The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (Incite!)

Have you ever read a book that makes you shake your head in astonishment as if to say, “Why didn’t I know that?” This is that kind of book.

In a series of essays, the various authors demonstrate how the reliance on the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) often not only undermines the kind of social justice work various groups seek to do but also supports the structure (i.e., capitalism) that makes the work necessary.

By dictating the terms of the grants, by shifting the focus from social justice to social services, by causing bureaucracy burnout, by professionalizing the work, non-profits co-opt the movement in order to keep better track of its leaders and to minimize its impact.

I appreciated that while there were some who advocated working outside the NPIC, others (including some of the non-profits themselves) are re-thinking their roles. Can non-profits be created for a mission and dissolve if and when the mission is complete? Can non-profits be supporting actors rather than stars? The whole idea of modeling your organization to reflect your vision of the world is essential and groundbreaking. Freire is all over this book. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs.

There is, not surprisingly, some overlap in these essays, but just when I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this,” along came “we were never meant to survive” by Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo. Perhaps because the groundwork for the book’s thesis had already been laid, I was able to appreciate the details of Durazo’s presentation of how the NPIC worked to the detriment of anti-violence against women organizations. I went from shaking my head to dropping my jaw.

Working for social justice? Working at a non-profit / NGO? Thinking about applying for 501(c)(3) status? Thinking about donating money? Read this first.



Syrian Dust: Reporting from the Heart of the Battle for Aleppo (Borri)

Like others, I think, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the struggles immigrants face in trying to get here. I’ve even read some about the difficulty that some face getting here, like Enrique’s Journey. But I wanted to understand the “mouth of [the] shark”* that is prompting so many to try to escape Syria. And thanks to Borri, for whom it is very important that she be writing from the heart of the battle, I do. She heaps disdain on those experts (some since discredited) who write about Syria without ever having been in the country. She is told at one point that she could just as easily (and much more safely) write about Syria from Rome. And she admits that journalism is about the right distance and that she may be too close. She also acknowledges that even with Aleppo, it is not possible to understand fully the Syrian experience. She knows she is right, though, that the media, and especially photographers, are key to this story. One girl tells her, “Don’t write useless things.” Another example:

Today is [Ayman Haj Jaaed’s] second day at the front. Write this, he tells me: ‘Assad is at the end of his rope.’ He crosses the street at a run waving his Kalashnikov, shooting as fast as he can. ‘Write, write!’ he yells at me from across the street: ‘Two more months, and Aleppo will be free.’ Only he fired to the left. And the sniper was on his right.

This is in Autumn of 2012. Ayman is 18.

The impression I take away from this book is similar to that moment in Apocalypse Now when the Martin Sheen character asks a soldier who is in charge. The soldier has no idea.  “Who’s the commanding officer here?” “Ain’t you?”

The Syrian situation seems incredibly complex. Most of the rebels are not even Syrian. And there is a great deal of in-fighting among the rebels. No one from the outside knows who to support, especially with Al-Qaeda counting itself among the rebels. In the end, I don’t think Borri blames Obama for not intervening. She has no such forgiveness for NGO’s that don’t show and especially those who collect funds based on a promise they are not fulfilling. It is expensive, Borri reports, to be a refugee.

Borri’s details and insights are as powerful as they are poetic. This is apparently her first book that has been translated into English. I hope the other two find their way into English soon. For the elegance of the language here, at least some of the credit must go to her translator, Anne Milano Appel.

The photographs that inspired Francesca Borri

The White Helmets

The White Helmets: trailer

“Lullaby” (for Dead Syrian Children) by Shalan Alhamwy

from “Home” by Warsan Shire