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.


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.


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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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 and get connected to the relevant people.


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.


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


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

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