This a copy of what I sent to PUSH Buffalo in lieu of my exit interview with names omitted:
I worked at People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo from April 2020 until July 16, 2021 operating as the Climate Justice Organizer. PUSH is a nonprofit that claims to be a social justice organization that believes in a Just Transition and the Jemez Principles. Here are some of the reasons why I left:
Lack of Training & Direction
When I was hired onto the Organizing Team at PUSH Buffalo, the Director of Organizing role was vacant, resulting in little guidance for my position. In the meantime the Deputy Director of PUSH, was the one guiding our work. When I was brought on I received no formal instruction on how to do my job, with a clear understanding I had no organizing experience when they brought me on. The interim Housing Justice Organizer, was kind enough to give me a presentation, Organizing 101, so I could understand more of what I should be doing besides watching Zoom meetings. My first work training, Midwest Academy, took place in January 2021 about 9 months into my position. [Name Removed] was hired as my direct supervisor, officially the Organizing Director, hired in March of 2021 just shy of my one year mark at PUSH. [Name Removed] off the bat got us into a Base Building Bootcamp.
Lack of Communication and Respect for Employees
Around June 2nd, only a few months into my time at PUSH, the Deputy Director who was acting as my direct supervisor, went on paternity leave. During his time out one of the founders, [Name Removed] as well as [Deputy Director of Administration] from finance, met with us weekly. The Organizing Team was to be the guinea pig for Participatory Budgeting at PUSH. I was told to make an excel spreadsheet sheet with everything I wanted to do for the year, along with estimated costs, and come up with a ballpark figure. When I went to finance for help with the ballpark figures I was told by [Name Removed] the staff accountant that “Organizing never knows what’s going on.” Again this was my first experience with a budgeting process and I was given no examples or clear deadlines. The only time I was able to get effective help from [Staff Accountant] was after [Finance Controller] joined us on a phone call.
The entire Organizing team was struggling through the budgeting process. The Organizing Team at the time consisted of myself as Climate Justice Organizer, [Name Removed] as the Street Team Manager, [Name Removed] as Data and Logistics Organizer (a title that was changed to coordinator without her consent), [Name Removed] as Tenant Advocate, [Name Removed] as Interim Housing Justice Organizer Part Time, and last but not least [Name Removed] as the head of the GSNC. [Deputy Director of Movement Building] returned near the end of the budgeting period. I ended up breaking down and leaving a Zoom meeting related to the budgeting process because I felt like I couldn’t meet standards because none were being given. I even emailed [Deputy Director of Movement Building] about how it was affecting me on July 17th 2020.
My suggestions would all be used for the next group. The Organizing Team felt like this process omitted a lot of what grants pay for what parts of our work, how much they are, which also would help us think on what work we should plan for. To this day I know money from Citizen Action and NY RENEWs pay for my salary, I’m not sure from where else or how much. Since they didn’t even teach us in depth about the budgeting process we were in the dark. One of the Organizing Team members asked to be at the board meeting where the final budget was presented and they were told no. We as a team had a conversation and came to an agreement. We would like to be able to see the final numbers being used for our work so we can better navigate what we do since we operate on a lot of specific grants. I remember the day we sent it because I had taken off, but logged into my email to cosign it with my team as we all agreed.
At some point I received some calls from senior management that I very anxiously declined. The following week we were supposed to report to School 77 for an Organizing Retreat. This retreat was canceled after close of business that day along with the Midwest Academy training we were originally supposed to receive in August of 2020 not January of 2021. Even the weekly one to ones we each had scheduled for that week with [Deputy Director of Movement Building] were canceled. When I was working again I talked to [Executive Director] on the phone and she asked why we would do something like that. The lack of information we were being given and solidarity was apparently not the right answer.
That week [Executive Director] joined us in our Admin meeting along with [Deputy Director of Administration]. We were working virtually and [Executive Director] demanded all cameras be on. She proceeded to talk at us despite [Executive Director]’s request for answers, [Deputy Director of Administration] stayed silent the entire meeting and then left when [Executive Director of Administration] left. Senior management was being short with us but not taking in why.
Following the email we sent we faced clear retaliation, [Data Logistics Organizer] was forced to resign after being locked out of the programs that are required to do her job. [Tenant Advocate] was fired after 15 years as well as being the first PUSH Employee. If anything, as PUSH is a community lead organization, [Tenant Advocate] needed more support as an elder that is so active in our community not less. [Interim Housing Justice Organizer] would go on to be passed over as the Full Time Housing Justice Organizer despite doing the work in a part time capacity and ultimately asked not to come back to PUSH over a text message sent illuminating distrust for [Name Removed], our Deputy Director.
As for me, the first time I ever interacted with [Executive Director] directly was my one to one with her when I was on boarded, the second when she called me to ask me what the board email was about, the 3rd time when she scolded us, and the 4th time she spent about 40 minutes in depth explaining to me how the budgeting process at PUSH works. Then towards the very end of the meeting, [Executive Director] was explaining to me that it’s an at will state, more specifically that she could fire me for the color of my shirt, then she laughed, and said that’s not really what PUSH does. It was clear to me that I was on the receiving end of a thinly veiled threat. There was also mention of how my title may change because not just anyone can be an organizer, and it takes years to become an organizer. Despite that being what they hired me for.
