The DI Report

Democracy Initiative Update 04.03.20

Friday, April 3, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE COVID-19 UPDATE

It has become increasingly clear that the Trump administration’s disastrous response to the spread of COVID-19 in our country poses a grave threat both to the working people of this country and to our democracy. In response to pandemic-related challenges facing vulnerable communities, front-line workers, and our elections, the progressive movement drove calls, tweets, and emails to their elected officials demanding they put people, families and communities first, not corporations, and include a minimum of $2 billion in stimulus funding to ensure states are prepared for voting under coronavirus challenges in Election 2020.

The DI joined hundreds of partner organizations and allies who signed on to two critical letters spearheaded by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights calling for a comprehensive approach to ensure that this year’s elections are safe and fair amidst the pandemic crisis. We're continuing to push for at least $2 billion in federal funds to help states adapt their election systems to the health crisis by expanding options for vote by mail, early voting and online registration as well as ensuring safe in-person voting.

To meet the moment, the DI convened the entire coalition on a video call to communicate and engage them around these priorities while reiterating the need for a strong money in politics message frame. Over 75 leaders from 55 organizations—many of whom are on the front lines of keeping workers, families and vulnerable communities safe and whole during this health and economic crisis—put aside other pressing business to participate in this emergency session.

Last week, elected officials passed a $2 trillion stimulus package. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP slashed the $2 billion demanded for elections to $400 million in the final version of the Senate bill. Trump later admitted that if the $2 billion in federal funding provisioned for voting reforms such as Vote by Mail, early voting, online and same day voter registration and safe in-person voting was passed, no Republican would ever be elected again. Funding our elections, however, is not and cannot be a partisan issue.

See statements on the stimulus package from DI partners: AFL-CIO, CASA, Common Cause, Friends of the Earth, and NAACP.

$400 million in election funding for the states is a start, but it is nowhere near enough to ensure all Americans can cast their ballots during the remaining primaries or the general election in November. We must continue to demand more funding for state and local officials to transform our election infrastructure to meet the moment, including funds to expand Vote by Mail, and early in-person voting, safety and health standards for all polling sites, increased access to voter registration, accommodations for voters residing on Indian lands, and more (read our full requirements here).

To facilitate partner engagement during this critical time, we have set up a new rapid response alert system. If you would like representatives from your organization to be added to the DI Rapid Response group, please email Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org.

TAKE ACTION: STAND IN SOLIDARITY AGAINST HATE IN THIS TIME OF CRISIS

We must stand shoulder to shoulder to condemn the rise in hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities attributable to racist fearmongering and scapegoating related to the Coronavirus.

Our discussions in recent partner convenings surfaced a shared deep concern about the increasingly racist and xenophobic rhetoric in public discussion about the virus. We are collaborating with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans to organize a sign-on letter pushing back against rhetoric that has real world impact to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and to workers.

If you are interested in signing on to the letter, contact DI Deputy Director, Jen Lamson, jlamson@democracyinitiative.org.

MONEY & POLITICS WATCH: CRISIS PROFITEERING

The outbreak and subsequent spread of COVID-19 in the United States has made it clearer than ever that the democracy movement’s priorities must start with protecting and supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, including first responders and working families, Black and Brown folks, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and the homeless.

At least 37 people associated with the nursing home have died from COVID-19 related complications. Photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press.

The pandemic has also shown us that corporations and wealthy interests will attempt to capitalize off the crisis to line their own pockets at the expense of the American people. The connection between wealthy special interest dark money and lobbying and policies that directly harm vulnerable Americans has never been clearer. For example, the Trump administration recently relaxed Obama Administration regulations that govern nursing homes’ response to infectious diseases after intense lobbying and political campaign contributions from the nursing home industry, led by a lobbyist with close ties to the Trump administration. Nursing homes have been hard hit by COVID-19. The massive infections of staff and residents at a Washington nursing home in early March that led to the deaths of 37 residents was a harbinger of what has now come to pass across the country.

Boeing CEO of Commercial Airlines Stanley speaks at the annual Aviation Summit in Washington, DC on March 5. Boeing, its business floundering after a a series of debacles, was quick to ask for a coronavirus bailout—before the pandemic affected it at all. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images.

Other industries have attempted to profit off the recent stimulus package designed to provide relief to the American people. Wall Street and businesses secured a $500 billion corporate bailout, inspired by Boeing’s request for a $60 billion bailout lodged prior to being impacted by COVID-19. Airlines’ request for taxpayer funds is especially significant considering they’ve spent billions of dollars from the last decade’s profits (96%) on buying back their own stocks, while workers have fought for paid sick leave and decent pay. The recent stimulus package did include some hard-won oversight measures, including the establishment of an oversight committee and Inspector General for the $500 million.

It will be important to stay united during this crisis in condemning corporate and special interest profiteering off urgent efforts to provide relief to American workers and their families. If there has ever been a time for corporations to step in and repay the American people for their decades of government assistance at the expense of everyday people, its now. The efforts to deregulate industry and capitalize on “opportunities” emerging from the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans are debased and utterly shameful. The continuous stream of reports detailing new instances of crisis profiteering demonstrates that we must remain vigilant and continue to demand accountability and relief for the American people. We’ll be keeping an eye on this and posting news here in the DI Update to help you stay informed.

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Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 03.13.20

Friday, March 13, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.


Partners and friends,

I hope that you, your staff, and families are coping as best you can during this challenging health crisis. Like many of your organizations, we have shifted our staff to telework for the next few weeks. We anticipate during this time we will have to make some program adjustments to meet the moment.

Now we know that our efforts must increase in scale, particularly in the area of voting access and suppression, as we see an increased need for Vote at Home, no excuse absentee ballots, and drop off/vote centers, as well as election security. Also, we must work hard to ensure that states and localities create safe poll environments and also for our election protection centers so that we can confidently increase our recruitment and training of volunteers to support clerks and counts. The eyes of every person on our shores are now personally witnessing the failures of government, the call for change in governing and voting, and to get money out of politics, is growing. This crisis presents an amazing—almost overwhelming—opportunity in this moment to increase our reform efforts. However, it is equally as important to step up our collective action efforts in joining together to demand immediate safety net provisions for all hard working people, marginalized families and the homeless, all those on the front line of public safety, and our healthcare employees. It is imperative that we demand emergency unemployment, paid sick leave, free testing and treatment of corona virus victims. The DI will share petitions, legislative action requests from our labor, and social justice partners. If you would like us to share those demands please contact Getachew Kassa, National Field Manager, at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

In closing, our team looks forward to our continued efforts and I am pleased to speak to many of democracy organizational leaders and civil rights and democracy coalitions about how we lean in harder together and leverage our resources to get the work done. Going forward you will see more collaboration across our communities. Please do not hesitate to reach out with ideas, feedback and opportunities. Together we can make great change.

—Wendy Fields, Executive Director

FOR THE PEOPLE ACT, ONE YEAR LATER

Amid the administration’s criminally inadequate preparation for the coronavirus pandemic, rampant voter suppression, and an election on a fast track to becoming the most expensive in history, it’s clear to us that our democracy is under assault. The Declaration for American Democracy coalition’s latest report Fixing Our Broken Democracy, to which the DI was a contributor, contains issue-specific sections that detail how these failures of democracy further and disproportionately affect Black and brown people, workers, LGBTQ rights, the environment, poverty, and more. To quote the report’s description of the current state of affairs,

Each day brings more news of corruption, graft, and shocking lawlessness at the highest levels of our government. Basic transparency and routine oversight are stymied at every turn. Corporations and wealthy interests pay top dollar, often anonymously, to influence elections and lobby officials, drowning out the voices of everyday voters. Instead of taking steps to secure our elections, the President of the United States is inviting - demanding, even - that foreign governments interfere in the 2020 election. Americans are feeling, with good reason, that our democracy is broken.

As a result, Americans in greater numbers across the country are rising up to demand that their voices are heard, their votes are counted, and their agenda be placed above that of corporations and the wealthy.

Fortunately, the legislation that can answer the grassroots demand for a just, representative, and accountable democracy was passed last year by the US House: the historic For the People Act (H.R. 1), a landmark suite of reforms designed to take back power from the special interests that have hijacked our government and ensure basic social and economic justice to all Americans. But since it passed, it has languished in Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard.

Despite McConnell’s effort to bury the will of the people, the people have not given up. States across the nation have been passing many of the reforms in H.R. 1 thanks to the efforts of grassroots organizers and democracy advocates, leading campaigns alongside unions, environmental groups, civil rights organizations and other issue groups. These reforms are already demonstrating their value as we see voter turnout rise to as much as twice that of 2016. DI partner Common Cause has create the invaluable tool, the "For the People Act in the States,” a series of maps indicating where key democracy reforms included within H.R. 1 have been implemented across the country, including: automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, early voting, vote by mail, redistricting reform, and more.

Now, more than ever, Americans must be prepared to turn out in record numbers in 2020, take their rightful seat at the governing table, and take urgent action to address the problems facing the nation. Only then will we have the power to pass this transformational legislation and begin to govern on the issues that matter to all of us.

