Nonprofits exist to maintain society as we know it. Nonprofits often provide vital social services in the spaces left by the state’s retreat from postwar welfare provisions, services which keep women, queers, and trans people, particularly those who are poor and of color, alive. The initial postwar welfare provisions themselves were provided primarily to white families – through redlining or the racially exclusive postwar GI Bill for example. Social justice nonprofits in particular exist to co-opt and quell anger, contain racial conflict, and validate a racist, patriarchal state. These organizations are often funded by business monopolies which have profited from and campaigned for the privatization of public social services like healthcare and education. This has been argued extensively by many who have experienced the limits of nonprofit work firsthand, most recently by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.
Indeed, the exponential growth of NGOs and nonprofits could be understood as the 21st century public face of counterinsurgency, except this time speaking the language of civil, women’s, and gay rights, charged with preempting political conflict, and spiritually committed to promoting one-sided “dialogue” with armed state bureaucracies. Over the last four decades, a massive nonprofit infrastructure has evolved in order to prevent, whether through force or persuasion, another outbreak of the urban riots and rebellions which spread through northern ghettos in the mid to late 1960s. Both liberal and conservative think tanks and service providers have arisen in response primarily to previous generations of radical Black, Native American, Asian American, and Chican@ Third World Liberation movements. In the 21st century, social justice activism has become a professional career path. Racial justice nonprofits, and an entire institutionally funded activist infrastructure, partner with the state to echo the rhetoric of past movements for liberation while implicitly or explicitly condemning their militant tactics.
The material infrastructure promoting these ideas is massive, enabling their extensive dissemination and adoption. Largely funded by philanthropic organizations like the Ford Foundation ($13.7 billion), Rockefeller Foundation ($3.1 billion), or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($37.1 billion), the US nonprofit sector has grown exponentially, often through the direct privatization of the remnants of America’s New Deal-era social safety net. One need only hear the names of these philanthropic organizations to realize that they are or were some of the largest business monopolies in the world, whose foundations are required to donate 5% of their endowment each year, while 95% of the remaining funds remain invested in financial markets. We are asked to thank these organizations for their generosity for solving problems which they are literally invested in maintaining. In 2009 nonprofits accounted for 9% of all wages and salaries paid in the United States, generated $1.41 trillion in total revenues, and reported $2.56 trillion in total assets. This funding structure ties liberal organizations charged with representing and serving communities of color to businesses interested primarily in tax exemptions and charity, and completely hostile to radical social transformation despite their rhetoric. In other words, if you promote this line of political activism and theoretical analysis, you have a good chance of being rewarded – financially. It is possible, now, to live off of these politics – but who is losing in this game?
“With increasing frequency,” Filipino prison abolitionist and professor Dylan Rodriguez argues, “we are party (or participant) to a white liberal “multicultural”/“people of color” imagination which venerates and even fetishizes the iconography and rhetoric of contemporary Black and Third World liberation movements, and then proceeds to incorporate these images and vernaculars into the public presentation of foundation-funded liberal or progressive organizations. …[T]hese organizations, in order to protect their nonprofit status and marketability to liberal foundations, actively self-police against members’ deviations from their essentially reformist agendas, while continuing to appropriate the language and imagery of historical revolutionaries. Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1995-2001, which is in many ways the national hub of the progressive “wing” of the NPIC, I would name some of the organizations…here, but the list would be too long. Suffice it to say that the nonprofit groups often exhibit(ed) a political practice that is, to appropriate and corrupt a phrase from…Ruth Wilson Gilmore, radical in form, but liberal in content.”
(Source: hystericalqueen, via funkyfest)