Politics and Non-Profits: Are We Killing Charity?

Life and Loss: Reflections on Chester Bennington

Early this year I had sent an invitation to an organization that I follow to join me on the podcast for a special, Valentines Day episode where we’d talk about the creation of their organization, it’s successes and where they planned to go from there.

The organization in question was Fight the New Drug. I’ve been a fan of theirs since they had less than 20,000 followers on Facebook, and I admire their work not only in studying links between porn and addiction and its effects on relationships, but also the causal links between the sex industry and human trafficking. It’s an area of research that’s relatively new, but bears closer scrutiny (in my mind) due to the nature and ease of accessibility to porn in our culture.

After exchanging a few emails Fight the New Drug responded that their interviewees weren’t available on the suggested days for a theme, but also followed up with this:

“In addition, upon reviewing your podcast, we noted that much of what is shared is politically charged. Because we are not a religious or political organization, we have to be cautious in these areas and feel it is best to remain neutral. For these reasons, we won’t be moving forward with an interview at this time.”

This was incredibly disappointing to me, I won’t lie.

If they’d said, “Sorry, you aren’t big enough for us to take the time to come on your show!” or “Sorry, we just really don’t like your podcast!” then whatever. I’m a big boy, I could deal. They have the right to associate (or not) their brand with whomever they choose. There are plenty of pragmatic reasons an interview might be declined for a larger organization. Scheduling, or a gig that doesn’t compensate the interviewee for their time, other shows with larger audiences, and many other reasons could keep someone from coming on my podcast, but the refusal was only partially a generic reason.

“…we noted that much of what is shared is politically charged. Because we are not a religious or political organization, we have to be cautious in these areas…”

For some reason this particular bit cut at me a bit deeper than I realized, and after mulling it over for a few months I’ve figured out why.

I’ve always been a huge fan of great causes. I love doing service projects for different charities because the work is immensely rewarding and impactful. I also love politics. I love the strategy, the furious exchange of ideas, the idea of creating the best nation you can, and fighting for freedom. I mean, without freedom, many of these non-profit or charitable organizations wouldn’t have as much free reign to do what they do best.

To me politics and charity are interconnected in an inseparable way.

Yet as I read their response I was reminded of the reality of our toxic political climate in the present day. It’s a climate that has many businesses scared to even associate with someone who talks about current events. Even companies that do work which is considered beneficial to society (awareness initiatives, charity organizations, etc.) have to be very careful to protect their particular “brand” lest they offend or alienate a political faction. We’ve seen this happen with organized efforts against Christian photographers and bakers who were run out of business due to holding unpopular political opinions. We’ve also seen other companies take hits in stock due to unpopular restroom policies.

The response I received from Fight the New Drug is, unfortunately, a necessary safeguard in a society of perpetual outrage. We’ve lost the ability to differentiate parts from the whole. Yes, my show is political, but the feature itself wouldn’t have been. I’m not a person who eats, sleeps and breathes politics. I can put it aside for something I view as being beneficial to all. In this case this “common good” was a cause I’d admired greatly and wanted to perpetuate their particular message. Nothing more.

Now, to the finer point of this article: Why I believe that the inability to separate parts from the whole is a toxic, even dangerous mentality for our culture to embrace wholeheartedly.

When faced with a decision between politics and a charitable cause there are two possible situations, both with collateral damage.

The first situation would be that many who pursue creating independent media, without major sponsors or capital behind them, would opt out of politics in the interest of being free to talk a broader array of topics than simply politics itself. Politics in media today is an utter shit show. People screaming at each other Left and Right, carefully scripted polar opposites designed to drive views and controversy. As an independent content creator who doesn’t believe in that approach, and who would likely go insane in the membrane if I had to talk pure politics all the time, the prospect of not having alternative shows with inspirational, influential culture shapers is nothing short of depressing. I just want to have a conversation with people. All kinds of people. Politics is just as important as non-profit activism, but it’s draining to talk about all the time.

The second bit of collateral damage is that these charities/non-profit organizations may be so reticent to engage on shows that could possibly tarnish their brand’s reputation, that they may lose a lot of reach they’d have with independent media to get their message out. In an era of increasing skepticism of the mainstream media, many are tuning out and tuning in to independent media alternatives. I think that trend will only continue until some modicum of faith is restored in the mainstream media (if that’s even possible anymore). There will be independent audiences who might be incredibly responsive to these organizations, and could even possibly find common ground with political opponents who they’d otherwise disagree with on just about everything.

The beauty of causes that benefit society as a whole is that they usually have a unifying, bridge building nature to them. They allow partisans to focus on their common humanity and not solely what makes them different. Without that bridge building catalyst people will continue to drift further into their partisan bubbles, and remain satisfied with caricaturing and blaming the “other” for all their woes.

I can understand wanting to maintain brand integrity, but I think that too much caution due to political wariness is a slippery slope to slide down. I think it has a lot of potential detriments to individuals as well as organizations themselves. Politics will always be an integral part of our lives. The choices we make, or don’t make, at the ballot box affect not only how individuals live their lives, but how organizations are able to function and interact with society as a whole.

Let’s stop killing charity.

Let’s allow ourselves the flexibility to discern between the politically charged and the common cause.

A good message deserves to be heard no matter what your political affiliation is.

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About the Author

Josh Carter
Josh Carter is the host of The Resistance Podcast, an independent, Wisconsin-based media project. He is a working class husband, father of two and a student of history and political and revolutionary theory.