than sustainably funding relationships.