A Note from Leah and Ezra on a New Funder

Indivisible is first and foremost accountable to the Indivisible group leaders and members across the country, so we wanted to be transparent about this: in October we’re moving forward on our first-ever grant from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), from the arm of the organization that makes 501(c)4 grants for advocacy. This grant will account for a little less than 5% of our fundraising this year.

We know that some members of the Indivisible family have experienced smears about how their activism isn’t real because they’re “paid protestors” sent by George Soros (who founded OSF). These attacks, while fundamentally ridiculous, can be personally hurtful, scary, and damaging. Ezra and I know, because our team has experienced it too.

Our organizing team has also been talking to group leaders about this funding over the last month (with mostly positive feedback), so this won’t be news to many of you. But for those we weren’t able to talk with personally before, we want to be transparent about this funding and why we made this decision.  

Here’s the short version: As far as we’re concerned, the “Soros paid protester” attack is part of a broader effort to weaken democracy and discredit activism. It’s an attack that’s being launched not just by conservatives, but directly by Putin, and it’s got clear anti-Semitic overtones. We’re not going to let fear of these smears dictate Indivisible’s decisions.

This is about standing up in the face of alt-right scare tactics and confronting hate directly. This feels to us like the truest expression of Indivisible values. For those reasons, we’re downright proud to take the grant, and we’re looking forward to using it to support new efforts on behalf of this extraordinary movement.

Some background on how Indivisible is funded. Back in May, we published an IndivisiBlog explaining Indivisible’s fundraising philosophy. Short version: our single largest source of funding is small donations. We don’t take money from corporations or political leaders, but we will happily take bigger checks or foundation grants assuming they make up less than 20% of our budget and don’t constrain our actions.

This is an important choice—it means we have to turn down some funding, but it ensures that we stay strategically independent and responsive to the Indivisibles rather than to any individual donor.

That was true back in May and it’s true now. We’ve received more than 50,000 individual donations averaging less than 40 bucks from every state in the country. This is what fuels us, and we plan to keep it that way.

Early astroturf smears against the resistance. But from the very beginning of Indivisible—even before there was an organization—we have dealt with smears from the right-wing and alt-right about how we’re “astroturf” and “paid protestors.” At the beginning of the Administration, a lot of conservatives decided to claim that the wave of resistance to Trump was somehow fake. Not just Indivisible, but the airport protests, the Women’s March, and just about every form of resistance. They argued that people weren’t outraged—folks were just being paid to do all this stuff! And they repeatedly attributed the shadowy source of funding to one person: George Soros.

Why the right-wing obsession with Soros? Soros survived the Holocaust hiding from the Nazis as a child in Hungary and has since donated a ton to supporting human rights, democracy and justice  around the world. His philanthropy, the Open Society Foundations, has supported groups like Amnesty International, the ACLU, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, and more. It has also supported democracy movements in dictatorships around the world, including groups fighting for free elections, independent media, and LGBT rights in Russia—which has made him a major enemy of Vladimir Putin.

Putin is not alone. He’s joined by domestic white supremacists like former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke who have long sought to paint Soros as a shadowy puppetmaster responsible for orchestrating political events in America and around the world. And while the claims are transparently ridiculous, the intent is deeply sinister for two reasons:

  • Attacks on funders of civil society are a big warning sign of authoritarianism—straight out of the Putin playbook. When you look at countries around the world that have descended into dictatorship, they often start by cracking down on funders who support human rights organizations, democracy activists, or advocates for marginalized people. This is exactly what Putin did in Russia, where OSF was declared an “undesirable organization” and anyone who cooperated with them was threatened with imprisonment. In the U.S., Putin’s army of trolls and bots amplify these false accusations with help from the alt-right.
  • Attacks on Soros are part of a long history of anti-Semitic allegations. One of the core premises of anti-Semitism is the idea that powerful Jewish interests are orchestrating world events behind the scenes and fomenting global unrest. And it’s not a very subtle undercurrent. Breitbart, Infowars, and similar publications have repeatedly referred to Soros using anti-Semitic language pulled straight from original Nazi propaganda—referring to him as an octopus or puppet master. Given that Grand Wizard Duke also regularly uses vivid anti-Semitic imagery to attack Soros, we weren’t so surprised that he was aghast to see a Jewish couple named “Ezra Levin” and “Leah Greenberg” were behind Indivisible. See example tweets below.

 

White supremacists rely on these conspiracy theories to undermine struggles for justice. There’s a long history of using these kinds of attacks to delegitimize the leadership of people like civil rights and movement leaders in service of efforts to propagate white supremacy. And there’s also a history of using these attacks to escape responsibility for the horrors that white supremacy inflicts. We saw this in August, when white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville to protect Confederate monuments and terrorize communities of color. In the resulting terrorist attack, alt-right media groups claimed that the murder of protester Heather Heyer was in fact a “well-orchestrated plot by billionaire leftist George Soros”—a claim that has shockingly been echoed by some members of Congress.