Democracy Initiative Executive Director Wendy Fields gave the following statement on the occasion of the anniversary of the For the People Act’s passage in the US House:

“It's been one year since we celebrated the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1)—a major, unprecedented victory due to a powerful grassroots demand for a fair, representative and accountable democracy that gives all a fair shot at a seat at the governing table. Now we must begin our uphill battle to stop the growth of Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard, where H.R. 1., is buried along with dozens of other social justice policies for which DI partners have fought long and hard. The For the People Act gives us election security, and is key to being able to pass affordable healthcare, climate policies, workers’ rights, immigration and gun control. , Given the level of the poor leadership demonstrated during this health crisis, when government should show up,it’s clear that a more impactful People’s Voice is required. The DI commits to mobilizing and organizing to demand the Senate discuss, debate and put forward this and other critical bills to govern now. We have a great opportunity to make great change.”

Maya Berry, Executive Director of DI partner Arab American Institute, gave the following statement:

“The Arab American Institute (AAI) joins our partners in simultaneously celebrating the anniversary of the passage of H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” and in calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring its companion legislation to a vote in the U.S. Senate. The benefits of democracy reforms like those included in H.R. 1 have been reinforced as millions of voters have participated in primaries. High turnout rates in the primaries are encouraged by reforms like no-excuse absentee voting and enhanced transparency in election processes. In Michigan, the state with the highest concentration of Arab Americans, a newly implemented set of democracy reforms that includes same-day registration allowed 7,000 voters to register on Election Day, including many from our community. Common sense practices that expand access to the ballot, protect political representation, and secure our elections are an absolute necessity, especially in this pivotal year when both the census and the presidential election are taking place. Stalling implementation of these reforms demonstrates a disregard for a democracy that allows the full and fair participation of all, including Arab Americans. The fight to protect our democratic institutions is a foundational one for AAI and we will keep fighting until everyone has full and equal access to the democracy our country demands.”

Sayu Bhojwani, Founder and President of DI partner New American Leaders, gave the following statement:

“The For the People Act has the power to transform our democracy. By making it easier to vote, limiting the influence of powerful interest groups in politics, and strengthening voter protections, H.R. 1 breaks down systemic barriers that so many New Americans and people of color face and ushers in a new, inclusive era of our democracy. The House did its job last year by introducing and passing these key measures. Now it is past time for the Senate to act and show that they are willing to live up to this bill's name and be for the people—not just special interests—by voting for this key democracy reform legislation."

President and CEO of DI partner Clean Water Action Bob Wendelgass gave the following statement:

"The 2020 elections are the most important in our modern history. What we've seen so far in the primaries is both heartening and disconcerting -- voters are eager to make their voices heard but too many are facing outrageously long lines, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. These elections won't only determine whether we turn away from the destructive policies of the past four years, but will also decide who draws the Congressional districts that will impact decision making for the next 10 years. It's vital that the Senate take action right now to protect our democracy and get dark money out of our politics."

H.R. 1 CONTAINS FIXES FOR ELECTION PROBLEMS
On the anniversary of H.R. 1’s passage in the US House, leaders from our partners and allies in the democracy movement reiterated that the reforms included in H.R.1’s package of voting are the perfect answer to the hijacking of our country’s elections by billions of dollars from wealthy special interests, rampant voter suppression and unfair district maps, and persistent ethics violations by administration officials.

Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at DI partner organization Demos, focuses on the money-in-politics reforms in H.R. 1 in his latest commentary. Provisions already contained within the legislation are capable of addressing the racial and economic injustice brought on by the vast amounts of secret money that special and corporate interests spend in our elections:

“The most significant is a public financing system for congressional candidates that would match small-donor contributions — those under $200 — at a rate of 6:1. In this way, a $20 donation would become $140, a $200 donation $1,400. The cost of the program is reasonable — one estimate is $3 billion over 10 years, or $1 per citizen per year. The bill also creates a pilot program of $25 “My Choice” vouchers for people to give to congressional candidates they support.

These programs would amplify the voices of people currently being drowned out by big money. It would offer a path for congressional and presidential candidates to rely on donations from everyday people, not wealthy donors. Similar public financing programs in New York City and Arizona and a voucher program in Seattle have diversified the donor pool and allowed more candidates of color to run.”

In a piece for Truthout.org, Director of the Democracy Program at DI partner Brennan Center Wendy R. Weiser and Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program Daniel I. Weiner make it clear that the most common issues facing voters on Super Tuesday—seven-hour lines at polling places, voter purges, and more—can be fixed by the reforms included in the For the People Act:

“The tragedy is that we already know how to fix our voting system and prevent these problems, and the solutions are already in legislation that passed in the House one year ago but then stalled in the Senate. H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, is a historic bill that would make it easier to vote, transform how campaigns are funded, and ban partisan gerrymandering, among other critical changes.

Long lines, of course, are not the only problem. Serious loopholes in our legal infrastructure make it all too easy for self-interested actors to distort our democracy through vote suppression, disinformation, a broken campaign finance system, and extreme gerrymandering. These problems are already tainting the 2020 election, but they could be fixed by H.R. 1.”

VIRGINIA STATE UPDATES

VOTING RIGHTS
The DI is closely following the status of our key voting rights reforms that have passed the state legislature and await Governor Northam’s signature. We encourage our partner organizations to join us on social media by uplifting and amplifying these hard-won grassroots victories when they are signed into law. The DI collaborated with our partner ReThink Media to produce a toolkit to help you celebrate these victories, which you can get here. Stay tuned for an email from us to let you know when to join in, or contact Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org.

REDISTRICTING
On Friday, March 6, the Virginia legislature voted to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot that would establish an independent redistricting commission in 2021 to draw the state’s maps. The commission will be composed of eight lawmakers—four Democrats and four Republicans—and eight citizens. The measure also accounts for a method to resolve boundary disputes by way of a court-appointed special master and would add explicit voting rights protection for minorities to the state constitution.

DRIVER CARDS FOR ALL
Additionally, DI partners and allies ACLU of Virginia, CASA, New Virginia Majority, and others secured a major victory for all Virginians after a decade-long effort to ensure all citizens can receive drivers’ licenses, regardless of immigration status! The Virginia legislature approved on March 7 legislation to allow immigrants to apply for “driver privilege cards,” a form of ID that functions like a license but cannot be used for voting.

In a statement lauding important victories won for immigrants and working families in Virginia this session, DI partner CASA in Action said

“As the Virginia General Assembly winds down, CASA celebrates major policy victories for immigrants and for workers. Among the many progressive victories celebrated across the session, CASA was proud to contribute to the passage of an increase of the state minimum wage that puts Virginians on a path to get to $15 an hour, passage of driver’s privilege cards for the undocumented, in-state tuition for immigrant youth, and a dramatic increase in state support for educational programming for English Learners.”

DI ally New Virginia Majority made the following statement after the state legislature approved driver privilege cards:

“More than a decade ago, legislation was signed that made thousands of Virginians ineligible for drivers licenses. Ever since, our communities have fought, mobilized and mobilized -- knocked on doors, made calls, attended meetings, written letters, built chapters and leadership—for the rights of immigrants, regardless of status, to drive free of fear.

With the passage of HB1211 and SB34 today, we have won an incredible victory. Soon, all of our families and communities will have the choice to drive. This is a crucial advancement for people who have been waiting too long for this basic right.”

LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE LAUNCHES "AND STILL I VOTE" CAMPAIGN

DI ally Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights launched their “And Still I Vote” campaign on March 2, the day after the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. And Still I Vote is a national call to action for people to take back the power of the vote. In every corner of our country, policymakers have put up discriminatory barriers to the ballot that shut us out. From closing polling places in Black communities to wrongfully erasing voters from the rolls—including low-income voters, seniors, and college students. They are taking away our right to vote and rigging the system for their own benefit.

At its core, And Still I Vote is a national call to action to overcome discriminatory barriers to voting and will spotlight tactics some government officials use to erect barriers to the voting booth. The campaign will highlight stories of resistance and resilience from historically disenfranchised communities, while providing practical tools to fight back.

To learn more about the campaign and get involved, visit AndStillIVote.org.

UPLIFTING BAYARD RUSTIN: CULTIVATING LEADERSHIP

To celebrate the 108th birthday of Bayard Rustin on Tuesday, March 17, the Democracy Initiative has planned a week of social media actions to lift up the work we are doing to cultivate the next generation of leaders who come from the frontlines of the issue fights we are in.

To lift up the legacy of Rustin, and the work we are doing in his honor, we will be distributing a toolkit early next week that partners can use to elevate the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program on social media posts all week long. To make sure your organization receives the toolkit, contact Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org.

In honor of Bayard Rustin's 108th birthday, Democracy Initiative is ramping up our recruitment of mentors for the Bayard Rustin Democracy Fellowship Program.

