Halloween continues to come early for more people working or living in Buffalo’s non-profit industrial complex! More reader horror stories!
We are so grateful for reader feedback because it reminds us why we are speaking up and that we are not alone. So many workers, community members, and volunteers have been harmed by PUSH Buffalo, and we know that it happens at so many other organizations in Buffalo’s nonprofit industrial complex and beyond, too. This past week, we received this message from a reader:
“I am a white cis fat woman who comes from rural poverty. I’ve worked and lived in Buffalo for roughly 20 years. As a one-time donor to PUSH Buffalo, I receive mass emails with updates and/or appeals for support. In a recent email blast, and even more recently in the Buffalo News (BN), I have seen PUSH Buffalo claiming that former employees have been spreading “hateful lies” about the organization. Out of curiosity, I looked at PUSH’s facebook page, which led me to PULL Buffalo.
It is understandable for PUSH Buffalo execs to feel hurt and angry that their facebook page was hijacked for two days. But their response strikes me as out of sync with their stated values. PUSH’s public statements claim they want a restorative approach and to have “deeper conversations and not hide behind social media.” But really, couching their feelings in veiled threats of legal action and describing statements made by former employees as “hateful” is an utterly tone-deaf way to express a desire for healing or to restore any kind of civil relationship. If that is how you respond when someone is expressing pain, it seems 1) reasonable to expect said someone to “hide” and use anonymous means to express that pain, and 2) that you really don’t want to work on repairing anything other than the scuff on your boot that donors might see.
In restorative practices, the goal is to restore the sanctity of human relationships and work together to repair harm. Over the course of the past 10+ years, however, broader movements for healing, access, racial justice, and economic justice have turned toward a transformative justice approach. This approach aims to restore dignity and relationship, but with the distinct intent to transform patterns of inequitable conditions that led to the harm in the first place.
The actions to which PUSH has responded are indicators of deep pain and serious harm. On one hand PUSH claims to want healing, while on the other hand, their responses belie an abysmal misunderstanding of what it means to be restorative, let alone what it means to be transformative.
Buffalo’s social-justice scene has some seriously corrupt, harmful, and unjust taproots that run deep and have yet to fully unearth. Many non-profits serving oppressed people operate in silos, relating to other non-profits in ways that are divisive and alienating, battling for grant funding, when collaboration would better serve communities. WNY’s community organizing space is a small market and a viciously competitive one, which makes me worried that some organizations see PUSH as a role-model.
There have been many amazing, power-with type of folx at PUSH. Still, PUSH Buffalo has laid waste to powerful, dynamic, and radically-loving People of Color and people from poverty. This is not surprising though, because job-creators in Buffalo and Western New York tend to take a narrow and deeply classist view of what a successful, competent person looks like and comes from. And that view tends to be mostly informed by elitism, misogyny, and white-body supremacy, whether straight from the teet or internalized oppression.
Three non-profits share the commercial space that is the first floor of the building PUSH manages, home to their headquarters, the former Public School 77. As a former employee who worked for a different organization in PS-77, I bore witness to the culture of poverty-pimping. I also bore witness to the toxic attitudes and behaviors of leaders. In parts of that building, children of New Americans and Black and Brown families on Buffalo’s West Side learn a lot about how to internalize and enact whiteness. I was fired from that organization for asking too many times about missing pay; fired one day after receiving a roughly 90-minute performance review comprised of about 30 minutes of glowing praise on my actual performance (seriously, zero criticisms of my actual work) followed by an hour of wildly manipulative efforts to intimidate, guilt and gaslight me back in line. White saviors fired me in retaliation for my refusal to stop asking about missing pay and for raising questions about things like “Hey, why are all our volunteers white? Why aren’t we recruiting more People of Color/Culture to volunteer? Why isn’t that young woman, who is expected to be giving a literacy lesson right now, giving a literacy lesson? Also, again, why didn’t you pay me what you said you’d pay me?” Because their organization employed so few people, they were exempt from consequences by government agencies tasked with enforcing labor laws. PUSH Buffalo is responsible for this building and invited this organization to the space in PS-77.
PUSH’s Executive Director was on-point about one thing in her The Buffalo News
feature: the left surely does eat its own. Too many organizations in WNY that claim to be fighting for and/or funding equity & equality bump white people up the pay scale as a reward for devouring the lived experiences of Black and Brown people in this region and spitting them back out in the form of exploitative word-vomit we then use for our own gain.
Why does PUSH Buffalo, an organization claiming to value ownership, inclusiveness, justice, and “giving real power to real people,” respond to statements about the harm they are causing by denying that those statements have truth to them? That is gaslighting, which is abuse.”