Episode 11: Political Power: Voting, Nonprofits, and Beyond
References and resources
Jennifer Epps-Addison (00:01):
For example, in these Republican controlled states that one of the first things that they do is go after early Sunday voting. It’s called the Souls to the Polls. And it’s one of the biggest forms of attack for those who seek to undermine Black voting power.
Solana Rice (00:18):
Hello. Welcome to Racism Is Profitable, a podcast about race and the economy. I am Solana Rice, co-founder, co-executive director of Liberation in a Generation Action. And I’m joined by my co-founder and co-executive director, Jeremie Greer.
Jeremie Greer (00:37):
What’s up y’all? Solana, we have to talk about Georgia. It’s been on my mind. I’ve once again been triggered by a former Viking football player.
Solana Rice (00:51):
Jeremie Greer (00:51):
And I don’t know what it is. One, the worst trade my team has ever made was for this man, Herschel Walker, who’s now running for senate in Georgia. And yeah, I just been triggered, Solana. I wonder if you’ve been following this race and any thoughts on it?
Solana Rice (01:09):
I saw the latest shenanigans during the debate, Herschel Walker – One, I have to say I was a little disappointed that they both felt like they had to say police are okay and I support the police. At least Warnock said, “Well, I also think accountability is important, Herschel Walker.” And he said, “Well, and I don’t just go around saying that I’m a cop and pretending like I’m a cop like my opponent.” And, of course, Herschel Walker felt like he needed to defend himself and pulled out a probably what was a fake badge which was-
Jeremie Greer (01:52):
But did it look like, when DARE, remember when the McGruff crime dog and DARE came to your school and you got the little badges. Isn’t that what that thing looked like?
Solana Rice (02:06):
Oh God, yeah, it did. And it was also supposedly illegal in the debate. And the debate moderator tried to gently say, “I know that the rules of debate,” which was very generous, very generous.
Jeremie Greer (02:23):
She called it a prop, she called it a prop.
Solana Rice (02:24):
It was a prop. You cannot use props during a debate, or else you’d probably have a diorama up. And this is not kindergarten. So, what’s your take? What’s your take on this Herschel Walker? I mean, the polls are still close.
Jeremie Greer (02:43):
Solana Rice (02:44):
The pols are still close.
Jeremie Greer (02:45):
It is, yeah. The most recent, Five Thirty-Eight has the race at 48% Warnock, 44% Walker, which means that Warnock, according to this poll, will not have reached the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. So, it means that if the polls trend the way they have, we’d be looking at a few more months of these shenanigans afterwards. But my take on it is, I feel like this is just another example of us constantly being all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk, right?
Solana Rice (03:24):
Jeremie Greer (03:25):
It seems like the Republicans and the conservative movement trot out black person after black person, whether it’s Herschel Walker, whether it’s Herman Cain who ran for the 999.
Solana Rice (03:37):
Rest in Peace.
Jeremie Greer (03:39):
Yeah, Herman Cain died of COVID, or Kanye and his White Lives Matter shirt, going into the White House and meeting with the president, or our friend Ben Carson who was running HUD, or it just seems like there’s just this constant … It is a playbook within the Conservative movement to kind of, not just trot out black conservatives. Because there are black conservatives that have real conservative thought, but it’s like a caricature of black conservativism that they trot out. And it’s almost a way that’s used to deflect and tamp down, what is legitimate criticisms about their racist policies positions.
Solana Rice (04:28):
It’s really important that we all listen carefully and discern and not just vote based on race and ethnicity. And while we need more representation, we also have to understand what that representative actually represents.
Jeremie Greer (04:49):
Who’s a true representative, yeah.
Solana Rice (04:51):
Actually represented. It’s partly why we started Liberation of a Generation Action, to support folks’ understanding of what candidates are really standing for and not just what they might look like, even though race and ethnicity are important. It also just strikes me that, who was prepping Herschel Walker for this debate? Why was he going on? I’m also going to need Republicans to actually support the black people in their party to be successful, not just be up there talking.
