The DI Report

Democracy Initiative Update 07.02.20

Thursday, July 2, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

HISTORIC HOUSE VOTE FOR DC STATEHOOD

For the first time in United States history, a chamber of Congress has voted for DC Statehood. On June 26, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 51 on a 232-180 vote to make Washington, DC the 51st state, with two senators and one representative in Congress. The 700,000 people who call the District home live without equal representation and voice in our democracy, and Friday’s vote is the first step toward righting a 210-year injustice.

Before the vote, Democracy Initiative National Field Manager Getachew Kassa participated in a press conference organized by DI partner and longtime leader in the DC Statehood DC Vote and featuring DI Board member Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters and Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The DI is proud to stand with DC Vote and the 700,000 District residents who are fighting for representation and self-governance, and we appreciate all DI partners and grassroots advocates who have worked so hard on this fight for so many years. H.R. 51 now goes to the Senate, and we call on McConnell and all Senators to pass this long overdue bill into law.

The DI issued the following statement in support of H.R. 51:

“There’s a gaping hole at the very heart of democracy in the United States. 700,000 residents of our nation’s capital do not have a voting representative in the U.S. House or U.S. Senate. More than 325,000 of these disenfranchised citizens are Black.

"Black Lives Matter – and Black votes also matter. Everyone deserves a seat at the governing table, and the path to racial justice runs directly through Washington DC. It is simply unacceptable that residents of the District have no vote in Congress – especially when Congress controls the city’s laws and its budget.

“The U.S. Capitol, where the House and Senate meet, was built by slaves. The promise of American democracy will continue to ring hollow until their descendants – and all other DC residents – have a right to send their own representatives into those halls, to vote on the laws that affect their lives.

“The member organizations of the Democracy Initiative fight every day to protect the right to vote for everyone. We strongly support HR 51, because statehood is a practical way to end the disenfranchisement of DC residents. No one should be excluded from our democracy based on how they look – or where they live.”

JULY 8 MOBILIZING CALL AGENDA

Join us for our next DI mobilizing call scheduled Wednesday, July 8 at 3:00 pm EST. RSVP here.

Our agenda will cover the following:

  1. Centering Racial Justice in Vote By Mail: To protect public health and our democracy amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Brown voters are increasingly encouraged to use vote-by-mail as one of several ways to participate in the upcoming election. DI partner Advancement Project will join us for a presentation on their new VBM messaging guide that provides guidance and tools for organizers and advocates on how to counter vote-by-mail disinformation and provide insights on the potential impact of vote-by-mail on communities of color. The presentation will cover critical points including: how to make VBM work for communities of color, essential policy recommendations, examples of where it is working and which states need improvement, and how to ensure communities of color have the information and tools they need to utilize VBM this year.
  2. State Update: Last week, Kentucky held their Primary Election despite the closure of hundreds of polling locations statewide, including in Jefferson county, which had one available polling place. The NAACP Louisville Branch will join us to provide insightful perspective from the field on lessons learned, how turnout remained high, and the challenges and opportunities moving forward for the November election.
  3. Federal Fight: Stimulus 4: As the Senate prepares to take up the HEROES Act in the round of federal stimulus negotiation, we will share a legislative update and discuss opportunities to ensure the $3.6 billion in funding for elections assistance and support for USPS passed by the House remains part of the larger package.

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday. RSVP here or email Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org for more information.

TRAINERS IN KEY STATES NEEDED

The Democracy Initiative is kicking off July with our inaugural Train the Trainer cohort for the Vote By Mail Democracy Champions training, a virtual popular education style training for activists and volunteers who want to gain a deeper understanding of Vote By Mail as a democracy reform tool. Participants will use their lived experiences to gain a deeper understanding of collective power, Vote By Mail advocacy and combatting voter suppression. Participants will develop the relational organizing skills to engage on both the technical and practical uses for Vote by Mail. Our first cohort meets Thursday, July 9 for a Train the Trainer session, where you will learn how to facilitate our virtual popular education Democracy Champions trainings. We have an ambitious goal to train 10,000 activists this year to become VBM Captains, election workers/volunteers, and poll monitors in key states. Our priority states are FL, GA, MD, MI, MO, NC, NM, PA, VA, and WI.

We are working with DI partners to schedule trainings to support the grassroots campaigns that demand safe, secure voting options for all. If your organization wants to host a training, or sign up staff to participate in upcoming trainings, sign up here. For more information, contact Brittny Baxter, DI Training Coordinator at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE LEADERS ON THE MOVE

AMERICANS STAND WITH THE POSTAL SERVICE
On Tuesday, June 23, DI partners American Postal Workers Union (APWU) delivered over 2 million signatures to Congress from Americans across the country in support of emergency pandemic relief for the USPS. DI partners AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Jobs with Justice, MoveOn.org, NAACP, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Public Citizen, and Take On Wall Street joined APWU for an hour long broadcast in support of the USPS.

Decades of privatization attempts, economic strain from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the administration’s opportunism have placed crosshairs on the US Postal Service (USPS) at a time when their essential services are keeping the country afloat. In a recent article from Associated Press, APWU President Mark Dimondstein said the administration is “shamefully trying to use the crisis to carry out an agenda [of privatization, which would] break up the Postal Service and sell it." Commenting on the critical importance of getting COVID relief funding to the USPS and their central role in our elections in the same article, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields said, “what we don’t need is more chaos in the chaos.”

The fact that postal workers are poised to ensure the integrity of the 2020 elections through handling the increasing number of mail-in ballots reflect that Trump’s attacks in recent weeks on the USPS are part of his multi-pronged assault on our democracy. That’s why we must stand with one of the oldest and most trusted US institutions. We encourage our partners to share our Save The Post Office tool with their members, which allows them to send a letter to their Senators calling for them to support the USPS with emergency pandemic relief.

GETTING REAL ON RACE: NETWORK NOVA’S WOMEN’S SUMMIT 2020 PANEL
DI Executive Director Wendy Fields spoke last Thursday, June 25 at Network NoVA’s Women’s Summit 2020, joining a powerhouse of women leaders (Karen Boykin Towns, NAACP; Marjorie Velazquez, Community Leader; and Dr. Melvena Wilson, Center for Advocacy and Research on Health Equity; with moderator Krysta Jones, Vote, Run Lead) for a discussion of systemic racism and the path to dismantling it in our own communities. We strongly encourage you to watch and share this powerful conversation. You can watch the full panel here.

TAKE ACTION: ORGANIZING FOR DEMOCRACY AND #UUTHEVOTE
Last Wednesday, June 24, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields joined Showing Up for Racial Justice and Puente Human Right Movement to host an 800-person training at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2020 General Assembly to host a training on Organizing Your Congregation to #UUTheVote. The panel spoke to the urgent need to fight for justice in the streets in support of movement demands, and at the ballot box, as well as ways participants can combat voter suppression, protect our elections, and have values-based conversations about racial injustice as a core piece of our electoral organizing. We encourage your organizations to make use of this training. You can view the training here.

VIRTUAL MORAL MARCH: 2.5 MILLION STRONG

The winds of change are blowing. In a powerful demonstration of American’s hunger for real democracy, more than 2.5 million Americans from across the country participated on Saturday, June 20 in the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. In addition to the event’s massive turnout, more than 42,000 people uploaded selfies and stories to the Poor People’s Campaign’s website and nearly 300,000 people sent letters to their elected officials insisting they implement the policy agenda of the Poor People’s Campaign.

We want to acknowledge DI partners and allies 350.org, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFT, APWU, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, CASA, Common Cause, CPD, CWA, Daily Kos, Demos, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Hip Hop Caucus, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, League of Women Voters, NAACP, NAACP LDF, NEA, National LGBTQ Task Force, People’s Action, SEIU, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Auto Workers, UFCW, United Steelworkers, and others for engaging and turning out your members to this event.

Watch the full event here.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

KENTUCKY

Despite significant polling place closures in the state, Kentucky voters nearly matched the state’s primary turnout record with 28.87% of voters participating on June 23, due in large part to 100,000 early votes and 75% of the 1.1 million votes being cast through mail-in ballots.

