One of the problems with non-profits is that the sponsors or funds can come from sources that inextricably link them to dubious companies that undermine their purpose. By funding the non-profit, their mission is essentially either neutered or the non-profit will exist as a hypocritical entity that can only accomplish that which is approved by their sponsors, lest they risk losing funding. Concerning the non-profit industrial complex, Adjoa Florência Jones de Almeida of the Sista II Sista Collective said;
What has happened to the great civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s? Where are the mass movements of today within this country? The short answer: They got funded. Social justice groups and organizations have become limited as they’ve been incorporated into the non-profit model… We are too busy being told to market ourselves by pimping our communities’ poverty in proposals, selling “results” in reports and accounting for our finances in financial reviews.
As a former member of Green America, it bothered me that even they are a prime example of this pernicious sort of relationship between movements and non-profits given their relationship with Honest Tea, a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola. Green America’s About Us notes that they work on issues of social justice and environmental responsibility. Their About Us says that “We see these issues as completely linked in the quest for a sustainable world. It’s what we mean when we say ‘green'” and that they work to “stop abusive practices and to create healthy, just and sustainable practices.” Although both admirable and eloquent in their descriptions of their missions, values and goals – their actions are limited – quite hypocritically – to attacking their sponsor’s competition while dedicating little to no mention of their sponsor’s own conflicting practices. GMO Inside is a product of Green America that fights in favor of GMO labeling by exposing food giants and raising awareness in the issue of expanding GMO use. GMO Inside’s “Take Action” drop down menu highlights:
From these pages in the drop down menu, activists have an array of powerful tools to thwart the GMO problem by signing petitions, posting on the offending company’s presumably, heavily monitored Facebook page and calling the offending company. However, only by clicking “Take Action” will activists see a footnote-like mention of Coca-Cola in the form of an image banner. Upon clicking that link, activists will find a list of Coca-Cola’s subsidiaries at the bottom of the page. At the time of this blog post, Honest Tea is missing from that list of Coca-Cola’s companies. Green America’s National Green Pages 2014 issue is rife with anti-green-washing rhetoric (see page 39), Honest Tea advertisements and a vote-with-your-dollars spread on pages 6 and 7 that has no mention of Coca-Cola or Honest Tea. Criticisms of Coca-Cola are so blatant that it warrants its own Wikipedia page. This underscores the problem inherent in the non-profit industrial complex mentioned earlier; co-opted non-profits are fundamentally compromised and present a conflict of interest with their sponsors that effectively renders the non-profit a paper tiger. If you have a smart phone, the Buycott app is much more honest and comprehensive than Green America.
One of the founders of Corazon del Pueblo (a volunteer, not-for-profit collective and community cultural center) touches briefly on the problem with non-profits in this video around the 3 minute mark. He alludes very correctly to the absurdity in the idea that co-opted movements such as traditional non-profits can really realize their missions. Imagine if the Black Panther Party survival programs (such as free preventative health care, free shoe program and the free breakfast program) were funded by pharmaceutical companies, Nike and Kellogg. The contradictions and hypocrisy surely would undermine the pure intentions of revolution, community building and uplifting the consciousness of the people.
Green America and other non-profits remove otherwise well-intentioned, bright and energetic people from the streets and from creating truly meaningful movements and places them in offices creating spreadsheets and reports that validate their work to sponsors with the hope of justifying more funding. The revolution will not be televised, YouTube’d and certainly not funded by governments or multinational corporations.