Jeremie Greer (05:30):
Yeah, and another thing that bothers me about this race is the other stuff that’s happening around Herschel Walker with it being released that he had paid for an abortion through an extramarital affair that he had had. And that he has a history of domestic violence against kids. And what bothers me about that is, because what we have then is people on the left attacking Herschel Walker on what have been just awful and horrible stereotypes about black men. And then there’s also, he’s running against another black man who’s a pastor and a reverend. So, it creates this juxtaposition that has just made me feel uncomfortable as a black man watching this kind of play out. And I think that what it’s ultimately … And I think why it’s been effective in a lot of ways for the conservatives is, we have actually not been talking about Raphael Warnock and his accomplishments and the things that he’s done in the Senate.
Solana Rice (06:37):
Jeremie Greer (06:37):
And him being the current sitting black senator from a largely black state in Georgia. And that to me has been a real thing that’s really troubled me about this race.
Solana Rice (06:54):
Yeah. Well, and I was troubled, so I did just a quick Google search. I was like, “Well, what has the Senator Warnock done?” And he’s introduced four bills that I think are pretty interesting. One is capping drug costs for seniors. Another one is looking into the racial and ethnic disparities of benefits given out by the Veterans Administration. Another one is about creating, I think renaming the postal office. Everybody, every-
Jeremie Greer (07:27):
Everyone in office puts that bill forward.
Solana Rice (07:30):
Yes, a renaming of some important federal building in their district. But the other one, the last one is this Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act. And if we really think about drug prices, if we think about maternal health, if we think about veterans, those are all black people issues. They’re issues that impact everyone. But if we think about maternal health in particular, black maternal health is devastating if you really look at the numbers. So, I have hope in that regard, just given what he has really led on in the Senate so far. And that doesn’t even count the number of things he’s co-sponsored, et cetera. But I don’t know if folks know that. I don’t know. I think that’s the important thing that-
Jeremie Greer (08:23):
And if they talked about the debate, that’s not what was covered. And if they talked about in that debate, that’s not what it covered. And Jeff’s position of Herschel Walker, whose policies of positions are pretty much your running a mill Republican policy position. He wants to cut taxes on the very wealthy. He wants to shrink government and cut funding the social program. So, from a policy standpoint, you couldn’t have any two different men. And it’s unfortunate that because they’re black men and because it’s this kind of infantilization in politics of black men in this way, that they haven’t had a real debate on the issues. And again, it is also a thing that makes me nervous, because that’s how Trump won, was not focusing in on the issues. And it’s something that worries me in Georgia.
Solana Rice (09:19):
Yeah, I also think it’s really just interesting and we’re going to have such a great conversation with Jennifer Epps-Addison and I hope we get to this, but I think this is also an important time to talk about the institutions that really shape how we understand politics. The black church has obviously been an anchor in so much political activity, our political education, and just our community building. And we can’t underestimate that Senator Warnock comes from the church. And as a matter of fact, the same church as Martin Luther King. So this is a really interesting time to understand and get to know the dynamics, which we’ll get into. Of all this, what can nonprofits do, what can churches do? What are other organizations that we need to form? We’re going to have that conversation with Jennifer Addison. Jen, do you want to go by Jen, Jennifer, what should we do?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (10:30):
I’m good by anything. Jen is good. Jennifer’s good, just not Jenny. I have some, still working through some trauma from Fourth Jump when I was in middle school. So anything but Jenny is good for me.
Jeremie Greer (10:43):
Solana Rice (10:44):
Okay. Well it’s good that it’s that trauma, not the J-Lo trauma. Because I was like, “Oh, but Jenny from the block.”
Jennifer Epps-Addison (10:49):
That too. That too.
