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“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
– Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde’s insight has never been more true. Too many of today’s nonprofits look — and function — like the very inequitable, top-down, disempowering systems they claim to be trying to replace. 

Already marginalized grassroots leaders are pushed to the side. More “radical” organizers and community-led campaigns are suppressed while corporate and state interests are amplified. 

Aiming to please wealthy donors, these nonprofit organizations are limited in their engagement with transformative, community-led justice. They say they want change but are only willing to challenge the status quo ever so slightly. Planned marches with eye-popping budgets bring thousands to D.C. or New York to “shut it down.” On the weekend. With puppets. 

Strategies like that, which align with their funder’s worldview, are resourced, and inequality is treated as an individual problem as opposed to a systemic one. Those with privilege, often in it not as a matter of life or death but for the paycheck, discourage truly disruptive action. Meanwhile, the wheels of justice turn slower than ever —or worse, stop and roll backwards. 

Now parades can be fun — but as grassroots leaders will tell you, they can also be an enormous and ineffective waste of resources when folks under the heel of the oppressor are literally dying. Now. Right now. While the (often white male) six digit-earning leader of a sponsoring national non-profit is sharing talking points with reporters who will air today’s version of the same old story. Images of Indigenous women in traditional attire are splashed across the front page for all to see. ‘Oooh, aren’t they pretty,’ readers will comment. 

And back home, nothing changes. 

Worse, efforts by grassroots leaders to work with those national non-profits are thwarted, in large part because the top-down structure of most nonprofits is replicated within their relationship to communities. A common observation by many marginalized people who have tried to work within the nonprofit sector include acts of hostility and a resistance to input. The nonprofit community is definitely not immune to capitalism or structural racism. 

Meanwhile, successful progressive organizations created by and for marginalized people, those that actively challenge assaulting systems, remain outside of the nonprofit world – some due to exclusion by that world and others at their own choosing, their own refusal to accept such treatment. 

That’s where Movement Training Network (MTN) comes in. MTN aspires to provide a different framework around how power and resource flows within social and environmental justice movements. We believe that communities are entitled to set the agenda for our own liberation, while nonprofits should simply be a resource for that struggle. Our grassroots leaders know what their communities need. They know who the oppressors are. They simply need the resources and freedom to make change happen. 

Big-pocketed funders pushing nonprofits created in the image of corporate America is not the solution. Only grassroot-level organizing allows for the flexibility and deliverability of lasting progressive change and services.

Another matter deeply affecting the justice movement is “burn-out,” the capitalistic idea that it is okay to use personal passions and compassion as an excuse to work people into the ground – sometimes literally. This must stop.

MTN is devoted to emphasizing and providing associates, to the best of our ability, with the tools and space to create self- and community-care. We hold this as a core value to our work. 

This holistic approach to organizing creates a stronger balance between building a just future, while also challenging existing oppressive systems.