MICHIGAN
The state of Michigan has seen an historic surge in voter registration and absentee ballot requests in the month before their August 4 primaries. According to recent data from the Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office, election officials have received more than 1.3 million requests for mail ballots, an increase of 250% since the last presidential cycle. Benson is currently working to send every one of the state’s 7.7. million voters a ballot. Absentee voting in Michigan has increased significantly since voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure supported by the DI and our partners in 2018 that allows no-excuse absentee voting.

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Democracy Initiative Update 06.19.20

Friday, June 19, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

TAKE ACTION: JUNE 20 MORAL MARCH ON WASHINGTON

Across the country, in every state, people are rising up to demand justice and transformation in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others. Now, with the intersection of police brutality, systemic racism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic devastation, it is clear that we are in the midst of a moment of national reckoning.

Today is Juneteenth, and we know this weekend will see historic demonstrations of collective action. Since June 19, 1865, the date of emancipation of the last Black slaves in Texas two years after it was officially enacted, Juneteenth has been celebrated as a day marking end of slavery and the fight for freedom for Black Americans. Democracy Initiative is proud to affirm in words and in action on Juneteenth and every day that Black Lives Matter, and that the fight for a truly representative, inclusive, and equitable democracy requires full participation and justice for all Black people.

In honor of Juneteenth, we encourage all Democracy Initiative partners and allies to invite their members, families and friends to join us at the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, a digital justice gathering on June 20. On Tuesday, June 16, Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chairs Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis and DI Executive Director Wendy Fields joined with Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson, Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres, Demos President K. Sabeel Rahman, League of Women Voters of the United States President & CEO Virginia Kase, and Secretary-Treasurer of United Auto Workers Ray Curry to invite all DI partners to join us at Saturday’s event.

Many of our partners are also supporting mobilizations across the country all weekend to stand together and #DefendBlackLives; to find an event near you this weekend, click here. We strongly encourage all participating in public or semi-public actions to practice social distancing to the greatest degree possible, stay safe, and wear a mask.

As you know, the Poor People’s Campaign has been organizing poor and low-wealth people over the last two years around the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and the war economy, ecological devastation, and the distorted narrative of religious nationalism. Core to the Campaign is the belief that poor and dispossessed people, and all those at the receiving end of injustice, can be agents of social change, not just subjects of a cruel history. The aim is to build moral fusion—organizing across the lines that divide us—to shift the narrative about what is possible and necessary, register poor and low-wealth people for a movement that votes, and build long-term power for our communities.

In the midst of these explosive times, the conditions are ripe to move transformative change, but that is only possible when we take action together in new and bold ways.

We encourage all DI partners to sign up with this Partners Form. You can further amplify the event by:

  1. Send an email to your supporters and network promoting June 20th event which will be broadcast on Saturday, June 20th at 10am EST, 6pm EST and Sunday June 21st at 6pm EST.
  2. Promote the event on social media and cross-post the livestream using this digital toolkit.

If you have any questions about getting involved, please direct them to Noam Sandweiss-Back, noam@poorpeoplescampaign.org.

THE WINDS OF CHANGE ARE BLOWING

BLACK VOTES MATTER
On June 14, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields’ Letter to the Editor “Black Votes Matter” was published in the Washington Post:

“E.J. Dionne Jr. was right: Unless we step up our game, the 2020 election could be a disaster for our increasingly fragile democracy [“The last thing we need is a disastrous Election Day,” op-ed, June 8]. That’s why the $3.6 billion included in the House-passed Heroes Act is essential. These funds are desperately needed to expand voting by mail and provide state and local officials with updated technology and resources. We cannot afford an election in which the results are disputed because members of disadvantaged communities were turned away at the polls or did not have their votes properly counted.

Many corporations are using ads and social media to denounce racism. In the coming weeks, we will challenge these companies to use their power and influence to protect our right to vote. Black Lives Matter — and black votes also matter.”

As the fight to secure essential and urgent funding for fair and equitable elections ramps up, we must place pressure on corporations rushing out to affirm the worth of Black lives to back that up with money and advocacy for adequate election funding. It has never been more important. We encourage our partners to use Wendy’s LTE and recent statement as the foundation for a framework oriented toward making those demands.

Retweet the op-ed here.

VOTE FOR OUR LIVES TOWNHALL
Last Tuesday, June 9, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields spoke during the Declaration for American Democracy and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human RightsVote For Our Lives virtual rally.

Wendy spoke alongside:

Wendy’s remarks focused on the need for a massive push for a transformative 75% voter participation and holding corporations accountable by pressuring them to match their words with action. You can find a recording of the rally here. Wendy’s remarks begin at 1:01:30.

LGBTQ WORKERS RIGHTS AFFIRMED BY SCOTUS
The Supreme Court of the United States issued on Monday, June 15 an historic ruling in protection of LGBTQ workers rights. The decision protects gay and transgender workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; prior to Monday, this form of workplace discrimination was legal in more than half of all states. The 6-3 ruling is a landmark ruling that finally enshrines long overdue protections for millions of workers across the country.

DI Executive Director Wendy Fields issued the following statement:

“We’re overjoyed to celebrate today with LGBTQ people and all Americans. Validating the tireless efforts of advocates and activists, the Supreme Court has ruled that no one can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Period.

“The right to secure employment is a bedrock civil right. At a time when our country is often divided, today’s sweeping 6-to-3 decision expands American democracy. Liberals and conservatives on the Court agree: LGBTQ people are included in our nation’s civil rights laws and have the same right to earn a living as anyone else.

“Sadly, Donald Zarda and Aimee Stephens, two of the plaintiffs in the cases decided today, are no longer alive to see the result of their courage and hard work. Their legacy will live on, along with the work of plaintiff Gerald Bostock. Our thanks go to all of them, for taking a stand and making our country a better place.”

Retweet our statement here.

DI partner National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey released this statement following the Title VII Supreme Court decision:

“At this most challenging time for our community, the country and the world, it is heartening to see the Court decision bolstering fairness and equality in this country by affirming that LGBTQ+ people are protected from employment discrimination under federal law. Every person celebrating this ruling has decades of work by Black and Brown trans members of our community, in particular, to thank for the ability to work free from discrimination. And while this is a watershed moment for fairness and equality, our struggle for LGBTQ liberation, we still have work to do.

We must close critical gaps in nondiscrimination protections. For example, it is still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in federally funded programs, including hospitals, colleges, and adoption agencies, as well as discriminate against LGBTQ+, women, and others in public accommodations, including hotels and restaurants. Congress must join with the Supreme Court and the overwhelming majority of Americans to pass full federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

As we face so many critical, life-saving issues, this decision indicates that we can indeed come together and protect all in the workplace. Given the challenging health and economic crisis the U.S. is currently experiencing, and the ushering in of a worldwide movement calling for racial justice, it is more important than ever to protect workers—from nurses and doctors to those working in restaurants and hotels.”

Retweet National LGBTQ Task Force’s statement here.

Read more about the decision here.

WE HAVE A DREAM, AND DREAMERS ARE A PART OF IT
In a 5-4 split decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, June 18 against the Trump administration’s attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a major win for immigrant families across the country and for our communities. The ruling responds to sustained efforts by the Trump administration stretching back over two years to end the program. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, echoed the findings of lower courts in ruling that the administration did not follow the procedures required by law to end the program.

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields released the following statement:

“For the second time this week, we’re delighted to celebrate a Supreme Court decision which affirms the rights of vulnerable citizens and expands our democracy.

“We have a dream, and Dreamers are part of it. The United States is a multi-racial, multicultural society, stronger and more secure because people from every corner of the globe contribute their skills, culture and ideas. The Dreamers who grew up here, went to school here, and served in our military belong here.

“Today’s decision turns on specific legal issues, but let’s be clear: The winds of change are stronger than ever. Sixty-one percent of Americans agree that immigrants who came here as children deserve to stay. The courts, Congress and the president must follow this mandate.”

Retweet our statement here.

Read more about the decision here.

TAKE ACTION: JUNE 23 SAVE THE POST OFFICE

On June 23, postal workers and supporters will join collective actions across the country to demand Congress save the Postal Service. Together with allies in the labor movement and other community organizations, a postal workers caravan in Washington, DC will deliver over two million petition signatures of postal customers demanding Congress pass the emergency relief the Postal Service needs. Postal workers union officials are planning events across the country in support of the petition’s demands. You can find more information here or email: ncc@apwu.org.