Solana Rice (10:55):
Well, thank you for joining our pod, Racism is Profitable. And Jen, just tell us a little bit about what you’re up to right now, where you’ve been and what you’re doing now?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (11:08):
Yeah, so I’m Jen Epps-Addison, she her pronouns and I am the Chief Imagineer and founder of Synergy Power Consulting. I spent the last 25 years of my life in campaigns to help transform this country into a place where we all have the freedom to thrive. I’ve worked on economic justice and transforming our criminal legal system. And equitable economic development, a whole host of issues. And I think for me, what it’s always come down to is how do we dismantle the systems that harm our communities, that extract and exploit from them? And how do we rebuild in their stead the systems that truly are rooted in care and our communities, and ensuring that all of us have the things we need to lead healthy, safe, dignified lives?
Jeremie Greer (12:01):
Jen, what’s an Imagineer? I’ve never heard that before. What is it?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (12:05):
It’s a made up job title when you call yourself anything. And I was like, “I don’t feel like a president. A president is someone who gets elected or something.” I didn’t want to call myself an executive director because having spent the last six years as an ED, I felt like I was doing something different because I was sort of creating. And anyway, I came up with this title Chief Imagineer because I felt like what I wanted to do was spend my time helping people imagine the possible and then achieve it. So that’s why I said Chief Imagineer. But it’s definitely made up.
Jeremie Greer (12:42):
Hey, I love it. I love it. And why would we wanted to have you on, because it’s election season coming up, a lot of people are wondering, like the do’s the don’ts, what can I do, what can’t I do? And I wonder if you could just, you mentioned your campaign experience. I wonder if you could start with just giving us a little background through that experience like, how you’ve kind of navigated those waters over the years?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (13:08):
I mean, I think that first of all, all of us have to see democracy and see elections as something more than just voting. It has to be something that we are engaged in and participating in every single day. When I think about elections and voting, I think about how do the people who are struggling the most, who have been the most marginalized and excluded really gain power and control over the decisions and the institutions that impact their lives? Certainly through voting is one way that you gain power, but elections just aren’t about that voting. It’s really about how do you set the terms of the debate. So, in the presidential election we saw, for example, activists really pushing the president on everything from student loan forgiveness to how he would deal with, at that time the emerging crisis of COVID, to making amends and acknowledging the harm that’s been done to black and brown communities, in particular through the criminal legal system. And identifying pathways forward together.
So, all of these issues were central and really it was activists on the ground, people who were demanding more for their vote than just platitudes who helped push forward these policies. And because of it now in governing right now that this president is governing we’re seeing the fruition of those aspirations come to reality through public policy. And so that’s really what I focus on when I think about elections is not just what’s on the table for right now. And certainly there’s a lot on the table. I mean, Roe v. Wade and hopefully the codification of abortion rights in this country for the first time. We’ve got, obviously all that’s happening continues to happen with the housing crisis and with our environmental crises. So there’s a lot on the table. But really right now the way I see it is we’ve got to be ready to push people and to put people into office who are going to be open to working with us, and creating real and lasting change in this country.
Solana Rice (15:16):
I think we’ve been talking to a lot of folks that are doing organizing and you’ve supported and have been organizing for a long time. And I’m wondering how you think about just what you said, like how do you not get caught in this electoral cycle? Knowing that it’s important, but there’s going to be more. And still balance that juxtaposition of like, we need to get a good person in, but that’s not the end all, be all. We’re going to have to fight, even when that person is elected, even if the person that we want to be elected is elected. Can you tell me how you coach or guide folks that are in those fights to balance, like, yes, this is an important election. Because every election is important and-
Jennifer Epps-Addison (16:18):
Jeremie Greer (16:19):
Most important election of our lifetime, every election.
Jennifer Epps-Addison (16:28):
That’s happened like 12 elections in a row. I mean, I will say that my ultimate vision for our democracy is that the people who run and win office are representative and reflective of the communities that they serve. That is ultimately my goal. And that doesn’t just mean we need to elect more indigenous and black and brown and Asian folks into office, which of course we do. That’s a huge piece of it. But I’m also talking about the economic diversity of who’s representing us. Congress and the Senate are full of millionaires and if I hit a rock in my neighborhood, I don’t think I’d find a millionaire anywhere. So, I think that we need to really be clear about the folks we have representing or should actually have experiences with struggle. They should know what it’s like to make the choice between the cheese and the meat.