The Bayard Rustin Fellowship program will support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by Bayard's birthday on March 17th, 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. We’ve prepared a sample letter that you can use to reach out to potential mentors that you can download here.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS

As serious concerns about the 2020 primaries emerge due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are considering Vote by Mail as a powerful option for ensuring the safe and effective administration of our elections. Many in the voting rights community support this option, including Director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU Dale Ho; in his latest for the New York Times, he argues that simple steps taken nationwide to support Vote by Mail can safeguard voters during the 2020 elections.

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) proposed on Wednesday, March 10 to commit $500 million in federal funding to support states’ preparations for election administration, which would include providing voters the option to cast their ballots by mail. Amber McReynolds, head of DI ally National Vote at Home Institute, said a major turn toward vote by mail for the November election would “require state officials to expand their role in handling ballots because local authorities would find it difficult to add to their capacity quickly enough.”

At the state level, officials across the country are considering a switch to vote by mail. Maryland lawmakers are currently discussing the implementation of a mail ballot-only election for the state primary on April 28. McReynolds estimates it would cost Maryland about $8 million to provide mail ballots to the state’s registered voting population, but that the state will have to act fast. State officials in Nebraska are urging the Secretary of State to prepare an all-Vote by Mail election for the May 12 primaries.

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Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 03.05.20

Thursday, March 5, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

NO FELONY INDICTMENTS FOR BRAVE GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS

A grand jury in Houston, Texas decided on Wednesday, March 4 not to issue felony indictments against the 31 Greenpeace USA activists and others charged under the state’s new so-called “critical infrastructure” law for a protesting. 25 misdemeanor indictments were issued instead for obstructing a highway or other passageway, and 22 people still face separate federal misdemeanor charges.

The activists, including 2019 Democracy Champion award recipient and Greenpeace USA Democracy Campaigner, Jonathan Butler, put their safety on the line to disrupt fossil fuel exports and assert their, and all American’s, right to speak truth to power. Their protest at a bridge over the Houston Ship Channel occurred just days after the state passed a law designed to criminalize protest.

Over 100 of these bills, pushed by secretive lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries and Marathon Petroleum, have been introduced in state legislatures around the country. So far, only 17 have become law.

We are proud to stand with Jonathan and the courageous activists as they continue their fight to protect our fundamental and democratic right to dissent.

Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer gave the following statement yesterday:

“We are grateful that the Harris County grand jury carefully considered the relevant facts and law in making the right decision not to issue indictments on the egregious felony charge. First and foremost, no one violated Texas’ critical infrastructure statute. But importantly, this law and those like it around the country unconstitutionally criminalize peaceful protest and violate First Amendment rights to free speech. They also disproportionately affect Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities who are fighting for their lives as they try to stay above water in this climate crisis. It is vital for our democracy and for justice that we protect the right to peaceful dissent. As for the new misdemeanor charge, we will continue to mount the best possible defense for our activists.”

Read Greenpeace USA’s full press release here.

TAKE ACTION: CELEBRATING OUR POWER

AMPLIFY GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY VICTORIES IN VIRGINIA
Over the last two months, we’ve been monitoring the status of a suite of important voting rights reforms that will significantly contribute to achieving the goal of 75% voter participation DI partners established at our annual meeting. As the end of the first legislative session of 2020 approaches on Saturday, March 7, Virginia governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign several key voting reform bills into law that will increase access to the ballot box and make it easier for all Virginians to have their voices heard.

We encourage our partner organizations to join us by uplifting and amplifying these hard-won grassroots victories on social media. The DI collaborated with ReThink Media to develop sample social media to help partners with members in the state. Join us in uplifting and applauding the passage of these crucial voting reforms in Virginia as soon as Governor Northam signs them into law. Get the toolkit here.

They include:

  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting
  • Same-Day Voter Registration
  • Permanent Absentee Voting
  • Election Day as a Holiday

We are also tracking Automatic Voter Registration's progress through the legislature, and our toolkit will be updated with the latest information as it becomes available.

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TWITTERSTORM AND ACTIVIST WEBINAR ON H.R. 1 ANNIVERSARY
The anniversary of the landmark For the People Act (H.R. 1) passing the House is coming up on Sunday, March 8. We encourage our partners to take action with the Declaration for American Democracy coalition, of which the DI is a proud member.

The DFAD coalition has organized a Twitterstorm tomorrow, March 6 at 12:00PM EST to put pressure on Congress to bring H.R. 1 up for a vote. They’ve created a #HR1 Anniversary Tweetstorm toolkit with sample tweets, hashtags, and other resources to help partners participate in the action.

Additionally, to help mark this important milestone with activists, provide more information about For The People Act, and encourage folks to take grassroots action to keep building momentum, DFAD is hosting an hour-long Zoom webinar for activists on Sunday March 8 at 7pm. The webinar is for both activists who have been in this fight so far as well as those interested in getting involved.

DFAD has prepared a sample email for organizations to use for reaching out to their members (which includes a link to RSVP on Zoom). This is a great opportunity for helping your members continue to elevate H.R. 1 and prepare for the next stages of the campaign to get it passed the finish line.

For more information, you can email jlamson@democracyinitiative.org and get connected to the relevant people.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE AT NETROOTS NATION

The Democracy Initiative is going to Netroots Nation 2020. In a time where unprecedented attacks on our democracy are the norm, we are taking the conversation to the largest progressive convening in the country. We have submitted a panel and training reflective of our diverse coalition and our Democracy 365 platform. Help us take Netroots by storm by participating in the public voting period that ends March 10. Create a Netroots Nation login here to participate. You can vote for our submissions once every 24 hours!

Go vote for our submissions on the Netroots Nation Website:

Panel: Democracy No Longer Deferred: Following Most Impacted Leaders is a Winning Strategy
Moderator: Marilyn Carpinteyro, Common Cause
Panelists: Brisa Johnson, United Domestic Workers of America; Jonathan Butler, Greenpeace USA; Bill Cobb, Formerly ACLU; Tentative: Maya Berry, Arab American Institute

In our current democracy, wealthy interests disenfranchise, disregard and exploit groups that have historically been labeled as the "Other." Our efforts to achieve a fair, inclusive democracy cannot happen without leadership from these communities. Hear from activists fighting for workers, moms, immigrants, LGBTQ+ and differently-abled folks and against racism, the climate crisis, and poverty on how they are fighting, and winning, for their communities to be represented in our democracy.

Training: Democracy Champions: Connecting Democracy, Power, and Kitchen Table Issues
Facilitators: Joanne Antoine, Common Cause; Brittny Baxter, Democracy Initiative

To win on the issues that impact our lives: workers' rights, environmental justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, etc.—we must have a base of grassroots activists who are passionate about their kitchen table issues to make the link to democracy reforms. Collectively, we will expand our leadership and capacity for local and state campaigns and build a demand for reform.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE 2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING

The DI hosted a political briefing on the landscape of the 2020 elections for DI partners on Wednesday, March 4, by Political Director and Senior Advisor to the president of the AFL-CIO Michael Podhorzer. We express our gratitude to Mike for joining us and offering his invaluable insights, and for our partners in attendance.

Mike has graciously offered to share his presentation; if any DI partners are interested in receiving a copy of the presentation, email Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN: CELEBRATING HIS LEGACY THROUGH LEADERSHIP

As we enter March and prepare to celebrate Bayard Rustin's 108th birthday, Democracy Initiative is ramping up our recruitment of mentors for the Bayard Rustin Democracy Fellowship Program.

The Bayard Rustin Fellowship program will support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by Bayard's birthday on March 17th, 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. We’ve prepared a sample letter that you can use to reach out to potential mentors that you can download here.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

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Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 02.28.20

Friday, February 28, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

VIRGINIA: REFORM VICTORIES & LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

Over the last month and a half, the opening session of Virginia’s state legislature has seen a flurry of democracy reforms moving through the legislature. Though the session ends on March 7, we've already seen significant victories, and we anticipate more to follow!

Thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots advocates and organizers, the people of Virginia have scored a major victory: three of our key voting rights reforms have passed both chambers of the Virginia legislature and are on their way to Governor Northam’s desk, who is expected to sign them into law. The three voting reforms that have passed are:

  • No-excuse absentee voting (HB1): After having received the version of HB201 approved by the Senate, the House voted to adopt the Senate-amended bill.
  • Permanent absentee voting (HB207): After having received the version of HB207 approved by the Senate, the House voted to adopt the Senate-amended bill.
  • Same day voter registration (HB201): The Senate took up the House’s bill and passed it.

The suite of policies passed expand access to the ballot and demonstrably increase turnout wherever they are introduced; kicking off 2020 with these victories in Virginia is a significant step toward reaching the DI's 2020 goal of 75% voter turnout!

The DI will send around a toolkit next week developed with DI partner ReThink Media to help partners with members in the state to uplift and applaud the passage of these crucial voting reforms in Virginia. To make sure you receive the toolkit, please ask your social media manager to get in touch with Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org so we can be sure to coordinate.