The USPS is critical infrastructure for democracy, including—but not only—Vote by Mail. We are all depending on the USPS during this pivotal election year to be there as they always have been—carrying voter registration materials, mail ballots, census info, and so much more that undergirds our democracy. DI partners have been rising in strong support of federal relief funding for the United States Post Office. Partners including APWU, AFL-CIO, APALA, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Daily Kos, Franciscan Action Network, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace League of Women Voters, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and their affiliates Black Youth Vote, Black Women’s Roundtable, Move-On, NALC have recruited more than 314,000 individuals to communicate their support for the USPS. Let’s collectively get that to 600,000—one for every postal worker!

If you haven’t done so yet, please activate your members by asking them to send an email to their Senators urging them to support the USPS with $25 billion in COVID relief funding included in the House-passed HEROES Act. We’ve created a simple tool to allow your members to quickly send a pre-written letter to their Senators. Only the information necessary to send the letter to the correct Senators is required, and none of your members’ data will be captured for our use. It is especially important for Senators in the following states to be educated on this: AZ, CO, IA, KY, ME, MO, KY, TX WY.

Let us know if your organization has taken action so we can include you in this round up!

PARTNER CORNER

ADVANCEMENT PROJECT VOTE BY MAIL COFFEE CHAT

UNION LEADERS JOIN TOGETHER TO DEMAND RACIAL JUSTICE AND SAFE ELECTIONS
On June 16, DI labor partners and allies joined SEIU in sending a letter on behalf of millions of working people across the country to House and Senate leaders articulating the deep connection between racial justice and democracy, and urging Congress to “act swiftly to pass legislation that ensures every eligible voter is able to participate in the 2020 elections amid COVID-19."

“Voting rights and the fight for racial justice are deeply interconnected. The Labor Movement has long served as a bridge, not just between Black, Brown, White, and AAPI communities but among fair access to the ballot box and equal justice for all...

The U.S. Congress has the opportunity to stand with the American people in this time of great unrest and uncertainty by immediately passing legislation that would provide states with the resources to administer the 2020 elections in a safe, fair, and accessible manner during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is imperative that states are able to offer voters a range of options through which to submit completed ballots, in order to have equal access to the ballot box and the promise of a government that reflects and addresses the needs of all people.”

The letter was signed by:

  • A. Philip Randolph Institute;
  • American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE);
  • American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME);
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT);
  • Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA);
  • Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU);
  • Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW);
  • Communication Workers of America (CWA);
  • International Assoc. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM);
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT);
  • International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE);
  • Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA);
  • Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO;
  • National Association of Government Employees, SEIU (NAGE);
  • National Education Association (NEA);
  • National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE);
  • Pride at Work; SEIU;
  • Transport Workers Union of America (TWU);
  • UAW;
  • United Food and Commercial Workers International Labor Union (UFCW); and
  • United Steelworkers (USW)

Read the full letter here.

HISTORIC HOUSE VOTE ON DC STATEHOOD ANNOUNCED FOR JUNE 26
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) recently announced that the House will hold a vote for the first time in decades on DC Statehood next Friday, June 26. We currently expect an overwhelming majority of Democrats to pass the bill, which would mark the first time in our nation’s history that a bill on DC Statehood passed a chamber of Congress.

The recent mobilization and occupation of federally controlled military and law-enforcement personnel in response to peaceful protests over George Floyd’s death has made need for full statehood and autonomy all the clearer. On June 15, DI joined our partner DC Vote and nearly 100 partners and allies, representing millions of members across the country, in calling for congressional support of the DC Admissions Act (H.R. 51). We stand with the 700,000 residents of DC denied full representation in Congress and support their right to full participation in our nation’s democratic process.

Read more here.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: ROUNDUP

ARIZONA
Democratic Party organizations from both the National and State levels are suing state election officials in federal court to ensure Arizona voters who submit a mail ballot without a signature to rectify the error.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The city council unanimously passed a suite of police reforms last Tuesday, June 9, including a provision to restore the right to vote to people currently incarcerated for felonies. Incarcerated people serving time in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities would not be included, however.

FLORIDA
On Sunday, June 14, a federal judge refused Governor Ron DeSantis’ request for a stay in implementing the court’s decision to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated Floridians convicted of felonies. DeSantis is attempting to fast track his appeal process in order to restore the state’s illegal poll tax in time for the 2020 general election.

GEORGIA
Georgia’s recent election proved beyond a doubt that voter suppression is the Republican 2020 strategy, according to a recent op-ed by Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Tom Steyer. Numerous stories that captured the essence of such a strategy emerged from the June 9 primary, but one of the most horrifying remains the fact that the “Christian City” polling location was set in a nursing home. One-third of all coronavirus deaths as of May 11 have occurred in nursing homes.

KENTUCKY
Several voters and a Republican state representative have filed a lawsuit against state election officials, claiming that limiting counties to a single in-person polling location risks disenfranchising thousands of Kentucky voters who live in heavily populated localities.

IOWA
The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee passed a constitutional amendment to end felony disenfranchisement at the beginning of the month. Republicans have recently offered to approve the measure on the condition that they implement a poll tax.

MAINE
Maine Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order at the beginning of the month extending the deadline to register for Vote by Mail by two weeks. The new deadline to register is July 7.

NEW JERSEY
According to a report by NJ Spotlight released Wednesday, June 10, state election officials rejected nearly 1 in 10 mail ballots due to signatures being missing or mismatched with the state’s records. DI partners League of Women Voters of New Jersey and NAACP New Jersey State Conference have filed a lawsuit to prevent the same rate of disenfranchisement occurring in the upcoming July 7 primary.

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Democracy Initiative Update 06.09.20

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER AND #BLACKVOTESMATTER

Black Lives Matter.

The recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, have again exposed the routine cruelty and Black death produced by America’s systemic racism and injustice. Calls for justice and accountability, issued across the country by people fed up with police brutality and violence, have even been taken up by multi-billion-dollar corporations. But in a democracy, justice requires everyone to have a seat at the governing table. And that means overturning generations of disenfranchisement of Black and Brown people and strategic suppression of their votes. Amid COVID-19 and in what is certain to be a historic election year, we know federal funds are desperately needed to ensure safe, equitable and orderly voting in November.

On Tuesday, June 9, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields issued the following statement on how America can turn words of solidarity into action for equity and justice:

“At this moment of crisis, we’re seeing corporate America sharing advertisements and social media messages supporting “Black Lives Matter.” But words alone are not enough; we need to seize the opportunity for change and take concrete action. Right now, that means actively supporting the call for Congress to fully fund safe and equitable elections amid the pandemic.

As a Black woman, I live with the painful reality that the brutal knee of racism can take away the breath of life, the basic right to vote and the bread and butter that feeds my family. The 75 partner organizations of the Democracy Initiative know how important voting and fair elections are to combating the structural and strategic racism that has been used for decades by the wealthy and powerful who defend their positions of privilege by actively demonizing people of color and stoking fear in white communities.

Now is the time to reject any scheme to divide us, and instead focus on aggressive efforts to overcome voter suppression, renew our democratic institutions and expand civic participation.

Our bold, audacious goal is to move to a culture of 75 percent participation by eligible voters. The HEROES Act, passed by the U.S. House and now before the U.S. Senate, includes $3.6 billion to support local and state elections.

If you really want change, if you really want to end polarization and begin to undo racism, it must start with expanded vote-by-mail and safe in-person voting options as part of a fully-funded safe, accessible and equitable election in 2020.

Corporations have thousands and thousands of lobbyists in Washington and spend millions to influence elections. On behalf of our Board of Directors and the 45 million members represented by our coalition, I am urging every one of them to call, write and Tweet the U.S. Senate to immediately provide $3.6 billion for safe, fair and equitable voting. The last thing we need is soothing platitudes and hollow rhetoric. We need to put our money where our values are and take real action to remove obstacles to voting.”