These smears are absurd and disgusting. But they’re not new and they’re clearly not unique to Indivisible—they’re part of a long campaign to undermine progressive, pro-democracy work and delegitimize activists.

It’s no surprise to us that the same people attacking communities of color and holding automatic rifles outside a synagogue in Charlottesville are obsessively smearing a Jewish philanthropist who funds pro-democracy work. We can’t change that. But we can refuse to let the dregs of humanity dictate Indivisible’s strategy.

Getting offered an OSF grant. As dark as it is, the whole Soros thing has become something of a running joke in Indivisible and the broader resistance. Indivisibles go to protests with shirts that say “Unpaid Protestor” or signs that say “Hey George, where’s my check?” It’s funny because the idea that any individual could be responsible for the waves of resistance sweeping the country is just ridiculous. Anybody who has been to an Indivisible rally knows how vibrant, real, and truly democratic this movement is.

For the Indivisible organization, it’s also been darkly funny because Indivisible hadn’t received a dime from OSF or Soros. The right-wing reporting has been totally fabricated.

And then another funny thing happened. Ezra was speaking at a public conference, and an OSF staffer who was in the crowd came up to him afterwards and joked “Hey, I just wanted to introduce myself since apparently we’re funding everything you’re doing.” So if any right-wing crank is reading this: thanks for making this connection possible.

When OSF told us that they’d like to support Indivisible’s work with a modest general operating grant (totaling about 5% of our fundraising this year), we were faced with two options.

  1. Decline the grant.
  2. Accept it publicly.

We considered both of these seriously. Here’s how we thought about these options:

Thinking about declining the grant.  The grant was totally line with our fundraising principles—it was from a progressive foundation and it would cover less than 5% of our budget for the year. But at the same time, we were really worried about causing problems for local Indivisibles. We knew folks had concerns that they’d find themselves under attack by right-wing forces in their own communities. Of course, the alt-right white supremacists would continue to lie about Soros supporting us either way; but they would no doubt seize on this grant as “proof” that Indivisible was masterminded by Soros.

But as we discussed the grant, it quickly became about more than the money. Declining felt wrong. We were honest with ourselves: If we turned it down, we’d be doing it because we were afraid of the right-wing lie machine. We’d be declining to confront the right-wing while simultaneously validating their anti-Semitic smear tactics. It felt like we’d be playing into their hands. It felt like a betrayal of our principles.

Taking the grant publicly. So we’ve now decided to move forward and accept the grant proudly, and explain why. This felt like the truest expression of Indivisible’s values. We don’t give in to smear tactics, and we don’t hide who we are from the Indivisibles across the country.

If this were an obvious, slam-dunk decision though, we wouldn’t have had to write a long IndivisiBlog explaining our thinking. Even baseless smears can still do a lot of damage to the local, amazing efforts of organizers around the country. Unfortunately, we expect these baseless accusations to continue. We can’t control their behavior, but we can control how we respond. And our team is here to help if you’re dealing with problems—reach out to your local organizer or email field@indivisible.org if you’re not sure who that is.

So let’s keep talking. We take seriously the concerns that Indivisibles may have. If this doesn’t sit well with you, well then let’s talk about that. But staying silent means ceding the conversation, and we just can’t afford to do that.

If you’re supportive, disappointed, or just have questions, please submit your comments here. Honestly, please let us know. We really truly welcome your feedback. This crazy countrywide effort is only possible because we’re accountable to you.

We hope Indivisibles recognize this doesn’t change anything about Indivisible the organization or the movement. We hope you keep wearing shirts saying “Unpaid Protestor” and keep making fun of the idea that “George” sends them checks. Because that’s who you are. That’s who we are. We stand with each other, we don’t back down, and we have fun doing it. We’re going to keep building this movement, but we can only do that together. Keep standing indivisible with us, and we’ll keep standing with you.

In solidarity,
Leah and Ezra
Co-Executive Directors, Indivisible

PS: What do we do with the money we raise? Well that’s easy. All donations we receive go to producing the things Indivisibles are asking for, including but not limited to:

  • Rapid political analysis and advocacy materials, such as policy explainers and call scripts
  • Regional organizers, who cover between 2-7 states each and are there to help work with individual group leaders to support their efforts
  • Training resources, including webinars, written guides and resources, and forthcoming regional training institutes
  • Advocacy tools like our blue-state / red state calling tools

Upcoming investments in the field. The funding that we’ve received in the past few months from many sources is allowing us to roll out a bunch more goodies this fall in response to what you asked for during our Listening Tour including: guidance on inter and intra-group leadership structures and decision making processes; trainings and webinars on inclusivity, anti-oppression, canvassing, and phone banking; mechanisms for legal and fundraising support so groups can get spaces and permits, plus raise funds they need; and access to key electoral tools like the voter file, peer-to-peer texting tools, and a mobile app for taking action. Stay tuned for these exciting new resources!