May 15, 2009

API* Heritage Post #15: Beginning

This year, in an actual attempt to really observe API* Heritage Month, I'm trying to put up a post a day about what that means to me. Click the tag for API* Heritage to get the whole series.

There are so many nonprofits in our communities and yet so many needs and possibilities still unmet and untapped. Here and there, I've alluded to an interest in breaking free of the nonprofit-industrial complex, partially because I think there's often such a weird aura of privilege (without acknowledgment) that surrounds these groups. And it's just so. much. talk.

At the same time, I feel like we're often limited by just thinking about the dollars we can raise through foundations, corporations, and government - all tethered in some major way to capitalism or militarism because where else will they get the money (or the guilt) to contribute to groups? Private and public grants are the opiate of the organizers, I'd say - the money keeps us going, but it also keeps their hands on our throats, fully limiting the possible ways that groups can truly focus on what is needed for their communities: social change that moves far beyond catch phrases and happy hours.

But how to start something that focuses on community before institution building? And how do you know whether you're the right person/group to start it, or if it's the right priority? I've been telling folks to ask these questions lately when they want to start a new group - and also to ask whether 501(c) anything is really what they want. The institutionalization and professionalization of this work has moved us all rightward.

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