Saturday, April 2, 2011

Turning liberation into a career path

Sadie Ryaane Vashti has been working in various non-profit organizations that lobby for gay and transgender issues. Even so, she offers a critical look of the Non Profit Industrial Complex (surely the name chosen to echo Eisenhower's rebuke of the Military Industrial Complex).

Vashti spent much of her youth as an anarchist, one who protested just about everything in hopes that her actions and those of her peers would inspire the oppressed to rise up and build a more egalitarian world. It didn't happen. After being disillusioned and tired of being homeless, she got a job with a nonprofit organization. She hoped she could help as many people as possible.

She borrows a definition from INCITE:

The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations, and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.

Organizations dedicated to social justice have, of course, been around for a very long time. But during the 1980s there was a shift from economic justice for all (engaged in class struggles) to "multicultural capitalism" in which cultural equality was the goal. This gave way to identity politics. The underground movements reached for government funding. Which meant the real power behind the government would share only so much power.

Nonprofits were defanged in several different ways.

* To receive funding organizations had to adopt a corporate structure. They were no longer grass-roots organizations able to create real change. Asking for and receiving money compromises power.

* These organizations became career paths for the educated activist instead of agents of change by the oppressed for the oppressed.

* Corporations and other donors, in donating to non profits, are able to say, "We care about …" This gave them cover to maintaining the oppression that is so profitable.

* Organizations are accountable to funders, not the oppressed they are to liberate.

* Organization leaders, to get funding, must write reports about the "realistically achievable" goals. They stop dreaming of grand goals to transform society and instead limit themselves to pleasing board members.

* Thus funders are able to manage and control dissent to make sure the world is safe for capitalism.

* Each organization is isolated into its single issue and can't easily band together with others for broader change.

Commenter Azerica added a couple more ways nonprofits are defanged.

* Taking on this corporate structure is considered the standard of legitimacy, even though it takes the focus of a grass-roots organization away from the people it is to serve.

* The organization shifts from service to self-preservation.

For example, Gay Liberation used to be run by gender non-conformists of all varieties who wanted to remake society over the issues of family, sexism, religion, normative masculine/feminine, and do so with allies of other librations struggles. Now the NPIC is run by wealthy, white, straight-acting men who have the goal of gays fitting into the existing capitalist, patriarchal power structure and assimilating into straight culture. They try to distance themselves from transgenders, gays of color, and those who refuse to fit into gender norms. We get "gay-friendly shopping" instead of liberation.

Will this system improve the lives of gays and transgender people dealing with current conditions? Yes. Will it bring about a radically different society in which all people treat each other with love and respect? No.

So reform within the system, rather than a revolution to replace the system, isn't all bad, as some revolutionaries would like to claim. We need both reform and revolution.

Vashti wrote:

Lobbying to change laws is useful and important. But the really revolutionary act is bringing together a group of people who have been historically silenced, institutionally discriminated against, and culturally marginalized to speak out and demand to be heard. So many of us have internalized messages of our own weakness and irrelevance that it truly is powerful to demand any change -- even a small legislative reform.

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