The earliest roots of the Funding Exchange date back to the early 1970s, when a group of young activists—heirs to the financial fortunes generated by the Pillsbury, Sunbeam Bread, and DuPont corporations—created a half-dozen “alternative” foundations whose grant-making programs served as conduits for “donor-advised” contributions earmarked for specific left-wing recipients. These six entities were the Bread & Roses Community Fund, the Haymarket People’s Fund, the Liberty Hill Foundation, the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, the North Star Fund, and the Vanguard Public Foundation.
In 1979 these same foundations formed an alliance known as the Funding Exchange (FEX), to consolidate their growing resources and jointly advance an "alternative philanthropy" movement designed to counter America's allegedly rampant homophobia, racism, misogyny, economic injustice, and environmental degradation. Toward that end, the Exchange awarded a multitude of grants to organizations promoting lesbian and gay civil rights, living-wage campaigns, “environmental justice,” and all manner of “progressive social change.”
Over the ensuing three decades, FEX grew into a coalition of 16 publicly supported “social-justice” foundations that professed a commitment to “Change, not Charity” and gave away millions of dollars annually. As of late 2012, FEX's member foundations included five of the six original members (all except Vanguard), as well as the Appalachian Community Fund, the Chinook Fund, the Crossroads Fund, the Foundation for Change, the Fund for Idaho, the Fund for Santa Barbara, the Fund for Southern Communities, the Hawai’i People’s Fund, the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, the Three Rivers Community Foundation, and the Wisconsin Community Fund.
According to the Capital Research Center (CRC), because FEX members viewed "America's wealth" as "the product of exploitation and the abuse of privilege," they strove to promote "structural economic change" to what they considered an inherently unjust and exploitative capitalist system. Toward that end, said CRC, the Funding Exchange tried to "locate the most radical community programs and projects across America and link them to wealthy donors, thereby leveraging private wealth to achieve egalitarian and collectivist political and social goals." In 2012, FEX's key grantees included the following:
* The Fort Hood Support Network promotes “healing and transformative organizing” among U.S. soldiers, who, it claims, suffer high rates of addiction and suicide and are particularly prone to violence.
* The Seattle Young People’s Project complains that "society ... does not address [the] root causes" of young people quitting school and engaging in gang violence. It especially condemns the "School-to-Prison Pipeline" of policies and practices that routinely "push" nonwhite minorities "out of the school system and into the criminal [justice] system."
* Gender Justice LA seeks to “elevate the collective power of the Los Angeles transgender community” and eliminate the “gender-based oppression” that manifests itself in such forms as “harassment and targeting of transgender and People of Color communities by police.”
* The Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center, aiming “to build … a more fair criminal-justice system,” defends “the human rights of those detained against their will by the United States government and its agents.” This includes “people in state and federal prisons, jails, immigration detention, civil commitment, American Indian Jails, juvenile and military prisons among others.”
* The University sin Fronteras (San Antonio, Texas) is an offshoot of the Southwest Workers Union, which organizes for “environmental and climate justice, low-income worker and migrant organizing ... and youth organizing and leadership development.”
* The Urban EpiCenter (also in Tennessee) is an African-American-led grassroots organization that embraces "a radical vision of democracy" and promotes raw identity politics. Working especially on behalf of “economically disadvantaged communities,” this group seeks to ensure living-wage jobs and healthcare for the poor; opposes racial profiling under any and all circumstances; and seeks to reform “punitive school discipline policies that push young men of color … out of public schools and into the juvenile prison system.”
* Pan Left Productions (Tucson, Arizona) is a collective of progressive artists and activists who believe in “the positive use of media for social and environmental justice and social change.”
* Arizona's Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice seeks to “develop and educate leaders and community members [to] proactively address ... anti-immigrant and anti-worker legislation”—most notably SB-1070, a state law designed to curb illegal immigration.
On December 10, 2012, FEX announced that due to declining revenues, it had decided to cease all its programmatic operations immediately. The Exchange's 16 member foundations, however, continued to function as independent philanthropic organizations.
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