HOUSE-PASSED BILL INCLUDES $3.6B FOR SAFE VOTING

On May 15, the House passed a new $3 trillion COVID-19 emergency relief package dubbed the HEROES Act. The bill includes $3.6 billion in funds for states to expand and prepare their election infrastructures for the November elections, as well as the following provisions:

  • Requirement that states offer online and same-day voter registration
  • Requirement that states offer at least 15 consecutive days of early in-person voting
  • Requirement that no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail is available and accessible to all voters with postage paid by the government
  • Removes the 20% EAC state funding match requirement
  • Provides accommodations for voters residing in Indian lands

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to our democracy—Wisconsin’s disastrous primaries that exposed thousands of voters to infection was the first of many warning signs. Despite reporting a 17 times greater increase in returned absentee ballots, Pennsylvania experienced significant technical issues with new electronic voting machines and saw widespread confusion and intimidation regarding fewer polling places and the presence of armed National Guard. Maryland and D.C. primaries led to calls for resignation from top officials and were described by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser as “nothing more than failed execution,” referring to people waiting in lines for as long as 8 hours and hundreds of thousands of undelivered mail ballots.

What’s clear is that our election infrastructure as it stands now is inadequate for the task of ensuring voters can cast their ballots safely, and the $400 million provided by the CARES Act is inadequate—being enough to meet the needs of only five states, according to analysis from DI partner Brennan Center for Justice.

Since last fall, when DI partners coalesced behind the demand for the expansion of Vote by Mail (VBM) at our 2019 Annual Meeting, it has only become more clear that the equitable implementation of VBM alongside safe in-person voting options, early voting, and online registration are necessary to ensure all Americans can vote in November. The solutions are known but costly.

The House passage of $3.6 billion in election funding reflects the rising grassroots demand for fair, safe elections during the pandemic. DI partners are actively engaged in this fight. For example, the AFL-CIO and other labor groups have recently written to congressional leaders in support of the emergency funding. Environmental groups, including DI partners Clean Water Action, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Hip Hop Caucus, League of Conservation Voters, NRDC, Sierra Club, also wrote a letter in support of urgent funding for state election systems.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and some Republicans support increased funding for state and local election infrastructure, despite opposition to reforms like Vote by Mail. He said in an interview that “it’s likely and its likely necessary” that the next relief package will include more funding. Blunt, a former secretary of state and current chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, also said he is looking at reducing the 20% matching requirement for accessing emergency election funding.

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) recently introduced legislation to drop the matching requirement for states struggling to afford it due to funding concerns related to COVID-19. Former Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has also argued for the importance of safe voting options, and recently said “I frankly don’t think that either party is advantaged by absentee ballot.”

We anticipate that the Senate will take up the HEROES Act later this month at the earliest and possibly the beginning of July at the latest. This is the time to pressure our Senators and demand they provide $3.6 billion to the states to prepare for November. Please use this updated COVID-19 Voting Social Media Toolkit to amplify the call for Congress to provide funding for safe and fair elections.

 

JOIN US: VOTE FOR OUR LIVES TOWNHALL TONIGHT
On Tuesday June 9, at 7:00pm EST, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields will join leaders in speaking at the Vote For Our Lives virtual rally hosted by the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Wendy’s remarks will ground the current moment in the need for demanding the necessary $3.6 billion in emergency funding for state and local officials to hold fair, safe elections during the pandemic.

TELL YOUR SENATORS: SAVE THE POST OFFICE

The HEROES Act, recently passed by the House, also includes $25 billion for the United States Postal Service (USPS). Due to the COVID pandemic mail revenues are down by at least 30%, creating a grave and rapidly deteriorating financial situation for the USPS. The U.S. Postal Service employs more than 600,000 workers and provides a lifeline for millions of Americans who rely on their local post office to deliver everything from life-saving medications to tax refund and stimulus checks. The USPS is also critical infrastructure for democracy, including—but not only—Vote by Mail. We are all depending on the USPS during this pivotal election year to be there as they always have been—carrying voter registration materials, mail ballots, census info, and so much more that undergirds our democracy.

We encourage DI partners and allies to activate their members by asking them to send an email to their Senators urging them to support the USPS with $25 billion in COVID relief funding. We’ve created a simple tool to allow your members to quickly send a pre-written letter to their Senators. Only the information necessary to send the letter to the correct Senators is required, and none of your members’ data will be captured for our use. It is especially important for Senators in the following states to be educated on this: AZ, CO, IA, KY, ME, MO, KY, TX WY.

DI partners APWU, AFL-CIO, APALA, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Daily Kos, Franciscan Action Network, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace League of Women Voters, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and their affiliates Black Youth Vote, Black Women’s Roundtable, Move-On, and NALC have already recruited more than 275,000 individuals to communicate their support for the USPS. Let’s collectively get that to 600,000—one for every postal worker!

Let us know if your organization has taken action so we can include you in this round up!

PARTNER CORNER

DI JOINS OVER 400 GROUPS DEMANDING SWIFT POLICE REFORM
In the wake of the recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, the Democracy Initiative joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and more than 400 partners and allies to demand congressional leadership immediately pass measures to eliminate the institutional practices of policing that lead to brutality and the loss of Black lives.

“Now is the time for Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. While we appreciate hearings and resolutions, we need comprehensive measures to happen. We need Congress to truly step up to the plate and protect Black communities from the systemic perils of over policing, police brutality, misconduct, and harassment, and end the impunity in which officers operate in taking the lives of Black people. It is your moral and ethical duty to ensure Black people and communities are free from the harm and threats from law enforcement and to curtail state sanctioned police violence and militarized police responses.”

You can view the signatories, proposed federal reforms, and full letter here.

DI JOINS COMMON CAUSE IN PRESSURING CORPORATIONS TO LEAVE ALEC
Democracy Initiative recently joined DI partner Common Cause and over 70 labor, civil rights, democracy, and religious organizations in sending letters to corporate funders of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The letters to 30 of ALEC’s major corporate sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, FedEx, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries, Pfizer, and more, urges them to cut ties with the pay-to-play group over ALECs attempts to put the country back to work against the advice of public health officials.

On April 30, the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that ALEC was playing a leading role in the “Save Our Country Coalition,” a right-wing movement to prematurely put people back to work despite the heightened chance for the spread of COVID-19, indicated a shameful prioritization of profits over workers.

You can view the final letters to ALEC sponsors here.

NATIONAL VOTE AT HOME INSTITUTE: 50 STATE VOTE BY MAIL POLICY GUIDE
DI partner National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) recently released a landmark 50 State Policy Recommendation and Analysis guide, a tool that breaks down the array of state policies on Vote by Mail and ranks them based on five criteria, with policy recommendations tailored to each category. NVAHI designed the document “to inform policy decision makers and election reform advocates of necessary policy changes needed to conduct safe, secure, accessible and equitable elections in the limited time frame between now and November.” Given the unique challenges to our state election infrastructures posed by COVID-19, the state-by-state breakdown and policy recommendations are timelier than ever before.

In addition to their analysis document, NVAHI has also provided their PowerPoint presentation on the report for public use, which you can find here.

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: TWO REPORTS SHOW FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY COMMANDEERS COVID-19 RELIEF FOR ITS OWN GAIN
A report released May 12 by DI partner Friends of the Earth entitled “Cashing in on COVID: Tax Breaks, Royalties and Stimulus Loans” reveals the extent of the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying under the aegis of the COVID-19 pandemic, including for tax cuts, royalty relief, and stimulus aid. According to Friends of the Earth senior policy analyst Lukas Ross,

“Big Oil is wasting no time exploiting the coronavirus for profit. Polluters fought hard for kickbacks in the first coronavirus stimulus package and they are undoubtedly up to it again. As Trump and the GOP continue their crusade to prop up Big Oil, we must stop the fossil fuel industry from snatching more taxpayer money.”

The fossil fuels industry’s selfish capitalization on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has at the time of writing taken over 108,000 American lives, is particularly indefensible considering the fact that G20 countries already provide over $77 billion a year in public financing to the industry, according to “Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis,” a new Friends of the Earth report released May 27.

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Democracy Initiative Update 05.12.20

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

TAKE ACTION: COVID RELIEF $$ FOR THE POST OFFICE

The Democracy Initiative is supporting partners American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) to secure $25 billion in emergency federal funds for the United States Postal Service (USPS)—critical infrastructure for democracy—in the next COVID relief bill. Congressional votes on a new funding package are expected in the next couple of weeks, so now is the time to show our support for the USPS.

On May 12, the House of Representatives proposed a new emergency funding bill which includes $25 billion for the USPS, so all eyes are on the Senate. There is some bipartisan support among Senators for the USPS but in the current divisive climate, the USPS needs our help.

