Old dingoes like me who remember the 1980s campaigns to encourage disinvestment from companies doing business in apartheid-era South Africa might also remember the role played by the Reverend Leon Sullivan, a Baptist minister who at the time was a board member of General Motors. He developed a set of principles for companies doing business in that country which essentially required equal treatment and access to opportunity for all workers regardless of their race.
The Sullivan Principles, as they came to be known, were adopted by over a hundred companies that had operations in South Africa, and they were used effectively by many advocates for divestment.
What’s most striking about these principles is that (1) they were voluntary: there was no regulatory body that required compliance; (2) they helped coordinate activity across a broad range of stakeholders; (3) they united activists in common cause with the business community; and (4) they contributed to a great social good: the end of apartheid in South Africa.
What if progressive funders were to develop and voluntarily adopt a set of principles that governed the way they worked with one another, that strengthened their collective efforts? What would such a set of principles look like?
Here are some I would introduce for discussion:
- The “Do ‘With’ Rather Than ‘To’ Principle”: This principle would be suitably elaborated for different kinds of actors. It would govern how grantmakers treat their grantees, and how each of these treats the communities they serve. A national funder operating under this principle, for example, would never dream of parachuting into a given geography without first meaningfully engaging local partners in the analysis, choice of strategies, selection of tactics, and overall program design for his intervention. This principle is intimately related to …
- The Maximization of Coordination Principle: It would be a natural part of the planning work of the aforementioned national funder to gather together colleagues—both national and local—who were working in the same geography (or issue area) to map each of their proposed contributions, understand their theories of change and strategies, and explore ways to support one another’s work. Local funders would be expected to do the same with their colleagues. The “Do ‘With’ Rather Than ‘To’ Principle” alluded to earlier would help ensure that grantees and other stakeholders were included in these conversations. Another aspect of this principle that would need elaboration is the coordination of advocacy and community organizing activities—coordination horizontally, so local (or national advocates) know what their colleagues are doing, and vertically, so that national advocacy efforts connect in meaningful ways to local advocacy efforts, avoiding the “random advocacy walks” we so often see.
- The Drop Everything Else You’re Doing Principle: To repeat what I’ve written elsewhere, the next time an issue—let’s say it’s immigration reform—garners sustained national public attention, all of us who are progressive funders, advocates, and community organizers should drop whatever else we’re doing and get behind the issue. Even if immigration reform is not our thing, we should devote a substantial part of our organizations’ resources to helping the progressive advocates for that issue win their legislative or policy victory, and we should encourage our partners to do so. Progressives got clobbered two years ago during the national debates on health care reform. Here was an issue that would affect the fates of people in low-income communities for years to come. Yet while many health advocates struggled valiantly to win support for a national health care system, many more activists ignored the issue because it simply wasn’t theirs. They saw themselves as education advocates, or housing advocates, or criminal justice reform advocates, or something other than simply advocates for low-income people. Imagine what would have happened if funders, advocates, and community organizers across the country had adopted the Drop Whatever Else You’re Doing Principle. Imagine if the voices in the pews, in the schools, in the neighborhood centers had been able to shout down the opposition. This is related to ...
- The Get The Money Out Of Politics Principle: One of the main problems with American democracy is how to acquire it. With only 535 senators and representatives, it’s small wonder that progressives can’t afford to buy one. The amount of money spent on getting elected is obscene, and in contemporary congressional races, the biggest spender has almost always won.1 The issue of money in politics cuts across all areas of progressive work and often puts a full stop to our best advocacy efforts. We should all be devoting attention and resources to this issue.
- The Everything is Connected Principle: While LGBTIQ advocates, for example, clearly have specific agendas (e.g., equal rights, anti-bullying legislation, etc.), they, like all progressives, need to understand the broader context in which their particular struggles take place. This is one gay man’s opinion: we can disconnect the struggle for LGBTIQ rights from other civil rights issues, but in doing so we evince a profound misunderstanding of what it is that gives power to our calls for justice.
- The Empowerment Principle: We should always be striving to yield power to our grantees and to the communities they serve. When doing capacity building work, for example, rather than inflict a consultant on a grantee, we should make a grant to that organization so it can hire its own consultant.
- The Globalization Principle: We often work in our little part of the world, on our own small set of issues, and we lose sight of the emerging World Order that affects our work in ways seen and unseen. The Globalization Principle would help ensure that it’s part of our collective efforts to understand how globalization increasingly affects us and our colleagues overseas.
Please feel free to suggest your own principles or elaborate on those listed above. I see the development of these principles as much more than another idle flipchart exercise, and hope there’s enough interest in continuing the discussion.
Progressives in the US context are consistently outflanked and outspent. These principles constitute one suggestion for how to give our efforts some conherence and some teeth. How would you go about it?
1 If you consider all congressional elections with at least two general election candidates during the last six election cycles, the candidate with the largest war chest won 8 out of 10 Senate races, 9 out of 10 races in the House. These figures do not reflect the very high cost of being able to run in the first place, much less successfully. It’s no accident that 47 percent of congressmen (250 members) are millionaires. The influence of the new Super PACs is yet to be determined. But the plain old vanilla political action committees follow a familiar pattern. Of the top ten PACs (measured by total giving in the 2012 election cycle), 8 represent corporate interests, 2 represent labor. The data are consistent and overwhelming.