They should know what the cost of milk is. They should understand the impact of gas going up one or $2 a gallon. And so that’s I think our ultimate vision and our ultimate goal. We are far away from that goal. And I think it’s important for us to acknowledge it. That does not mean that we throw our hands up and dissolve ourselves of any responsibility to this system. We have a North Star in mind, we have a path. We’re all heading towards ultimate liberation and freedom. But we have to also understand that there are milestones, there are rest points, there are places to camp and to nourish ourselves and to wash ourselves in the water that purifies us. There are all of these places along the way to our ultimate North Star. And so I think that’s what to me, participating in elections where candidates are not perfect or where candidates may not represent our full vision for our freedom, still matters and is still a critical responsibility that each and every one of us who are eligible to vote has.
Jeremie Greer (18:25):
But the activism, the activism we carry out when we do it through our organizations has constraints. We can’t do all the things we would like to do and it’s because of federal laws, because of tax structures and all that. Really complicated, this alphabet soup or Morse code kind of set of numbers and letters that don’t make sense. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about just brass tacks for the listeners to bring them up to speed on what the do’s and don’ts are if you’re this type of organization or that type of organization and what people can and cannot do?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (19:01):
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I feel like the first thing I would suggest to you, if you have the capacity of always consult an election lawyer. Because I’m not [inaudible 00:19:13] engineering and most people are not. But the general thing to understand if you’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is that you are still 100% able to engage people and to encourage them to participate in our democracy. There should never be a time where you fear connecting potential voters to their rights and making sure that they have all of the resources, the tools, the knowledge, the knowhow to actually cast their ballot. And then all of the work that goes into making sure that their ballot is actually counted. All of that is totally allowed for you as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
And so the idea that you have to stay completely disengaged from politics in order to have a non-profit is a misnomer. I think that it is out there specifically and intentionally to help suppress our participation in our votes. And so I think we are in a moment where we need non-profits to be bold and to be audacious in their demands. And part of that means that you have a real plan to civically engage the folks who are in your base. And that’s-
Jeremie Greer (20:27):
What kind of organizations are 501(c)(3), just so people know?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (20:30):
Jeremie Greer (20:30):
What was that?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (20:31):
Most of our non-profit world, so if you think about the non-profit world, service-based organizations, community organizations, neighborhood associations, churches, most of these things are nonpartisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations. So, you file your tax status, you fill out the little form online, you are most likely a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan organization. It means that you can’t take partisan political stances. You cannot, for example, endorse a candidate or an issue on the ballot. However, you can provide education. And my experience is that when we give people the information, they make the choice that is best for their lives. We don’t actually have to lead them all the way to an end answer. And so really what we’re saying is, if you are in a state like California that’s got three dozen ballot initiatives, I am a trained attorney, like I’ve written legal policy and sometimes I can’t even figure out these ballot initiatives.
I am so grateful to organizations like Community Coalition and Inner City Struggle and The Movement for Black Lives who all put together nonpartisan voter guides that help me understand what would the impact of each of these ballot initiatives be on my life and my community. So that’s something that you can do as a nonpartisan non-profit. The other thing is you can engage and mobilize folks to vote. A lot of people believe wrongly that they are not eligible to vote. Particularly people who have previous relationships or engagements in the criminal justice system. People who are formally incarcerated, who are on parole, who have felony convictions, a lot of these folks believe erroneously that they can’t vote. So, one of the biggest things that you can do as a non-profit is make sure that everybody who is eligible to vote actually knows how to do it and knows that they’re eligible.
To me that really … Yes, social media is important there, but the biggest influencer on whether or not folks are going to vote outside of their own personal self-determination are their circle of family and friends, their sphere of influence. And so really you saying, “I’ve got 10 people in my life who may or may not vote or I’ve got 10 members in my organization and I’m really not sure if they’re going to vote, I’m going to pick those 10 people and I’m going to make it my mission to make sure they show up to the polls.” That is really transformational and that’s how you can really get engaged.
