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Everything changes; nothing stands still.

You could not step twice into the same river.      ~ both quotes by Heraclitus around 500 BCE.

Civilization has been working on accepting change for 2500 years and we’re still having a really hard time with it.

The hopeful era of “right answers” is finally coming to a close, but few of us are ready, or are even preparing, for what comes next.

We are still being educated/trained – through school, peers and the media – specifically to seek the elusive ‘right answers’.  We have sort-of learned to trust certain ‘authorities’ and not others; to value ‘evidence’ from this source but not that one…and to ask peers, relatives and others in our group to tell us which is the real news and which is the fake news.

How can we rise above the noise? How can we get a different perspective that could help us see things differently?

The Revolution Wellness Center is here to build a sanctuary from right and wrong, from black and white, and from with us or against us.  It is a place to feel comfortable with not feeling completely comfortable; to question what we think we know by considering a wide spectrum of ideas from a diverse array of sources.  The Revolution Wellness Center is a place to explore, and consider, and play with ideas…far from the extremism, absolutism and idolatry that may be found in economics, religion, politics and science.  It is a place to embrace and explore democracy, diversity, humanity, and the institutions we have created. It is a place for us to ask: Does ‘who we are now’ represent ‘who we can be’?  And if not, how can we become what we are capable of being?

The Revolution Wellness Center is open-minded, critical, curious and exploratory.  I hope it is comfortable for all ages to review, debate and comment on anything found in the website.  In the spirit of inviting all to the table, I will keep the language and the images within a “PG” rating.



Viewpoint Tourism

How do we know what we don’t know?  Can we hold our view while we explore others?

Here are a few things you can try to expand your knowledge base:

Whatever topic you are considering, try searching the term + controversy.   I just tried this using barbie, gmo, algorithm and electric car and all yielded more than 400,000 ‘results’.  (Algorithm yielded 1,170,000 ‘results’!

When you read or watch the news, also check AllSides

Unbiased news does not exist; we provide balanced news and civil discourse.  Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant. https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news



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Specific Topics


Religion News Service     RNS is an independent, nonprofit and award-winning source of global news on religion, spirituality, culture and ethics, reported by a staff of professional journalists. Founded in 1934, RNS seeks to inform readers with objective reporting and insightful commentary,  and is relied upon by secular and faith-based news organizations in a number of countries.


The Seven Deadly Sins: viewed through the lens of basic human needs

The Seven Deadly Sins were a list of psychological flaws first identified by Christianity in the 4th century. Christianity was wise in spotting the errors, but rather ungenerous in explaining why they existed. Given that we are all, in a sense, ‘sinners’, we need to find better explanations for our bad behavior.


Religion for Atheists          

What if religions are neither all true or all nonsense? The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain’s book Religion for Atheists, which argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach the secular world.

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. Blending deep respect with total impiety, Alain (a non-believer himself) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into, among other concerns, how to:

– build a sense of community
– make our relationships last
– overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
– escape the twenty-four hour media
– go travelling
– get more out of art, architecture and music
– and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.

For too long non-believers have faced a stark choice between either swallowing lots of peculiar doctrines or doing away with a range of consoling and beautiful rituals and ideas. At last, in Religion for Atheists, Alain has fashioned a far more interesting and truly helpful alternative.


Although we hear about reentry and criminal justice reform in the news, with very few exceptions our state and federal prisons fail to adequately prepare the 1700+ people who return to society every day. (More than 95% of those who are incarcerated will come home.)  Without the proper resources, tools and information, many will not be successful. In fact, even after 20 years of ‘evidence-based’ interventions, less than 24% of those who come home will be successful and more than 75% will return.

The incarcerated may be out of our sight but they are not out of our society.  Prisons around the country do not prepare them for release and they are starving for resources and support.

“Something about this story is fundamentally wrong: Why are we allowing a computer program, into which no one in the criminal justice system has any insight, to play a role in sending a man to prison?”

When an Algorithm Helps Send You to Prison

Ellora Thadaney Israni     NY Times Oct. 26, 2017

In 2013, police officers in Wisconsin arrested a man driving a car that had been used in a recent shooting. The man, Eric Loomis, pleaded guilty to attempting to flee an officer, and no contest to operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. Neither of his crimes mandates prison time.

At Mr. Loomis’s sentencing, the judge cited, among other factors, Mr. Loomis’s high risk of recidivism as predicted by a computer program called COMPAS, a risk assessment algorithm used by the state of Wisconsin. The judge denied probation and prescribed an 11-year sentence: six years in prison, plus five years of extended supervision.

No one knows exactly how COMPAS works; its manufacturer refuses to disclose the proprietary algorithm. We only know the final risk assessment score it spits out, which judges may consider at sentencing.

Mr. Loomis challenged the use of an algorithm as a violation of his due process rights to be sentenced individually, and without consideration of impermissible factors like gender. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected his challenge. In June, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his case, meaning a majority of justices effectively condoned the algorithm’s use. Their decision will have far-ranging effects.