Please activate your members right away. Urge them to send an email to their Senators calling on them to support the USPS with funding using our online action portal or create your own action alert using the following sample message:

The U.S. Postal Service provides a lifeline for millions of Americans and critical infrastructure for our democracy. Without relief funds, the USPS is just a few months away from running out of money - at a time when millions of Americans are relying on their local post office to deliver everything from mail-in ballots to life-saving medications.

Congress must strengthen and protect the U.S. Postal Service in the next COVID-19 emergency package by including $25 billion in relief funds to help this American icon get through the recession.

The following states are top priorities for this action: AZ, CO, IA, KY, ME, MO, NC, SD, TX and WY. If you have affiliates in these states who can engage local activists and coalitions in support of the USPS, please contact DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BACKGROUND

WHY IS THE USPS IMPORTANT TO DEMOCRACY?

Critical Infrastructure for Democracy, for Vote by Mail, and much more
Our universal postal service, dating back to 1775 and enshrined in the Constitution, is one of the oldest and most unifying and inclusive institutions of our democracy. The USPS facilitates the free flow of information, correspondence, goods and services to every American regardless of geographic location. The post office is critical infrastructure in our democracy, delivering essential civic information and tools including: critical information about in-person voting locations, candidates and ballot questions, mailings for voter registration, delivering and returning mail ballots and census forms. The USPS also created and maintains the zip code system—a foundational building block in our governance system, providing reference data for polling precincts, legislative districts and the statistical data from the census that underpins spending on social programs.

Impact on People of Color
Letting the COVID crisis harm the USPS is another way the pandemic will hit Black, Brown and marginalized communities the hardest – unacceptable in our vision for an inclusive democracy. For starters, 40 percent of the 630,000 employees are people of color who would lose their paychecks, benefits and stability if the USPS goes under. More impacts of a USPS shut-down on people of color and marginalized communities were described in a recent post from Colorlines:

Many people of color, especially Black and Latinx folks who live in poor, rural communities, use USPS’ last-mile deliveries to get crucial materials such as face masks. Black and Latinx people with disabilities, who make up over 55 percent of the disabled community, also rely on USPS for affordable delivery of necessities like medication. For Indigenous folks who live on remote lands, USPS is a direct connection between their communities and other people throughout the United States. Many people of color also use USPS locations to have access to government services such as passport applications. According to USPS, 6.6 million passport applications were accepted at Post Offices in 2019. For those who don’t have bank accounts or want a secure transfer and/or payment of funds, USPS has often been the cheap and reliable way to send widely-accepted, affordable money orders that never expire.

In a time where many businesses are shutting down, the Postal Service needs material support now more than ever. Though seemingly unimaginable, the USPS’ closure will dramatically push people of color further into the margins, losing the things they need for survival, from fast and dependable communication with loved ones to basic necessities to decent jobs and benefits.

USPS: Beloved American Icon
This is not a partisan issue. Recent polling from Hart Research Associates & North Star Opinion Research showed that “when voters learn that USPS is expected to run out of operating funds by September, fully 92% of all voters support congressional action, including 90% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats. Agreement is very widespread encompassing every region of the country and all generations of Americans.”

The House is on record in support of providing COVID relief funds to the USPS, so all eyes are on the Senate. There is bipartisan support for the USPS but in the current divisive climate, the USPS needs our help.

WHY DOES THE USPS NEED THE MONEY NOW?

USPS—Hit Hard by COVID
Mail revenues are down by at least 30% from this time last year and costs are up, creating a grave and rapidly deteriorating financial situation for the USPS and a looming crisis for the nation. But, in the last emergency funding bill, President Trump blocked necessary USPS support, threatening to veto the entire package, despite more than $500 billion in bailout funding for corporations and is continuing to attack the Post Office and threatening deny emergency support unless they increase rates by 400%.

Despite the current crisis, this iconic American institution continues to provide vital services to the nation. As Americans shelter at home during the COVID crisis, the 630,000 employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) are delivering stimulus checks and tax refunds, masks, gloves, prescription medications and other supplies to 160 million urban, suburban, rural and remote households. These are front-line workers who are risking their health to provide these essential services and there are more than 1200 confirmed COVID-19 infections so far.

TRUMP ATTACKS ON THE USPS

President Trump’s current attacks on the USPS are part of a larger strategy to privatize this indispensable service. The Trump Administration proposed to sell the USPS in the Office of Management and Budget report Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century. That plan would end regular mail and package services at one affordable price for everyone regardless of where they live. Eliminating the universal service obligation—requiring the Postal Service to deliver daily to all 160 million addresses—would be a dagger aimed at the heart America, especially rural communities and the elderly who depend on the mail for 1.2 billion prescription medications annually. It also would significantly disrupt e-commerce at a time when the US economy faces serious challenges.

Most recently, an inexperienced, multi-million-dollar top Republican and Trump donor, Louis DeJoy, was appointed as the 75th Postmaster General. This appointment comes at a troubling time and it remains to be seen how he will respond to the challenges, it is clear that Congress must step up and provide immediate support to ensure that the USPS survives COVID-19 and take care of postal workers.

VOTE BY MAIL PRESS CONFERENCE

The National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) and the DI co-hosted a joint press conference along with Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridge Alliance, and Common Cause around the release of NVAHI’s recent white paper detailing the latest research and best practices on how to ensure equity in vote by mail systems. DI Executive Director Wendy Fields spoke at the press conference alongside speakers from partners and allies including League of Women Voters, National Disability Rights Network, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, speaking to specific community impacts and the urgent need for greater mail ballot access among disenfranchised populations.

Here is the complete text of Wendy’s remarks delivered at the May 4 press conference:

“We start from the premise that a fully participatory election strengthens our democracy and our communities. Every voter must have access to the ballot and have their vote counted. During this pandemic, voters and election workers must be protected. No individual can be left behind in the 2020 Elections regardless of zip code, class or status. Government is making life and death decisions that affect all of us. Voting gives us a voice in those decisions. There is no better time for all states to join Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah who have 21st century voting that includes Vote by Mail.

I speak on behalf of the Democracy Initiative’s 72 partners – labor unions, civil rights organizations, environmental, immigration and other social justice groups – who have been fighting for Vote by Mail for years – including LGBTQ Task Force and League of Women Voters who are also speaking today. Many of our collective 45 million members are essential workers and advocates on the front lines of the pandemic crisis. They are Black, Brown and White, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals. Many of them, along with their families, are among the 34 million unemployed, and vulnerable to the most devastating consequences of COVID-19.

Yet, even while they are fighting for their people on the front lines, I hear from our leaders at the local and state level, especially leaders of color, every day. They demand access and equity in voting. Thousands of them are volunteer poll monitors and supporters of election clerks. They want to do their civic duty safely.

Our leaders see voters in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah voting safely and securely at home, mailing ballots back with pre-paid postage, or dropping them in a convenient neighborhood ballot box and they say: We want that too.

I welcome the new research presented here today by the National Vote at Home Institute. I am not at all surprised to learn that voting by mail, when there is planning and strong infrastructure, is popular and increases voter participation across all demographics. It is a common-sense reform that reduces lines and cuts down on crowded polling places, which in turn helps to keep in-person voters and election workers safe for those that need that option.

Recent independent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that 70% of Americans believe that any voter should be able to vote by mail if they want to. This is not partisan issue. This is about finding the political will to do the right thing.

Governors must move quickly to work with state and local elections officials to make the necessary changes. But state and local governments cannot be expected to fund this election on their already maxed out budgets from dealing with the health and economic crisis. It is the federal government’s responsibility to make safeguarding the election part of the public-health crisis funding. So far, Congress has only appropriated $400 million – nowhere near enough.

This nation has a long and ugly history of trying to keep people of color from exercising their political power by voting and a history of low turnout elections. Corporations are receiving trillions of our hard-earned tax dollars while an American icon like the US Postal Service suffers the fall-out from COVID-19 and partisan political games. But let’s remember, government stands to get a report card this November. Imagine what that report card would look like if 75% of Americans voted.

Let’s rise together in this moment and call on Congress to fund safe voting, expand vote by mail including prepaid postage, and support the Post Office so our trusted postal workers can carry our ballots in November. Our democracy depends on it.”

You can watch the conference recording here. Also, check out this additional new research, released after the press conference, showing how mail-in voting in Colorado has increased voter participation for everyone, across all demographics.

