May Day is a social justice holiday where social justice organizations and unions celebrate a powerful moment in the history of white workers. While Haymarket Square represents a moment when white workers rose up against their oppressors and started the movement that brought us 40 Hour work week and the weekends, Black and Brown workers have always had to struggle generations behind these victories. The union movement in the US built worker power, but conveniently forgot about Black and Brown workers, and then spent generations doing everything they could to keep them back.
In 2021, workers are in as bad a position as ever and it’s hard to find good work. When people are desperate for any kind of work period, let alone meaningful work in the community, they will do almost anything to keep positions at organizations like PUSH Buffalo.
Does PUSH Buffalo even care about its workers and by extension the community the workers are from and working for?
PUSH Buffalo was founded by people who claim to believe in the power and dignity of workers and on their website they say:
“When turning our neighborhoods around, we are all in this together.”
“We deserve a seat at the table.”
“Real people have real power.”
“We know what we want where we live.”
“Member Involvement – We base our decisions on member participation and consideration of alternatives.”
“Inclusiveness – We encourage a diversity of opinions.”
“Justice – We are committed to promoting social justice that gives real power to real people.”
Why have over 80 employees been fired or run out of the organization?
Why are employees with who are critical of the organization been paid off and coerced into signing away their voice?
Why are workers fired for asking questions about money, transparency, and how they are treated at the workplace?
Why are employees forced to lie about what they do to protect the image and money of the organization?
If you talk to anyone who has ever worked at PUSH Buffalo, they will tell you about the toxic culture that has evolved over the years. The intimidation and tactics that have been using for years to put down workers are on full display at PUSH. Workers are punished for bringing up any issue they have with what they are being asked to do. Management rewards those who bring in money and do the work of the corporation while intimidating and manipulating anyone who stands up for the community and other workers in the organization.
The social justice framework and tools of community organizing are weaponized against staff and leaders to create “safe spaces” that encourage vulnerability. PUSH employees end up snitching on themselves and are told they are hurting the community when pushing back against the organization’s agenda. Their offices are filled with the newest and most radical books about Transformative and Restorative Justice, but when it comes time to own the harm they have done, they transform into the coercive capitalists who profit from saying they’re not.
PUSH talks about the vision of a collection of cooperatives run by workers and the community in harmony. Every effort to unionize, cooperatize, or even just cooperate among PUSH employees has been shut down. The reality is that PUSH is a collection of fronts raising money to keep the image alive using pictures of brief moments when it actually worked to sell the funding world, social justice community, and white Buffalo that the vision is the reality.
The POWER of PUSH Buffalo’s image keeps anyone who wants to continue to work in the nonprofit or political spaces real quiet. Those who speak up go back to whatever job, hustle, or survival tactic that they used to make it by before they got to PUSH. Some find other work but don’t speak out because of the retaliation they will face. Some are blackballed from other jobs and opportunities. Some who came in with more privilege move on to work for the county, state, funders, and other organizations.
People talk quietly because they know that D-Bo is on the nonprofit block, but PUSH has left so many with nothing left to lose.
Despite what unions and social justice organizations might say, the workers of the world, and the nonprofit world specifically, are struggling and stuck in a lie. Today, May Day, is a day to reflect on how much we are all still trapped in the illusion of freedom.
Is PUSH Buffalo’s image worth the cost to workers and community members?