Lack of Investment into Current Staff
On April 22nd 2021, I asked [Name Removed] the Deputy Director for a raise after hitting my one year mark. I was told I would need to redirect my request to [New Organizing Director] who was still new at the time and wasn’t even involved in the yearly evaluation. I was also told by [Deputy Director of Movement Building and I quote “We are taking a look across the organization at this point around salaries because we have had some people and especially since we have been doing national searches in order to be competitive and to have people be apart of the organization we have had to like do salary enhancements for people who like [New Organizing Director] who is coming from Portland or like this other person who is coming from Atlanta like these are cost of living expenses and so [Executive Director] is asking for an entire proposal of us thinking and having conversations and department heads having conversations – so like your equity questions so is there like a single mom who needs a daycare subsidy that hasn’t fought for themselves. Are there people we feel need that boost right now?” This to me seems a lot more like we need to pay brand new employees more to get them here from other places than we need to pay the current Buffalo based staff. I have been time and time again a face for PUSH Buffalo on Facebook, the newsletter, etc. but I, a woman of color from Buffalo, wasn’t worth being invested in, that is a slap in the face especially when equity is cited as a reason why I wasn’t given a raise.
When PULL Buffalo first came online and the Facebook takeovers began we were all made aware it was something that was being monitored. As a PUSH employee I went on the site and looked it over. What rubbed me the wrong way with how this was handled is that PUSH never made an attempt to look into the content on the site and address the valid critiques. We claim to be a community led organization, but we ignored the gripes of the community in its entirety. There was time for [Executive Director] to discuss Cancel Culture but no time to say we as an organization are looking into the points made by this blog to see how we can improve. Then to add insult to injury, staff was asked to make donations to get senior management massages because of the stress of PULL Buffalo. The blog might be anonymous and it may be painful at times but there is no excuse for ignoring the concerns being brought forward.
[New Organizing Director]
I was very excited to have [Name Removed] brought on as Director of Organizing, I thought I was finally going to become a powerful organizer because I finally had someone to help develop my skills. That excitement was short-lived. [Organizing Director] was a previous PUSH Board member who used to live in Buffalo and had to move back here from Portland for the Director of Organizing Position. [New Organizing Director] is out of touch with the Buffalo community and a performative white ally. I have felt micromanaged by her and had to deal with microaggressions as a brown woman. I brought up numerous times to [New Organizing Director] that I was feeling micromanaged and I know this is a feeling other staff had as well, but my concerns were brushed to the side. In the way of microaggressions one glaring example was the time I was told by [New Organizing Director], a white woman that I interrupt her too much. I was livid but I let her finish. I made it clear that I have felt talked to and not talked with, [New Organizing Director] would go on for chunks of time listing off things she needed to talk about with no room for me to respond. In trying to directly respond to items brought up so we could have a conversation I was told I interrupt too much. This is something that would never be said to a white man, I brought up how more space is made for white people to speak their mind but when I advocate for space for my thoughts I am interrupting and viewed as aggressive because I am a brown woman. This is not something I thought I would need to explain to the Director of Organizing at a social justice organization. My opinions on the cultural and class need for food at PUSH Buffalo events was also belittled and made to be an unimportant part of events.
I have also brought to light numerous concerns about the documenting one to ones with community members, as well as the intent of [New Organizing Director] to sit in on a one to one which goes against the entire concept. In the end all of my concerns were ignored and I was told these things were going to happen anyway. If multiple people on a team have the same concern about an idea maybe you shouldn’t go through with that idea.
It’s Not About the Work It’s About PUSH
Something that has become evident to me while working at PUSH is that PUSH has to be front and center in the work or else they don’t support the work. A few weeks ago when NY Renews went to Albany to demand we pass the CCIA, PUSH wasn’t going to lead any major aspects of the event as the Organizing Team was being put into training so I did not have the capacity to plan. I personally took a car full of folks to Albany and was even a speaker in front of The Business Council of NY. No other PUSH staff came except for the Street Team members I brought.
When we held an action at Karen McMahon’s office, I spoke at that action as well, [Web Developer and Interaction Design Specialist] and [Lead Street Team Organizer] were able to join the action. The action was a success, but since it was a quick turn around action senior management didn’t feel we had communicated well enough and [Executive Director] even stated that there was a breakdown in communication and no specific person was at fault. However then PUSH told NY Renews that [Name Removed], a staff organizer at NY Renews and previous PUSH Climate Justice Organizer that [Name Removed] was purposefully excluding PUSH staff. An accusation that almost cost Buffalo positive community change because [Name Removed] wasn’t going to be allowed to organize in the Buffalo area because of it. It’s clear to me that this is motivated by a vendetta against [Name Removed] because I have witnessed [Executive Director] say before that we don’t work for [Name Removed], she works for us (PUSH) and that [Executive Director] pays [Name Removed]’s salary because she is on the NY Renews steering committee.
For the sake of length I have not listed all of my reasons for leaving PUSH Buffalo but rather some highlights. These comments have been made from my perspective and experiences. I wrote these aware that I could be black listed in the Buffalo Organizing circle as PUSH has a very large reach, but I took the time to write them out any because I genuinely believe in the work that I have done, I believe in a Just Transition, and PUSH needs to do better or else PUSH is going to continue to be a part of the extractive non profit industrial complex like so many other major non profits. PUSH often uses Movement Generation’s quote “If we are not prepared to govern, we are not prepared to win.” I fear that PUSH Buffalo’s version of governing looks a lot like the extractive model we are already working from.