America Can Be Changed, It Will Be Changed | FOTH 2024

Written by Megan Thomas

Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, said in 1939 that “Democracy is, for me, and 12 million black Americans, a goal towards which our nation is marching. It is a dream and an ideal in whose ultimate realization we have a deep and abiding faith.” These words, emblazoned on a wall in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, added an exclamation point to the conclusion of Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) this year.

Altogether, California was represented at FOTH by 19 foundation members and staff who attended 25 meetings. Our Philanthropy California delegations met with five of the six congressional representatives of Imperial and San Diego Counties, five representatives from Northern California, and eight from the Los Angeles region. We met with folks diverse in their constituency, from Congressman LaMalfa, representing the forested northernmost district, to Congressman Dr. Ruiz, representing the colonias at the southern border. We had conversations with the Department of Energy about ushering record funding into communities through no fewer than 27 grantmaking programs and legislators trying to reform the rules around access to disaster support. Department of Transportation colleagues spoke hopefully about working with philanthropy to develop capacity building and technical assistance resources. Every meeting we attended touched on how we can build strong, sustainable nonprofits and local governments.

As with so much of the work that Catalyst does, this trip was primarily about building relationships as a foundation for collaboration between government decision-makers and our members back at home. Underlying the exchange of information and business cards, we carried a commitment to move from discussion to action. Rather than leaving with the salutation “nice to meet you,” we said, “I’ll speak with you soon.” We have a new connection about the need for reliable rural broadband networks with Congressman Issa’s office. Follow-up is already being scheduled to collaborate on supporting small organizations to access block grant opportunities with the Department of Energy; the Yes in God’s Backyard model piloted by members of Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego struck a chord with Congressman Levin; our climate funders collaborative is primed as a partner with Congressman Vargas’ office to come together around the health impacts of the ongoing Tijuana River Valley pollution. And, we are bringing information about HR 4070 and HR 7070 back to speed up “money on the table” for residents adding climate technology to their homes and to help close the fire insurance gap for others.

While we can’t take credit for the spending bill that passed while we roamed the halls of Congress, there will be real actions and results following this trip. Hearing colleagues and foundation leaders share their stories of impact and the urgency for federal action on behalf of our residents reinforced the importance of seeing philanthropy as part of an ecosystem, as well as the imperative to recognize and wield the privilege that it brings. In a multi-racial democracy, there is no ‘arrival,’ but rather the constant, critical action of making known the vision of our region’s communities and striving to bring the voice of those least often and least loudly heard to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness and commitment.