Old Money New System 2019: A Community of Practice in Three Movements

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In November 2018, 25 activists, organizers, fundraisers, donors, and other supporters of movements for racial, gender and economic justice gathered at the Watershed Center in Millerton, NY at the 3rd annual Old Money New System (OMNS) community of practice retreat.

With the skillful and iterative facilitation of Melinda Weekes-Laidlow and Cedar Landsman, the retreat was grounded in political education and shared analysis, as well as healing and ritual. These core ingredients are what allowed us to establish and deepen trusting relationships throughout our community of practice and emerge with new models and tools for disrupting and transforming philanthropy. Always together in circle, our retreat took shape in three movements: Lament (Grief), Remembrance, and Moving Forward (Beginning Anew).

I. Lament (Grief)

We started by looking back, rooting ourselves both in joyous storytelling and the painful history of philanthropy in the U.S. 

OMNS Co-Founder Allen Kwabena Frimpong and OMNS Coordinator Yasmin Yonis welcomed us into the space. We learned about the origins and evolution of OMNS and of the abundant fruits and bounties that were seeded through this community of practice. With many returning participants and some new, we individually declared ourselves and our desire to be seen and be present in the community through an Ubuntu Invocation, named after the Southern African philosophy literally meaning “human-ness” but which can also be loosely translated as "humanity to others" or "I am what I am because of who we all are.”

The following morning, we delved into the origins and evolution of American philanthropy, engaging in a collective timeline exercise to map its sordid history developed by Justice Funders. This activity helped us build a shared understanding of how philanthropy in the U.S. has fueled the accumulation and privatization of wealth, so that we could better design and practice ways to radically transform philanthropy towards liberatory ends. The exercise was painful and provocative, bringing to the surface the shame and traumas we have been suffering due to white supremacy, settler colonialism, and racialized capitalism. Collectively, as a multiracial, cross-class group, we carry with us a wide range of experiences in this system. Grieving the shame and traumas-- and how it showed up differently for each of us-- was an essential next step as we began to ‘Lament’ through a trauma release ritual practiced by Standing in Our Power (SiOP) as part of their Breakdown to Breakthrough model. 

At the heart of our “breaking down” and lamenting was the ability to face and name our truths. SiOP leader, Taij Moteelall, incorporated a tool designed by Joanna Macy: the Truth Mandala, which “provides a simple, respectful, whole group structure for owning and honoring our pain for the world.” The mandala was comprised of four quadrants-- each representing an emotion: anger, fear, emptiness, and sorrow. The center of the mandala, and the ground upon which it resides, represented hope. We each approached the center of the circle, picked up an object from one of the quadrants, and spoke the truth of how that emotion was coming through us at that moment, especially in light of the weight of the presentation on the history of philanthropy. With all of our painful truths spoken aloud, we honored our stories and also opened the possibility for love, trust, compassion, and renewal to accompany our pain.

II. Remembrance

In our second movement, we examined some of our current assumptions and approaches to philanthropy and challenged ourselves towards more transformative practices of resource mobilization. 

We learned about some of the harm reduction approaches that funders have engaged in to make capital more accessible to movements. Still, we acknowledged the functional limitations of grant-making and traditional philanthropic vehicles, concluding that while we can push for improved -- perhaps even restorative -- funder practices, such an incrementalist approach is certainly not enough to bring true liberation and transformation.

Thus, we grappled with and interrogated new frameworks: Can philanthropy serve as reparations? Can money heal us? We were introduced to Justice Funders’ Resonance Framework Towards A Just Transition, as a mode of engaging philanthropy as reparations. We read aloud Edgar Villanueva’s Money as Medicine article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review -- a teaser for his book Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. We learned about Living Resource Systems, a relationship-based approach, developed by Movement NetLab, for supporting movement networks.

Our ‘Remembrance movement’ concluded with a ritual to support us in healing from shame and trauma of the old ways, so that we would be reading to imagine the new ways forward, moving together in the work more whole and connected, individually and collectively. Sachem HawkStorm, the hereditary chief of Schaghticoke First Nations (whose land we were on), and Lucién Demaris, a Somatics-based healer and educator with Relational Uprising, led us in a water ceremony.

