Kalamazoo 4 Justice, ISAAC, and Hispanic American Council compete for crowd-sourced funds

On Nov. 12, Urban Democracy Feast (UDF) will have their next dinner and direct democracy opportunity. November's dinner will feature three applicants seeking your vote (and funds) for their projects. Kalamazoo 4 Justice (K4J), The Hispanic American Council, and ISAAC are seeking support to fund their various social justice-related projects.

Urban Democracy Feast takes place a couple of times a year. Attendees donate $10 at the door for dinner to receive a voting ballot (though no one is turned away and people may donate more if they wish). During the event, candidates have five minutes each to present their project to the attendees over dinner. Each project will walk away with funds, which are distributed based on the percentage of votes received during the dinner.

Five minutes isn't a lot of time to present a project, especially considering the core issues they must cover in that allotted time. Presentations are short for a couple of reasons. One is that organizers want ample time for attendees to ask questions of the presenters, and another is to allow past recipients to update attendees on how their acquired funds were used and the progress of their projects. 

I sat down with Feast organizers and next month's contenders at a planning meeting, where Santiago Valles, one of the Feast founders and lead organizers facilitated a discussion on successful pitches. He named five issues that need to be addressed during each presentation:

• A public policy that is an obstacle to the proposed project's efforts

• Evidence that supports the claim that a project is a shared concern in Kalamazoo

• Causes and context that explain the problem

• How a project will collaborate with other organizations to meet their goal

• Criteria and evidence that the organization will collect to demonstrate the impact of their intervention

Valles says that the Feast event isn't just about funding projects. "What you do," he says, "must be a learning exchange with attendees." Specifically, organizers hope that attendees and presenters, alike, will grow in their understanding of social justice, direct democracy, and accountability.  

Urban Democracy Feast's website calls these events a "face-to-face crowd funding process." They say that this kind of direct democracy (which essentially means community decision-making) is bigger than just throwing money at projects and problems. UDF wants applicants and attendees to take a critical look at the community's shared problems and common obstacles in order to collectively address ways to overcome them. Each project presented will prove that they are tackling problems and obstacles and offering sustainable solutions more than band-aid fixes.

The Contenders

Kalamazoo 4 Justice (K4J) formed in 2015 to act in solidarity with the national Black Lives Matter movement. The group advocates for people that are oppressed in Kalamazoo - predominantly people of color, and especially victims of police brutality. 

Annie Sprague presented K4J's project to the planning committee last week. She says, "One of our biggest barriers – pretty much the only barrier that we've had, I'd say, is in the expensive request for documents that could help us advocate for somebody." Sprague says that FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests have variable price tags that can swing upward of $300 for just a scrap of information. K4J's current investigation centers around James Dunigan, who died while in police custody earlier this year. K4J is seeking funds that will aid in the expenses associated with FOIA requests and obtaining documents for their advocacy efforts.

The Hispanic American Council is getting ready to present their initiative, which is called, "The Circle of Trust." According to Adrian Vazquez, "The goal of these groups is to share the strength, their stories, and the resourcefulness of community members." Vasquez says, "Our Hispanic community issues have not been spoken so much and we think that is because our community still has not shared their whole story; they have not been able to work on being a part of the story and make it their own."

Vasquez says that in addition to a space for sharing stories, the groups will encourage group members' support of one another, and act as a springboard for collaborating on issues with other organizations, like ISAAC and the NAACP. The Hispanic American Council is asking for funds to launch the Circle of Trust group.

ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community) discussed their project, "Future Leaders for Peace Program." Dr. Charlae Davis, ISAAC's representative, says that program was birthed out of the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, which held Bullying Round Tables for Kalamazoo County earlier this year that she says, went very well. 

"We had high numbers of parents and also students that came, and they not only learned how to facilitate a round table but they also learned how to engage in the dialogue about violence or about bullying in Kalamazoo County," says Davis. From those round-tables, ISAAC organizers say that parents and participants said they wanted to see more of that type of program. 

"When we're thinking about future leaders we want students not to feel as if they're silenced. Just as with any community organizing network, we want adults to understand that their voices have power, but we want youth and students to know that as well," says Davis. ISAAC is seeking funds to launch Future Leaders for Peace.

The UDF Feast will be held at 1st Congregational Church located at 345 W. Michigan Avenue. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $10, or in advance via the UDF website for $11. 

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website, kathivaleii.com.

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