Washington, DC – A new report released today from the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, Democracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent Is Silencing Our Voices, examines how the attacks on unions and the right to organize, assaults on the right to vote, and the dismantling of campaign finance laws are not isolated incidents. Instead, these events are inextricably and directly linked as parts of a systematic effort to shift power from the majority of Americans to a tiny minority of the very rich and the most powerful corporate interests.
The report, written with support from Every Voice Center and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), examines how everyday Americans’ voices in the political arena are being silenced through unprecedented attacks on three pillars of our democracy:
- Restricting voting rights. Between 2008 and 2015, at least 22 states have imposed carefully targeted voter photo ID laws that disproportionately affect working Americans, communities of color, seniors, and young people. States have cut back on early voting, election-day registration, and other reforms that would increase turnout. These efforts are concentrated in communities with diverse electorates.
- Targeting assaults on campaign finance laws at the state and federal levels. In the past four decades, campaign finance laws have come under assault at the state and federal levels, and especially in the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts. Opponents of campaign finance regulation have slowly dismantled meaningful contribution limits, eliminated many restrictions on moneyed special interest campaign spending, reduced disclosure of sources, and weakened enforcement of remaining laws on the books.
- Mounting attacks on unions and the power of workers in state legislatures, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Unions are the collective voice of working Americans. They help to level the field when workers negotiate with powerful employers; reduce economic inequality; raise wages for workers; and ensure adequate health care, paid sick leave, and retirement programs for all Americans. Recently, however, state legislatures have passed laws severely compromising workers’ ability to organize and to bargain collectively, Congress has been hostile to pro-worker legislation and has made federal enforcement of labor laws more difficult. At the same time, the Roberts Court has ruled consistently on the side of big business.
These attacks on American values are the result of an organized effort to shift political power away from ordinary citizens to a small, wealthy elite. This elite group is using vast resources to influence policy makers, the media, and the public to protect its position. The same group has taken aim at the foundations of our democratic tradition, undermining principles of equal representation and civic participation that sustain our nation. Attacks are taking place in state legislatures, in the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, and in the Supreme Court.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to have their voices heard as attacks on our democracy have continued to erode their ability to participate fully and freely in the democratic process," said Tova Wang, Director of Democracy Programs at CWA. "This report explores how attacks on voting rights, campaign finance laws, and unions are taking place at every level of power -- state legislatures, congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court -- to shift power away from average Americans. Using this knowledge, advocates and activists will be able to understand what is at stake and fight back to build a democracy that is of, by, and for the people."
“A sustained, multi-faced nationwide attack on voting rights, money-in-politics laws, and collective bargaining has silenced the voices of millions of Americans while giving a megaphone to a handful of billionaires and the country’s wealthiest special interests,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Every Voice Center. "This report shows, in exhaustive detail, where these attacks have happened and, importantly, what people can do to fight back and create a democracy that works for all of us."
Despite the challenges of the past few years, a growing pro-democracy movement is pushing back. Polls show the majority of Americans favor stronger campaign finance laws and restoring the Voting Rights Act. Most also oppose weakening peoples’ voices in the workplace. Across the country citizens have fought to block restrictive labor and voting bills, to expand access to the ballot box, and to pass laws making small campaign donations more important than big money. The report concludes by outlining policies and examples of how to place power back in the hands of the American people – which is where it belongs in a democracy.
The Democracy Initiative Education Fund (DIEF) is a national, nonpartisan, research and education organization committed to building 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. DIEF’s core activities center on research related to democratic engagement and public education on important issues to preserve and improve our democracy.
Every Voice Center is a national nonpartisan organization that fights to raise the voices of everyday people in our democracy through changing our campaign finance laws and through holding elected officials accountable. Learn more at everyvoicecenter.org.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents 700,000 workers in telecommunications, media, airlines, higher education, health care, public service and manufacturing.