Social Justice Funders: For National Movements to Win, Invest in Texas

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Social Justice Funders: For National Movements to Win, Invest in Texas

by Juan Cardoza-Oquendo, an intern at the Edward W. Hazen Foundation and a Master of Public Affairs student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.


In a recent New Yorker essay, Lawrence Wright details how Texas politics have moved to the right since the 2000s. For example, in the spring, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), empowering local law enforcement officers to ask for people’s immigration status and criminalizing officials who limit collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Wright’s essay has implications for national social justice movements and their funders. At the same time that Texas’s elected leaders push a Right-wing agenda, the state’s communities of color ‒ especially Latinx communities ‒ are rapidly growing. Funding to build the power of these communities will fuel progressive movements across the country.

If there’s anywhere that state officials are eager to implement the Trump agenda, it is Texas. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the passage of SB 4. A week later, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led nine other attorneys general in urging Sessions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides deportation relief and work permits to young undocumented people who came to the United States as children. In just a few consecutive days, the Texas Senate passed bills discriminating against transgender people, prohibiting local and state contracts with abortion providers, and creating a school voucher program.

Texas politics may seem quite dire, but organizing in the state’s communities of color can change national politics. At 27.8 million, Texas’ population is the second largest in the country and is growing. Between June 2014 and June 2015, four Texas suburbs were among the fastest-growing cities in the country, and four Texas cities showed the greatest population growth in the country. In Texas in 2016, roughly 12,000 Latinxs turned 18 every month. Almost 68 percent of Texans under age 19 are of color, and 49 percent of Texans under 19 are Hispanic. If funders want to shift the electoral map and build the political power of people of color and Latinx people, they need to invest in Texas.

Texas social justice organizations need more resources to deepen capacity and expand reach. Texas grassroots organizations have mobilized thousands to oppose SB 4 and other restrictive legislation in the areas of transgender rights, reproductive justice, and public education. These groups are on the frontlines of resistance to Trump-inspired policies. I worked as an immigrant rights and labor organizer in Dallas for four years. Texas is not a wasteland of strip malls and backward people but rather home to vibrant communities of immigrants, people of color, and white people who are ready to organize. We need funders outside of Texas to support us.

We are starved of organizing infrastructure in Texas. According to the Foundation Center database, in 2016, foundations gave $31.9 million, or $1.15 per capita, to Texas-based organizations for social justice efforts as defined by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). In contrast, New York got $144.3 million, or $7.31 per capita, in social justice funding from foundations, and California got $287.8 million, or $7.33 per capita. Texas needs funding to create new organizations, build up existing groups, and improve collaboration among them all.

Texas’ movement for racial and social justice has elected progressive local officials across the state, and Texas’ four largest cities and El Paso County ‒ home to more than 6.9 million people ‒ have sued the state to halt SB 4. Groups have proven they can get local officials to champion progressive policies. With sufficient resources, organizations can grow and strengthen organizing infrastructure and continue to move forward a social justice agenda.

NCRP and Grantmakers for Southern Progress (GSP) are promoting best practices to increase and sustain social justice funding in the South through the As the South Grows project. NCRP and GSP are not including Texas organizations. I understand why: while part of the South, the state also stands separate. And yet, many of NCRP and GSP’s recommendations apply to Texas, and As the South Grows can serve as a model for funders interested in the state. But Texas, because of its sheer size and influence on national politics, demands its own strategies.

Why not focus on Texas-based funders? According to the Foundation Center, in 2016, Texas-based foundations only gave 1.2 million of the 31.9 million foundation dollars that Texas-based nonprofits received for social justice work. We have to expand the field of Texas-based funders committed to organizing and advocacy, but this work will require the engagement and partnership of foundations from beyond the state.

Social justice funders: when we advance a progressive agenda in Texas, we move the entire country. Investing in Texas organizing is an investment in the resistance and resilience of the nation.


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