Additional key reform priorities still under consideration:

  • Automatic voter registration (HB235): The Senate took up the House bill and passed it with amendments, which sends it back to the House for a final vote. If this amended version passes in the House, it will be sent to the governor’s desk for signature.
  • Bipartisan redistricting committee (SJ18): Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment that would establish a bipartisan commission for redistricting of legislators and voters. The Virginia House must now pass Senate Joint-Resolution 18, which is currently in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, to continue to three-step process toward amending the state constitution. Reform status courtesy of DI partner Common Cause.

TAKE ACTION: H.R. 1 ANNIVERSARY

The anniversary of the For the People Act passing the House, March 8, is coming up in less than two weeks! To help mark this important milestone with activists, provide more information about For The People Act, and encourage folks to take grassroots action to keep building momentum, our allies in the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD) coalition are hosting an hour-long Zoom webinar for activists on Sunday March 8 at 7pm. The webinar is for both activists who have been in this fight so far as well as those interested in getting involved. There’s also a day of social media action on March 6—stay tuned for more information.

DFAD has prepared a sample email for organizations to use for reaching out to their members (which includes a link to RSVP on Zoom). This is a great opportunity to keep your members in the loop with grassroots efforts of the DFAD coalition, continue elevating H.R. 1, and prepare for the next stages of the campaign to get it passed the finish line.

For more information, you can email jlamson@democracyinitiative.org and get connected to the relevant people.

JOIN US: 2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING ON MARCH 4

We have rescheduled our special political briefing on the 2020 elections for DI partners to March 4 at 10:00am EST, after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3. Michael Podhorzer, Senior Advisor to the president at the AFL-CIO will share polling and political analysis about how the 2020 elections are shaping up for progressive issues and the democracy agenda. We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on DI’s upcoming political briefing with Michael Podhorzer and to RSVP, please contact DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. We’ve prepared a sample letter that you can use to reach out to potential mentors that you can download here.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS

FLORIDA—LAWMAKERS ERECT HURDLES TO SUBVERT THE PEOPLE'S WILL (EDITORIAL)
Over the last decade, Floridians have relied on ballot initiatives to allow citizens to vote on the issues they care about when their elected officials refuse to act. In 2018, for example, Floridians overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians—an amendment which has been under constant attack by Governor DeSantis and the state’s lawmakers. Now, the state senate has introduced a bill designed to stifle citizen-led campaigns by increasing the requirements for the initiatives to be placed on the ballot.

Read the Miami Herald Editorial Board's editorial in the Miami Herald here.

ALABAMA—STATE VOTER SUPPRESSION REMAINS AN ISSUE IN 2020 (OP-ED)
The state of Alabama has a long history of voter suppression, with the most recent examples including the voter ID law of 2011 and the disproportionate closure of DMV offices in Black districts. Combined with the disenfranchisement of those convicted of felonies, 1 in 13 Alabamians cannot vote. The road to fighting these voter suppression tactics involves, among other things, an education campaign targeting Alabamians who still do not know the status of their voting rights.

Read the op-ed by Stephanie Strong, Director of Faith in Action, a DI ally, on AL.com here.

* * *

Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 02.21.20

Friday, February 21, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

TAKE ACTION—STATE CAMPAIGNS

VIRGINIA—KEY VOTING REFORMS NEARING FINAL VOTES
Over the last month and a half, the opening session of Virginia’s state legislature has seen a flurry of democracy reforms moving through the legislative process, but there is still work to be done to ensure they get signed into law. With the session ending on March 7 and the process moving quickly, we’re tracking a suite of important voting rights reforms that will significantly contribute to achieving the goal of 75% voter participation DI partners established at our annual meeting. Over the next week or so, House-Senate conference committees will meet and prepare final versions of key voting rights bills for the final-passage votes. We’ll be encouraging our partners to make use of our toolkit to help these bills get over the finish line.

DI partner ReThink Media has worked with us to develop a social media toolkit for organizations with Virginia membership to demonstrate their members’ support for democracy reform in Virginia. Stay tuned for further updates from the DI and please ask your social media manager to get in touch with Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org so we can be sure to coordinate.

Below is an update on key reform priorities:

  • No-excuse absentee voting (SB111/HB1): Both bills passed their respective chambers, headed to conference to be reconciled into a version ready for a final vote.
  • Permanent absentee voting (HB207): Passed in the House, has just been reported out of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee for a full floor vote. If passed, will head to conference to be prepared into a version ready for a final vote.
  • Automatic voter registration (SB219/HB235): Both bills passed their respective chambers, headed to conference to be reconciled into a version ready for a final vote.
  • Same day voter registration (HB201): Passed in the House, has just been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations. If reported out of committee, will head to a full floor vote. If passed on the Senate floor, will head to conference to be prepared into a version ready for a final vote.

MARYLAND—SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR PREPAID POSTAGE FOR MAIL BALLOTS
The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering SB 33/HB 881, a bill that requires all mailed absentee ballots provided to voters to come with prepaid postage and instructions for their return. We ask our partner organizations with Maryland members to encourage them to voice their support for this crucial reform heard.

Your Maryland members can take action in two ways:

Maryland has long accommodated those who could not vote on Election Day with absentee ballots that can be mailed back with their vote. Absentee ballots are essential in making sure that the voice of those who cannot vote in person will still be heard. The process for using absentee ballots should be as seamless as possible so that voters can participate in the franchise with ease. That's why we support prepaid postage on all mail ballots.

MICHIGAN—NEW VOTING RIGHTS GUIDE & RESOURCES AVAILABLE
With three weeks until the first statewide election with the state’s new voting rights, a new website, https://www.michiganvoting.org/, launched last week to educate voters on the changes to their voting laws after the 2018 elections. Site visitors can access Know Your Voting Rights Guides online, volunteer to become a poll worker, and learn more about registering to vote, request a no-excuse absentee ballot and vote before election day, and more.

Share this website widely with your Michigan members! We want all Michigan voters to take full advantage of the new voting laws that expand access and remove barriers to the ballot.

A broad coalition of DI partners and allies worked to make this guide available to Michigan voters, including ACLU of Michigan, Clean Water Action, Detroit Branch NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Metro Detroit A. Philip Randolph Institute, Michigan AFL-CIO, Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, NAACP Muskegon Branch #3147, New American Leaders, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

JOIN US: 2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING

We are pleased to announce that we will host a special political briefing on the 2020 elections for DI partners on February 26 at 3:00pm EST, where Michael Podhorzer, Senior Advisor to the president at the AFL-CIO. Mike will share polling and political analysis about how the 2020 elections are shaping up for progressive issues and the democracy agenda. We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on DI’s upcoming political briefing with Michael Podhorzer and to RSVP, please contact DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. To help spread the word, we ask that you share our twitter threads on #BayardRustin and mentorship!

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

FLORIDA—US COURT OF APPEALS DECLARES POLL TAX UNCONSTITUTIONAL
A federal court of appeals in Atlanta, Georgia ruled on Wednesday, February 19 that the DeSantis’ administration’s attempt to force formerly incarcerated Floridians to pay their court fines and fees before regaining their right to vote is unconstitutional. The ruling is an important first win for the movement to ensure all Floridians can exercise their constitutional right to vote. It's important to note that the decision applies only to the 17 voters who sued the state.

Desmond Meade, 2017 Democracy Champions Award recipient and Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, gave the following statement:

“FRRC is cautiously optimistic about the recent ruling by the 11thCircuit. This decision is a ruling that addresses an injunction issued in 2019, and the injunction applies only to the 17plaintiffs in that lawsuit. We recognize that there are still many stops in this litigation process, and this legal battle is far from being over.

Until then we will continue to operate as we have been by engaging as many of the 1.4 million Returning Citizens in Florida as possible. […]”

Read more here.

NORTH CAROLINA—SECOND COURT STRIKES DOWN VOTER-ID LAW
On Tuesday, February 18, a North Carolina court of appeals struck down the state’s 2018 voter-ID law, issuing a preliminary injunction that could prevent it going into effect for the 2020 election.

The three-judge panel wrote in their opinion that “such a choice [to implement voter ID requirements] speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner.”

Earlier this month, a federal court blocked the state from implementing the new requirement for the 2020 primaries; if the current lawsuit in the appellate court continues into November, North Carolina voters will not be required to show identification for the general election.

Read more here.

NEVADA—WORKERS SHOULD BET ON A CANDIDATE WHO GETS MONEY OUT OF POLITICS (OP-ED)
This week, the presidential candidates and their campaigns were in Nevada, with a debate occurring on Wednesday and the Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, February 22. It’s only fitting then that Albert Gonzalez, resident of Las Vegas and member of CWA Local 9413 wrote a piece that describes the connection between anti-worker policies and the wealthy special interests that pay to win in our country’s politics:

“Despite winning bargaining rights in democratic elections, union workers continue to be disrespected by the casino magnates who think they can purchase a pass to disregard the law. And this isn’t just a problem in Nevada — it represents what is happening all across America. Our democracy is only working for the wealthiest and most powerful. Like players at a casino, they bet fortunes on candidates who will cut them tax breaks while ignoring the working class, and block legislation that might hurt their profits.”