TAKE ACTION
DI recently published a column, entitled “Everyone Should Be Able to Vote by Mail, Especially in a Pandemic,” on the urgent need for expanding Vote by Mail equitably alongside common-sense voting reforms such as safe, disinfected in-person voting options, online and same-day voter registration, and comprehensive voter education. You can read the piece here. We encourage you to share the column on social media and with your membership as part of your advocacy for safe voting options.

DI BOARD MEMBERS ON THE MOVE

Last Thursday, May 7, DI partner Common Cause hosted a webinar featuring Senators Klobuchar (D-MI) and Wyden (D-OR) alongside DI Board Co-Chair and Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.

The webinar covered challenges facing the country as it prepares for pivotal elections under the unique threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists addressed the pandemic’s effects on our election processes and how it contributes to voter suppression efforts happening across the country. In her introduction, Hobert Flynn reiterated the call for emergency funding from the federal government along with an array of pro-voter reforms to ensure safe access to the ballot, including expanded Vote by Mail, online voter registration, extended early voting, and safe Election Day voting for those who need it.

You can watch a recording of the webinar here, courtesy of Common Cause.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

MISSOURI REPUBLICANS ATTEMPT TO GUT REDISTRICTING BALLOT INITIATIVE
In 2018, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly supported the Clean Missouri ballot initiative, a measure that reformed the redistricting process to prevent excessive gerrymandering and appoint a nonpartisan demographer to assist in creating fair district maps—a major win for ensuring fair political representation for all Missourians.

Now, using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover, state Republicans are attempting to undermine the will of voters by overturning the measure. Missouri Senators have recently approved a new ballot measure that eliminates the demographer, returns power to draw maps to legislators, and makes it more difficult for courts to strike down gerrymandered districts. It also makes partisan fairness the least important criteria for drawing maps, leaving open the possibility for legislators to draw maps on the basis of voting age citizens—a tactic advanced by the late voter suppression architect and GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller.

Read more here.

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Democracy Initiative Update 05.04.20

Monday, May 4, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

EVERYONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO VOTE BY MAIL, ESPECIALLY IN A PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 crisis puts workers, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Black and Brown people, and the most vulnerable among us at great risk. They are on the front lines of the crisis. While DI partners and allies are working day and night to protect their respective communities, President Trump is openly pushing a divisive message and leading a deliberate strategy to suppress votes—especially Black, Brown, and vulnerable communities already suffering the most severe life and death consequences from COVID-19.

We saw the ugly results of this partisan political strategy play out in the Wisconsin primary where voters and poll workers literally risked their lives on election day after Republican legislators and courts blocked the Governor’s attempts to protect people by expanding vote by mail, extending absentee voting and delaying the election. 52 poll workers and voters tested positive for COVID-19 after participating in the primary.

All attempts by elected leaders and/or courts to block common-sense measures to secure safe access to voting or to confuse or mislead voters are an attack on our democracy. In this consequential election year, and with the potential for a constitutional crisis looming, the people must be able to participate and make their voices heard.

In Fall 2019, DI board and partners were prescient when they adopted a 2020 mobilizing and organizing plan to increase civic participation to 75% with an emphasis on Vote by Mail (VBM). With VBM, voters receive a ballot in the mail from their election officials, fill it out at home, then return it by either mailing it to their local elections office or drop it off in a designated location.

At the DI, we believe all voters should have the opportunity to vote by mail, especially now amid the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Vote by Mail increases participation and equity when paired with safe in person voting options
New analysis from the National Vote at Home Institute found that properly designed VBM systems increase voter turnout across race, age, income, and education, as well as among voters with disabilities. They also cite a recent study by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab that found very little demographic difference in the use of mailed-out ballots, by race, age, income and education, and that Black Americans appear to be slightly more supportive of mailed ballots than White Americans.

Importantly, the Vote At Home Institute report echoes other recent publications including a new report from DI anchor partner NAACP and the Center for American Progress (CAP) emphasizing the importance of maintaining safe in-person voting for individuals and communities who need that option. Expansion of vote by mail cuts down on crowded polling places, which in turn helps to keep in-person voters and election workers safe.

Both the NAACP-CAP report and a new report from DI anchor partner Demos lay out critical steps to safeguard the voting needs of historically disenfranchised communities—Black, Brown, and Native American people—and the most vulnerable among us—including the elderly, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals. All voters have a fundamental right to cast a ballot and have it counted. In the context of COVID-19, this means voters should be able to:

  1. Get a Ballot at Home and Vote without Bureaucratic Red Tape
    1. Receive and complete a ballot at home.
    2. Completed ballots received before and on Election Day should be counted.
    3. Ballots returned by mail should have federally funded pre-paid postage (like military and overseas ballots already have).
    4. Secure ballot drop-off boxes at convenient community locations, including grocery stores, work-sites, healthcare centers and hospitals.
    5. Community services and healthcare workers should be able to assist in the collection of completed ballots.
    6. Voters should be able to stay on the voter rolls and receive a mailed paper ballot despite having missed voting in previous elections.
    7. No witnesses or additional paperwork should be required to submit your ballot.
    8. If there is a problem with your ballot, elections officials should be required to contact you and give you a chance to resolve it even after Election Day.
  2. Vote In-Person Safely
    1. Early voting at vote centers.
    2. Curbside drive-up voting.
    3. Clean, disinfected polling places staffed by workers who receive full personal protective gear and hazard pay.
  3. Common Sense Voter Registration
    1. Register and manage information such as address changes online.
    2. Register to vote any day including during early voting periods and on Election Day.

State and Local Action Needed
The good news is that every state already practices some form of VBM such as absentee voting. In fact, 26% of all votes were cast by mail in 2018. In Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah elections, all voters are mailed ballots and have the option of returning them by mail with pre-paid postage or dropping them into local ballot boxes. But there is still much work to be done to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to cast their ballot by mail this year. 15 states still require voters requesting an absentee ballot to provide an excuse in order to get a mailed ballot. And, many states with no excuse absentee ballot programs will have to rapidly scale up their capacity to process a huge uptick in mailed ballots as more and more voters choose to vote from home.

Governors and local election officials have the responsibility to ensure that people don’t have to risk their health or their lives to have a voice in governing. The Brennan Center, a DI partner, has compiled and regularly updates an overview of how states are preparing for voting in the pandemic. The wecanvote.us site has voter-friendly up-to-date information on voting processes and deadlines in each state. For more information on how to get involved with state-level campaigns to push for safe, accessible and inclusive voting contact our national field manager, Getachew Kassa, gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

Congress Must Provide Adequate Funds to Help States Ensure Safe Voting
While it is up to Governors and local election officials to make some changes to ensure that people don’t have to risk their health to have a voice in governing, those changes are costly - estimated between $2-4 billion nationwide. State and local governments already have their hands full and budgets maxed out dealing with the health and economic crisis. They should not have to shoulder the financial burden of safeguarding our elections. That is the federal government’s responsibility. So far, Congress has only appropriated $400 million, nowhere near enough.

Call to Action
Congress must step up and provide adequate funds to help states ensure all people have safe voting options this year. They are expected to act on a new COVID-19 emergency funding package in the coming weeks. It is critical this package contain adequate funding for states to virus-proof the 2020 elections. Use this COVID-19 Voting Social Media Toolkit to amplify the call for Congress to provide funding for safe and fair elections.

DI PARTNERS IN ACTION: ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We want to lift up and celebrate actions and cross-sector solidarity by partners and allies in concert with the Democracy Initiative. If your organization is taking action on behalf of DI priorities, we’d love to hear about what you are doing so we can lift it up. After all, it is the creative ways DI partners take action that inspires our field organizing the most. Contact jflynn@democracyinitiative.org and let us know what you are up to.

