I am delighted to be joining the Civic Power Fund as their new Executive Director this January.
The Civic Power Fund is the UK’s first pooled donor fund dedicated to community organising. We invest in community organising directly and in building the infrastructure and leadership organising needs to thrive.
We exist because we are worried about democracy. Too many of us feel powerless and unable to change the things we care about. And when communities lack agency over their lives, democracy withers and injustice is entrenched.
Civic power is key to reversing this and to building a more just society, where every person and place can achieve their full potential.
What do we mean by civic power?
Stacey Abrams, organiser, voting rights activist, and candidate for Governor of Georgia defines citizenship as requiring ‘constant action’.
We agree: a flourishing democracy means communities working together to create coalitions, contest big ideas, and achieve change.
Community organising – building the power of local communities to take action on the issues that most matter to them – is vital in the pursuit of this goal.
Why and how do we organise?
Relationships are key to community organising. Reaching across communities to win friends and allies from every background is vital to building transformational coalitions. Because of this, organising can help to resist the anti-democratic movements that seek to divide us.
Organising also teaches us to meet the world as it is not as we wish it to be. In the words of Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, this means it gives us ‘ready-made strategies to achieve change’.
With organising, we are rarely starting from scratch.
Because of these three forces: building community power; lasting relationships; and grounded strategies, organising is a uniquely sustainable and inclusive route to change.
There are many brilliant groups across the UK organising and supporting organising. This includes traditional and established actors closely following an Alinsky model of organising.
It also includes new leadership-building organisations, predominantly led by women and people of colour, and grassroots organisers mobilising their own communities but often unseen by funders and unsupported by infrastructure.
It is these last two groups – those at the forefront of the ‘second wave’ of organising – that we are in investing in.
Communities are best placed to decide what change they seek. Thus we want resources to flow directly to these communities as a vital way to build civic power and secure justice.
The how of what we do is as important as what we do
To build sustainable civic power, we must both be led by the communities we serve and remove any bureaucratic barriers that might impede their ability to achieve change.
To this end, we are governed entirely by movement builders – and we approach our grantees as partners through a participatory grantmaking process that provides long-term, unrestricted support.
Because we believe organising is such an effective route to change, we also want to work with other funders across the UK to channel more resources towards it.
Learning from the US
You’ll notice that many of my reference points are from the US.
There is no doubt that organising is more established across the Atlantic – both organising as a route to change and the existence of funds, like the Civic Power Fund, that invest in it.
I am currently based in the US and have spent much of the last few months talking to these organisers and funders and learning lessons from them.
One of the things I’ve been struck by is the level of optimism.
Yes, we are all facing dark and challenging times. And with the Jan 6 Capitol attack less than a year ago, attacks on democracy feel very fresh.
But organising provides so much hope. Many of the communities threatened by anti-democratic forces are mobilising and strengthening through organising – and substantial resources are reaching them.
Although there are groups doing incredible work in the UK, this same level of optimism is hard to find.
I believe we can change this by investing in this work.
One of the many reasons US organising has provided an effective tonic to these challenging times is that it has remained diverse, pluralist, and led by affected communities.
If the Civic Power Fund can help to inject resources into this ‘second wave’ of organising in the UK, I strongly believe we can help to build lasting, inclusive, and diverse civic power.
I am thrilled by this opportunity to return to my roots and invest in transformative change at home.
I can’t wait to join the fantastic Civic Power Fund team, who have done so much to build this amazing organisation over the past eighteen months.
As we aim to formally launch early next year, please get in touch if you are as excited by this work as we are.