As the final edition of the DI Report for the year, we would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the tremendous work of the entire Democracy Initiative network. This has been an exciting year as the DI organized our first mobilization, engaged in a winning campaign in Maine to restore fair elections, and completed our message and research project uniting voting rights and money in politics messaging under a democracy frame. These efforts, among others, are propelling us into 2016 and as we build on our successes and fight for a democracy that is of, by, and for the people.
Continue reading for some of our favorites highlights from the past year, and check out this page to see an interactive chronology of the Democracy Initiative.
2015 Annual Meeting
On Wednesday, December 9th, endorsing organizations of the Democracy Initiative (DI) adopted a four-part strategic action plan for 2016, calling for joint action in states; a major grassroots mobilization; a national education, communications, and outreach strategy; and a strategic strengthening of the growingDI network.
Democracy Initiative organizations are mobilizing this spring bringing together actions originally envisioned by the NAACP and Public Citizen. The spring mobilizations will bridge demands for voting rights and money in politics reform, and working to unite traditionally distinct communities and reform proposals. Americans know there is a problem; it’s time to bring people together to act for change.
Additionally, we are looking to build power in key states where there is organizational capacity and interest. For immediate action, we agreed to work in Maryland and Illinois, with long term interest in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Mobilizing for Democracy
Americans are demanding change and an equal voice. However, voting and access to elected officials are becoming out of reach to Americans who want their voice heard. The Democracy Initiative is fighting back, building step-by-step and action-by-action a movement of Americans to claim democracy.
Rally in Roanoke, VA
In June on the 2nd anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, more than 500 hundred environmental, labor, and civil rights activists joined member organizations of the Democracy Initiative and The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, in Elmwood Park in Roanoke, VA to rally for voting rights and an equal voice for all in our democracy.
Demonstrating our collective passion for justice and our democracy, our community rallied in solidarity across organizations and communities. The Democracy Initiative member organizations turned out hundreds of people, with activists from the environmental, labor, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, and faith communities standing together in a brilliant display of compassion and urgency to show Roanoke and America what democracy looks like. Check out this Storify documenting the event.
America’s Journey for Justice
As NAACP President & CEO Rev. Cornell William Brooks often remarks, voting is a civic sacrament. This summer, the NAACP with support from member organizations of the Democracy Initiative, embarked on America’s Journey for Justice on a march from Selma, AL, to Washington, DC demanding voting rights and carrying the message that our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools matter.
- 1,000+ participants in the march
- 1,002 miles in 46 days across 5 states from Alabama to Washington, DC
- Op-eds from allied voices from DI organizations explaining how the march addressed environmental advocates, union members and democracy activists in addition to those concerned about education and justice featured in local and state publications
- Nearly 2 million social media impressions from DI organizations on Twitter and Facebook
- Local events and teach-ins organized by DI organizations along the way that brought in local activists and marchers to learn about voting rights and other critical issues
- Final Advocacy Day Rally joined by 1,000+ people at the U.S. Capitol from 27 organizations
- 200+ visits with Members of Congress and staff about restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act
America’s Journey for Justice demonstrated that together we are more than the sum of our parts. Take a look at this Storify celebrating the culmination of the Journey for Justice arriving in Washington, DC.
Accountable Elections in Maine
In 1996, Maine passed the historic Clean Elections Act creating a robust public funding system for candidates running for statewide office. At its high point in the 2006 and 2008 elections, 81% of legislative candidates opted into this system, creating one of the most blue-collar legislatures in the country. However, in 2011, the Supreme Court weakened the law and it made it less attractive for candidates to use. The original purpose of the Maine Clean Election Act – fairness, accountability and transparency in elections, along with Mainers’ free speech – was compromised.
The Democracy Initiative identified a ballot initiative as a strong opportunity to advance a democracy agenda and mobilize key advocates to organize in the state. Profiling the efforts of CWA and the Sierra Club, the commitment from DI organizations like Every Voice, U.S. PIRG, Friends of the Earth, and others was instrumental in the victory as they committed organizers and advocates to work hand in hand with Mainers for Accountable Elections to canvass the state, knock on doors, and educate voters on the importance of this law.
Whether it was through the two joint tele-town hall calls with thousands of participants or at the door one-on-one, DI organizations made a difference in Maine. The Democracy Initiative’s efforts were invaluable as we worked together in order to mobilize Mainers to take back control of their elections.
On Election Day, voters overwhelmingly voted to restore the Clean Elections Act. The Democracy Initiative’s efforts to mobilize labor and environmental organizations on behalf of the campaign demonstrate the power of our coalition and illuminated a path for democracy centered on state-based initiatives. As a result, all Mainers who care about the state can run for office, not just those with a network of wealthy friends and all those elected need to care about voters before wealthy special interests.