Solana Rice (23:02):
Jen, I did not grow up in the black church, but I do know that people are very influenced. Folks that go to church that I know that are black people, they are devout. And I wonder, in your experience, how have you experienced the black church in terms of getting information to folks? Is it this, I think we always keep saying, “The black church is the institution, it is a political institution. It is where we get our information.” Is that true? In your experience, is that true?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (23:49):
It’s a key piece. It’s a key piece and I think that listen, black churches are not monoliths. And certainly we saw a number of black churches, especially as school vouchers in the early two 2000s and became such a contentious issue, a wedge issue is what we call it within the black community. Where cynical Republicans and those who seek to harm and extract from our people used it as a way to divide the voting power and the black voting power of the black vote. So, certainly folks are not a monolith. However, by and large, the vast majority of black churches in this country who engage in voter education and empowerment are doing so from a really genuine place of power, are doing so as part of the legacy of struggle for civil rights in this country. And are working in coordination to make sure that every single person gets the chance to participate in their democracy.
And it’s been hugely effective. It’s why we see for example, in these Republican controlled states that one of the first things that they do is go after early Sunday voting. Folks call this Souls to the Polls. How do we get all the souls in our seats to go to the polls? And you see it, whether you’re down south, whether you’re in the Midwest, on the coast, it has been a tradition of the black church and it’s one of the biggest forms of attack for those who seek to undermine black voting power.
But I will say, the church is not enough. First of all, across the board church membership has been dwindling over the last two decades. But even irrespective of that, the reality is that there are lots of different folks in the black community who are not going to Christian churches. They have different belief systems, there are different religions. They’re not religious at all. They’re atheists or agnostic. And so yes, that should be one place we meet folks, but we need to meet folks everywhere they’re at. We need to be in workplaces and at work sites. We need to organize through worker power. We need to be rooted in our neighborhoods and spending most of our time meeting people at their doors and places where they’re comfortable and feel a sense of community. We need to be at big events. We need to be dominating and have influencers who utilize the power and harness the power of social media. We need all of that. The churches are a piece of it, but they’re not the only piece.
Jeremie Greer (26:26):
I want to follow on this, because for some context, this legal structure that we operate in as nonprofits doing advocacy came to be because of the passage of something called the Johnson Amendment, which is an amendment to a tax bill in 1954 by President Johnson, signed the Civil Rights bill. But the intentionality around that was because people, and he included, felt it was a problem that the church was so involved in political activity. And the churches being very involved in political activity were many of the black churches that were so involved in civil rights fights at the time. And this podcast is called Racism Is Profitable. And it’s interesting to us that were living in this system of advocacy, where some of the intentionality around putting it in place was to silence black people. And I just wanted to get your response to that juxtaposition of where we’re operating today?
Because I think what’s also interesting is that many of the people fighting against the Johnson Amendment are these evangelical churches. These kind of white supremacist kind of organizations. So, I’m interested to just get your thoughts on that kind of where we found us today in this fight for our liberation?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (28:03):
Yeah, I mean, I would just say not just fighting against it, but actively disregarding it. You have evangelical preachers who are specifically advocating for candidates from their pulpit and inviting, literally inviting the Federal Government to do something about it. And I think the reality is we know how racism works. And so we know that the second powerful black church within any given community steps out of line, that those folks will be the target of investigations and inquiries, if not by the federal government, certainly by hostile state entities. The majority of our state government being run by conservatives. And yet, we see of a free pass on the other side. We rarely see these evangelical institutions being brought to heal. We rarely see them being criticized for their positions in the media. And in fact, we sort of just acknowledge that there are going to be rule breakers, they’re engaging in direct action, if you will.