We agree with Gonzalez that the solution is clear:

“There is a solution that has been passed in the House of Representatives and stalled in the Senate. HR 1, the For the People Act, would clean up campaign finance and force shadowy election donations from billionaires into the light. This bill protects voting rights so that we can speak up at the ballot box — no more obstacles to voting for working-class Americans. And it would crack down on the influence of big money from anti-labor business giants.”

CWA is a founding partner of the Democracy Initiative. You can read the full piece here.

* * *

Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 02.13.20

Thursday, February 13, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

DI PARTNERS IN ACTION

PROTECTING THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE ACT PASSES US HOUSE
The US House passed last Thursday, February 6 the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a crucial piece of legislation that expands workers’ rights and dignity on the job. A functional democracy cannot exist without strong labor protections and the right to organize for all workers. The PRO Act is the most significant step toward strengthening labor laws in the country in more than 85 years.

President of DI partner AFL-CIO Richard Trumka, upon House passage of the PRO Act, gave the following statement:

“The PRO Act is the labor movement’s number one legislative priority this year for a reason. Working people are hungry for a bill that will ensure a process for reaching a first contract once a union is recognized, prevent the misclassification of employees, protect the right to strike and so much else. America is ready for more unions; and a happier, healthier and upwardly mobile workforce will help reverse the inequality of income, opportunity and power that is threatening our families, our communities and our democracy.”

Democracy Initiative Executive Director Wendy Fields, who comes from over 25 years in the labor movement and was the first woman of color to serve as the Chief of Staff of the UAW under Bob King, gave the following statement on the passage of the PRO Act:

In a democracy, the power belongs to the people. The right to organize a union is fundamental to ensuring that people can hold the line against the corporate greed that is overtaking this country. House passage of the PRO Act is an important milestone and it should become the law of the land, not die in Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard. You cannot have a strong democracy without a powerful labor movement.

Read more here.

DFAD COALITION LETTER TO MITCH MCCONNELL: PROTECT OUR DEMOCRACY
Following the US Senate’s vote not to remove Donald Trump from the office of the Presidency, the DI joined 62 organizations in the Declaration for American Democracy coalition in sending a letter to Mitch McConnell calling for the Senate to strengthen our democracy and pass the For the People Act (S. 949), which was passed nearly a year ago in the House (H.R. 1).

For too long, the wealthy and powerful have manipulated our democracy to serve their own interests. The result is a lack of progress on key issues voters care about, such as lowering the price of prescription drugs, grappling with the crisis of climate change, and reducing the epidemic of gun violence. Without legislative action to curb the current culture of corruption, our country cannot effectively address the challenges everyday Americans face.

Our democracy is at stake. It’s time to take action and pass H.R. 1 to put the power back in the hands of the American people.

Read the full statement here.

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS CELEBRATES 100 YEARS OF ADVOCACY
DI partner League of Women Voters is celebrating their centennial this Friday, February 14. For 100 years, the League has fought for the transformation of our political system and supporting millions of voters in order to create a more just, inclusive and representative democracy. DI is proud to partner with the League as we celebrate their long history and look forward to accomplishing the urgent work in 2020 necessary to strengthen our democracy.

The League is sponsoring a Women Power the Vote Day of Actions on February 14, with educational and commemorative activities sponsored by local leagues across the country; click here to find an event in your area.

WASHINGTON, DC ADMISSIONS ACT PASSES OUT OF HOUSE COMMITTEE
On Tuesday, February 11, the US House Oversight Committee passed the Washington, DC Admission Act to the full House for a vote, marking a historic moment in the decades-long fight for DC statehood and full congressional representation.

In her opening statement before the mark-up session commenced, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said

“Congress has two choices: it can continue to exercise undemocratic authority over the 700,000 American citizens who live in the nation's capital, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as 'aliens, not citizens, but subjects,' or it can live up to the nation's promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass the Washington DC admissions act.”

Bo Shuff, Executive Director of DI partner DC Vote, said “It’s a historic day and we’re excited to clear this hurdle and head to the floor. [This is] monumental for the people of DC.”

Read more here.

2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING

FEBRUARY 26 AT 3:00PM

We are pleased to announce that we will host a special political briefing for DI partners on February 26, where Michael Podhorzer, Assistant to the president for Strategic Research of AFL-CIO will share insights and analysis. We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on DI’s upcoming political briefing with Michael Podhorzer and to RSVP, please contact our National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. To help spread the word, we ask that you share our twitter threads on #BayardRustin and mentorship!

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS

VIRGINIA—DEMOCRACY REFORMS MOVING FORWARD
Virginia’s busy two-month legislative session continues this week, and numerous reform bills took another step forward as they entered crossover—where each bill passed in one chamber is considered by the other. Both the House and the Senate have passed legislation that creates no-excuse absentee voting, establishes automatic voter registration, and designates Election Day a state holiday (and scrapping Lee-Jackson Day). Same-day voter registration has passed the House but still requires Senate action.

DI partner ReThink Media has developed a social media toolkit for organizations with Virginia membership to demonstrate their support for democracy reform in Virginia. Contact DI National Field Organizer Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org for more information on an upcoming Twitter Storm.

Additional bills passed by legislators include measures to increase the minimum wage, allow collective bargaining for public employees, protect LGBTQ residents, provide licenses to undocumented immigrants, protect the environment, and fund infrastructure.

Despite the progress on voting rights and a potential path for restoring collective bargaining for public employees, the effort to repeal Virginia's so-called "right to work" law, a top priority for labor, died in committee on the House side.

Read more here.

GEORGIA—JUDGE RULES AGAINST VOTER SUPPRESSION ARCHITECT KEMP
On Monday, February 10, a federal judge ruled against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a lawsuit filed in 2018 relating to his time as secretary of state. The plaintiffs allege Kemp made use of a “racially-biased methodology” that resulted in the illegitimate removal of up to 700,000 (mostly Black and Brown) registered voters from the rolls between 2016 and 2018.

Read more here.

* * *

Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 02.07.20

Friday, February 7, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

STATEMENT: THE SENATE IMPEACHMENT VOTE

On Wednesday, February 5, 2020, 53 Senators representing less than half of the United States population voted to clear Donald Trump of the charges of Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Justice. The Democracy Initiative issued the following statement in response:

2005
Donald Trump
: And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Billy Bush: Whatever you want.
Donald Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Today
President Donald Trump
: I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.
McConnell’s Senate: Whatever you want.

A broken, dysfunctional United States Senate, under the leadership of “grim reaper” Mitch McConnell, is telling Donald Trump they will not check his presidential power – power he and his White House see as absolute and accountable to no one. Just like Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood tape, today the US Senate is telling Donald Trump: when you’re president, you can do whatever you want.

The right of all Americans to have a voice in government decisions is the essence of our democracy and it is what we at Democracy Initiative fight for every day. There is little argument against the basic facts of the case: President Trump openly asked a foreign government to interfere in our 2020 elections. For this, he was impeached by the House. But in Mitch McConnell’s broken Senate, they rigged the trial, refusing to allow witnesses so the American people could see for themselves and have the facts to make their own decision about Trump’s behavior. Now, despite a number of Republican Senators having called it “improper” “inappropriate” and “wrong,” all but Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) voted to ensure that POTUS will face no consequences for this betrayal.

Our democracy is based on a system of checks and balances designed to protect the people, not politicians and presidents. This is one more instance of how the power of the people is under daily assault, leaving our government in the clutches of fossil fuel companies, banking giants, Facebook, Amazon and other behemoth corporate interests who put profits before people and exploit their workers. They have stolen our government to make it work only for them.

But the people are rising up. Over the last few years, a democracy movement of millions of hardworking people across the country have been taking collective action and fighting back. Democracy reforms to fight voter suppression and blunt corporate influence in elections have passed in states and localities across the country. The US House last year passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1), the most far-reaching political reform in a generation. That bill is languishing in McConnell’s legislative graveyard along with numerous other House-passed policies addressing climate change, immigration, gun control and prescription drugs—to the delight of powerful corporations.

Government by the privileged elite should not be the law of the land. Today, we the people have the opportunity to ramp up a collective effort to make our voices heard. We are ready to have those tough community discussions about ensuring clean air, clean water, family wage, equal education, affordable healthcare, a fair justice system, and a Senate that passes policy. Let’s join together now to get our country back on track so that in 2021 the people can govern. The first step is ramping up voter engagement in 2020. Democracy Initiative partners have set the bar high, challenging ourselves to reach 75% participation. The stakes are too high to do any less. We have won tough fights before—like the Voting Rights Act and LGBTQ marriage equality—when these same forces blocked our path. We can do it again.

UPCOMING DI MEETINGS

MOBILIZING MEETING: FEBRUARY 12 AT 3:00PM
2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING: FEBRUARY 26 AT 3:00PM

We will hold our regular monthly Mobilizing & Organizing call on Wednesday, February 12 at 3:00pm EST.

State legislative sessions are underway across the country. Several states are poised to move democracy reforms within the next session, and legislation in Maryland and Virginia in particular is already moving fast. Our discussion will focus on opportunities for your organization and members to take immediate action in Maryland and Virginia to advance voting rights and statewide small donor program.

