Snapshot of MCF’s Grantmaking Strategy & the Midwest Region
There are several aspects of the Foundation’s Southwest Region that give it its character.
One important concern is a vulnerable labor force.New Mexico has the highest rate of poverty in the country and one of the highest unemployment rates. Arizona and Texas are not as bad off, but both are still well below the national average.
- People desperate for work are easy prey for employers who engage in wage theft. One in five construction workers in Texas has been a victim of wage theft.
- Predatory lenders also take advantage of low-income workers and families who can’t use traditional banking. About $180 million leaves the state of New Mexico every year into the pockets of out-of-state predatory lenders. That’s why the foundation has begun pursuing its first PRI (program related investment) to help provide alternatives to these lenders.
Another important consideration is the role of immigration.
- Over 5 million undocumented immigrants live in the three states that comprise our Southwest region.
- For a time, President Obama’s DACA and DAPA programs provided relative safety from deportation. These programs are stalled in court and are very likely to end under the Trump administration.
- In addition, the stigmatizing of immigrants has led to an increase in hate crimes targeting not just immigrants, but all people of color, during the presidential campaign and immediately following the election.
Finally, Southwest residents deal with pollution – air, soil, groundwater pollution – as a daily reality. The “extraction economy” has played havoc on the environment.
- Over 600 mines cover the landscape of AZ, NM, TX, extracting everything from coal and sulfur to silver and gold.
- Natural gas pipelines are threatening the same kind of ecological damage as the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. The pipelines are even being built by the same company, Energy Transfer Partners. Organizers in El Paso are mounting opposition and taking inspiration from the water protectors at Standing Rock.
We have provided 327 grants in the region since our inception. How has the region changed because of this investment?
- We have established four solid networks in the region. The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network has become a stand-out example of a strong cohesive network. The network was one of our first, established in 2006, and after 11 years they have created political power and capital as a network, as well as building power for the involved organizations.
- Our organizations are building a pipeline of leaders. Because access to political power is limited for Latinos, particularly those in low-income families, organizations have been training their own leaders. The directors of SouthWest Organizing Project and Partnership for Community Action began working as interns and organizers with SWOP and moving up the ranks. Mi Familia Vota says that many of its staff in Arizona were community leaders before joining the staff, and many are either new immigrants or first-generation Americans.
- Southwest grantees have been engaging in voter registration and engagement for years, laying the groundwork for future success. This year, in a watershed election, Joe Arpaio was turned out of office. The sheriff of Maricopa County for 24 years, he built a national profile as “America’s toughest sheriff” by humiliating prisoners and shamelessly harassing immigrants far beyond his legal scope. This victory took years of base-building to make possible.
Looking forward to this region, we see a number of trends developing.
We see continued attacks against voters, specifically Latino and first-time voters. 2016 was the first presidential election without the full protection of the voting rights act. Texas passed an absurd voter ID law designed to suppress voting. It was ultimately rejected by the courts.
In Arizona, during the presidential primary, Maricopa County reduced its available polling places from 200 down to just 60, resulting in long lines and frustration. These kinds of attacks are going to continue and our grantees will have to remain vigilant.
We expect to see multi-pronged challenges for immigrants. Grantees need to expect the unexpected. This year, again in Texas, immigrants were denied the right to obtain birth certificates for their America-born children – in other words, American citizens. Our grantees, especially those working in the policy and legal arenas, should be ready for new areas of attacks.
Cities and counties are going to continue to be a proving ground for policies and opportunities. Look at Texas, for example. While the state is controlled by conservatives, Travis County passed strong protections for workers in the construction industry. And activists are working with progressive police chiefs and mayors of cities including Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas to ensure that police officers are not conducting stealth immigration enforcement or engaging in racial profiling.
What does our work look like in the Southwest, moving forward?
We should be encouraging the growth of deeper connections. That means strengthening our networks, particularly the El Paso and Arizona networks. It also means building connections among peer organizations across states and mapping multi-regional coalitions.
We should continue to support voter engagement, because the tide is turning. New Mexico’s House flipped this year from Republican to Democratic control. Victories like the rejection of Sheriff Arpaio and of the winning of New Mexico’s House point to the ability to win strategically.
Trends are in our favor. The margin of victory for Republicans is slowly shrinking in Texas over time. Republicans won the presidential election in Texas by 21 points in 2000. That margin was down to ten points in 2016.
The same thing is happening in Arizona – this year, the Republican candidate won by less than four percentage points.
Finally, we should watch for the ripples from Standing Rock. The national fight against the Dakota Access pipeline opened a new front in the environmental movement in a way that people could understand easily, and with the voices of Native Americans front and center. Native American tribes from across the country came together to stand against the pipeline. Expect to see environmental campaigns that are led or that prioritize the voices of Natives. And also expect to see more collective work from Native American tribes standing together in solidarity.