Read the rest of the story…

Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC)

The government pulls back on services and non-profits swoop in to cover them. At first blush, we might think we are in better hands with the charitable organizations, but are we?

Here are five articles that challenge the assumptions we might have about the nature of Charity, Service Providers and control.

Social Service, or Social Change?

Paul Kivel   2000

MY FIRST ANSWER TO THE QUESTION POSED IN THE TITLE is that we need both, of course. We need to provide services for those most in need, for those trying to survive, for those barely making it. We need to work for social change so that we create a society in which our institutions and organizations are equitable and just and all people are safe, adequately fed, adequately housed, well educated, able to work at safe, decent jobs, and able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Although the title of this article may be misleading in contrasting social service provision and social change work, the two do not necessarily go together easily and in many instances do not go together at all. There are some groups working for social change that are providing social service; there are many more groups providing social services that are not working for social change. In fact, many social service agencies may be intentionally or inadvertently working to maintain the status quo.

The Economic Pyramid

I want to begin by providing a context for this discussion: the present political/economic system here in the United States. Currently our economic structure looks like the pyramid in Figure One in which 1% of the population controls about 47% of the net financial wealthii of the country, and the next 19% of the population controls another 44%. That leaves 80% of the population struggling to gain a share of just 9% of the remaining financial wealth. That majority of 80% doesn’t divide very easily into 9% of resources, which means that many of us spend most of our time trying to get enough money to feed, house, clothe, and otherwise support ourselves and our families.

There are many gradations in the economic pyramid. Among the 80% at the base of the pyramid there is a huge difference in the standard of living between those nearer the top in terms of average income and/or net worth, and those near or on the bottom. There are a substantial number of people (nearly 20% of the population) who are actually below the bottom of the pyramid with negative financial wealth, i.e. more debt than assets.

Regardless of these complexities, there is a clear and growing divide between those at the base and those in the top 20% who have substantial assets providing them with security, social and economic benefits, and access to power, resources, education, leisure, and health care. Most of the rest of the population have an increasingly limited ability to achieve these benefits if they have access to them at all.

I will refer to the top 1% as the ruling class because members of this class sit in the positions of power in our society as corporate executives, politicians, policy makers, and funders for political campaigns, policy research, public policy debates and media campaigns. I call them a ruling class because they have the power and money to influence and often to determine the decisions that affect our lives, including where jobs will be located and what kind of jobs they will be, where toxics are dumped, how much money is allocated to build schools or prisons and where they will be built, which health care, reproductive rights, civil rights, and educational issues will be discussed and who defines the terms of these discussions. In other words, when we look at positions of power in the U.S. we will almost always see members or representatives of the ruling class.

The ruling class does not all sit down together in a room and decide policy. However, members of this class do go to school together, vacation together, live together, socialize together, and share ideas through various newspapers and magazines, conferences, think tanks, spokespeople, and research and advocacy groups. Perhaps most importantly, members of this class sit together on interlocking boards of directors of major corporations and wield great direct power on corporate decisions. They wield almost as great a power on political decisions through lobbying, government appointments, corporate funded research, interpersonal connections, and advisory appointments.iii

The next 19% of the economic pyramid are people who work for the ruling class, whose jobs don’t carry the same power and financial rewards, but whose purpose is to provide the research, skills, expertise, technological development and other resources which the ruling class needs to maintain and justify its monopolization of political and economic power.

The other 80% of the population produces the social wealth that those at the top benefit from. They work in the factories, fields, classrooms, homes, sweatshops, hospitals, restaurants, small businesses, behind the phones, behind the desks, behind the wheel, and behind the counter, doing the things that keep our society functioning and productive. They are caught up in cycles of competition, scarcity, violence, and insecurity that those at the top are largely protected from.

People at the bottom of the pyramid are constantly organizing to gain more power and access to resources. Most of the social change we have witnessed in U.S. history has come from people who are disenfranchised in this system fighting for access to education, jobs, health care, civil rights, reproductive rights, safety, housing, and a safe, clean environment. In our recent history we can point to the Civil Rights Movement, women’s liberation movements, lesbian and gay liberation movements, disability rights movement, unions, and thousands of local struggles for social change.iv

The Buffer Zone

People in the ruling class have always avoided dealing directly with people on the bottom of the pyramid and they have always wanted to keep people from the bottom of the pyramid from organizing for power so that they could maintain the power, control, and most importantly, wealth that they have accumulated. They have created a network of occupations, careers, and professions to mediate for and buffer them from the rest of the population. This buffer zone consists of all the jobs that carry out the agenda of the ruling class without requiring ruling class presence or visibility. Some of the people doing these jobs fall into the 19% section of the pyramid, often performing work that serves the ruling class directly. However, most of the people in the buffer zone have jobs that put them into the top of the bottom 80%. These jobs give them a little more economic security and just enough power to make decisions about other people’s lives—those who have even less than they do. The buffer zone has three primary functions.

