Thursday, 30 December 2010

seeing outside of the non-profit industrial complex

so many people (including me up til recently) have wood-for-the-trees problems when it comes to charities /  non-profits (and the public sector, and academia, for that matter), and the prospect of working for one. i'm so heartened to see this discussion on tumblr, at Radically Hott Off (though i'm confused about how to reference tumblr stuff properly) about the failure of non-profit orgs to actually do much to effect social change, apart from set ourselves up in nice salaried positions and then work to maintain that salary structure:
"the number one reason I hear people say that they are working at 501c3s [US term for charities / voluntary sector orgs] is because they believe in the work and they’d be doing it anyway and this way they can survive. but…isn’t there just a bit of moral —-unevenness i guess—in assuming that our neighbors, our fathers, our grocery store check out lady—don’t have the same wishes?


what happens if instead of saying *I* want a job that pays me enough to live on AND makes me feel a little less ethically violated—and say *WE* want jobs that pay us enough to live on and doesn’t kill the world? indeed makes the world a better place? 


what would it look like to begin the left transition from dependency on 501c3s to a steady communication with radical on the street/community driven movements? [...]. *F*eminist orgs do absolutely NO grassroots organizing, instead focusing on “recruitment” in universities—that is: finding the next generation of women to run the orgs.


it’s like there’s no clear understanding that raped women in prisons, raped women in migrant camps, raped women in your family, raped next door neighbors, raped friends, etc are all pretty freaking powerful and can create more changes than olberman can ever dream of—if we’d work to give those women skills to organize. The right may have more money—but they have the top five percent of the money makers to recruit from. we have the entire world."
yes. it's really clear to me how much we who are working in charities/non-profits are just working to bolster the comfort of our own privilege - sleep tight at night knowing we've "done good", "tried hard" - rather than actively undermining the structures that privilege us over those we say we are trying to help.

when i quit my proper job and was handing over to my replacement, i was explaining to her some of the issues around supporting women with 'no recourse to public funds' and how totally trapped those women can be, between their abusive partner and the immigration system. her response was like a perfect summary of why i had to quit! she said: "oh wow. you'd just want to take her home, wouldn't you? i mean, i've got a spare room and... oh but you couldn't. you could never do that! ... but if she had nowhere else to go! it's so terrible! ... but obviously i know you could never do that..." and in that paid role, of handing over my old job to this new worker of course i had to shake my head along with her: "no, you could never do that."

but you know how women's aid refuges started in the 1970s - feminists had spare rooms and opened them up to strangers fleeing abuse. they squatted buildings. families shared rooms. that absence of resources is unimaginable now when compared to multi-million pound blocks of self-contained apartments that new labour helped to fund for several cities' DV provision.

except - that absence of resources is precisely what women with no recourse have now. but somehow we've forgotten how to offer our spare rooms to them, or how to squat or do whatever is necessary to protect these women. because women like us are now relatively protected by the state. sort of. well, maybe not. but hey at least we're getting paid now, eh? and god forbid we risk offending the funders.

i so love the part of the quote above that i bolded. i'd never even thought of it that way. it just highlights so perfectly the entitlement of the reasoning (that i held for many years) that we have a right to elevate ourselves into paid charity positions so that we can feel better about ourselves, as if other people without the same access to those jobs don't feel the same way. and then when we're in, we have the audacity to keep (other) survivors out, because you know, 'managing volunteers is resource-intensive', 'we don't have the funding right now to run a volunteer training programme', 'volunteers complicate risk-management' etc etc.

so - yes! that seems like an amazing central premise for organising - not that i should scramble to get a funded place inside the nice safe (and shrinking) NPIC while extending a hand from the parapet during office hours to 'help' 'them' - but that i should work for the right of all of us to be doing well-resourced, well-recompensed, non-violating, meaningful, engaged work.

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