You may have seen the recent message from SAA (Society of American Archivists) announcing the decision to sunset the SAA Foundation’s facilitation of the Archival Workers Emergency Fund (AWE Fund) on December 31, 2021, the end of the current pilot period. Responding to immediate needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AWE Fund has provided grants of up to $1,000 to 188 archival workers since its inception in April 2020, thanks to donations from 998 individuals and organizations. The pandemic brought attention to the financial precarity of archival workers. Archival communities’ responses to the AWE Fund highlighted a commitment to addressing this issue. As members of the ad hoc AWE Fund Organizing Committee, we support the SAA Foundation Board’s intention to “develop a new strategic plan with a high priority on addressing archival employment precarity and supporting archivists in need through both new and existing programs.”
The decision to sunset the AWE Fund is illustrative of broader issues that go beyond any one professional organization or global pandemic. Tax laws, as they currently exist, make it difficult to give people money without requiring them to prove that they need it and/or document how they are using it. This reflects what Dean Spade (2020) describes as the “eligibility requirements” of the charity model (Mutual Aid, p. 22). It implies that some people in need are worthy of help, and others are in need due to some failing in morals or effort–an idea the Organizing Committee and the SAA Foundation rejected with the AWE Fund by taking colleagues at their word when they said they were in need of funds. To continue exercising this radical spirit of solidarity and generosity, we risk finding ourselves on the wrong side of U.S. tax law and the requirements it imposes on philanthropic organizations such as the SAA Foundation. Much as the AWE Fund raised our awareness of broader issues in the profession, so too does this decision by the SAA Foundation raise our awareness of broader issues in the tax law and other systems that are creating barriers for supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.
This is not the end of the AWE Fund, but a moment of transition. We have questions and ideas to discuss. Do we have the capacity and know-how to carry the AWE Fund forward as a mutual aid organization independent of SAA? Does solely focusing on the distribution of monetary support to our colleagues remain the most pressing need to dedicate our time and attention to? If not through distribution of funds, how else can we address the ongoing precarity entrenched in our profession?
The needs that inspired the creation of the AWE Fund persist among our colleagues in archives and beyond, as does the will to be there for one another and dismantle systems that make mutual aid a necessity. The Organizing Committee will be discussing our way forward. We invite you to participate in that conversation with us.
On January 28th, 2022, at 11amPT/1pmCT/2pmET we will be holding an open AWE Fund Organizing Committee meeting. Please join us to talk about what the AWE Fund has meant to you and add your perspective as we imagine our next phase. Watch the blog or follow us on Twitter (@AWEfund2020) for a link to register, coming soon. You can also sign up for our mailing list or join the AWE Fund Organizing Committee.