The first function is to take care of people on the bottom of the pyramid. If it was a literal free-for-all for that 9% of social wealth allocated to the poor/working/and lower middle classes there would be chaos and many more people would be dying in the streets, instead of dying invisibly in homes, hospitals, prisons, rest homes, homeless shelters, etc. So there are many occupations to sort out which people get how much of the 9%, and to take care of those who aren’t really making it. Social welfare workers, nurses, teachers, counselors, case workers of various sorts, advocates for various groups—these occupations, which are found primarily in the bottom of the pyramid, are performed mostly by women, and are primarily identified as women’s work, taking care of people at the bottom of the pyramid.

The second function of jobs in the buffer zone is to keep hope alive. To keep alive the myth that anyone can make it in this society—that there is a level playing field. These jobs, often the same as the caretaking jobs, determine which people will be the lucky ones to receive jobs and job training, a college education, housing allotments, or health care. These people convince us that if we just work hard, follow the rules, and don’t challenge the social order or status quo, we too can get ahead and gain a few benefits from the system. Sometimes getting ahead in this context means getting a job in the buffer zone and becoming one of the people who hands out the benefits.

The final function of jobs in the buffer zone is to maintain the system by controlling those who want to make changes. Because people at the bottom keep fighting for change, people at the top need social mechanisms that keep people in their place in the family, in schools, in the neighborhood, and even overseas in other countries. Police, security guards, prison wardens, soldiers, deans and administrators, immigration officials, and fathers in their role as “the discipline in the family”—these are all traditionally male roles in the buffer zone designed to keep people in their place in the hierarchy.v

During the last half of the 20th century when multiple groups were demanding—and in some cases getting—critical changes in our social structure such as better access to jobs, education, and health care, the ruling classes needed a new strategy to avoid an all out civil war.

Co-opting social change

This strategy has been to create professions drawn from the groups of people demanding change of the system, creating an atmosphere of “progress,” where hope is kindled, and needs for change are made legitimate, without producing the systematic change which would actually eliminate the injustice or inequality which caused the organizing in the first place. This process separates people in leadership from their communities by offering them jobs providing services to their communities and steering their interests towards the governmental and non- profit bureaucracies that employ them. This process has the effect of creating new groups of professionals providing social services without necessarily producing greater social justice or equality of opportunity.

One example of how this process works can be seen in the Civil Rights Movement, which was a grassroots struggle led by African Americans for full civil rights, for access to power and resources, and for the end of racial discrimination and racist violence. Although legalized segregation was dismantled as a result of those struggles, the broader racial and economic goals of the movement have largely remained unfulfilled. However we now have a larger African American middle class because some opportunities opened up in the buffer zone: in the government, in middle management and academic jobs, and in the non-profit sector.

The issue of racism is now “addressed” in our social institutions by a multiracial group of professionals who work as diversity or multicultural trainers, consultants, advisors, and educators. Although the ruling class is still almost exclusively white and most African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color remain at the bottom of the economic pyramid, there is the illusion that substantial change has occurred because we have a few very high profile wealthy people of color. Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and others are held up as examples to prove that any person of color can become rich and powerful if they work at it.

The Civil Rights Movement is not the only arena where this process has occurred. Another example is the battered women’s movement, the organizing by battered and formerly battered women for shelter, safety, resources, and an end to male violence. Again, some gains were made in identifying the issue, in improving the response of public institutions to incidents of male violence, and in increasing services to battered women. But systematic, large-scale efforts to mobilize battered women and end male violence have not been attempted. Instead, we have a network of (still largely inadequate) social services to attend to the immediate needs of battered women, and a new network of buffer zone jobs in shelters and advocacy organizations to administer to those needs.

In both of these examples we can see that the roots of racism and male violence are not being addressed. Instead we have new cadres of professionals who administer to the needs of those on the bottom of the pyramid. In fact, in both of these cases we now have more controlling elements—more police, security guards, immigration officials, etc. than ever before—whose role is to reinforce the racial hierarchy and reach into the family lives of poor and working class white people and people of color.

The Role of the Non-profit

A primary vehicle that the ruling class created to stabilize the buffer zone was the non-profit organization. The non-profit tax category was created to give substantial economic benefits to the ruling class while allowing them to fund services for themselves. Even today, most charitable, tax exempt giving from the ruling class goes to ruling class functions like museums, operas, art galleries, elite universities, private hospitals and family foundations. A second effect of the non -profit sector has been to provide a vehicle for the ruling class to fund (and therefore to control) work in the buffer zone. A large amount of the money donated to non-profits either comes from charitable foundations or from direct donations by members of the ruling class. Non-profits serving the 80% at the pyramid’s base often spend inordinate amounts of time writing proposals, designing programs to meet foundation guidelines, tracking and evaluating programs to satisfy foundations, or soliciting private donations through direct mail appeals, house parties, benefits, and other fundraising techniques. Much of the work of many non-profits is either developed or presented in such a way as to meet the guidelines and approval of people in or representing the ruling class. Within the last twenty years, due to the massive cutbacks in government support services and thus the greater dependence of non-profits on non-governmental funding, this process has been exacerbated.

