Dear Poor Folks and Friends,

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) comes with decades of organizing experience in the anti-poverty movement. Much has been learned from international peasant movements, the National Welfare Rights Union, and other leaders throughout history that we will talk about in other articles.

We are writing these lessons in an attempt to assist our brothers and sisters who are out there trying to survive and build the movement to end poverty, hunger and homelessness, who while organizing are struggling to feed and house their very own families at the same time. Most of you are unpaid, poorly paid and overworked organizers – especially if you are trying to stay away from the non-profit industrial complex, or as Pastor Collins says, the ‘faith-based nonprofit industrial complex.’

These articles will be short/accessible and to the point. Two important lessons for today!

  1. Don’t tell me how to punch if you are not in the boxing ring!
  2. Follow the Money! Philanthropy is a scam!

Don’t tell me how to punch if you’re not in the boxing ring!

I’m writing this to you today as a woman who has spent over 30 years in the anti-poverty movement as a poor single mother. We have spent most of our life being told we ain’t shit. We have had to endure all the stereotypes of all the “progressives” and well meaning people along the way. Everyone has always had a better way of doing things. We have always deferred to people in suits or in collars or at the university. We have rarely listened to ourselves or each other. Now, I don’t believe in collective ignorance, but if you have been able to stay alive and have been busy reading and active in this movement for years, YOU (yes, you) have something to not only say, but TEACH! You see, most of our history folks have used us for photos and testimony and to put stamps of approval on their work, but rarely have asked us to talk strategy, power and direction. Well sisters and brothers, it’s our children on the front lines – it’s time for us to get serious and no longer demand a seat at the table, but to teach another path that leads to the ending of poverty. Ending poverty isn’t even on that table being discussed to begin with. The fight to stay alive is not a 9-5 and it doesn’t come with a salary and a foundation grant.

Philanthropy is a Scam. Stop being a pawn, all of humanity depends on it. The most important thing we have is each other.

Okay, so I know I’m not supposed to talk about this topic. It is taboo in the anti-poverty nonprofit world. Okay, get ready – I’m gonna say it: Fuck the corporations that are funding and running your anti-poverty/faith nonprofit organization. Alright, so that means you’re going to call me an extremist and not fund my work. Oh yeah, I forgot – you stopped giving us money years ago when we began to understand why you were giving us money in the first place.

This quote from Joanne Barkan explains the problem in a simple way: Private foundations “intervene in public life but aren’t accountable to the public; they are privately governed but publicly subsidized […]. [T]hey reinforce the problem of plutocracy, the exercise of power derived from the wealthy.”

Many nonprofit, social justice, and anti-poverty organizations make it seem like they are the answer, and that capitalism is the solution. They can’t say this out loud because the progressive foundations (the corporations/banks on their progressive foundation boards) would end their funding, never allow them to be a scholar, or never publish their book. These entities might never help them pay their staff salaries, never pay for their office rent or massive social media outreach that enable them to stay on top of collecting resources from the public and diverting the attention away from your work and mine.

Or worse, if you are really out there challenging power, you will not only have to deal with living on the front lines, but you will have to deal with the nonprofit social media machine vilifying you and making you disappear by raiding your shops, chapters, and supporters. It should be easy because if you are a team player with your oppressor there is a great deal of money in social control and little to no money in organizing not tied to plutocracy.

Nonprofits and capitalism are not only ‘not the solution’ … they are the problem – placing leaders and mis-leaders (conscious or unconscious) in servitude to the foundations. It also encourages us to look the other way instead of looking at what is happening to our brothers and sisters internationally. A system that allowed capitalists to become so rich is not going to end poverty. Our challenge is to globalize from below – to really figure out how to do our work independent of the corporations that are killing our sisters and brothers, not just here, but around the world. That’s what REAL unity of the poor means! It means giving a damn about where the anti-poverty or social justice organization you are working with is getting its money and how its used! I know this is hard, but we must create a cooperative economy and a new independent way of funding each other’s work. Lastly, these organizations are also linked to the two corporate controlled political parties. Many of these corporations give money to both Democrats and Republicans – it does not matter to them. As long as the poor continue to have faith in these two corporate controlled political parties we will never end poverty. Yes – the way forward is political power for the poor, not pity, not charity, not more nonprofits but political power and independence!!

So now it’s up to you. These are difficult times and we are dealing with new things. I’m watching the permanently unemployed being created right before my eyes due to electronics and technology. It’s now up to us to decide which road we will walk. Our road is ugly and hard, but it’s a true cry for unity of the poor, political power, and independence. It’s a road that future generations will thank us for walking.

Join us in the March for Our Lives June 2 to June 14 as we walk this ugly road. Click here to register today and donate.

I look forward to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk with you.

Warm Regards,

Cheri Honkala