In the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen offers Seven Predictions for Philanthropy in 2012, and I was fascinated to see him predict an enormous shaping influence of the Occupy Movement and its issues. In brief, his predictions are as follows: (1) The movement itself and the wellspring of discontent that it has tapped will drive requests to grantmakers in the direction of advocacy and distribution of wealth. (2) The prevailing language of theOccupy Movement, concerning the power of the 1% and of the 99%, will put some foundations in an uncomfortable position, given their relationship to wealth. (3) There will be more programmatic related investment. (4) Shifts in federal money will be an issue, but programs with social enterprise language may do well. (5) Foundations will be looked at to help with the slashing of humanitarian aid from government sources. (6) Nothing will change when it comes to the charitable tax deduction. (7) There will continue to be a growing class divide in the nonprofit sector, with the sector itself moving more and more in the direction of its own 1% and 99% divisions.
Since 2001, United for a Fair Economy has done an assessment of the conditions in the United States as measured against the vision of equality articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King — whose birth and life we honor today in the U.S. Their most recent report, State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority (cover page for executive summary, 42 page PDF, and links to past reports) is a stunning portrayal of a shift from a relatively egalitarian, middle class society to a society of rich and poor, resembling many third world countries, with people of color dominating the underclass. I can think of no other more compelling evidence that the Occupy Movement is the popular vehicle most aligned with King’s vision. I encourage you to use this report, in the context of memorializing Dr. King and his work, to see where you and your organization fits in this movement.
I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about the relationship between civil society organizations and the Occupy Wall Street movement. One of the easiest and most poignant questions to ask is this: What If They Sent in Social Services to Help Occupations Instead of Riot Cops to Bust Heads? Joshua Holland of Alternet notes that, as of a week ago, at least $13 million had been spent by city governments to try to evict groups assembling to speak and petition for the redress of grievances. If there were any honesty to the concerns expressed by these municipalities (sanitation and other such excuses), they would long ago have spent money on things other than people wielding pepper spray and batons. On the other hand, do you think maybe they really do want to help build the movement? Responding with compassion might not have worked so well.