The ruling class established non-profits to provide social services. Jobs were professionalized historically to co-opt social change. Funders today generally look for non-profit programming that fills gaps in the provision of services, extends outreach to underserved groups, and stresses collaborations which bring together several services providers to use money and other resources more efficiently. It should not be surprising that so much of the work of the buffer zone is social service—keeping hope alive by helping some people get ahead.

How does co-optation work?

The ruling class co-opts the leadership in our communities by providing jobs for some people and aligning their perceived self interest with maintaining the system (maintaining their jobs). Whether they are social welfare workers, police, domestic violence shelter workers, diversity consultants, therapists, or security guards, their jobs and status are dependent on their ability to keep the system functioning and to keep people functioning within the system no matter how illogical, dysfunctional, exploitive, and unjust the system is. The very existence of these jobs serves to convince people that tremendous inequalities of wealth are natural and inevitable and those that work hard will get ahead. As the following quote makes clear, integrating the leadership of our communities into the bureaucracies of the buffer zone separates the interests of those leaders from the needs of the community.

Co-optation is a process through which the policy orientations of leaders are influenced and their organizational activities channeled. It blends the leader’s interests with those of an external organization. In the process, ethnic leaders and their organizations become active in the state-run inter-organizational system; they become participants in the decision-making process as advisors or committee members. By becoming somewhat of an insider the co-opted leader is likely to identify with the organization and its objectives. The leader’s point of view is shaped through the personal ties formed with authorities and functionaries of the external organization.vi

Ruling class policies, including development of the non-profit sector and support for social services, have led to the cooptation of substantial numbers of well-intentioned people. In this group I include all of us whose heart work—whose intention—is to help people at the bottom of the pyramid, but who’s work, in practice, substantially benefits people at the top of the pyramid and leaves the system unchanged.

Getting Ahead or Getting Together

Getting ahead is the mantra of capitalism. Getting ahead is what we try to do in our lives. Getting ahead is what we urge our children to do. Getting ahead is how many of us define success. The United States is built on the myth that the deserving get ahead. Many people believe that it is the responsibility of our society to see to it that everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead. Many of our recent political struggles around civil rights, affirmative action, and the end of various forms of discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexuals, trans people, people with disabilities, women, people of color, and recent immigrants have become defined as struggles for equal opportunity for everyone to compete to get ahead.

But in a pyramid shaped economic system only a few can get ahead. Many are doomed to stay exactly where they are at the bottom of the pyramid, or even to fall behind. With so much wealth concentrated in the top of the pyramid there are not enough jobs, not enough housing, not enough health care, not enough money for education for most people to get ahead.

How does the system change? How do people gain access to money, jobs, education, housing, and other resources? Historically, change happens when people get together. In fact, we have a long history—thousands of examples—of people getting together for social change, some of which I mentioned earlier in the article. Each of these efforts involved people identifying common goals, figuring out how to work together and support each other, and coming up with strategies for forcing organizational and institutional change. When people get together they build community by establishing projects, organizations, friendships, connections, coalitions, alliances, and understanding of differences. They do not acquiesce to, but rather fight against the agenda of the ruling class. They are in a contentious relationship to power.vii

When we provide social services to help people get ahead we can also help them get together with others for social empowerment. People are dying and they need help. Providing services gives us contact with community members, gives us credibility and experience upon which we can build strategies for social change. I think the difference between getting ahead individually and getting together as a group can guide us in thinking about whether we are empowering people to work for social change at the same time as we are providing them with social services.

Do you help people come together?

Being accountable implies a cohesive or coherent community to be accountable to. Few such communities exist in our society and even fewer of us are connected to them. I believe that being accountable means nurturing and supporting the growth and stability of cohesive communities. Whether you are working with battered women, students, recent immigrants, or any other group, they are part of a community whether or not they perceive themselves to be. Are you strengthening that community, helping support the bonds between people? Do the battered women who leave your program understand themselves in connection/ relationship to other battered women and their allies? Do the students in your classroom see themselves as part of a community of learners and activists? Social change grows out of people understanding themselves to be interdependent, sharing common needs, goals, and interests. Are you helping people see they are not alone, their problems not unique, their struggles interrelated? Are you helping them come together for increased consciousness, resource sharing, and empowerment?

Who we are accountable to is a crucial concern in a contracting economy during conservative political times in which racial, sexual, and homophobic backlash is widespread. You may be discouraged about the possibility of doing effective political work in this context. You may be fearful of losing your jobs and livelihoods or lowering your standard of living. These are real concerns. But this is also a time of increasing and extensive organizing for social justice. It is an opportunity for many of us to realign ourselves clearly with those organizing efforts and reclaim the original vision of social justice, equality, and an end to the violence and exploitation which brought us into this work.