Democracy Initiative-National Council of Asian Pacific Americans Anti-Racism Letter
Thank you to the following partners, allies, and affiliates who signed on to the joint NCAPA-DI letter standing in solidarity with Asian and Pacific Americans against the rise of racism and xenophobia related to the COVID-19 pandemic:

1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East; 350.org; AAAJ/AAJC; Arab American Institute; AFL-CIO, AFL-CIO Colorado; AFL-CIO Denver Area Labor Federation; AFL-CIO Los Angeles County Federation of Labor; AFT; Alianza de Campesinas; Alliance for Justice; APALA; APRI Denver, CO; APWU; Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago; Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO Alameda Chapter; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO Minnesota Chapter; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO Seattle Chapter; Bend the Arc: Jewish Action; CASA; CEH; Clean Water Action; Common Cause; Communications Workers of America; DC Vote; Defending Rights & Dissent; Food & Watch Action; Free Speech for People; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; Hip Hop Caucus; ILWU international; Inlandboatmen's Union; Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO; Leadership Conference Education Fund; League of Women Voters of the US; NAACP; National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund; NCAPA; NRDC; Oil Change International; People’s Action; Pride at Work; Progressive Turnout Project; Public Citizen; ReThink Media; Rural Coalition; SAG AFTRA; SAG-AFTRA NATIONAL APA MEDIA COMMITTEE (APAM); SEIU 2015 California Long Term Care Local; SEIU Healthcare 1199NW; SEIU Healthcare Minnesota; SEIU Local 284; SEIU MN State Council; SEIU Nevada Local 1107; SEIU-UHW; SEIU-UHW API Caucus; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Small Planet Institute; Transport Workers Union Local 513, APALA Texas; Unidos MN; Unitarian Universalist Association; United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; United Mine Workers of America; Writers Guild of America West, and other allies who signed on.

Earth Day Social Media
Special thanks to Friends of the Earth and NRDC for sharing our recent column on the connection between COVID-19, Climate, and Democracy, and 350.org, Clean Water Action, Greenpeace USA, Oil Change International for amplifying it. And special thanks to Folabi Olagbaju, Democracy Director at Greenpeace USA whose recent blog post inspired our column.

Save the Post Office Action
As our partners at the American Postal Workers Union and National Association of Letter Carriers continue the fight to save our Postal Service from the administration’s threats and from privatization, we thank our partners and allies at American Pacific American Labor Alliance (AFL-CIO), Common Cause, and Free Speech for People for sharing with us the actions their organizations have taken in support of the USPS.

PARTNER CORNER: RESOURCES TO SHARE

TAKE ON WALL STREET: STIMULUS FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT WALL STREET

In an excellent piece from Take On Wall Street, Advocacy Coordinator Mandla Deskins lays out the minimum requirements for Congress’ next stimulus package.

“Our nation is facing an unprecedented crisis with wide ranging consequences. It is imperative that Congress take the lead as we work through this crisis, putting the needs of the most acutely affected populations—white, Black, and brown working people—at the forefront of all further relief efforts.”

Mandla argues for comprehensive measures designed to put working people and communities of color first, including paid leave, provision of PPE, hazard pay and other worker protections. Equally as important is funding for states to undertake the necessary expansion of Vote by Mail and safe in-person voting options, including extended early voting, safe and accessible polling places, expanded online and same day voter registration, and voter education.

We were especially excited to see them call for prohibiting any company that receives COVID-related federal support from all federal lobbying and campaign contributions for the duration of the national emergency. Previous COVID-19 relief packages, including the $2 trillion CARES 2 bill, feature no such limitation.

Read the full list of Take On Wall Street’s priorities here.

VICTORIES IN THE FIELD

NORTH DAKOTA TRIBES REACH SETTLEMENT OVER VOTER ID LAW
Weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to intervene in a case that went on to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans. The decision handed down by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals required ID used to vote to have a street address, which many Native Americans on reservations lack. The decision disenfranchised roughly 17,000 Native American voters who both lacked an address and sufficient documentation to qualify otherwise.

On Friday April 24, the Spirit Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, represented by DI allies Campaign Legal Center, reached a settlement with the state of North Dakota to provide a way for Native American voters without street addresses to vote. Under the new settlement, Native American voters who do not know or do not have a street address can locate it on a map at the polls. Those applying for a mail ballot will be given their street address by election officials.

Read more here.

CO AND VA BECOME LATEST STATES TO END PRISON GERRYMANDERING
On April 22, Virginia became the ninth state to end prison gerrymandering, which is the practice of counting incarcerated Americans as residents of the district in which they’re imprisoned, not where they live. Virginia joined Colorado, which recently became the eighth state to ban prison gerrymandering on March 23, in ending the practice. Prison gerrymandering saps political representation from higher populated urban areas and instead favors the often-rural districts that have prisons. Under these new reforms, both states have taken important steps in ensuring fair maps, representation, and federal funding for their residents.

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Democracy Initiative Update 04.20.20

Monday, April 20, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

DI WELCOMES NEW LEADERS TO THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

The Democracy Initiative is thrilled to welcome three inspiring and visionary leaders to our Board of Directors: K. Sabeel Rahman, President of Demos; Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States; and Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer of the United Auto Workers. These leaders join co-chairs Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause and Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO, and existing board members Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth, and Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA.

DI Executive Director Wendy Fields welcomed the new board members with this statement:

“Sabeel, Virginia, and Ray are experienced, proven leaders who practice the race-class analysis and the bottom-up approach to organizing that is crucial to our work. Each of them understands what it takes to organize and mobilize people for a democracy that works for all - especially Black, Brown and vulnerable communities who have been, and continue to be, the target of voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

Organizationally, we are delighted to have Demos, the League of Women Voters and the United Auto Workers stepping up their engagement with the DI and joining our group of anchor partners who help to lead and shape the DI’s work. The thought leadership and policy expertise of Demos, the historic leadership role and organizing infrastructure of the League, and the front-line workers’ experience and organizing savvy of the UAW will make the DI stronger at a time when the need for solidarity and collective action on behalf of our democracy has never been greater.”

K. Sabeel Rahman

“Our democracy is in crisis—and for Black and brown communities in particular, the reality is that our political institutions have consistently failed to reflect and respond to our communities for decades. In this moment of extreme political and economic turmoil, it is critical to reinvent our democratic institutions in ways that put racial equity and inclusive democratic participation and accountability at the core. The Democracy Initiative is crucial to building the coalition, the ideas, and the strategies we need to make democracy a reality.”

K. Sabeel Rahman is the President of Demos, a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Sabeel is also an Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School and the co-author most recently of Civic Power (Cambridge University Press, 2019), which looks at how to build a more inclusive and empowered bottom-up democracy.His first book, Democracy Against Domination (Oxford University Press, 2017), won the Dahl Prize for scholarship on the subject of democracy. His academic research focuses on issues of democracy, economic power, law, and inequality. He has worked extensively with a range of think tanks, advocacy organizations, and foundations to develop novel approaches to addressing these issues in practice. His popular writings have appeared in venues like The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Boston Review, Dissent, and The Washington Post. He earned his law degree and doctorate at Harvard University, and his Masters degrees at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Virginia Kase

“As the head of an organization focused on empowering voters and defending democracy, I’m honored to join the board of directors of the Democracy Initiative. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s is more important than ever that we stand together to ensure that all voters are able to fully and safely participate in 2020 elections, especially communities of color, people with disabilities, Native Americans, low-wage earners, and other underrepresented communities. The Democracy Initiative draws strength from the diversity of organizations uniting to face this uniquely challenging time. Together as leaders, we will work to protect and preserve our most sacred democratic values of freedom and equality.”

Virginia Kase is the CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States where she is leading the organization through transformation and growth, focused on building power centered around issues of voting rights and democracy reform. Prior to joining the League in 2018, she served as COO of CASA, an organization at the forefront of the immigrant rights movement. Earlier in her career, Virginia spent eight years serving as the National Technical Assistance and Training Manager at the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) in Washington, DC addressing issues of urban violence, economic, racial and social inequality.

Virginia has more than 20 years’ experience working in the non-profit sector and is a passionate activist and advocate for social justice. She has appeared on various television news programs, published multiple opinion pieces for The Hill newspaper, and been quoted in news articles including The New York Times, Time Magazine, and Glamour.

Ray Curry

“I am honored to be part of this broad coalition and the efforts to advance democracy initiatives for every voice to be heard across the nation.”

Ray Curry was elected UAW secretary-treasurer at the UAW 37th Constitutional Convention in June 2018. He was first elected director of UAW Region 8 in June 2014 after having served four years as the region’s assistant director.

As Region 8 director, Curry was instrumental in securing new labor agreements with various heavy truck, aerospace, and independent parts suppliers. In July 2015, under his leadership, the region successfully organized their first gaming bargaining unit of table dealers at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland and in June 2018, the region won an election for representation of table dealers at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, bringing 1,250 new members into the union.