Agenda:

  • Virginia:
    • Legislative update: No-excuse absentee voting, Same-day registration, Early Vote, and Automatic voter registration
    • Action: Social media action/twitter storm, with materials provided by DI partner ReThink Media
    • Action: Mobilizing VA members to call VA legislators in support of voting rights with patch-through line provided by DI partner National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)
  • Maryland:
    • Legislative update: Statewide small donor and prepaid postage no-excuse absentee voting
    • Action: coalition testimony sign-on
  • DFAD partner update

We are also pleased to announce that we will host a special political briefing for DI partners on February 26, where Michael Podhorzer, Assistant to the President for Strategic Research of AFL-CIO will share insights and analysis. We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on DI’s upcoming Mobilizing meetings and to RSVP for February 12 and/or Febraury 26, please contact our National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

As we stated last week, Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS

AS PRIMARIES APPROACH, RED FLAGS INDICATE VOTER SUPPRESSION RISKS
As recently as the November 2019 elections, DI partners and allies in the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition have identified content posted on Facebook and Twitter designed to confuse voters. As Jesse Littlewood of Common Cause writes,

“new technology has catapulted this threat to the next level, arming foreign governments and domestic disinformation campaigns with communications weaponry to spread deception to millions of voters from simple home computers (or from an overseas troll farm), before anyone even knows what’s happened, much less how to counteract it.”

The growing threat to election integrity posed by online forms of voter suppression has not, however, been received by a proportional reaction from Silicon Valley or our elected officials.   While some platforms, such as Twitter, have recently taken small steps to allow users to flag potentially misleading content, others such as Facebook continue to allow disinformation and outright lies in advertisements (in fact, its policy approves of this behavior from politicians). Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s Senate continues to sit on two bills that could address online voter suppression: the SHIELD Act and the Honest Ads Act, the latter of which is in the 2019 For the People Act (H.R. 1).

Ultimately, we understand that the only way to ensure corporations and our elected officials take the necessary steps to safeguard our elections is by raising the voter participation in the 2020 elections to 75%, so that the people can be prepared to govern in 2021.

Read the full column here.

BEYOND IMPEACHMENT—RESTORING OUR DEMOCRACY WITH THE FOR THE PEOPLE ACT
“If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans oppose the bold reforms demanded by the overwhelming majority of their constituents, they should have the courage to stand up and take a vote. No more games, no more excuses and no more delays. Our democracy works best when everyone can participate fully,” writes Public Citizen’s Vice President of Legislative Affairs Lisa Gilbert.

Read the full column here.

* * *

Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 01.31.20

Friday, January 31, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

This year, the Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. The fellowship is designed to bridge the opportunity gap experienced by Black, Brown and LGBTQ leaders who are on the front lines of social justice work and develop innovative, culturally based ways to address that challenge.

Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

A core element of this new program is mentorship. We are currently seeking qualified individuals who will dedicate a maximum of five hours a month for a year to mentor organizers and staffers of color.

Qualified mentors have:

  • 5-7 years of movement experience
  • Worked a minimum of two electoral or legislative cycles (if field)
  • Ability to connect and engage with diverse individuals
  • Desire to provide professional and emotional support to organizers and staffers navigating movement spaces

Mentors will be matched with mentees based on skill level, growth goals, and focus of work: Organizing, policy, and communications. The goal is to provide organizers and staffers with the neutral council they may need when faced with professional and personal struggles while doing movement work.

We recognize that unconscious bias, discrimination, and cultural differences are all roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

VIRGINIA: DEMOCRACY REFORM UPDATES

Over the last couple weeks, important pieces of legislation supporting key democracy reforms such as Vote by Mail/Vote at Home, Early Voting, automatic and same-day voter registration. Most recently, in an important step toward instituting Vote at Home, the Virginia House and Senate both passed their own versions of no excuse absentee vote by mail on Thursday, January 30.

DI partner National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) is planning a patch-through call-in day of action that will be available to DI partners and allies with members in Virginia. If you have members in Virginia, please help demonstrate the grassroots demand for meaningful democracy reforms to will expand voter access and help achieve the DI’s vision of 75% voter participation in elections! DI partner ReThink Media is developing a social media toolkit for organizations with Virginia membership to demonstrate their support for democracy reform in Virginia. Stay tuned for more information on a Twitter Storm date.

If your organization is interested in engaging your Virginia membership on expanding access to the ballot through the patch-through call-in campaign and/or social media amplification, please reach out to DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

IMPEACHMENT WATCH

The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, which began last week on January 22, has put the dysfunction of today’s Senate on display for all to see. Former Obama aide David Litt writes in the Washington Post that, though it was once considered “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” the Senate “has become a threat to our democracy itself.”

America faces a number of crises:

  • Monied corrosion of the basic tenets of our democracy, leaving government in the clutches of powerful corporations and wealthy elites;
  • an economy that no longer creates opportunity or upward mobility for most, with surging costs and raging income inequality;
  • an epidemic of gun violence;
  • a runaway climate crisis;
  • a crippling lack of investment in basic infrastructure; and
  • criminal justice, economic, and immigration policies built on rotten foundations of racism.

The 2020 elections are expected cost more than $6 billion, much of it from wealthy donors and corporate interests that oppose progress on these issues. Even if Democrats take back the Senate, they will face a system of outdated, undemocratic, and rigged rules that let a small group of Senators, representing as few as 11% of the American people, block votes and bury virtually any bill or amendment, except those favored by the privileged elite—like tax cuts for the rich.

Wealthy and powerful corporations promote and benefit from this selective paralysis. And we know with certainty that it will continue unless the rules are changed.

Inaction and gridlock breed voter cynicism and contempt toward government. People grow apathetic and don’t believe their votes matter. They have heard too many promises and experienced too few results.

There is strong public support for our values of inclusion and justice and opportunity for all. Policies built on those values can meet the challenges we face. Senate rules must ensure that Senators can vote on those policies so America can rise to this moment.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE UPDATES

DI WELCOMES FOLABI OLAGBAJU AS GREENPEACE USA’s NEWEST DEMOCRACY DIRECTOR
Democracy Initiative is excited to welcome Folabi Olagbaju as DI partner Greenpeace USA’s newest Democracy Campaign Director. We recognize his long, impressive career as an accomplished and dedicated advocate for the grassroots and social justice, and we look forward to continuing the important work of building a truly inclusive, representative and just democracy with him.

FOLABI OLAGBAJU is a dedicated human rights advocate and recognized leader in the global social justice movement. He most recently served at the Founding Director for Outreach with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) where he built the organization’s grassroots mobilization program and engaged constituents on priority advocacy issues. Prior to joining LIRS, Folabi held several senior leadership positions with Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) as its Director of Just Earth! a cutting edge environmental justice program and as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director where he managed the regional field program work and translated AIUSA’s human rights agenda into grassroots membership organizing plan and transformative human rights victories. Prior to joining Amnesty International, was with US labor movement as a Research Organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) where he helped low wage, recent immigrant workers organize Unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. A native of Nigeria, Folabi holds a doctorate in political science from the George Washington University.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

MARYLAND—BALTIMORE CITY FAIR ELECTION FUND BECOMES LAW
In an important victory for fair elections in the state of Maryland, Baltimore Mayor “Jack” Young signed the Baltimore Fair Election Fund administration bill into law on Monday, January 27. Set to become available in the 2024 election cycle, participating candidates for local office will forgo receiving donations larger than $150 or any funds from corporations or PACs. Instead, they will receive matching donations from a city-wide fund based on contributions from small donors.

We want to recognize the hard work of the 2019 Democracy Champions Award-winning Fair Elections Baltimore Coalition and our DI partners and allies Baltimore Teachers Union, Clean Water Action Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Demos, Get Money Out of MD, Jews United for Justice, Food & Water Watch Maryland, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG, NAACP Baltimore City, Represent Maryland, and others over the last few years, fighting for fair, clean elections for all Baltimoreans.

Baltimore City residents overwhelmingly supported in the 2018 midterm elections the creation of a small-donor public campaign financing program as an alternative to corporate, outside money-oriented campaigning of the past. Now that the Fair Elections program has become a reality, Baltimoreans have a real opportunity to elect local leaders that are accountable to the people and not outside donors.

MICHIGAN—APPEALS COURT OVERTURNS LAMEDUCK BALLOT PETITION LAW
Key portions of a 2018 law that increased the difficulty of gathering signatures for ballot proposals were struck down Tuesday, January 28 by the Michigan Court of Appeals. DI partner League of Women Voters of Michigan, alongside three voters, brought the suit against the law, which was passed by a 2018 Republican-led lame duck session and signed by former Governor Rick Snyder a month after two pro-democracy ballot measures passed in the 2018 midterm elections.

In their ruling, the two judges in the majority argued that the law’s requirement that no more than 15% of signatures can come from a single district “serves to take power out of the hands of the people,” and that the periodic redrawing of districts will serve to further complicate the process should the limit remain in place.

Read more here.