To download this resource as a .pdf, click here.

Charitable Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett    2013

I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society. In addition to making several large donations, he added generously to the three foundations that my parents had created years earlier, one for each of their children to run.

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.

Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex.

But now I think something even more damaging is going on.

Because of who my father is, I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.

Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.

Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.

My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.

Read the original article here.

Funding America’s Nonprofits: The Nonprofit Industrial Complex’s Hold on Social Justice

Jennifer Ceema Samimi  2010

People working for social justice today bear the burden of carrying on past social movements while working within the NPIC, a system that necessitates taking on managerial structures that force services and fundraising apart. Nonprofits in the US are rooted in origins of colonization and oppression. Social

justice focused community-based initiatives would be possible if funding sources did not compromise their mission. Broad, public dialogue regarding the nonprofit structure and the 501(c)(3) in particular, is lacking, and the priorities of philanthropy need to be questioned. Without prioritization of social justice, new leaders will be forced to take on the contradictions and dilemmas regarding how funding restricts organizational activities, how nonprofit governance relates to the working class people at the heart of the organization, and how hiring and promotion policies can result in individualistic competition (Tang, 2007).

The NPIC’s separation of social justice and social service provisions has silenced the people most directly affected by issues of injustice, and it privileges educated employees and board members of nonprofits. Constituents should be more than just the recipients of service delivery “products.” They should invest in the sustainability of the organization, not leaving funders to determine the organizational agenda. When nonprofits internalize the locus of control, they are less likely to participate in mission drift and are more accountable to their constituents. Diversified funding allows an organization to retain the autonomy necessary to maintain the control of the organization within the community, ensuring that avenues to work towards social justice remain open.

To download this resource as a .pdf, click here.

Ascending the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Part 2: Who Benefits?

Atlee McFellin

[Editor’s note: This is the second of a two part examination of  the relationship between The Democracy Collaborative and the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, OH.  The author, Atlee McFellin, was a consultant and then employee of The Democracy Collaborative from February, 2011 until Novemeber, 2012.  Part 1 focused on the problems experienced by the Cooperatives and argues that they were largely a result of failures of the “anchor institution model” of co-op development.  Part 2 looks more closely at the relationship between The Democracy Collaborative and the Evergreen Co-ops and raises questions about how worker co-ops and non-profit organizations doing co-op development interact and collaborate.   The Democracy Collaborative has not responded to requests for comment on this article as of the time of publication, however we continue to strongly encourage feedback and responses from any and all involved in this or similar projects.  While the views expressed below are those of the author, and not necessarily of the GEO collective, we do feel strongly that there is a need for an open and honest conversation about all facets of our movement; a conversation that welcomes transparency and critical analysis as a means of collective self-improvement.  We welcome all to participate in this conversation and encourage readers to make use of the comment section below.  Feedback can also be sent to editors@geo.coop]

In the first part of this essay, The Untold Story of the Evergreen Cooperatives, I discussed the difficulties Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives faced due to the actions of their anchor institution partners, and lack of belief in the capacity of worker-owners on the part of the leadership.  Yet another critical detriment to the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative was the role of its very creators, those repeatedly heralded for their work: The Democracy Collaborative (TDC). They, more than anyone else, converted Evergreen into a commodity to be marketed. For, much like one of the early CEOs of the laundry who split his time building another laundry co-op in Pittsburgh despite the failings of Evergreen’s own laundry business, The Democracy Collaborative quickly seized Evergreen’s publicity to build up their own organization, often times with funding that could have and should have gone to Evergreen itself.

The intention was always to use Evergreen to grow the annual revenue of the organization to over $5M by 2014 and $10M a few years thereafter.  As seen in a draft of TDC’s five year plan from May, 2011, Evergreen was the central piece of their strategy for growing the size of their budget. It was their claim to fame — and yet it was their desire to use Evergreen for their own financial ends that played the largest role in what became Evergreen’s near-terminal difficulties.

Let’s look back to the brief history of The Democracy Collaborative and see how they viewed Evergreen as well as to what extent we can reasonably say Evergreen helped their 501(c)3 grow. If we go back to 2006, the first year for which TDC’s IRS 990 could be found, we see an organization whose Executive Director was paid by the University of Maryland, and with total revenue for the year at a paltry sum of $158,237. That year they held their first two “community wealth building roundtables,” one in Scranton, PA and the other in Cleveland, OH. In 2007 things improved slightly as they began work in Cleveland crafting what they were then simply calling an “economic inclusion strategy.” Revenue improved that year to a sum of $259,430 which is a significant improvement from the year before, while the University of Maryland continued to pay the Executive Director’s salary, despite TDC’s work becoming increasingly distant from the university itself.

The Cleveland Foundation only contributed $50,000 to TDC in 2007, but it would increase that figure to $221,662 in 2008, which would help explain how TDC was able to increase its funding to $652,400 in that year. At this point, and with funding from the Cleveland Foundation, TDC was also able to pay its Executive Director for the first time, taking over the $150,000+ salary from the University of Maryland.

