We are entering a difficult period in the history of American civil rights, and people keep asking, “What can I do?” It came up over Thanksgiving in my family, and this is the first of two posts with some suggestions.
I am not in a place right now where direct action is necessarily a responsible choice for me. I am, however, a professional fundraiser who earns above the median income. By day, I raise money for Neighborhood Trust, which empowers poor New Yorkers, mostly women, mostly of color, to make some of the nation’s lowest incomes stretch a little farther. And as each of my own paychecks arrives, I am now part of a story Washington Post, New York Times and The Atlantic are reporting: an unprecedented flood of money to social justice nonprofits. Many have raised more funds since the election of Donald Trump than they usually raise in a quarter, or even a year. Most of those donations have been from new first-time donors, and a quarter or more are monthly recurring donations, because we know this will be a long, sustained fight.
This is my strategy.
I decided I could give $10 a month to six organizations. I get paid twice a month, and I timed my donations to hit my account a couple days after each paycheck, so that I won’t spend that money on Starbucks instead. And I looked for organizations that prioritize direct support, legal defense and legislative advocacy. This is not an un-controversial position. I am strongly persuaded by the argument that the systems we have need to be broken down and rebuilt, but the pragmatist in me says that my investment makes a greater impact in the immediate short term when I work within the system, however imperfect.
These are my choices:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I often refer to as “the ACLU for Muslims.” Whenever you read those articles about a Muslim being kicked off an airplane, bullied by teachers, falsely accused or otherwise maligned, CAIR is there, providing for their legal defense and fencing media requests. They also educate about Islam and lobby for legislation that protects the civil rights of Muslims – and, by extension, the civil rights of the rest of us.
Lambda Legal, which I often refer to as “the ACLU for gay people.” Their mission is “to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.” There are other LGBTQ rights organizations doing similar work; I chose Lambda Legal because a gay man I respect recommended it on Facebook.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) itself. Our Bill of Rights is under attack, and for almost a century, the ACLU has been on the front lines of the battle to protect and expand those rights and freedoms.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is on my list first for its tireless tracking of hate crimes across the country. Our government does not have a comprehensive system for monitoring hate crimes in the United States, but it is clear that we need one. SPLC also advocates, litigates and educates.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is one of the country’s largest pro-choice advocates. Like Planned Parenthood, their President and CEO Nancy Northup does this work rooted in part in Unitarian Universalist principles I share; I know her from the congregation where she was once President of the Board. She is also a highly visible advocate for women’s reproductive rights on national news networks.
The Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was a hard choice to make. I believe strongly in the Movement for Black Lives, and they don’t always agree with the NAACP, but with legal defense and legislative advocacy on my list of priorities, I decided this was where my money would have the most leverage. Bonus points: Half the founding board of the NAACP in 1909 were members of The Community Church of New York, a Unitarian congregation whose values I support.
Among the clear and present dangers confronting American democracy, the “fake news” epidemic is near the top of my list. At the prodding of a journalist friend, I decided to increase my support for responsible journalism.
WNYC has been getting regular monthly gifts from me for as long as I have lived in New York City (excluding my six months of unemployment). I listen every morning, often at night, and often to their podcasts in between. I know that WNYC pays dues to NPR in Washington, so my support counts double. While I have my concerns about how NPR covered Trump vs Bernie in the primaries, no news outlet is perfect.
The New York Times comes up frequently in my Facebook Newsfeed as a source trusted by many of the news junkies I trust best. I used to come up against their firewall all the time. “You’ve used your 10 free articles for the month. Would you like to purchase a subscription?” I finally did. I have my problems with the NYT’s decidedly pro-Isreal coverage of the Middle East, but I still believe they are one of the most responsible journalistic juggernauts in the Fourth Estate.
There are, of course, many organizations advocating, litigating and educating on issues that are dear to me. Other organizations I considered and not prioritized:
Black Lives Matter: As I said, I support their agenda wholeheartedly, but while it is not my place to dictate their platform, I feel that it lacks a clear legislative agenda, which was a priority for my giving.
The Trevor Project: My godchild is transgender. So-called “gender non-comforming” children and adults – transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, etc – are four times more likely to commit suicide, and other LGBTQ people are two and half times more likely to commit suicide. Transgender people, especially women, especially of color, are four and a third times more likely to be victims of homicide. They are at higher risk of intimate partner violence, police brutality, harassment and legal marginalization. The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention and crisis support hotline designed specifically for these especially vulnerable people.
Planned Parenthood: I mean, this one’s obvious, right? But they received a record flood of donations in the movement to to donate in the name of Gov. Mike Pence, and I decided my dollars were best spent supporting another organization with the same agenda. The more voices there are calling out for justice, the better. I have, however, made myself a Planned Parenthood Pledge: From now on, I will be getting my lady-related medical care from PP.
National Resources Defense Council: The Earth’s Best Defense. This is my parents’ first choice for science-based solutions to our most dangerous climate challenges and threats. I also considered Earth Justice: Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.
NARAL Pro-Choice, formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. There are just too many good pro-choice organizations to choose from. A friend of mine used to work for this one.
ProPublica: I first became aware of them when their collaboration with NPR on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused a shift not only in the national conversation on veterans, but in the government’s care of veterans. They don’t just report the news. ProPublica investigations lead directly to legal and policy change.
The Safety Pin Box: Watch this space; I will be! This is something new I stumbled across on Facebook after I had made my other commitments. I think it’s an amazing idea, and it is on my short list of how I would spend more money.
There are hundreds of worthwhile causes and organizations to contribute to, and I will remain open to one-time donations where I think my money is needed and my budget can bear it. Because I deliberately chose to focus on the fight to hold the Trump Administration accountable at home, and for personal reasons that I think will soon become obvious, I have not touched on one issue that is near and dear to my heart: refugees, and particularly Muslim and Arab refugees. I frequently sign petitions and amplify social media campaigns of the International Committee for the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Amnesty International, Jewish Voice for Peace, Church World Service, the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program, and many more. I have great respect for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Physicians for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders…. They all accept donations, too.
When I look at this list, there is one obvious gaping hole: disability. Here again, there are so many organizations to choose from, and so many different disabilities across the spectrum of my friends and neighbors that I would like to support. In this postscript, I’d just like to highlight what are more and more widely becoming known as “invisible disabilities.” Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress, anxiety disorders, dyslexia and other learning disabilities…. Millions of Americans suffer from disabilities that you could never guess at by looking at them – or, in the words of my third mantra, Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind. Which is why, when I think about organizations supporting people with disabilities, one of my first thoughts is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). There are countless others; do your research and choose your priorities.