And there’s a tacit acceptance for it. Meanwhile we play the purity politics with people of color and we say, “You must be inside the rules. You must follow exactly. You don’t want to give them a reason.” And so we’re creating an unfair playing field from the absolute beginning. But this is why I recommend for those of us who really want to bring about social transformation, Jeremy, like you said, we have to understand the system we’re playing in. It’s no longer enough for us to just have 501(c)(3) organizations as non-profits. We need to have related entities that are 501(c)(4)s, which then can engage in political activity. We need to have our own packs, which are specifically about identifying and investing in candidates that actually share our values. And at this stage of the game, I also want us to have an S-corp or an LLC where we’re able to actually monetize and generate revenue from the work that we do and keep that within our organizing homes and traditions.
And so for me at this point, if you are a BIPOC person fighting for freedom in this country and you’re a part of an institution, that institution really needs to have, it needs to be a stool with four legs. We’re all balanced on the top of it, but we’ve got to have all of these different pieces that hold it together.
Jeremie Greer (30:40):
Yeah, I find it interesting you mentioned the way that it’s kind of enforced when it becomes the evangelical right that are pushing maybe a pro-capitalist agenda while they’re pushing their social policy. But also the IRS is actually not very active from what I could tell in this space. And it seems like we as progressive are not really fully being regulated by the IRS, but also from philanthropy itself. Because they’re the ones kind of enforcing the rules in this way. And it seems to me it puts us in a position-
Jennifer Epps-Addison (31:21):
Using the IRS as cover.
Jeremie Greer (31:23):
As cover where it seems like we’re fighting this battle with one arm behind our back, because our funders. So, it’s interesting, I like the way you framed that and then also connected it to the need to create our own capital that we control in order to do this. So, just thought that was interesting.
Jennifer Epps-Addison (31:44):
Well Jeremy, you hit it right on the head though when you tied the nexus right back to philanthropy, and the reality is is that the Johnson Act was created for the exact same purposes as philanthropy as we know it today was created. So, the history of philanthropy is that very wealthy people who extracted their wealth from black and brown and indigenous communities, who gained that wealth through undo gains, through the exploitation and the harm and the stealing of labor and its outproducts then needed a place to essentially bury and hide that undue gain so that it didn’t go back into. Because what was happening were populous movements that were demanding that the fruits of capital that were gained by labor, actually then go back to the people whose labor created it. And so in order to say, “Oh we don’t actually have this money, look, it’s over here and we are going to give it back to you, but we are going to decide how we give it back.”
So, instead of social good public policy that is needs blind and blanketly benefits everyone, you have the same folks who got this ill gotten wealth through harm who are now saying, “We’re also going to now fund the solutions to the problems that we created.” And so we’re all playing this game. I say this to say I’ve been a willing participate in this system for 25 years. I am not trying to absolve myself of responsibility. But I do think it is important for us to understand. And so as we talk about liberation, part of what we know is that we are going to have to work within the systems that exist as they exist. We’re going to within that not actually do more harm, not do things that reinforce or strengthen the systems that we ultimately want to dismantle. That’s abolition theory, first do no harm. And simultaneously we’re going to be working on transforming and re imagining and rebuilding systems in ways that actually benefit our communities and help us thrive. So, we’re working on both of those things at the same time and we can hold those contradictions.
Solana Rice (34:04):
You talked about the stool and having all of these different types of entities, it’s no secret that those entities exist. But why do you think we don’t have more of them? Why do you think not every organization just starts out with all of these entities at its disposal? Why are we not all, especially as black people and people of color, why are we not working with all the tools in the toolbox?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (34:33):
That’s such a good question. I feel like if I had the answer I’d be really wealthier. Something I don’t know. I’ve live in a different … I like it to disruption theory. The idea that if you just create chaos around people they won’t be able to actually focus on the task at hand. And sometimes, if you look at Trump’s presidency for example, he probably will go down in history as one of the textbook users of disruption theory. Meaning, he didn’t ever give activists the chance to fully litigate and organize around any particular issue. Every day he would throw a different bomb that segmented our power in our base and made us move in different directions. So, I think that the thing that we have to do as a people, as those who believe in freedom and are a part of this liberation struggle, is we really have to go back to our North Star theory.