ARIZONA—FEDERAL COURT RULES LAW AGAINST BALLOT DELIVERY DISCRIMINATORY
On Monday, January 27, a federal appeals court ruled that the Arizona law against the collection and delivery of other voters’ ballots during elections violates the Voting Rights Act.

The majority ruled that the law disproportionately infringes on the right to vote of Native American and Black voters who rely on the practice, and that the intent behind the law was suppress turnout of voters from marginalized communities. Evidence submitted to the court demonstrated that Native American voters in particular have difficulty voting by mail ballot—only 18% of Native American voters in the state have home mail service, and many lack access to reliable transportation.

Read more here.

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Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 01.24.20

Friday, January 24, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

STATEMENT: CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE

In their Citizens United v. FEC ruling​, the Supreme Court of the United States handed the reins of the country’s elections to the clutches of super PACs and unlimited, unregulated, secret campaign money from billionaires and wealthy interests.

Statement from Wendy Fields, Executive Director of Democracy Initiative:

“Ten years ago, with Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court of the United States told the American people that corporations are people, and opened the flood gates for unlimited, undisclosed corporate money in our elections.

They have demonstrated they damn well don’t act like people! At least not the kind of people that care about ensuring everyone has a living wage, clean air, clean water, fair criminal justice system and political equity.

We know who they are. Companies like Facebook, fossil fuel companies, private water companies, private prisons, anti-union companies, and predatory banks want to be seen as people, but—like our President—they are nothing more than greedy bullies who lie to the American people while calling themselves good corporate citizens.

These companies put profits before people, buy politicians to ensure they can operate without accountability, and take our hard-earned money in the form of tax breaks and subsidies 365 days a year. The bottom line—enabled by the Supreme Court—is that they have stolen our government to make it work only for them and their wealthy friends. To add insult to injury, when we rise up, they spend millions to ensure we can’t run for office in fair elections, suppress our votes, provide fake news, and refuse to secure our democracy from foreign interference.

The good news is that over the last few years, our democracy movement of millions of hardworking people across the country have been taking collective action and fighting back—and winning. Today the stakes are high. We must take greater risks to win the greater reward of a true democracy that works for everyone. If corporations are people, then we need to change their behavior. To do that, we must increase voter engagement this year and set the bar high—75% if we are to govern in 2021.”

VIRGINIA: DEMOCRACY REFORM UPDATES

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
There is an important and fast developing opportunity in the state of Virginia to deliver meaningful democracy reforms that can help achieve the DI’s vision of 75% voter participation in elections. Over the last couple weeks, Vote by Mail, automatic and same-day voter registration, early voting, and more have begun moving through both chambers of the state legislature.

On Tuesday, January 21, the Senate passed SB601, which designates Election Day as a state holiday and eliminates Lee-Jackson Day. SB111, which allows any voter to vote by absentee ballot without requiring an excuse, passed the Senate last Monday, January 13. Other reform bills in the Virginia House have progressed into committee. We expect that these bills will be considered for a full House vote soon.

The DI, in collaboration with our partner National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), is planning a potential call-through day of action in the coming weeks to ensure these voting rights reforms are enacted this session; if your organization is interested in engaging your Virginia membership on expanding access to the ballot, please reach out to our National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

Below is the status of several other important bills:

  • HB1—any voter may vote by absentee ballot without requiring excuse; IN COMMITTEE
  • HB201—same-day voter registration; IN COMMITTEE
  • HB207—absentee voting, no excuse required, establishes permanent absentee voter list; IN COMMITTEE
  • HB219—automatic voter registration; IN COMMITTEE
  • HB220—provides prepaid postage on return envelopes of absentee ballots; IN COMMITTEE
  • SB46—remove requirement for voter applying for absentee voting present a reason on application; PASSED BY SENATE
  • SB455—extending the reception deadline for military and overseas ballots; PASSED BY SENATE
  • SB617—authorization of localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; PASSED BY SENATE.

TAKE ACTION—DRIVERS LICENSES FOR ALL

DI anchor partner CASA​ is working with 32BJ SEIU​ and New Virginia Majority​ are leading an effort in Virginia to ensure all Virginians are able to obtained regardless of immigration status. Additionally, New Virginia Majority is hosting a “petition” in support of ensuring all Virginia residents can obtain drivers licenses regardless of immigration status! We encourage you to direct your Virginia members to the action and have them submit a photo in support of allowing immigrants to qualify for the standard Virginia license! Democracy is having full access to opportunity!  

Take action here.

IMPEACHMENT WATCH

As Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump that commenced on Wednesday, January 22, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post offered a powerful analysis of how destructive rulings by the Roberts Court over the last decade that have contributed to the Ukraine scandal and endangered our democracy.

“Ten years to the day before Trump’s impeachment trial began, the Supreme Court released its Citizens United decision, plunging the country into the era of super PACs and unlimited, unregulated, secret campaign money from billionaires and foreign interests. Citizens United, and the resulting rise of the super PAC, led directly to this impeachment. The two Rudy Giuliani associates engaged in key abuses — the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the attempts to force Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents — gained access to Trump by funneling money from a Ukrainian oligarch to the president’s super PAC.

The Roberts Court’s decisions led to this moment in indirect ways, as well. The court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County gutted the Voting Rights Act and spurred a new wave of voter suppression. The decision in 2014′s McCutcheon further surrendered campaign finance to the wealthiest. The 2018 Janus decision hobbled the ability of labor unions to counter wealthy donors, while the 2019 Rucho ruling blessed partisan gerrymandering, expanding anti-democratic tendencies.”

Slate Magazine also ran a piece highlighting how political influence money fueled the corruption at the heart of Trump’s impeachment scandal, highlighting how Lev Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman “managed to buy insider status by laundering $325,000 to Trump’s super PAC—and then leveraged that status to advance the private personal and political interests that are now central to the Ukraine scandal.”

Together with the pressing question of whether Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans will relent and allow witnesses and other evidence into the trial proceedings or continue to skew Senate rules to their own ends as they have in so many cases, there is a lot at stake here. As DI’s Executive Director has said, “At a time when the basic tenets of our democracy are under daily assault, leaving government in the clutches of powerful corporations and wealthy elites is not an option. We must be vigilant like never before.” For the DI in 2020, that means doing all we can to lift up an ambitious civic participation goal of 75% so we can be in a position to govern in 2021.

PARTNER CORNER

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SPEAK ON DEMOCRACY AT "WE THE PEOPLE 2020" FORUM
Last Sunday, January 19, six presidential candidates spoke at the “We the People 2020: Protecting our Democracy a Decade after Citizens United” forum, outlining their plans to end the unlimited, undisclosed money in our politics, protect and expand the right to vote, and ensure a fair, representative, inclusive democracy for us all. In particular, the issue of an increasingly politicized, conservative judiciary was center stage on Sunday, and the candidates weighed in on court packing, ethics reform and a return to the “blue slips” tradition.

The forum, organized by DI partners and allies Brady, Common Cause, End Citizens United, MoveOn Political Action, NAACP, PFAW, Progress Iowa, and Public Citizen, was attended by US Senators Klobuchar and Warren, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, former US Representative John Delaney, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and businessman Andrew Yang.

You can watch the entire forum here.

LAWYERS COMMITTEE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ON VOTER SUPPRESSION
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of DI partner National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, appeared on MSNBC Monday, January 20 to discuss the state of voting rights nearly fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement.

“Right now we are fighting voter suppression in places like Tennessee, where after groups worked tirelessly to register people who had not yet made it onto the rolls, lawmakers went and subsequently adopted a law that would impose criminal penalties and fines on groups engaged in this work [...] so at this moment, decades after the passing of Dr. King, we know that his legacy is important and must guide our work.”

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

FLORIDA—STATE SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF DESANTIS’ POLL TAX
In the November 2018 midterm elections, the people of Florida overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, which restored the ability to vote to 1.4 million returning citizens in the state. Ever since, the Republican-led legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis have attempted to halt the implementation of the amendment by unconstitutionally requiring returning citizens to pay off all court related fines, fees and restitution before regaining the ability to vote. After DI partners and allies ACLU of Florida, Brennan Center and NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed suit, a federal district court judge ruled against the amendment’s opponents. 40 days later, DeSantis and the Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee appealed.

On Tuesday, January 21, the Florida Supreme Court ignored its own precedent and the will of the voters and issued an advisory ruling in favor of the illegal poll tax. Our partners and allies are continuing their fight for the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Floridians; a federal appeals court in Georgia will take up the case in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the coalition behind Amendment 4, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, has created the mutual aid fund We Got the Vote to assist returning citizens in Florida with paying the fines, fees, and restitution that currently stands between them and their full participation in our democracy.

Read more here.

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Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 01.17.20

Friday, January 17, 2020
"This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the dream of American democracya dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few." —Martin Luther King, Jr.

