New Orleans In trying to resituate organizing on more sustainable ground around the world, I don’t keep up with foundations and so-called philanthropy much anymore, except as an occasional curiosity a lot like people might watch unreality shows like “lives of the rich and famous.” Nonetheless the sudden announced departure of the well regarded Gara LaMarche and the likely repurposing of Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, his most recent employer, over the last week is a tree falling in the forest that could create a huge clear cut in the growth of the progressive forces at this critical crossroads.
During LaMarche’s term at Atlantic in recent years the foundation was fueling the immigration reform efforts for example to the tune of between $5 and $6 million per year, therefore bearing no small amount of the weight for the success and failure of that movement. In the 2008 election cycle Atlantic’s investments in voter engagement and civic participation were huge through a variety of vehicles allowing 501c4 activity. LaMarche’s farewell letter celebrates AP’s work in the healthcare reform effort as the domestic touchstone of accomplishment from his term, though arguably no one knows better than LaMarche how swallow that accomplishment is today, unless we double down now and over the next several years.
Certainly Atlantic is dedicated to a final payout strategy of all resources over the next five years and was always a brilliant moth flying towards the flame in philanthropy, but its role in the “here and now” of capacity building for these huge campaigns was inarguably dramatic regardless of its short lifespan. The sudden, unexpected departure of LaMarche raises huge fears that the redirection of Atlantic could leave progressive engagement, advocacy, and campaign efforts unprepared and outgunned even as these fights have moved into critical, defensive postures looking for opportunities to reassert.