2009 and 2010 saw a slight decline in funding for TDC, down to $552,500 and $526,825 respectively. It’s interesting to note that in 2009 TDC referred to Evergreen in its IRS 990 forms as its “flagship project,” which is something to keep in mind, going forward. What’s also important to note is that in 2010, TDC’s Executive Director, Ted Howard, was appointed to a newly created position at the Cleveland Foundation called the Steven Mintner Fellow for Social Justice, because of his role designing Evergreen and the desire of the foundation for him to play a leading role in its growth.  What’s especially curious is that this new position came with annual compensation totaling $150,000+ yet that same year, and for the subsequent years of this fellowship (it ended in 2014), TDC also paid Howard a sizeable salary, which it justified by saying it was competitive for similarly sized organizations.

The Cleveland Foundation doesn’t list TDC as a grantee for the years 2010-2014, which likely means the $150,000 was paid directly to TDC’s Executive Director. Though it is no doubt curious that on top of the salary from the Cleveland Foundation, TDC’s Executive Director received anywhere from $154,143 in 2010 to $192,929 in 2014, what’s more interesting is what this individual’s role actually looked like during those year. From the Cleveland Foundation’s initial press release:

Among Howard’s specific responsibilities as the Steven A. Minter Fellow will be:

● Structuring the cooperatives’ business network for long-term sustainability and expansion

● Attracting additional funding and other resources for the cooperatives

● Promoting the Evergreen model in other areas of the country

● Helping to develop state and national policies that support community wealth-building

● Designing a five-year study to measure the impact of the Evergreen Cooperatives strategy

We know that the first of those responsibilities didn’t go so well, and it is the combination of the first and second one together that is of particular salience. While the Evergreen Cooperatives were struggling, including when its worker-owners were being turned away by the predatory check cashers [see part one -ed.], TDC’s coffers were growing considerably under the direction of its Executive Director, the same person who was the Steven Mintner Fellow. It was a busy time.

From the paltry sum of $158,237 in 2006 to what had grown to annual revenue of $526,825 in 2010, the first year of his role as Steven Mintner Fellow, TDC’s Executive Director grew the organization’s annual revenue to $782,330 in 2011, $1,164,186 in 2012, $2,345,801 in 2013, and then it drops down to $712,966 in 2014, his final year as Fellow at the Cleveland Foundation. That same year TDC’s IRS 990 form does not mention Evergreen at all.

How does one explain the rapid rise of the organization’s revenue other than they had a “flagship project,” which they used to make the case to foundations and others in order to generate that increase in funding? This is not to say that the Fellow/Executive Director didn’t push some funding Evergreen’s way, but that was limited to investments from high net-worth individuals who were essentially loaning money to the first two co-ops as working capital. This was at the same point when worker-owners couldn’t even cash their checks, so the working capital infusions were direly necessary and often times came too late.

They…converted Evergreen into a commodity to be marketed

Atlee McFellin (2017). Ascending the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). http://geo.coop/story/ascending-non-profit-industrial-complex

Dignity as an afterthought inside the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

Posted by Tyrone Miller | Feb 27, 2017

Last year, I quit my job at a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee. I was completely disappointed, disillusioned, and upset. I was ready to write off the whole system.

Ever since then, I have been trying to come to terms with the absolute nonsense I saw. So I started researching what many people refer to as the ‘Nonprofit Industrial Complex,’ which included talking to 40 people about their experiences working in nonprofits of different types and sizes. During that time, it became clear that I was not alone in the way I felt, and that all of the things I experienced are common. Disturbingly common.

I left the corporate world early in my career because of the greed and corruption and moved into nonprofits naively thinking it would be different. Doing ‘Good’ work meant that everyone was good, so I thought. Unfortunately, in some cases, nonprofits can be even worse for two main reasons: the lack of institutional oversight and the habit of using nonprofits as a poor substitute for the long-term change our communities need.


It is my privilege to work with those asking for help. And I believe that when a person is in a position to serve others, it is our responsibility to make their dignity the main priority. The poor, the disenfranchised, the ones most in need, often they can not refuse help, even in undignified situations, because it could literally mean life or death. It is the duty of those who serve to keep that dignity intact. The sad truth is, in the nonprofit world, dignity is often an afterthought and accountability for it and basically everything else is totally inadequate.

I have seen it firsthand. Youth of color asked to perform songs and dance for mostly old white funders to help raise money that they will never see or benefit from is not dignity. Referring to people nonprofits serve as the ‘product’ to be offered to corporations for profit is not dignity. Tens of thousands of dollars meant for service thrown in the trash because of mismanagement and/or corruption is not dignity. Silencing employees who ask for fair pay and financial transparency is not dignity And ignoring concerns raised about dignity is not dignity.