"This MLK Day, let's commit to making 2020 the year to take greater risk to win the greater reward of realizing the dream of American Democracy!" —Wendy Fields

10 YEARS SINCE CITIZENS UNITED

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered its opinion in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the notorious ruling that allowed for the first time in the country’s history corporation to spend unlimited amounts of money in federal elections. According to an analysis of FEC data (via OpenSecrets.org) by DI partner Public Citizen, over 2,200 corporations and corporate trade groups have spent a total of $539 million for the purpose of influencing federal elections. Furthermore, the decision led to the proliferation of “dark money” groups, which are organizations that are not required to disclose information about themselves; since 2010, dark money groups have spent $1 billion influencing our elections that we know about—the real total is undoubtedly higher.

The DI, as a member of the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD) coalition, is participating in a day of social media action on Tuesday, January 21, marking the ten-year anniversary by demanding an end to corporate personhood. You can find a sample social media kit, courtesy of DFAD, here. Tag us at @Unite4Democracy when you tweet about this on Tuesday and we'll be sure to retweet you.

In that time, however, there has been another movement at the grassroots that is gaining momentum across the country. Nearly four years ago, a diverse mass mobilization of thousands of activists and advocates from nearly 300 labor, environmental, civil rights, and faith organizations descended on Capitol Hill for the Democracy Awakening demonstration, a unprecedented display of solidarity and direct action to demand an equal voice in our democracy. Over the past three years, the reform movement demanding money out of politics, expansion of voting rights, and fair representation has grown rapidly with state and local level victories across the country, culminating in the historic 2019 passage in the US House of the For the People Act (H.R. 1).

H.R. 1 brings dark money into the light, gives small-dollar donors a bigger say in our elections, tightens rules on super PACs, and tightens enforcement by making the FEC work again. Under H.R. 1, anyone who breaks the rules will be held accountable. So far, the Senate has not acted on H.R. 1. It lies in Mitch McConnell's legislative graveyard, along with many other House-passed priorities of importance to DI partners.

As we've seen many local and state democracy wins over the past few years, the American people are clamoring for a fair and inclusive democracy. There is a real opportunity to deliver change, but to realize that promise and be ready to govern in 2021, we must aggressively increase voter participation. DI partners have set the bar high—committing to work toward 75% as an ultimate goal and by fighting for essential reforms such as Vote at Home, Same Day Registration and Early Voting, all of which will make it easier for people to have their say in governance.

DI DEPUTY DIRECTOR JOINS #FIREDRILLFRIDAYS

One week ago today, actress and activist Jane Fonda led the fourteenth #FireDrillFriday demonstration in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C., a series of actions demanding that our elected officials take immediate action to address the growing climate crisis; each demonstration is followed by a direct action, where Jane Fonda has joined activists and numerous well-known guests and risked arrest.

DI Executive Director Wendy Fields was arrested at the first ever #FireDrillFriday, and wrote a piece reflecting on the ways in which the climate crisis intersects with the fight to increase voter participation and disrupt the corporate money flooding our politics.

DI Deputy Director Jennifer Lamson was arrested on the steps of the Capitol alongside nearly 150 activists during the January 10 Fire Drill Friday. The majority of those risking arrest, including Lamson, blocked the steps to the Capitol building, while two dozen activists led by Bill McKibben, Senior Adviser and Co-Founder of DI partner 350.org, occupied Chase Bank for their financing of the fossil fuel industry.

Lamson had this to say:

"I recently joined the DI staff after many years of working on environmental issues out of deep concern about handing off to our children a world that is facing inextricably linked twin crises of existential proportion: climate change and the degradation of democracy in the US and across the globe. I've been an activist and an advocate for three decades but this is the first time I've exercised my democratic rights in this way and faced arrest. There were many first of us first-timers there last week, a sign of the times. We also have other important tools at our disposal to reclaim our government from the clutches of the fossil fuel industry and other privileged elites—beginning with massive civic engagement and 75% voter participation in November 2020. Let's do this."

DI Board Member and Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica also participated in civil disobedience on the Capitol steps, and former DI Board Member and Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard has been helping to lead the charge on Fire Drill Fridays since day one. Greenpeace is expanding the Fire Drill Friday effort. You can learn more here.

TAKE ACTION: VIRGINIA AND WOMEN'S MARCH 2020

VIRGINIA—THE RIGHT FOR ALL VIRGINIANS TO OBTAIN DRIVERS LICENSES
It was great to see so many of you at our Mobilizing meeting this week.  Things are heating up quickly in Virginia - the Senate passed no excuse absentee (SB111) early voting on Monday, January 13, and the House version (HB1) will be heard on House floor on January 21. If signed into law, it will be available in time for the 2020 General Election. AVR and SDR would be phased in after 2020. AVR and SDR bills have also been introduced. If you want to stay informed on the progress of all these measures, as well as how to engage your Virginia affiliates and members, please sign up here for the DI Virginia work group.

Virginia Drivers Licenses for all: Immediate Action Needed

DI anchor partner CASA, along with 32BJ SEIU, New Virginia Majority and many others, have been working for 5 years to ensure that all Virginia residents can obtain drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status. Nearly 100 VA organizations and businesses have signed on to a letter of support for allowing immigrants to qualify for the standard Virginia license. You can also add your Virginia affiliate as a co-signer of the letter by Monday, January 20.

There is an important Senate Caucus meeting coming on the evening of Monday, January 20 where this issue is expected to be discussed. If you have a Virginia affiliate or membership that can be activated, please help get some calls of support on Monday, January 20 into these two key Senators:

  • Senator David Marsden (D-Fairfax County), Chair of the Transportation Committee: 804-698-7537
  • Senator Lynnwood Lewis (D-Eastern Shore/Norfolk/Hampton): 757-787-1094

Sample Message: We believe in building an equitable Virginia, and this can only be achieved if we don’t create a second class drivers card for some in our community. Ensuring that all Virginians can access the standard drivers license reduces opportunities for discrimination.This is a better approach than establishing a separate system for immigrants, which opens the door to targeting the individuals who would access that separate card. Please become a co-patron of SB643 and support access to drivers licenses for all!

JOIN US—WOMEN'S MARCH 2020
The DI is proud to join partners and allies as a partner of the 2020 Women's March, the culmination of over three years of a growing movement uniting against attacks on women's bodies, rights, immigrant communities, democracy, and planet. Programming begins tomorrow morning, January 18 at 10am at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC.

The Women's March is still asking for social media posts to drive folks to RSVP for the march, and has provided a social media toolkit to assist partners that you can find here.

We look forward to seeing you there.

PARTNER CORNER

DI PARTNERS & ALLIES SEND LETTER URGING ELECTED OFFICIALS RESTORE FEC QUORUM
In response to a letter written by 31 attorneys specializing in campaign finance law dated January 6, the DI joined 20 partners and coalition allies, including Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and others in urging the administration and Senate to restore voting quorum to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The letter specifically calls for a single Commissioner, as opposed to a full slate, to be appointed in order to allow the FEC to conduct its business in the period leading up to the 2020 elections. The letter argues that a full slate of six new Commissioners that includes nominees who are opposed to the mission of the agency would only serve to hamstring the FEC’s enforcement of election laws.

Read more here.

PARTNERS HOST WE THE PEOPLE 2020 FORUM WITH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN IOWA
On Sunday January 19 at 3:00pm Central time, Huffington Post will join with DI partners and allies Common Cause, MoveOn Political Action, NAACP, PFAW, Public Citizen and others to host We The People 2020: Protecting our Democracy a Decade After Citizens United.

The forum, which will be attended by Democratic presidential candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Governor Deval Patrick, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, will discuss the candidates’ plans for structural reform to our democracy, especially concerning getting money out of politics, protecting the right to vote, and ensuring equal representation.

You can find the livestream here.

DI BOARD MEMBERS ON THE MOVE

Former DI Board Member and longtime democracy advocate Miles Rapoport’s latest for American Prospect, “Not a Typo: States Made 2019 a Historic Year for Election Reform,” provides a refreshing reminder of the crucial, mounting gains made by states across the country in the fight for a truly inclusive, fair, representative democracy.

“As states like Texas and Georgia continue to make headlines for their extreme efforts to limit voting, a far greater number are actually going the other way. In fact, 2019 saw more states advance more election reforms than at any time since the progressive era of the early 20th century. Pro-voter policies ranging from same day registration, automatic voter registration, and voting rights restoration to redistricting reform and the National Popular Vote compact saw breakthrough gains.

While most of these reforms were enacted in states controlled by Democrats, in several states where Republican governors or legislators had acted to suppress the right to vote in 2016 and 2018, reforms were nonetheless enacted in 2019.”

Read the full piece here.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

WISCONSIN—ORDER TO PURGE 209,000 VOTERS HALTED
On Tuesday, January 14, a Wisconsin court of appeals halted an order to purge immediately up to 209,000 voters from the state’s rolls. The original case was brought to court by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm and member of the State Policy Network (SPN)—the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The firm tried to force the purge to happen immediately, clearing the voting rolls of 6.3% of the state’s registered voters in time for the 2020 elections.

DI partner League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, alongside the bipartisan state elections commission, successfully filed suit to halt the purge, with the intention of allowing the state election commission to proceed with their plan to revisit the issue after the 2020 elections.

Read more here.

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