Confrontation about economics, the long avoided and ignored method of addressing a system built on the exploitation of black people. When we have conversations about systemic violence towards black people, for some reason finances are always ignored in the conversation. This is odd given that capitalism and the love of money is a direct root of the violence experienced in this nation.
Think about how much money is earned and saved, due to black pain, in music, movies, city-revenues, wage-inequalities, etc. Think about how black people are periodically told around the first of the month to “be careful, you know the cops are out they have that quota to meet”. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve overheard these exchanges as a child. As an adult, I now understand; there is a reliance on black money to keep this system running as intended.
The dependence on black people does not stop just at black pockets, no. This system also relies on black labor. Everyone in this nation stands firm on black backs, which is why some people say, “I don’t see color”; it’s kind of hard to see something you’re standing on. This of course is nothing new; we’re all well aware of how this nation was built. The issue is that people are unaware that it’s the same method for how this nation continues to be built. According to the constitution, slavery and indentured servitude is still in affect:
The Thirteenth Amendment
Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Most people read this as “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, shall exist within the United States” and completely miss “except as punishment for crime”, which means that slavery is fine under certain conditions. And once they finish ignoring that, they then ignore the racial disparity of incarceration. When they finish missing those important words, and the racial disparity, they then miss how black people are often falsely accused for a crime or over punished for a crime. And when they finish ducking and dodging everything listed above, they hurdle, hop, and skip, over the fact that millions are earned from the prison industrial complex. In fact, the ties the industrial prison complex has with slavery runs so deep, that incarcerated men and women are even referred to as “property”.
In other words, there is still financial incentive to put people of color in shackles; there is still a profit earned on black and brown bodies. There are still people being called “property”.
This written law, rules this land. When it was written, there was a spiritual declaration made about the experience of people of color in this nation. We then witness it trickle down into the earth because everything under the authority of the US Government will closely reflect this concept: earn revenue on people of color. Everything! Businesses, educational institutions, medical institutions, and non-profit organizations will reflect the “blueprint”.
Cut the check was a powerful display of addressing that blueprint, the direct source of specific groups in this nation being marginalized. This action addressed this nation’s love of money and love of capitalism, which are both maintained at the expense of disenfranchised groups, specifically people of color.
Since August, there has been money poured into the city of Ferguson. And with that funding, came misinformation, an increase of distrust both across the nation and sparked some intra-group disagreements. In the words of Biggie Smalls, “mo’ money, mo’ problems”. This was due to poor communication about how funds would be used to help the family of Mike Brown and the community of Ferguson. There was also poor application of who received funding and the amounts of funding. People made false assumptions based on the hyper-visibility of certain organizations and certain people within the movement.
Action on May 14th at the World Community Center, opened the door for the conversation that everyone has been waiting for: What’s happening with the money in Ferguson?
Well the answer is simple, most donated funds are sent to established non-profit organizations, such as Organization for Black Struggle, Hands Up United, and Missourians Organizing for Reform & Empowerment. However, people who follow organizers on twitter often seen posts encouraging donations to the newly established organizations and events that have been developed in direct response to the senseless state-sanctioned killing of Mike Brown, i.e. Millennial Activists United, Black Souljahz, Operation Help or Hush, etc.
So naturally, on the outside looking in, everyone is confused. After all, why would activists reach out for funds if George Soros sent $33 million, right? The faux conclusion that most people have formulated is somehow the newly developed, grassroots organizations and leaders on the ground have received ALL of this money. They haven’t. One issue is no one really knows how much Soros has contributed to the movement. There are sources that say that his donation amounted to $600 thousand, not $33 million. I’ve yet to see more than one source report $600 thousand, but it’s worth noting just how much misinformation there is about funding in Ferguson. It’s also important to understand that this money [Soros’ donation], whatever it amounts to, did not go to the hyper-visible, innovative, grassroots organizations and people that are considered “high profile” on twitter. This funding went specifically to Organization for Black Struggle and M.O.R.E., which then developed the Hands Up Coalition, along with Dream Defenders. M.O.R.E. also received another $35 thousand in funding for jail fund from Talib Kweli’s Ferguson Defense Fund. It’s worth noting where exactly funds are going because these headlines have created an atmosphere of distrust and confusion. This atmosphere impacts the public’s perception of the integrity of grassroots organizations being led by the hyper visible demonstrators. And that perception, not only impacts the relationships among demonstrators, but it also impacts donations that have been essential to sustaining the movement.