This idea that comes out of the black freedom struggle of defining where we’re all heading. Where are we going to end up together, that’s our North Star. And then understanding that the North Star lit the pathway, no matter where you’re at, it’s a clear pathway to tell you, you’re heading in the right direction. And so it’s this idea that we can be on many different paths if we’re all going to the same place. And what are our guide points supposed to get there? So I think that it’s okay to have an ecosystem of a lot of different organizations if we’re working in deep collaboration and connected to each other and share a vision for where we’re going. I think our problem is that what has happened is that disruption theory. Instead of the North Star theory, which should underpin our work, we’re in reaction mode to that disruption theory.
And so I want to see us pull back, I want to see us say, “What entities would we need to create in order to feel a sense of safety and security?” Because that’s really, you may not even ever use your (c)(4). You might only have a $1,000 in your (C)(4) that you self-funded, you took up a collection for, however it might be, right? It is like the breath of knowing I’ve got it and if I ever have to justify X, I can put it right here in this place. Same thing with the LLC. You may not ever use it, but right now you’re probably selling T-shirts or some kind of membership or something. And what would it look like if instead all of that merchandise instead of going into the non-profit was actually coming out of an LLC where you could borrow against it, you could take out loans on it could become a real asset?
All of these things are possible. It can be protected in case the Federal Government ever tries to come after you and dismantle you like they did with Acorn. So, it’s just really thinking about how can we build up assets. And as you build assets over time, you can then start thinking about, how are we generating revenue so that less and less of our organizational budget relies on the money? The funneling of money from people who historically have harmed our folks. And I’m not telling people not to take philanthropy’s money, in a way it’s a little bit like reparations. But the difference is, for me, reparations is actually self-determination and control. And right now the wrong people are still determining how the resources are divided, and who gets them, who’s worthy of getting them. And so until we disrupt philanthropy in a way where it is more down my small D democratic and where those who have been most harmed actually have more control and say over how the resources flow, I think that we need to have a lot of different entities and be moving towards generating our own revenue.
Jeremie Greer (38:36):
Is starting a (c)(4) that hard? I mean it sounds like you don’t need a lot of money to do it. It sounds like it’s something … I mean, the way you explained it, you made it seem like it’s very easy. Is it that easy to start a (c)(4)?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (38:52):
I mean, let me just say that first of all, a lot of money is relevant. To somebody coming from the neighborhood that I was raised in Milwaukee, a $1,000 feels like a million. They never seen it before and nobody in their family ever had it in their bank account. So, I want to say that it’s all relative to our experience and what’s easy or hard. I won’t pretend that as somebody who at least had the opportunity go to law school, I probably have an unfair advantage to folks who are coming in off the street, who are like, “Let me figure these systems out.” But that being said, that being said, there’s a lot of support out there for folks who want to develop these systems. You literally can Google building a (c)(4) or starting a (c)(4) organization. You don’t need more than that and you’re going to get a … I don’t know, can I cuss? I want to say a shit load.
Jeremie Greer (39:49):
Jennifer Epps-Addison (39:49):
I don’t know if you can, but you’re going to get a ton of resources right there off the bat on how you do it. It really is just a little bit of paperwork. So, the three things you really need with starting any of these entities, but let’s just start focus in on your (c)(4). First of all, you need your vision and your value. What’s your vision for the work? Why are you creating this? What impact do you want to have and what value are you going to have to the folks who join it, or participate, or engage in it? So you really want to know what that is before you actually fill out your paperwork. That should lead you to a name, because you’re going to need to name your (c)(4). A lot of people just literally keep whatever their organization name is and just put action at the end of it.