A United Message
Message and Research Project
The Democracy Initiative Education Fund, in partnership with Demos, and Lake Research conducted public opinion research to equip DI organizations, with a narrative around democracy that speaks to their members. This umbrella message unites voting rights, money in politics, and other issues under the idea of equal voice in our democracy. The project focused on the views of the diverse constituencies that comprise Democracy Initiative organizations including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, youth, workers, environmentalists, and advocates.
We need strong protections in our democracy so every voter’s voice is heard, and every voice counts equally. That way we can all have an equal say over the decisions that affect our lives. Otherwise, big money yells loudest, sets the agenda, and rigs the rules in their favor, with tax breaks for the wealthy paid for by cuts in education or health care for the rest of us. We need to strengthen our democracy so that the government works for all of us.
In providing this information to the larger community, we have created an umbrella message that emphasizes the need for a balanced democracy where everyone has an equal voice. We have shared results with a focus group viewing party, post-focus group briefings, and specialized briefings since the research was released in September. This work provides the basis for communicating with activists on these issues, and, in the next year, we will work to ensure that others continue to use this message guidance. In the New Year, we will be working with endorsing organizations and allies to incorporate this messaging into their communications to their members.
This year, we worked with money in politics organizations to develop and share a set of Unity Principles which provided a statement of principles to which groups publicly agreed. Supported by more than 150 organizations, the Principles outline five basic ideas:
- Everyone participates and should have a voice in the decisions affecting their lives;
- Everyone’s voice is heard, where one person equals one vote, not one dollar equals one vote;
- Everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and gain influence over our representatives;
- Everyone plays by common sense rules, where access and influence aren’t determined by the size of your wallet;
- Everyone is held accountable with elected officials responsible and held accountable to the people.
These principles unify our democracy goals among a diverse cross-section of organizations committed to systemic change and send a strong message to the American people that our government can work for all of us if everyone has an equal voice in the political process.
Integrating Democracy Work
Essential to our national and state-based work, the Democracy Initiative endorsing organizations share a narrative that unites our work around which organizations, advocates, and activists can coalesce that ties together work on voting rights and money in politics, but also elevates each in new and novel ways that allow for organizations to participate and take action within their capabilities and capacity. Democracy reform is becoming integrated into the work of issue-based groups within the DI who see this work as central to their agenda – whether workers’ rights, climate change, or civil rights, organizations are connecting democracy with these issues in their mission and to their memberships.
The Democracy Initiative’s power correlates directly with the strength of our endorsing organizations. Building a movement is about more than elevating and coordinating their efforts, but leveraging actions, mobilizations, and research toward the common goal of a stronger democracy in which every American has an equal voice in a government of, by, and for the people.
Working toward this, the Sierra Club has organized a periodic meeting with representatives from other environmental organizations, including LCV, NRDC, Greenpeace, Center for Environmental Health, and Food & Water Watch, to discuss and plan democracy engagement and integration. We see this as a model for other sectors, and in addition to her work with this “caucus,” we will look to seed similar conversations with the idea of creating a democracy caucus in other communities.
Fighting Forward on Voting Rights
Voting rights are under attack, and it is time we fight back. The Democracy Initiative has developed model legislation meant to represent the core pieces of an inclusive, pro-voter election system in a state. The package addresses nine specific areas: automatic registration, online registration, early registration, portable registration, pre-registration, same-day registration, rights restoration for previously incarcerated people, transparency requirements, and language assistance requirements. Working with key partners in states, we will be advancing the agenda with the support of legislators and advocates to shift the narrative around voting rights from defense to offense.
The Democracy Initiative, in partnership with CWA and Every Voice, published its first report this year, Democracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent is Silencing our Voices, detailing efforts to consolidate power in the hands of the few through attacks on labor and our democracy. Click here for a four-page summary and stay tuned for details about the formal launch!
Additionally, we have released two resource newsletters this year on money in politics and voting rights, designed to give organizations and their staff a compendium of information to bring them up to speed on the issues and how to stay connected.
Our Vision Remains the Same
Originally formed as the Democracy Initiative (DI), we have recently established ourselves as a stand-alone 501(c)(3), the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, and a 501(c)(4), the Democracy Initiative. Despite these changes our vision remains the same. We seek a vibrant democracy where everyone can participate fully in the democratic process, every voter has an equal voice, and policymakers are accountable to the people and the public interest.
Thank you for reading this edition of the DI Report and we look forward to continuing our democracy work with you in 2016!
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