The moment the Soros headline hit, some grossroots observed that funds were dwindling, which then made it hard to maintain the spaces that have been vital in this movement. Not only did the funds reduce, but also there were attacks and false accusations. Some how people correlated a $33 million donation with the grassroot teesprings and paypals they’ve seen posted on social media to support actions and events, instead of correlating that donation with the larger, and historically established organizations. Some people falsely stated that leaders have profited from donations. These small and innovative orgs have invested in transitional housing spaces for activists that are without shelter. These orgs have implemented plans to ensure people in the community were fed. They’ve worked to ensure that people had living essentials met. There have been healing spaces that have been developed by grassroots organizations. Leaders, all while continuing the daily protests and demonstrations that occur, have done this work to “love and support each other”, because it’s our duty to each other and to this world. Ferguson protestors are applying “love and support” framework to everything that we do because it’s how we want this world to look, how we want legislation to look, how we want the constitution to look: valuing the lives of humans.
Cut the check was no different from past actions. The motive was increasing the value of black life in this nation. This action was inspired because demonstrators, who were employed by M.O.R.E., were having issues. The initial issue was planning disagreements. According to demonstrators, they wanted to develop healing and empowerment spaces; the organization felt that direct actions and intentional arrests, at the expense of black people would have been more valuable. After all, who would continue to contribute towards a non-profit organization’s jail fund if no one would get arrested, right? Basically, there was financial incentive for these large non-profits when black people in Ferguson were arrested.
And like any employer-employee disagreement, termination became a potential solution. The activist community wanted to support demonstrators during the review with Jeff Ordower, the executive director of M.O.R.E. According to activists, it was during the meeting that Ordower disclosed that he had thousands in funding money that he had no idea what to do with. Organizers recommended that he breakdown the funds and distribute it to everyone in the community, since so many have been lacking financially. They expressed that this was the best solution due to the arguments and lack of understanding that funding has created, elaborating that people read misleading and ambiguous headlines, and don’t comprehend fiscal sponsorship. They also expressed that funding has been used to divide people within the movement. When headlines regarding finances in the movement are released, people aren’t informed that large, historically established organizations have been the recipients of those donations, so demonstrators with newly established organizations are being blamed for capitalistic violence, i.e. pocketing the donations. Distribute the money to the community was their [demonstrators] recommendation.
Sources say that this recommendation was then met with reluctance. Initially, the response was instead of giving it to the entire community, it would be broken down and given to just seven people. The demonstrators refused this offer. It was then decided to write the names of everyone in the community on a list and the organization would then give checks to everyone on the list. After demonstrators attempted to write names down, they were then told instead of that, a check would be written only for people in the room. The initial reluctance they were met with transformed into “indecisiveness”. The hashtag “cut the check” was born. Activists then reached out via social media and texts messages to have everyone show up. Less than 20 people showed up.
This clash also exposed disconnect between demonstrators and the non-profit organizations. It’s baffling that small organizations financially struggle to maintain housing for homeless protestors and implement healing spaces; while this large non-profit had funding that the executive director “had no idea what to do with”.
The response to this action has been largely negative. Words like “greed”, “selfish”, and even “thugs” (which is extremely loaded and not thoroughly thought out given the current events), were directed at these demonstrators. It’s bizarre to witness knowing that those demonstrators could have easily allowed the money to never be heard of, or allowed the money to be split amongst just seven people, instead they made the decision to publicly tell people to show up. Encouraging more people to show up, only decreases the “slice of the pie” per person, so this move was far from greed. This action was to send a message. The message: No more profits from black and brown bodies.
This issue of funding stimulated by the trauma black and brown bodies extends beyond one incident. The city itself has earned revenue from the bonds paid for unjustified and unconstitutional arrests. Even the surrounding businesses have received surge in revenues due their proximity to events and actions. Again, there is financial incentive for putting black and brown bodies in shackles. There is financial incentive for the trauma that people in this community have experienced. And every business and organization has reaped the rewards; everyone received incentive except for the community that actually experienced trauma and have struggled to sustain themselves.