This is what bothered me the most about my experience in nonprofits. I am still not over it, and never will be. I have seen some attempts to make progress, especially recently, but I feel the root causes still do not get addressed.


When people see a need in their community, it compels them to get involved, and the nonprofit sector is a typical starting point. For many, it is more fulfilling than a standard 9-to-5 job where profits, not people, are seemingly the main focus. There are a lot of people who do hard work under terrible circumstances because of that. Anyone who has worked in nonprofits have seen other employees burn themselves out working long hours, under high pressure, and for little pay. But for many, their belief in the work drives them to push past any obstacles, including serious moral concerns. It is not just employees who turn a blind eye to these and other problems, it is everybody in the system.

On the rare occasions when people do call out ethical issues, they are often swept under the rug. There is usually someone around to remind everyone, ‘a hit to our reputation could mean losing donations and our ability to continue the work.’ Ego also comes into play more than I ever expected from supposedly altruistic personalities. Some nonprofit leaders revel in the status and notoriety their work in the community grants them, and will take drastic measures to hold onto that position.

If we cannot even talk about these problems openly, how do we expect to change this system? Containing absurdity becomes the norm, and poverty panderer continues as standard procedure.


One of the first things I wanted to better understand after I left the industry was nonprofit accountability and oversight.

Upon request, nonprofits are required to provide copies of their three most recently filed annual returns (IRS Form 990) and the organization’s application for tax-exemption. There are tons of laws they must follow, but that is it for transparency. Everything else is just ‘suggested, but not required’ for organizations funded by public money, serving vulnerable people in our community.

Some of the things that are rarely even suggested, and definitely not required are detailed financial information made available to the public, reviews of expenditures and travel policies, conflict of interest policies, financial management polices, executive compensation policies and routine audits. And checks to make sure the people served are being treated with dignity and respect, my initial complaint.

Most people who start a nonprofit are just regular people who see a need and want to help. Understandably, they might not have all the needed skills to run an organization. They might hire people who do or gain them over time. There is honor in that. If someone wants to feed a hungry person or offer free tutoring right now, they should not be forced to get a degree or some expensive certification. We have great people in our communities with real world experience, who give their blood, sweat, and tears every single day. These people should be the ones on the front lines.

There is ‘mission drift’ where organizations change their mission and focus according to funding trends. It is also common for orgs to judge themselves on self-created metrics, making them become their own judge and jury. Organizations that get funding per student leads to incentives based on quantity not quality, and the people they serve not having a voice or real power in determining how the org treats them and their peers. All of this pushes the concerns and needs of people they intend to serve lower and lower on the priority list..

If the average member of the community hears a ‘nice’ story about people in need and someone helping them, it is normal to want to believe in that. People may not have the time or a reason to verify anything an organization says before donating, volunteering, or supporting it. Individuals may also rely on the co-sign of established funders, Board members with big names, and loyal employees. It makes sense that if all these people say it is good, it must be. But no, it is not.

If the public found out the reality of what happens behind the scenes at some orgs, then they may justifiably lose faith. As a community, we get treated like kids who have parents that are too scared to tell them Santa does not exist. No one is willing to risk upsetting anyone or calling anyone out to be accountable. To some people, the feeling of a false peace is more important than needed conflict and painful growth, even if that comes at the expense of dignity.


Another big question I had to confront was, ‘Who really benefits from this current system, from the way things are?’

Think about all the people who have life-long careers that hinge on the endless suffering of poor and disenfranchised people. It is sickening. I was watching the documentary Poverty Inc. and was repulsed by a person interviewed who had no shame talking about how working for NGOs made him very wealthy, as he sat in the backyard of his English castle. That is the definition of a professional poverty pimp.

In his book Decoded, Jay-Z wrote, “To some degree, charity is a racket in a capitalist system, a way of making our obligations to each other optional, and of keeping poor people feeling a sense of indebtedness to the rich, even if the rich spend every other day exploiting those same people.”

That answers my initial question of who benefits. There is no real incentive for those in power to change their approach. In the meantime, we happily accept the scraps we are given.


According to Wisconsin Nonprofit Association, “Government continues to rely on nonprofits to perform a number of key functions in our communities” and “Nonprofit organizations are key community players frequently called upon to address critical community needs.” Why is that?

Besides emergency services and those looking to cure new diseases, many of these nonprofits could and should be temporary, not staples in the community. In a perfect world, most of them would go away over time because the issues they were meant to help solve would be solved. An obvious example is the American Cancer Society shutting down because we find a cure for cancer. I want to put them all out of jobs, including myself, which would be a good thing.


I am not making a case to shut down every nonprofit right now or create some watchdog organization.

These are some of the things I will need to know from any nonprofit I deal with in any capacity in the future. They are asked from different perspectives.

