How to Fund a Revolution

As we enter the 2019 O4U Conference season, I want to invite you into a dialogue I’ve entitled “How to Fund a Revolution” This opportunity is inspired by questions that students and volunteers sometimes raise about O4U sponsorship.

The question that O4Uers raise are, at their core, whether O4U should have sponsors who (1) invest in or manufacture, (2) consult in the development of, or (3) profit from products and services that are perceived to bring harm to vulnerable people, most specifically indigenous and native people.

These are great questions to which there are no perfect answers, but there is context.

O4U operates intentionally at the complex and contested edge of these types of questions. We introduce students to the world’s leading corporations in four industries, none of them (or we) are perfect on any issue involving human rights or the environment. The full recognition of human dignity is our goal, and all of us, individually and collectively, have much work to do.

In 2004, when two students formed O4U, they recognized the challenges for LGBTQ+ people in getting jobs and working inside corporations dominated by heterosexist values. They chose to work on tearing down barriers for LGBTQ+ people, transforming themselves and their employers in the process. In reality, O4U was a predominately white, male and gay led organization serving white, gay men until recently. We’ve evolved in our understanding and work on intersectionality.

While most of our sponsors have good and improving records on LGBTQ+ issues, some fall short in other issues of concern, like the pipeline in Alaska, palm oil production which destroys the rain forest, how many women advance to senior leadership and their boards, how white privilege continues to dominate their corporate narratives.

None of this is without challenges on any of these issues whether our lens is individual or collective. The essential questions are whether we are awake and evolving? Do we spend our time defending or in dialogue? Are we learning or leaving?

We do not typically choose to eliminate sponsors on their historical or current performance on social justice concerns unless they sanction anti-LGBTQ+ laws or positions.

As we vet sponsors for O4U, our first criteria is their record of continuous improvement on LGBTQ+ issues. Most have 100 percent scores on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. That said, HRC’s record on race and transgender issues is not perfect and evolving. And, as stated, neither is O4U’s. 2018 was our most successful year ever in terms of diverse representation of students, the first time any of our Conferences was more than 50 percent non-white.

We first provided education about HIV and AIDS advocacy in 2017 and in 2018, while also addressing the oppression of native and indigenous people. 2019 is the first year all of our conference directors are women or woman- identifying.

We encourage students to evaluate where they want to invest their time and talent. Some students will work inside our sponsoring organizations and influence change within them. Some students will reject working for companies that they feel do not align with their values. Some students will choose to attend O4U and engage with sponsors whose values are out of sync with the students’. Some students will opt out. We respect those choices.

We will continue to engage with corporations that are committed and actively changing their corporate cultures to positively include and provide equity for LGBTQ+ and otherwise diverse people. As part of that process, we are raising awareness and educating on behalf of the most vulnerable. It is for this reason that O4U introduced the formal acknowledgement of native and indigenous people and land at our 2018 Conferences.

You may be interested in reading some of the views of scholars and activists who debate these types of issues.

In my work as an activist, I found growth in my understanding in the text “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

We want you to lean into these ethics and values questions with us. I would like to hear from you about your perspectives on this issue. Please write me at