Group at Protest against Israel & US aid to Israel and against the Palestinian genocide holding a sign that reads “Permanent Ceasefire Now”
Image credit: Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

As 2023 drew to a close, Chicago Progressive Staffers and Muslims for Just Futures, along with 169 local groups in Chicago, focused on one goal: to move Chicago’s City Council to pass a resolution that calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, where over 30,000 people have been killed and around 2 million displaced as a result of Israel’s siege on Palestine. 

Muslims for Just Futures (MJF), an organization dedicated to building grassroots power and investing in the leadership of Muslim women and working-class communities, helped lead the effort to bring groups together to gather endorsements. In January 2024, Chicago became the largest city in the United States to pass a ceasefire resolution, joining cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta, and Detroit, as documented in the municipal ceasefire resolution map created by the Building Movement Project (BMP) and MJF.

We need movement infrastructure that can support robust rapid-response efforts and long-term power building.

Thousands of people across all sectors—from high school students to faith-based leaders, health workers, labor, and grassroots groups—have engaged in Chicago and around the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. Groups such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights have organized rallies and direct actions with partner groups that are turning out unprecedented numbers of people, eager for regular information and points of entry for deeper engagement.

Coalition building in response to crises is hard work and raises important questions. How do nonprofits and social justice groups move from a reactive position to building long-term power? What do movements need to sustain the energy and motivation of new activists around the nation?

The answer is simple: we need movement infrastructure that can support robust rapid-response efforts and long-term power building.

How Did We Get Here? 

For at least two decades, Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) groups have been rapidly responding to watershed events such as the September 11 attacks, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the genocide in Gaza. During these events, community members have endured significant backlash in various contexts with little political support.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Since the early 2000s, Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims have been targeted by government policies codified during the “War on Terror,” such as Bush’s special registration policy, Obama’s “Countering Violent Extremism” initiative, and Trump’s Muslim ban. Community members have also faced an increase in hate crimes, including the 2012 massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin and the coordinated pushback on the construction and operation of mosques around the country. More recently, many organizations have been responding to overlapping crises, including the COVID pandemic, the uprisings in 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd, the insurrection at Capitol Hill in 2021, the rising tide of anti-Asian violence, and the restrictions on asylum and refugee programs.

These constant crises have been difficult to face and have taken a unique and significant toll on many BAMEMSA organizations. These organizations are expected to respond to a complex terrain of issues, including Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Black racism, White supremacy, the “War on Terror,” and myriad social justice issues that sit at the intersection of multiple systems of violence.      

Internally, groups face difficulties due to insufficient resources and unending rapid-response cycles. Many BAMEMSA organizations that focus on power building, advocacy, and organizing were formed in the past decade and are not able to sustain a coordinated response to the relentless threats they face. Burnout and high turnover rates of staff and leadership, ineffective and weak organizational infrastructure, lack of investment in individual movement leaders, and coordinated campaigns of surveillance and scrutiny are all challenges that hinder organizations in their important work.     

The threats facing these organizations today are more serious than ever. Advocating for a ceasefire, uplifting the human rights of Palestinians, or critiquing the Israeli government and military are often characterized as anti-Semitic hate speech, leading to investigations, suspensions, and revocations of job offers. For Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim nonprofit organizations, these challenges are even more destabilizing, as they often prevent groups from engaging in vital work or limit funding from philanthropy. Less than two weeks after the Hamas attacks of October 7, an event planned by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights was unilaterally canceled, and many more have met the same fate after pressure from anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab individuals and groups.

Uneven Funding Weakens Us

In a recent report from BMP and MJF, 100 Days of Building Power and Solidarity: Observations and Recommendations about Immediate and Long-Term Infrastructure Needs for Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab Groups in the U.S., we show why philanthropy needs to step up at this moment rather than retract or adopt a “wait and see” approach. We already know that BAMEMSA organizations don’t receive infrastructure support beyond moments of urgency. Our report details BAMEMSA leaders’ concerns about funder backlash for speaking out on Palestinian human rights—and what organizations need to flourish. 

Despite insufficient funding, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim organizations have been doing a lot with very little.

Sadly, these issues predate the most recent crisis. For years, BAMEMSA groups and solidarity organizations that have taken public positions on Palestine, Zionism, and the “War on Terror” have faced significant pushback from funders, as Saqib Bhatti and Anna Lefer Kuhn explained in NPQ. Some of them have been denied funding because of their positions and statements on Palestine or for taking up projects related to the crisis in Gaza—even from progressive funders. Other groups have directly experienced Islamophobia from funders in applying for grants and in meetings with program officers.

While funders such as Emergent Fund, Rise Together Fund, and Solidaire have mobilized to support BAMEMSA organizations, the current moment requires a sector-wide commitment to consistent, long-term support for BAMEMSA communities and organizations. Today’s climate requires philanthropic institutions committed to equity and justice to double down on their support for the ecosystem of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups and to provide long-term support to build resilient organizations and create durable movement infrastructure.

