Letters to the Editor

Week of October 30, 2002

If Peter Byrne really wanted to ask an important question about the movement's use of foundation money, he would have acknowledged that almost every social justice nonprofit uses foundation money and would not have preyed upon a youth organization to do it. At SOUL, we believe using foundation money to pay our staff, who are almost all people of color, and students, who are mostly poor, women, queer, and people of color, to learn about their communities is where "redistribution of wealth" starts. We cannot advocate for a world where everyone has health care, food, and education without giving that to the people we work with (including ourselves).

This irresponsible, factually incorrect article is a dangerous one. I would like to take the time to point out all of the factual inaccuracies in the article but it would take three pages of text to do it. Some of the most important inaccuracies are:

- The money that the Youth Empowerment Center gets (for all four youth organizations) equals approximately $800,000 and does not come from "score[s] of gold-plated, capitalist foundations."

- There is not tension in SOUL around funding; it is a tension in the work of all nonprofits working for social change. We have never compromised our work because of our funding.

- We do not have a hefty savings account. Rather, we have money earmarked for next year, which came in early (which we explained).

- We do not model our manual (or anything we do) after corporate presentations.

- SOUL does not hire ourselves out as consultants, and we don't only work with "left-leaning groups." SOUL does not teach groups how to incorporate as nonprofits and we don't teach people how to be capitalists.

It is telling that the New York Times' [sic] owned SF Weeklywould choose to print an article about a training center for young people and the community in West Oakland in such a backhanded and deceptive way. Peter Byrne, who calls himself a leftist, must have gotten confused when writing his article, thinking about his own corporate-sponsored salary. This irresponsible journalism is dangerous because it undermines the work of all nonprofits, leftists, and those engaged in social justice work. We demand the SF Weeklyprint an apology and retraction of all factually incorrect statements.

Neelam Pathikonda

Peter Byrne responds: The $1.4 million figure for SOUL's funding was for two years, 2000 and 2001; it came from SOUL's tax returns. SOUL tax records also show it has a $250,000 savings account; there is nothing wrong with saving money for a rainy day, and nothing incorrect about saying SOUL has a hefty savings account. Public records show that SOUL is not a separate legal entity, but a program of Youth Empowerment Center Inc., an umbrella group that distributes funds to SOUL and others.

We've all got to eat:I appreciate the discussion of the contradictions of taking "The System's" money in order to fund the fight against problems caused by such. I was looking forward to the article, written by Peter Byrne, a reporter I have much respect for.

What I don't appreciate is that "selling out" is implied as a foregone conclusion of such a process. The truth, as usual, is much more complicated than that, and the article doesn't even come close to addressing those issues.

The article also implies that SOUL will sell out, but doesn't provide any concrete examples that it already has. You mention the useful community work currently performed by SOUL activists but dwell on some point in the future where they may theoretically deliver "The Movement" to ruin.

The unfortunate truth is that operating an office, paying even modest salaries ($27,000 does not a poverty pimp make -- it is less than a first-year teacher in many counties), child care, and copies, costs money. I look forward to the day when we can build alternatives to the nonprofit model of activism, but unless you want a movement totally dominated by ultra-privileged, self-sufficient trust-fund babies, you have to fund-raise somewhere.

I haven't heard anyone telling the SF Weeklythat in order to provide balanced coverage, it must only accept advertising from "pure sources." Why? Reporters have to eat. So do your friendly neighborhood radical educators.

James Tracy

The sad truth: Wow. I was all ready to be impressed with SOUL as a cause for positive change, for all people working together. How disappointing to find it a shill for racism -- this time against whites. Guess it will never end.

Rachel Callaghan
Noe ValleyA place to learn:SOUL is "a study in contradiction"? Peter Byrne can't seem to twist his mind around a revolutionary organization, run mostly by women of color, which is actually (gasp) effective, powerful, and organized. The shock is such that he spends many pages desperately and pathetically looking for ways to bring SOUL down -- essentially going so far as to suggest that what seems like an amazingly effective organization (a rare thing on the left) needs to a) find ways to operate without money (because even money from progressive foundations is evil and tainted), b) stop being organized (because only corporations are organized), and c) lead the movement without staff or members ever earning any money (because revolutionaries should have trust funds).

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