Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 09.23.19

Monday, September 23, 2019
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.


Wendy Fields, Executive Director of the Democracy Initiative, released a statement last Thursday expressing total solidarity with United Auto Worker (UAW) members on strike at General Motors (GM) and making it clear that the right to organize for good jobs is central to our democracy.

“This is a fight for good jobs in the US. Jobs in manufacturing created the American middle class and built the backbone of America. That is why the Democracy Initiative pledges to be one with the striking UAW workers! In a democracy, the power of the people can send a loud message to counter the power of corporate greed. It’s time to return democracy—the power of the people— to its rightful place as the foundation of this country.”

We encourage you to share Wendy’s statement alongside your own personal and/or organizational statements of support. If you post any statement in support of the striking UAW members on Twitter, please tag @unite4democracy and we will retweet it. We will also be compiling statements of support from the DI community to demonstrate our unity across issues in this fight, so share yours with us and we will include it.

See the full statement.


On September 12, hours before the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston, two dozen activists from DI partner Greenpeace disrupted fossil fuel transport in Texas by rappelling off a bridge over the Houston Ship Channel. The activists knew that this direct action would run afoul of Texas’ new “critical infrastructure” bill, a ploy by fossil fuel giants and the right-wing legislation mill ALEC designed to criminalize pipeline protests. According to Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer:

“‘Critical infrastructure' laws like Texas' were created by oil and gas lobbyists and secretive groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council to restrict First Amendment rights and to try to bring to bear extraordinary consequences for legitimate protests. This is a bullying tactic that serves the interests of corporations at the expense of people exercising their right to free speech.”

So far nine states have passed this kind of anti-protest legislation and it has been proposed in many others. We must be clear that the coordinated attack on dissent by special interests is a direct attack on our democracy. Without our ability to stand up and exercise our First Amendment rights in the fact of voter suppression, corporate hijacking of our government, or broad social injustice, we cannot secure the reforms our community and country need. The right to demonstrate is critical for all of us: labor, civil rights, environmental justice, and democracy—the Voting Rights Act would never have been passed without Americans taking direct action to challenge power. Democracy Initiative is proud to be a member of the Defending Rights & Dissent Coalitions, which is leading the fight against these undemocratic laws.

Among the Greenpeace activists who took direct action was Jonathan Butler, who courageously put his own safety on the line and risked two years in prison to disrupt fossil fuel exports and assert his, and all Americans', right to speak truth to power just days after the anti-protest law went into effect. Jonathan’s bold and decisive action, especially in the face of a carceral system that poses a disproportionately dangerous risk to people of color and marginalized communities, perfectly encapsulates the essential values of the democracy movement.

That’s why we’re more than proud to work with Jonathan, and more than proud to have him as a critical player on our team. We salute his bravery and courage, and he deserves to know that he has the full, uncritical support of the entire democracy movement behind him. If you have any messages or statements of support, email them to and we’ll pass them along.

We’ve reproduced Jonathan’s statement following his release in full below.

"For all the reasons I could list for why I participated in this action, all the things that keep me up at night, the main reason is my family. My nieces and nephew. I think about the future I am working towards, and the future I want for them. Climate change is here and now but it's only going to get worse: more floods, more mega storms, and more fires. I want them to live in a world where they have access to clean water, clean air, and healthy food. I wanted to do all that I can and put my body on the line because their lives are important to me.

We have to do the work necessary for a better life, for a better planet. That's why I am here, and that’s what I'm working for. If we are all going to survive climate crisis, we the people must take back power from Trump and the fossil fuel industry — this is the time our movement demands a reckoning."

Read more here.


Democracy Initiative will be partnering with Baltimore Fair Elections to hold a Democracy Champions Popular Education Training in Baltimore on Friday, September 28, 2019! Please spread the word and encourage your Baltimore staff and members to attend!

When: Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 9:30am – 2:00pm
Where: Function Coworking Community, 4709 Harford Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21214

RSVP to the Democracy Champions Training!

The training is open to anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of advancing reforms like this bill, as well as how to talk about democracy and power in Baltimore and across Maryland. Any questions should be directed to our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at

On September 17, Baltimoreans and partners turned out to the Fair Election Fund public hearing to voice their overwhelming support for the Fair Election Fund. Written and spoken testimony consistently pointed to the program’s potential to eliminate the influence of outside wealthy donors over Baltimore politics, increase overall resident participation, and allow local candidates to focus on generating support from the communities they’ll represent. In a study conducted by Maryland PIRG on the Montgomery County version of the program, program participants relied on small donor contributions for 98% of their funding, compared to 3% from candidates who fundraised in the traditional manner.

