New Orleans Some time ago there was an op-ed in the Times that caught my eye, even though it was coming at me from a weird and somewhat disturbing angle. Juan Zarate and Thomas Sanderson had written a piece on the challenge that national security interests face in dealing with terrorist and other radical change and sometimes violent groups because they have gotten more adept and creative at devising ways to fund their operations. Their ways and means are horrendous including kidnapping, drug running, and whatever, which we abhor, but sadly it makes points that we cannot ignore in tough economic times and unfriendly environments as we attempt to figure out ways to finance organizing that builds power and makes change on a larger scale.
Part of the point Zarate and Sanderson made involves what they call the “governance and charity model” popular in the Palestinian conflict. They could have made the same point though about scores of guerrilla efforts around the world as well as the “soft power” and occupation strategies being tried by the U.S. military in Afghanistan particularly and in Iraq while we were there.
In community and labor organizing a milder part of this debate, when it happens, focuses on the interplay of providing services as opposed to direct advocacy, action, and organizing. Throughout the history of ACORN and it’s organizing, both domestically and internationally, we have argued that you cannot separate the two, first because it is what the members demand, but of equal importance is the fact that it is easier to finance service activities than organizing, and, when welded together, they create fungible resources which is critical. So, yes, these are apples and orange’s comparisons, but these are still orchards that can see each other in the distance.
Here is their argument:
The metastasized, Qaeda-inspired terrorist movements have learned to raise millions of dollars locally, while the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have resurrected the terrorist funding networks of old. Terrorist funding is now both local and global. Donors and everyday citizens from the Persian Gulf and other sympathetic corners of the world, witnessing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, have been funneling money to the most effective forces fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad there, namely Qaeda-affiliated groups and ISIS. Smartly, these groups have realized they must match their brutal militancy with charitable services, akin to the governance and charity models of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. This makes it difficult to differentiate funding to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees from support for terrorism.
Of course these guys specialize on the backend. How to stop the networks once developed. Community and labor organizing though work the front end. If there are real vehicles for change that are allowed to operate freely and aggressively, and if they are also connected and legitimized, by being allowed and enabled to provide needed services and benefits that they are uniquely able to identify and deliver, then there might be more progress upstream as well before the mess and mayhem are out of hand.