Curry joined UAW Local 5285 in July 1992. His first involvement was on the local’s civil rights committee. From 1998 to 2004, he served in numerous leadership positions. In October 2004, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger appointed him as an International Representative.

A military veteran, Curry served three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and five years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration / Finance and holds a Master of Business Administration, MBA, degree from the University of Alabama.

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the A. Philip Randolph Leon Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award. Curry is also a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and numerous community organizations.

DI PARTNERS IN SOLIDARITY

DI PARTNERS IN SOLIDARITY WITH ASIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump and other leaders are seeking to deflect attention for their own mishandling of the crisis with an escalation of blame using racist and xenophobic rhetoric. As a result, the Asian American community is being targeted with hate speech, violence and vandalism. In response, the DI partnered with the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) to organize a letter to Congress signed by more than 450 organizations condemning racist attacks and discrimination against Asian American communities. Thank you to all DI partner and allied organizations who signed on to the letter. The letter also expresses support for H.Res. 908, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY-6), and its Senate companion to be introduced by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) condemning the anti-Asian racism and targeting resulting from COVID-19.

In a news release announcing the letter, the Democracy Initiative said:

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic and a national health and economic crisis. This moment calls for unity and solidarity. We reject any and all attempts to scapegoat the Asian American community to distract from the incompetent handling of this crisis. Our coalition representing labor, civil rights, environmental, and social justice organizations is proud to link arms in solidarity with our Asian American brothers and sisters at NCAPA and beyond. We applaud Representative Meng and Senators Harris, Duckworth and Hirono for standing up for unity and against hate.”

TAKE ACTION: We invite DI partners to share the letter with their networks and to amplify the letter and promote its message of solidarity with Asian and Pacific Americans against racism and xenophobia.

We've gathered a few sample social media posts and graphics to help you amplify this effort; you can find them here.

CALL TO ACTION: PROTECT JOBS AND DEMOCRACY, SAVE THE POSTAL SERVICE
DI partners American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) are spearheading a unified campaign to secure emergency federal funds to support the Postal Service which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession.

  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mail revenues are down by at least 30%, creating a grave and rapidly deteriorating financial situation for the USPS and more than 600,000 postal workers.
  • The Post Office is an essential frontline service delivering social security checks, tax refunds, absentee ballots, and now COVID-19 stimulus checks to hundreds of millions of Americans.
  • During the 2020 Elections, when we need to massively expand voting by mail to ensure voters do not have to choose between their health and having a say in our democracy, the USPS has never been more essential.

APWU and NALC have set up an online action portal to help mobilize letters Congress and social media in support of the USPS. Learn more and TAKE ACTION here.

TRIPLE THREAT: COVID-19, CLIMATE AND DEMOCRACY

In a recent blog post, Greenpeace USA Democracy Campaign Director, Folabi Olagbaju, makes the essential connection between democracy and climate. As Folabi writes:

“A healthy democracy is a necessary precondition for a healthy environment. Indeed, a vibrant and functioning democracy is our greatest tool to address environmental degradation and climate emergency. We know that when we vote in large numbers, we increase our ability to fight back against corporate polluters and monied interests that have hijacked our democratic process.”

We could not agree more—there is an inextricable link between the existential crises presented by climate change and the assault on democracy. Now, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we find ourselves facing a dire and related third threat: the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The social and economic hardships borne by the COVID-19 crisis are immense and continue to mount.

  • Millions of Americans have lost their jobs while millions more must risk their own lives, including those who provide healthcare, deliver our mail, provide public transportation, and keep us fed—often without adequate support or protective equipment.
  • Immigrants lack access to the social safety net and the health and economic crisis is hitting Latino communities particularly hard.
  • Black people are dying at disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has grave implications for democracy too. Most of us will never forget the Wisconsin voters who risked their lives to cast a ballot after the Governor’s efforts to safeguard the election were blocked by the GOP-led state legislature and conservative-dominated state and federal supreme courts with a penchant for voter suppression.

Another abuse of our democracy amidst COVID-19 is the corporations and wealthy interests using the health crisis as an opportunity to further enrich themselves by hijacking funds from emergency relief packages, coopting the urgently needed stimulus to line their own pockets at the expense of struggling Americans across the country. Look into any industry sector and you’re likely to see examples of lobbyists and insiders courting favors from the administration and GOP during the drafting process (we’ve covered the nursing home industry lobbying to avoid infectious disease safety requirements here).

One of the most dangerous and inexcusable instances of corporate greed with arguably some of the most toxic long-term consequences comes from the fossil fuel industry. In the “collaborative” spirit that has marked this administration from the start, corporate lobbyists, the Trump administration, and Republican senators have worked to block economic stimulus support for the growing clean energy sector at the request of the fossil fuel companies. They’ve also used the cover of the COVID-19 crisis to gut fuel economy standards, scale back enforcement of pollution regulations (a significant contributor to many of the preconditions that make Black and Brown Americans more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19), lease federal land for oil and gas development, and refuse to place restrictions on soot pollution.

This is not new. As DI Executive Director Wendy Fields pointed out in an essay following her October 2019 arrest at the first Fire Drill Friday with Jane Fonda:

The fossil fuel industry spent nearly $2 billion on lobbying to kill climate laws between 2000 and 2016. During that period, they also spent hundreds of millions more on congressional campaign donations and we will never know how much dark money they spent to influence elections. They win big with that investment. Researchers at the International Monetary Fund found that in 2015, U.S. government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry totaled $649 billion — exceeding the $599 billion spent by the Pentagon.

Our democracy has been deliberately broken. We will not succeed in moving to a renewable energy economy if we don’t win the fight for clean, fair elections, and a government that works for all of us. It will take all of us showing up for democracy to confront and prevail against this kind of power. It will require a bottom-up, grassroots demand from environmental, labor unions, civil rights, and social justice sectors, particularly those affected most: workers, marginalized communities of black and brown people, and those in urban and rural poverty.

Restoring the promise of our democracy means protecting and expanding voting rights to achieve at least 75 percent voter turnout in 2020 and in every election going forward. It means stopping the flow of corporate money and dark money into our political system. It means stopping the abuse of power in the Senate that enables the wealthy to get their tax cuts while critical priorities like immigration, gun control, worker’s rights, and more don’t even get a vote.

We can stand up and fight for our planet and our democracy, and it starts with ensuring all Americans can cast their ballots in this year’s pivotal elections. In the midst of COVID-19, that will require Governors and local election officials in most states to make some changes to ensure that people don’t have to risk their health to have a voice in governing. Those changes are estimated to cost between $2 and $4 billion. So far, Congress has only appropriated $400 million. State and local governments already have their hands full and budgets maxed out dealing with the health and economic crisis. They should not have to shoulder the financial burden of safeguarding our elections. That is the federal government’s responsibility.

Congress must step up and provide adequate funds to help states ensure all people have safe voting options this year including:

  • Expanding Vote by Mail and providing pre-paid postage
  • Safe In-Person Voting Options including Early Voting
  • Online, Automatic, and Same Day Registration
  • Voter Education

As Folabi says:

Wake up America! It’s moments like this one that can decide our fate. I, for one, am fighting for a democracy of the people for a better, healthier, more just planet. The elections are coming, and we have to make sure we’re prepared to make our voice heard. Safely.

TAKE ACTION: The DI has developed a COVID-19 Voting Social Media Toolkit to provide partners with assets to communicate to your organizers, leaders, members, and respective audiences across digital and social media channels. Feel free to use on your organization’s social media channels and distribute widely.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM UPDATE

Fellowship Placements Postponed. All Mentoring Will take Place Virtually Until Further Notice

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we at the Democracy Initiative Education Fund have made the decision to postpone all in-person meetings, interviews and mentoring sessions related to the program. The fellowship placement selection process will also resume at a later date (TBD). All mentoring sessions will be virtual until further notice. Anyone interested in providing or receiving mentorship can apply here.

We hope that all are staying safe during these uncertain times. We recognize that everyone is not impacted equally in this moment of crisis. Our work of fighting for a fair and just democracy is more critical than ever. We will continue to press on through the uncertainty we are facing in the coming months as a collective. Be kind to each other, practice social distancing and stay inside as much as possible.

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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.

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