That indicates, because we want people to do something, (c)(4) is about getting people into collective action. So, they just put action at the end of it. And then again, you want to find out the rules for (c)(4). You’re going to Google that. Maybe you’ll think that’s a good $300 investment and you’re just going to ask a lawyer to explain to you for an hour and a half of their time. I know 90 minutes, $300, it hurts, but it’ll be the best $300 you spent if you can have somebody really clearly explain the rules for you so you feel confident that you’re going to be within the law. And then you’re going to need, the third piece is you’re going to need your advisory board, your board of directors, and a place to host it.
So, if you’re going to be independent from the start, you’re going to get your bank account, you’ll get your EIN number and you’ll establish who your board members are, build out your charter. If you are going to be hosted by a group, like Tides Advocacy for example, that hosts (c)(4) organizations. So you don’t have to have your independent tax status. You can rely on theirs and they will do all of the compliance work for you. Then you’ll want an advisory board and your charter, but actually you’re going to use their infrastructure, so you won’t have to develop all of those other things. And there are a number of places that host organizations. But I always recommend Tides to people because that’s the one I’ve used the most in my work.
Jeremie Greer (42:05):
So, it sounds like a shit ton of resources, but not necessarily a shit ton of money to make it happen.
Jennifer Epps-Addison (42:09):
I mean, here’s the thing. To start it is not a lot of money. But to do what you’re imagining you want to do with it, it requires money, and you’re going to have to think about how do we get there? (c)(4) fundraising is really hard. To me, when you’re fundraising for a (c)(3), you’re often sort of bringing people into your aspirations and making them feel something, in order to get them to invest in the long term. But when you’re asking people to give you (c)(4) or PAC donations, they give a shit about that election right there in that moment. They want to know how that donation is going to be the difference maker. And exactly who’s going to benefit or be targeted from it. So they want to understand, “I am targeting black voters in Kentucky in the Senate race. I am targeting Latino voters in Pennsylvania, in the governor’s race, et cetera.”
They want to be really sort of hands-on how the money will be spent in your (c)(4). And raising that money is difficult, because people aren’t getting a tax write off on it. So they have to really believe in the impact that you’re about to create for them. So, that money can be harder. The way that I really suggest for people to do it is, oftentimes right now people who are raising money through small dollar donations are doing it through their (c)(3) because either they only have a (c)(3) or that’s kind of the primary brand people know. I always recommend creating a (c)(4) and doing all your small dollar fundraising through your (c)(4). Whether you’re raising $5,000 a year or $50,000 a year, you want that money to be as flexible as possible and you want to be able to use it for pretty much any purpose. So just that little shift can really make a huge difference in what money’s available to you and your (c)(4).
Solana Rice (44:09):
Well, we have covered a lot of ground. We talked a lot about the infrastructure of organizations necessary to give us the most political influence and flexibility necessary to usher in liberation. Sitting with one foot in these current systems, with another foot in imagining a new system. Jen, just in our last minute, how are you feeling about these midterms?
Jennifer Epps-Addison (44:42):
I feel like I feel every year. Which is, I think there are a lot of missed opportunities and we’re going to have to see how it shakes out. I think that if we, and by we I mean the political class were to listen, truly listen to black and brown and Asian and indigenous and anti-racist white folks on the ground who are on the front lines doing this organizing, then we would have seen vastly different candidates and messages coming up this fall. As it is, what I do know, what I know for sure is that our activists are doing everything they can do to build power for our people that is truly in the hands of our people in every community, in every state across this country. I think we’re just going to have to all wait and see if it’s enough.
Solana Rice (45:27):
Yeah. Thanks, Jen. Jennifer Epps-Addison, Imagineer, thanks for being on the pod, Jen, really appreciate it.
Jeremie Greer (45:38):
All right, peace, Jen.
Jennifer Epps-Addison (45:39):
Thanks so much for having me.
Solana Rice (45:43):
Thanks for listening. For more information, check out our list of episode resources and visit us at liberationinagenerationaction.org. Shout-out to our producer and audio editor, Nino Fernandez, the design team at TrimTab, and the LibGen Action Communications team. Like what you heard? Help us make some noise by telling two friends about the Racism is Profitable Podcast. Until next time, y’all, peace.