In this moment, we face a complicated set of crises that affect people in different ways, from emotional trauma to legal troubles. Without more infrastructural support, groups cannot do what BAMEMSA communities deeply need, and the crises will worsen.

Moving Our Movements Forward

Despite insufficient funding, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim organizations have been doing a lot with very little. Over the past four months and beyond, local organizations have been responding to the genocide in Gaza with real action. Groups are fielding numerous requests from community members around multiple needs, including economic, legal, health, and overall safety concerns for their children and family members. Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and solidarity groups—including Palestinian Youth Movement, Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Palestinian Feminist Collective and others—have organized rallies and protests in major cities around the country, including the historic march in Washington, DC, on November 4, 2023, that drew over 300,000 people.

Beyond mass mobilization, many organizations are also filling the gaps in the social safety net that disproportionately affect people in BAMEMSA communities. Reproductive justice organization HEART’s INAYA Care Fund, for example, provides mutual aid to survivors of violence and focuses on grief, care, and wellness. They also mobilize community members who want to show up as caregivers in the current moment by organizing meal trains and providing childcare. 

Amidst the surge of complaints from community members experiencing discrimination for expressing solidarity with Palestinians, organizations like Palestine Legal have been providing legal support and advocacy, managing the bulk of targeting and repression. Groups such as Muslim Advocates and CUNY CLEAR have been offering Know Your Rights materials and training. Others, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National have been fielding thousands of calls related to racism toward Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. 

However, the tremendous work happening around the country cannot meet the overwhelming needs of community members. Since October 7, CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter has reported a staggering 434 percent rise in complaints, 69 percent of which are Palestine-related. The ADC received over 1,000 intakes and complaints about censorship and suppression of speech on social media platforms, especially on Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter) within 24 hours. Palestine Legal received over 1,000 reports since October 7 from people targeted for Palestinian advocacy, from students to middle school teachers to law firm associates and entertainers. 

Given the unprecedented nature of legal needs at this time, groups are scrambling to train pro bono lawyers, hire temporary staff, and manage intakes. With both rapid response and long-term resources for legal infrastructure, they would not only be able to respond to the unprecedented rise in complaints and reports in a timely and coordinated manner but also provide immediate representation, convey the trends and patterns of legal needs, develop cases for litigation, and prepare for new arenas of legal defense of protesters being charged with civil disobedience.

Organizations need robust legal infrastructure to help those who reach out. This includes developing and implementing creative and collective legal defense strategies rooted in movement lawyer approaches, multilingual Know Your Rights information, mechanisms for intakes and interviews, pro bono representation services, and trained legal staff.

Toward Power Building 

Beyond legal infrastructure, the ecosystem of BAMEMSA organizations could flourish with movement infrastructure that supports the foundational needs of nonprofit groups to advance their mission and vision. These include programs, staffing, operations, skill building, narratives, field-wide coordination, community care, partnerships, and more. Robust movement infrastructure will lead to power building, which we define as strategies for directly impacted communities to bring about change by reshaping systems and transforming material conditions. 

Based on our report, we know that the next step in building power and changing the system is the infusion of resources that support movement infrastructure, including:

  • Long-term funding and capacity building investment from philanthropy in Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups
  • Mobilization and direct action 
  • Base building, membership development, and community organizing 
  • Legal defense 
  • Federal, state, and local advocacy 
  • Coordination and convening
  • Operations 
  • Community care, mutual aid, and healing 
  • Solidarity and cross-movement partnerships

The graphic below illustrates how rapid-response efforts such as crisis communications, mobilizations and protests, and ally statements can translate into building long-term power when organizations can build movement infrastructure. 


Funders and allies can support the nationwide BAMEMSA community and their organizations in several vital ways. Not only do we need funding for operations and capacity building, but we also need political and legal support when our communities and organizations face retaliation or come under attack for supporting work related to Palestine. Additionally, funders and donors must receive education on the issues that BAMEMSA communities face and how Zionism and White supremacy are intertwined.

With a robust ecosystem of movement groups, we will move closer to a future of solidarity and justice for all.

For movement allies, there are many ways to support beyond direct actions. For long-term solidarity, we must build intersectional movements that strategize on intersecting issues. 

For example, the Progressive Workers Union, which represents workers in environmental organizations, has passed a solidarity resolution underscoring the impact of displacement, settler colonialism, war, and greenwashing on the lives of Palestinians. Immigrant rights organizations have highlighted how appropriations bills in Congress are providing billions of dollars to the Israeli government while restricting migration at the border. 

By linking issues and communities, groups can build connections, deepen a shared political analysis, and reach people from different communities. These types of solidarity actions and connections require infrastructure to build relationships and trust, deepen the shared analysis of oppressive systems, and develop the narrative capacity to dismantle wedges that pit communities against each other.

The path ahead will not be easy. Unfortunately, the consistent escalation of political and military violence continues to worsen. As dissent and movements are increasingly repressed, we may have a bleak forecast of our political future. But if we invest in movement infrastructure, we can build the power needed to manage the current crisis and prevent threats to our democracy in the future—and with a robust ecosystem of movement groups, we will move closer to a future of solidarity and justice for all.