On Philanthropy, Fascism, and the 2016 Election
All toxic relationships thrive on potential. All of them. Humans are optimistically addicted to seeking comfort and rational answers at all times. As a result, we will stay far longer than we should, and behave much more passively than makes sense, working toxic jobs that offer meager promotion opportunities, breaking bread with toxic, self-absorbed friends who offer neither a helping hand nor a shoulder to cry on, and sleeping with toxic people incapable of caring for anyone but themselves. We would much rather engage in the fantastical potential of what these relationships could be than deal with the reality of what we already know they are.
In the wake of this election (please note that I’ve refrained from attaching any adjectives or expletives to the word “election”), which culminated in an unprecedented intervention on the part of the FBI and confirmation that our president-elect’s campaign was in contact with Russia, politicians have already begun to emphasize the need for a peaceful transition of power while failing to acknowledge the man who will be wielding that power. Make no mistake about it. We are entering into a toxic relationship with a fascist strongman.
Desperate times call for radical, disruptive change and new, innovative measures.
Philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector generally, has a choice. Will we choose to normalize this election and its results, and in doing so become a tool of this new autocracy, or will we finally begin to act radically to combat the injustices that State must feed upon to survive?
It seems to me that we can no longer simply convene discussions on how best to engage people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, women, and artists, for they are and will continue to be under attack. And they will be on the front lines of the resistance. Artists and people of color have always led the way because they are the first to clearly recognize the threat. They are also the first to be jailed or murdered because dictators recognize that their voices are the greatest threat to power. It is time for us to act alongside them.
Desperate times call for radical, disruptive change and new, innovative measures. Nearly everything we hold dear is at stake. Health care. Education. The environment. Support for the arts. The safety of our immigrant neighbors. The nonprofit sector must invest in stronger, louder, and more unified policy, advocacy, and mobilization efforts. Many of us leave opportunities to engage with our elected officials and their staffs on the table well before approaching the bounds of IRS regulations. We should actively engage, support, and fund artists and activists in this work at the federal level, and train them to advocate successfully and sustainably in their own communities.
We must commit to standing with communities of color to ensure that their theaters, community centers, schools, and other institutions have the resources (funds, capacity and, most importantly, the vocal support of white people in positions of privilege and power) to remain safe spaces that provide people with light amidst all of the darkness.
We must be willing to take risks — in our programming, in our grant making, and in how we conceptualize our role in this world in the immediate future. This requires close collaboration and trust with old partners and actively seeking out new friends.
I recently read an article about living in an autocracy. Two rules stuck with me:
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization
Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.
Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector are in a position to hold back the tide and make the next several years not only bearable, but *survivable* for struggling organizations and communities around the country. We must move urgently and quickly to prepare to address the toxic relationship that we will enter in January 2017. Be outraged.
About Lauren Ruffin
Lauren Olivia Ruffin is Fractured Atlas’s Chief External Relations Officer, responsible for the organization’s marketing, communications, community engagement, and fundraising. Prior to joining the team at Fractured Atlas, Lauren served as Director of Development for DC-based organizations Martha’s Table and the National Center for Children and Families. She was also fortunate to serve in various roles at and various positions at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Children’s Defense Fund, New Leaders, and AAUW. Before entering the nonprofit sector, Lauren held the position of Assistant Director of Government Affairs for Gray Global Advisors, a bipartisan government relations firm. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Political Science and obtained a J.D. from the Howard University School of Law. In her spare time, she serves on the Board of Directors of Black Girls Code, and can be found mountain biking or gesturing wildly at the teevee in support of Duke University’s men’s basketball team.