The revolution will not be subsidized — but well-funded facsimiles of “movements” dominate the political landscape of the U.S. “Left.” MoveOn.org “prides itself for exposing the corporate ties of the Republicans but is perfectly content with the corporate ties of the Democratic Party.” And Black Lives Matter “drew significant interest from a consortium of non-profits after receiving millions from the Ford Foundation and Google in 2015 and 2016.”
The non-profit industrial complex has become an omnipresent feature of US society. Soon after college, it became increasingly clear to me that non-profits made up the majority of employment and activist opportunities for college-educated youth. My first employment opportunity came within the private non-profit LIFT, which partnered with a number of monopoly corporations to provide social service assistance on a volunteer basis. Like Teach for America, LIFT utilized college volunteers with little to no training and gave post-graduate students AmeriCorps stipends to supervise volunteers in place of professional social workers. After three months of grueling hours and little pay, it was time to leave LIFT and try something new.The next stop was a Community Action Program (CAP). CAP agencies have their roots in the first wave of non-profits as legal entities in the United States. They sprouted from federal funds administered by the War on Poverty programs of the Lyndon Johnson era. These agencies provided essential anti-poverty services and were often run by community members themselves. However, the purpose behind CAP agencies was far from benevolent. Johnson and his ruling class masters sought to subvert and break the independent character of the Black liberation and anti-imperialist movements of the period by turning “tax-eaters” (Black Americans) into “tax-payers.” The underlying motivation of non-profits to turn revolutionary movements into lucrative career opportunities has existed since their inception.
This is not to say that non-profits have not gone through significant changes since the War on Poverty. In the last forty years of neo-liberal capitalist crisis, CAP agencies have become nearly non-existent due to a shortage of federal funds. Housing programs have suffered chronic underfunding as a result of consistent reductions in the size of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), beginning in the Reagan era. HUD was stripped of 77 percent of its budget authority from 1978-1983. The CAP agency that I worked for eventually shut its doors due to a default in a private bank loan in 2014. The loan was taken out to keep the agency viable in the midst of dwindling federal and state funds. Hundreds of homeless individuals and families lost vital housing assistance and thousands more lost access to emergency transportation, food, and legal services.
The demise of CAP agencies stems from the shift in federal responsibilities to the private non-profit sector as part of the US capitalist state’s drive to maximize the profits of the ruling class in the neo-liberal era. This can be seen in the massive scab labor force produced by Teach for America, bankrolled by Goldman Sachs. It is also apparent in the correlation between the increase of non-profits in the arena of homelessness and the reduction of available public housing units in cities across the country. Non-profits give corporate donors an avenue to receive additional tax-free privileges with an added public relations boost. Much of the money donated is returned two-fold through tax breaks and further speculation in the housing, education, and healthcare sectors increasingly made possible by an environment of privatization.
Non-profits have also been deployed by their ruling class funders to privatize social movements. An array of tax-exempt organizations has arisen to channel popular resistance into acceptable means of protest. During Occupy Wall Street, the non-governmental organization (NGO) CANVAS took center stage at many of the New York City rallies. The Black Lives Matter movement drew significant interest from a consortium of non-profits after receiving millions from the Ford Foundation and Google in 2015 and 2016. These interventions have blunted the messaging and activities of organizations sucked into the non-profit industry while leaving genuine activists without the resources to sustain consistent political activity.
The influence of the non-profit industrial complex is evident in the protests against President Donald Trump. The non-profit MoveOn.org has taken on a leadership role in the protests. This author attended a local sanctuary city rally where every sign carried by protesters possessed the “MoveOn.org” label. It is clear that the folks at MoveOn.Org have been playing a key role in the resistance against Trump. But who is behind the MoveOn.org brand and whose interests does the organization serve?
A cursory look into the organization’s finances indicates that MoveOn.org is a loyal servant of the Democratic Party. The organization’s finances from 2015 include large donations of over 250,000 from the organization “J Street” and billionaire Cari Tuna. J Street is a Zionist organization dedicated to developing liberal acceptance to the settler occupation of Palestine among college students. Tuna’s fortunes derive from her marital partnership with co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskovitz. Tuna spends most of her time as a “philanthropist.” Her donations include a hefty 20 million dollars to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which was distributed among a consortium of Clinton affiliated PACs. In addition, MoveOn.org is also financed by billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Soros, despite the conspiratorial machinations regarding his political influence, is well-known around the world as a sponsor of “color revolutions” dedicated to the overthrow of governments that resist the penetration of US monopoly capitalism.
Non-profits are ultimately bound by the interests of their funders. MoveOn.org is no different. The organization’s Democratic Party funding sources have one goal and one goal only: to regain Democratic Party control of all three branches of governance in Washington. First, they hope to remove Trump in order to credit the organization with a temporary, albeit symbolic, victory for the Democrats. The next step is to win control of Congress in 2018. The interests of those supplying funds to non-profits like MoveOn.org are not aligned with the interests of oppressed and working people regardless of how the organization is advertised.
In fact, because big corporate donors control the terms and conditions of “social movement” non-profits, any social movements led by these institutions represent a threat to the independent political power of exploited and oppressed people. MoveOn.org’s mission to transfer power back to the Democratic Party is a familiar act, one that is repeated whenever the Republican Party regains Presidential and Congressional control of the state. Their big corporate donors possess zero interest in stopping the bipartisan crimes carried out by Washington. No petitions have been filed by the folks at MoveOn.org for reparations to nations, such as Libya and Syria, which were completely destroyed by the Democratic Party. MoveOn.org prides itself for exposing the corporate ties of the Republicans but is perfectly content with the corporate ties of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party is the party of Wall Street and war. Obama’s two-term Presidency clarified the Democratic Party’s commitment to US imperialism. MoveOn.org had nothing to say about Wall Street’s cumbersome donations to the Obama campaign or how the Democratic Party facilitated the largest wealth transfer to the 1 percent in US history. MoveOn.org didn’t condemn Obama’s war on whistle blowers nor did it advocate for single payer healthcare when the Democratic Party held majorities in Congress. Neither Obama’s “Grand Bargain” to cut Social Security and Medicare nor his national assault on public education compelled MoveOn.org to take any action against its Democratic Party sugar daddies.
The case of the non-profit MoveOn.org provides an in-depth look into the broader function of non-profit industrial complex. While some individual non-profits administer vital services to the poor and working class, the non-profit industrial complex as a whole possesses a parasitic agenda. That agenda is to break the independent character of working class mobilization and organization, not develop it. Non-profits do this by turning resistance into a career opportunity managed and funded by the 1 percent. The development of an independent, working class-centered movement will require a mass rejection of non-profit funds and structures. Let us remember this as MoveOn.org continues to mobilize its base against the increasingly unstable Trump Administration.
[Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990(at)gmail.com]