Sachem HawkStorm describes the ceremony as follows:

In this ceremony, we bring our ancestral memories together through water to show how we are all connected. We placed an 8,000 year old hand hammer used by the original people of this land in a bowl of water in the center of the circle. That stone represents 8,000 years of the water memory of human DNA. It sat in the river for thousands of years, collecting data. And when we dip our fingers in the water today, we add our DNA to it. The water already contains the DNA of every being that has ever been on this planet. This shared experience connects us in a way that is both spiritual and tangible.

III. Moving Forward (Beginning Anew)

On the third day, we moved into the final movement, which was about finding grounding for forward movement as resource-mobilizers as we headed towards the conclusion of the retreat. We began by considering different “resource vehicles” (see chart below). Participants were asked to consider the following questions:

  • Where in this ecology do you work, or want to work? 

  • What might you do together to move from extractive to transformational with this vehicle?

“Resource Vehicles” - Allen Kwabena Frimpong & Movement NetLab

“Resource Vehicles” - Allen Kwabena Frimpong & Movement NetLab

From this foundation, we moved into our “Solidarity Economy Festival.” Eight organizations and two social ventures had a few minutes to present their work, with a particular focus on how that work connects to a just transition to a new economy. Having spent significant time building relationships over the past few days, the atmosphere of these presentations was celebratory and joyful. 

Carrying this joy forward, we entered our final module: the Gift and Barter Exchange. Participants used post-it notes to list their material and non-material needs and offerings and stuck them to poster paper for all to see. The facilitators led the group through a “match-making” process in which needs and offerings were “matched,” resulting in the exchange of all sorts of resources--housing, coaching, editing help, and more. Participants also pledged approximately $70,000 to create a new temporary fund called the Just Economy Solidarity Fund (JESF) which was split between the organizations and social ventures represented. 

With each match of need and offering, the room erupted with shouts of joy, stomping of feet, beating of drums and shaking of rattles. Smiles and tears flowed forth. As we drew to a close, we self-organized into working groups to ensure that the work we had begun here would continue past the end of the retreat. 

We hope you will join us for this year’s retreat – to learn more.

Old Money New System Retreat Participants & Contributing Writers

Taij Kumarie Moteelall
Allen Kwabena  Frimpong
Abraham Lateiner
Jocelyn Wong

What is #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW!:

WITHIN OUR LIFETIME and OLD MONEY NEW SYSTEM COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE have issued an invitation for courageous and collective action, joined by the National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy to movement building groups and racial justice and healing organizations. We urge groups to challenge philanthropy to develop racially just grantmaking practices and transform structures, so we can collectively tackle structural racism and white supremacy.

 We must disrupt philanthropy, intervene against inequitable practices, and transform the sector by redistributing wealth so we collectively end racism within our lifetime. We must move beyond transactional funding relationships to demand accountability with philanthropy as we demand it in other sectors.  There are philanthropic leaders who have been advocates for justice and we need to work with them intentionally and strategically.  

 We must work collectively to share our stories about funders’ inequitable practices to lessen the consequences on every organization. Keeping our voice unheard leads to the conclusion there is no urgency for the philanthropic sector to be transformed. We can no longer let fear of consequences deter us from speaking our truth about the impact of unjust practices by our funders. We must radically transform philanthropy and organize for racially equitable resource distribution.

What can you do NOW…

  • TELL YOUR STORY: If you are an organization that has experienced racially inequitable practices with a foundation, and you are interested in sharing it - please use this google form and someone will contact you. And we also now have an encrypted email address: DisruptPhilanthropy@protonmail.com. Your information will be confidential until you are ready to share your story. You may choose to share your story anonymously. 

  • GET INVOLVED with #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW and work on this campaign - sign up HERE.

  • SHARE this #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW Blog Series with your networks.

  • Here is some information on changing funding practices and resources.

In future blog posts we will continue to share with you some of the work already happening to transform philanthropy. Please share your examples and ideas with us, along with stories of effective racial equitable grant making at DisruptPhilanthropy@protonmail.com

Maggie Potapchuk