How will my donation be used? Please explain in detail.
What percentage of your budget goes directly to support your mission?
What are the salaries here and what is the ratio of staff salaries to the overall budget?
Is detailed financial information updated annually and available publicly for review?
Is this org independently audited to determine if money is spent appropriately? If so, are the results available for the community to see?
What is your relationship to your employees and your Board of Directors?
Who are your funders and where does their money come from? How are they personally involved in this community?
How often have you changed your mission statement and why?
Are the people you serve ever asked to perform in front of funders?
Do you have reports available regarding how dignified the people you served felt?
Were these reports done internally or by an outside service?
Do you have standards and limits on using people you serve in promotional material?
What is the long term strategy to end the need for this nonprofit?
Is there another organization doing similar work, and can you partner or merge with to have a larger impact?
If I work in nonprofits, how and when can I fire myself and shut this place down because it is no longer needed?

Read the full article here.


Withheld Education

This page is for the studies that we need, but are denied, in our primary and secondary education.

For example: From a very early age we are exposed to commercials, many of which show people playing the roles of doctors and other authorities, who may frighten us into thinking we need things – including drugs, fear and mistrust in others.  Many studies have demonstrated our willingness to unquestioningly obey authorities, including the studies conducted by  Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo.

YET we are denied the opportunity to learn about ourselves: specifically becoming a strong, caring and smart person in society.  Our public schools fail to provide the tools and knowledge that we need, obviously from a very early age, to defend ourselves from these constant psychological assaults.  (The average time spent watching TV is now  5 hours per day. This does not count the time we are exposed to other media that also contains similar advertisements both still and animated.)

This is just one among hundreds of topics that we allow our education systems to deny our children the opportunity to study with other children. The very topics that would BEST lead to living together in an engaged and purposeful democracy are precisely the ones that the Common Core refuses to explore.  All we need to do is to read the paper or turn on the TV news to see where this approach to education is getting us….

This page will provide links and ideas thank link us to places where we can take a deeper look at ourselves to create better relationships and mental, physical and social health.


The School of Life is a global organization dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. We apply psychology, philosophy, and culture to everyday life, addressing the questions we’re never taught enough about at regular school or college: How can relationships go well? What is meaningful work? How can love last? How can one find calm? What has gone wrong (and right) with capitalism? We love the humanities, especially philosophy, psychotherapy, literature and art – always going to them in search of ideas that are thought-provoking, useful and consoling.




It’s called The Book of Life because it’s about the most substantial things in your life: your relationships, your income, your career, your anxieties.  The Book of Life is being written by many people over a long time; it keeps changing and evolving. It is filled with images and films as well as texts. By floating online, it can grow a bit every day or so, as new things come along and it can be equally accessible all around the world at anytime for free.


Empowerment Emporium


This is where the RWC will sell products and donate 100% of profits to Fair Shake

Page vibe will be:

Encourage, Increase, Improve, Foster, BUILD our society to reflect what we aspire to be ~

Fairly clean and oomphy stuff:

Sweet Forest Beverage Sweetener
2 oz $6 each or 2 for $10
4 oz. $10 each
8 oz $18 each
16 oz $32 each

Spicy, Strong Chai – made with organic and fair trade ingredients  4 oz for $10

Coffee: Dean’s Beans Fair Trade organic coffees  1 lb – $14   Swiss water decaf  – $15

Sweet Forest Lip Balm  (image coming soon)     $3 each or 4 for $10
Avocado Oil and Beeswax (no flavor added)


Large: $3 each or 4 for $10
Small: $1 each or 6 for $5

Please BE CIVIL sticker
Large: $3 each or 4 for $10
Small: $1 each or 6 for $5

Mix large sizes for discount or small sizes for discount.


Sue’s Amazing Lip Stuff    $3 each or 4 for $10
Peppermint only

Hand Cake  $5 eachLemon-mint only

Coming Soon:

JOYFUL NOISE Greeting Cards



Lectures, interviews, conversations and more


Jonathan Haidt

Bill Moyers and Company: Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture  

Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence



Kwame Anthony Appiah

Identity as a choice (Part 1/2)   (Part 2 follows)

Is Religion Good or Bad? (This is a trick question)


Cathy O’Neil

Weapons of Math Destruction – short Personal Democracy Forum 2015

Weapons of Math Destruction – long, with New America (and includes debate)


Martha Nussbaum

From Examined Life: Martha Nussbaum

Measuring Quality of Life


Cornel West

From Examined Life: Cornell West

Cornel West and Chris Hedges

Sheldon Wolin

Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin: Can Democracy and Capitalism Exist?

Sheldon Wolin on Corporate Influence on Democracy


Damon Horowitz  –  TED Talks

Philosophy in Prison

We Need a Moral Operating System


Alain de Botton

Atheism 2.0

What Great Philosophers Can Teach Us About How to Live


Jason Riley

Jason Riley on Being Disinvited from Virginia Tech

Black Americans Failed by Good Intentions: An Interview with Jason Riley

Arthur Sakamoto  (both are audio)

Heterodox Interview (audio) Paradigms in Sociology

Arthur Sakamoto on Conventional Wisdom about Asian Americans: Half Hour of Heterodoxy #25