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Defending Democracy Against The Philanthropists in Our Midst
Jay Taber wrote, in 2003, a piece, “Defending Democracy,” that remains informative and seems now prophetic. Here is an outtake:
The established elite of a community rarely do their own dirty work. For that, they employ their dependants, which includes charitable and pseudo public-interest organizations that benefit from their philanthropy. In this way, authentic activists committed to democratic values—the white blood cells of a community– frequently encounter overt opposition from their ideological opponents and covert opposition from ostensible allies in the pay of the power elite. This makes it easy for compliant media to alienate true patriots from their natural constituency and vital resources. Moral authorities and community leaders need to speak out against this form of social exclusion. Alternative media need to make it clear how synthetic activists (usually the better funded non-profits), posing as guardians of the public interest, often serve to maintain the status quo privileges of their benefactors by undermining the credibility of grassroots organizers.
Now, this is not the tone of one who has his hand out, or is asking for a grant, or who offers to funders a chance to measure and manage outputs and outcomes. This is not the tone of one pitching “social return on investment” to business minds. This is the lonely voice of an incorrigible patriot. May America live on in these men and women, who are refusniks of the new social order based on propaganda, fear, greed, and intimidation. If you are are a philanthropist prove Jay’s debunking of you wrong. Put aside your happy face; put aside the measurement and management of ameliorative trivia. Ask yourself whether democracy is dying on these shores, and ask yourself if you are willing to put yourself at risk reversing that slide. That risk will only grow until your children are comfortable calling Wealth Bondage, “Freedom.” And, unless you act, they may have no concept of political liberty as a living and fearless tradition.
Among my conservative, small town, Christian self-made friends, I find some with clear eyes and a spine. I have not found many with spine among progressives. We are a nice bunch. Daddy and Mommy would look askance if we were outspoken. Our Board might object. Our funders might raise their eyebrows. We should keep it positive, like my fellow philanthropy bloggers writing dead polite prose with a smiley face, as if they were already under direct corporate control. The greatest givers are those who like Jay forgo comfort and put themselves at risk for our country.