We want to recognize our partners and allies Baltimore Teachers Union, Common Cause Maryland, Demos, Get Money Out of MD, Jews United for Justice, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, League of Women Voters of Maryland, and NAACP for showing up to provide testimony and support the people of Baltimore in their fight for fair, people-powered elections.


Wednesday, September 25, 3PM EST / NOON PST
We are having an important Mobilizing Meeting this week, Wednesday, September 25th at 3 pm EST where we will kick off our campaign planning for 2020 and 2021. We will have a wide-ranging discussion about developing a campaign strategy to increase turnout, win major state-level democracy reforms, and set the table to govern and pass transformative legislation in 2021. We want to hear your best ideas, your priorities, and how the DI can help you meet the challenges you face.
In addition, we are very fortunate that the legislative director of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Josh Nassar, will joining us at the Sept. 25 Mobilizing Meeting to provide an update on ways to support the UAW General Motors (GM) strike that has galvanized our movement. This is an important moment for all progressives and we need to stand in solidarity with the UAW and commit to being strong allies in this fight. Wendy Fields, Executive Director of the Democracy Initiative, released a statement yesterday expressing strong solidarity with UAW members who are on strike at GM and making it clear that the right to organize for good jobs is central to our democracy.
For more information and to RSVP, email Getachew Kassa at


We are now accepting RSVP’s for the 2019 DI Annual Meeting! Partner organization principals and key staff are encouraged to RSVP here.

Additionally, please complete our 2019 Annual Meeting Survey to provide critical input into DI strategy in 2020 and 2021 by sharing your organization’s priorities, as well as nominate candidates for our 3rd Annual Democracy Champions Award Reception following the meeting. In order to submit organizational priorities and Democracy Champions nominations, please complete the Annual Meeting Survey here.

Questions? Contact Getachew Kassa at for more information.



In a historic hearing on Thursday, September 19, the issue of DC Statehood was brought to the halls of Congress and the forefront of the American public. Advocates testified for DC’s admission as the 51st state, which would grant representation to over 700,000 taxpaying residents, the ability to govern themselves, and finally ensure DC residents a full, equal voice in our democracy. Residents and supporters, wearing red and white for DC statehood, filled the room, several overflow rooms, and watch parties were held across the District. You can read more about the hearing here.

We want to recognize the hard work of our partner DC Vote in mobilizing an incredible turnout for this critical hearing, and acknowledge our partners Jobs with Justice, League of Women Voters, National Action Network, Sierra Club for making sure to #ShowUp4DC today!


Last Friday, September 20, people across the world are striking for the climate. A movement started by now-16-year-old Greta Thunberg and students in Sweden skipping school to protest the lack of climate action. The movement has since grown worldwide, and now, the students have encouraged anyone and everyone to join their demands for a Green New Deal, respect for indigenous land and sovereignty, environmental justice, protection for biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture. DI partners, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and others have voiced their support for the mobilization.

It’s important to recognize the power of collective, direct action in a time when our government’s inaction and gridlock has stifled meaningful change—action demanded by the people most impacted. When Congress fails to act, the people must make their voices heard, and the solidarity, popular power, and momentum generated by collective action can and often does translate into real change.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica and DI Training & Movement Building Coordinator Brittny Baxter.



According to a report conducted by DI partners Maryland PIRG, the small donor public financing program instituted in Montgomery County successfully managed to encourage a greater diversity of local candidates to run without catering to wealthy and corporate donors. Similar versions of the program, which provides qualifying candidates with matching public funds if they collect a certain number of donations under $150, have passed in every county in the state. In last years elections, 57 candidates for county executive and council enrolled into the program and 24 raised enough small donor funds to qualify for public matching. Two-thirds of the winning council candidates participated in the program.

Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG, said in a quote that “Candidates who qualified for our program received nearly twice as many contributions as those who didn’t choose to participate, which I think really shows that there’s an appetite for public financing.

Read more here.



North Carolina’s Republican majority legislature passed new state House and Senate district maps on Tuesday after a court-ordered redraw. The decision, handed down earlier this month, found that the maps drawn in 2017 were gerrymandered along partisan lines in violation of the state constitution. According to Stephen Wolf of DailyKos, the new maps still demonstrate evidence of partisan gerrymandering. While the court reserved for itself the right to appoint a nonpartisan arbitrator to redraw the maps should the legislature fail to comply with the court order, some of the GOP legislators are claiming legitimacy by pointing to the support of some Senate Democrats for the new maps.

Read the analysis here.

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