Movements, Money and Possibilities 1/3

Jenn Miller is Atkinson’s Director of Social Investment. You can follow her on Twitter @jennmiller1973.

Black Lives Matter Toronto’s camp was disbanded on Monday following a powerful exchange between the Premier and organizers outside Queen’s Park. Organizers remain committed to their demands.

On March 26th, hundreds of Torontonians – students, workers, activists, parents and their children – gathered in front of police headquarters in downtown Toronto in support of #BLMTOTentCity. Members of Toronto’s Black communities and their allies had been camping out for a week in protest of police violence and anti-black racism. This isn’t Black Lives Matter Toronto’s first action, but it is the longest and it certainly has captured attention on a greater scale – the hash tag, posts and YouTube clips of song and protest have dominated my Twitter and Facebook feeds for days.  

Since Black Lives Matter came to light in 2012 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman of the murder of 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin, what might have been initially characterized as an uprising has grown into an emerging social movement with chapters across the states and into Canada. Or as Black Lives Matter puts it: “This is Not a Moment, but a Movement.” 

I’ve been thinking a lot about movements recently – what makes them tick and how they capture the imagination of people when we all seem to be magpies in the face of constant and competing distractions. I’m keen to better understand what it takes for social movements to go beyond raising awareness and creating a disturbance – both necessary tactics in the fight for justice  – to affect real, transformative social, political and economic change.

Part of my curiosity stems from the position I have at the Atkinson Foundation. Atkinson has a long history of supporting and funding – that’s right, putting money where our mouths are – movements. Through the Atkinson Decent Work Fund, we’re partnering with 21 projects to create stronger movements for decent work and shared prosperity. In this regard, we are inspired by the work of Dr. Manuel Pastor and others. Projects help us see what’s possible, he says. Policy makes what’s possible standard practice. And power – the power of the people – ultimately drives policy reform.  

These relationships are still new but we’re learning about what it takes to grow and sustain organizing in communities that have been hardest hit by economic realities. Probably most importantly we’re learning about how foundations can be an ally to social justice movements. It’s a steep and rich learning curve but as a recent article in Forbes points out, philanthropy has a critical and necessary role to play in transformative social movements (think of the significant investments philanthropists made in the marriage equality movement).

The other reason for my curiosity is deeply personal. I cut my social justice teeth in movements – environmental, queer, anti-racist, youth and feminist. I’ve been fortunate to witness the power described by Dr. Pastor. Now as a parent of a brown-skinned, Indigenous preteen boy, I’m preoccupied with the future he faces – filled with conflicting feelings of great hope and deep concern. I’m looking to the social movements that are gaining traction here in Canada and south of the border for inspiration and instruction. Over the next couple of weeks, tune in as I dig deeper into the themes of movements, money and the possibility of real social and economic change.