Misapplication of the words like “greed” and “selfish” is not where the negativity ends. Some of the responses were people outraged when they found out a couple demonstrators were actually hired to do organizing work. Ahistorical understanding of past human rights movements is a threat to the current movement. Many leaders of our past were paid/compensated for their work. In fact, there were people specifically paid to travel and start protests in racially tense cities following white-on-black violence events. That’s not to get “paid for their service” confused with the motive being money. The motive is and always will be love. However, past leaders were taken care of financially because in this society, money is how you pay for a meal. You cannot pay your rent in “revolution”. You cannot go to the grocery store and write “revolution” on a piece of paper and hand it to the cashier at the checkout line. You cannot open your gas tank and shout “revolution” in to it and expect your vehicle to be fueled. You cannot tell Ameren you’re putting “revolution” on the bill this month. Revolution is beautiful, but basic needs are not met on “revolution” alone. Vilifying demonstrators for having human needs, such as food, gas, and shelter, is not only ridiculous, but also contradictory. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement are frequently referred and paralleled to current events. There is a hypocrisy to reference a man who also addressed poverty and classism, while simultaneously responding negatively to an action designed to put a halt to revenues earned on black labor.
The negativity is not only hypocritical, but it’s exploitation. Many of the same protestors involved with this pro police-accountability movement, are actively involved with fighting to increase the minimum wage. People want to benefit from their work to increase wages for people across the nation, while demonizing their efforts to distribute funds to an entire community. Surely, people withholding those contradicting thoughts should be suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance.
The worse response to “Cut the Check”, was the loud silence towards how the organization handled “cut the check”. Hours after the action ended, a document was posted on social media listing the names of people and how much the organization supposedly gave to those “people”. The issue is some of the funds listed on the document, according to sources, were reportedly not given by the organization, yet the document was presented as such. The document did not limit to listing just the “cut the check” funds, but it incorporated past action funding as well. Many people have read this under the impression that funding from past events, is the same thing that people received via check on May 14th. Another issue, the document listed individuals in the first column instead of small organizations and direct actions. This was a subtle form of propaganda. Readers subconsciously received the message that individuals, instead of associating the funds with movement supplies, pocketed those funds. As someone that has a history with working in finance and non-profits, I can confidentially say that this is not how financial documentation is normally typed up. Normally, a document would state an organization or business as a beneficiary, not a person’s name. One would think that maybe this was intentional. Why on earth would “Elizabeth Vega” be listed as a recipient in the first column, when the “Artivists” were funded for the trip? Also, why not at least indicate the number of people that were funded on this trip. Otherwise, it just appears that one person was given $2,000. The column is clearly titled “Person/Group”, however when given the option to name a group, one specific person was still named.
The organization listed the supplies/purpose of funds in the last column. In reality, most people viewed the names and money, without ever regarding “the fine print in the last column”. The question that should have been asked is “if the Ferguson October event required megaphones and if the purchaser was reimbursed for supplies, why document it as if the planner of the event just pocketed cash? Why not list the “event” as the beneficiary?”. The organization, according to the document, also funded certain group trips to connect and organize with communities across the nation dealing with police violence. The purpose of planning travel for groups is to ensure the spread of the movement. Which goes back to Cut the Check demonstrators’ initial point, “people don’t really understand fiscal sponsorship”. Some people think these were glamorous vacations. While I’m sure that those given the privilege to travel enjoyed the opportunity, the purpose was building and connecting, which is essential to the survival of the movement. It was also reported that a name was on that list that never received money from this organization, so how did their name make the list? Is there anyone else on the list that never received funds from this organization? How can we get answers and clarity for this community? There is still confusion.
After reviewing the documents posted online, I myself had many questions. The first one being, “after getting intel from demonstrators about the confusion in the community, and the need for clarity, why write a ‘financial’ document in that manner?” More importantly why are there reports that the document did not accurately represent what occurred during that specific action? Some have read the document and are under the impression that $300,000 was given out that day. Others state that the checks collectively equated to a total $34,000, others say a total of $50,000. So why write financial documents in such a way that people could not accurately perceive how funds were spent for Cut the Check and which funds actually came from this non-profit? Why the ambiguity on a “financial” document? Why state individual names instead of organizations and events in the first column? Why further the distrust? Why leave holes for rumors and more accusations?
One could argue that the intent was to create further confusion. More importantly, to surround a much needed conversation and aspect of oppression, with so much negativity that no one will have the audacity to address capitalistic violence in this nation ever again.
Cut the Check was deeper than 17 people receiving an average of approximately $2000 each, Cut the Check was about taking back the finances that were generated at the expense of black trauma. After all, there is nothing revolutionary about free black labor and exploiting black pain.