Press Release

Statement by Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative

In response to federal appeals court striking down North Carolina’s Voter ID law
Friday, July 29, 2016

Contact: Beth Kanter (773) 551-7044, beth@spitfirestrategies.com                                                      

Today’s ruling by the federal appeals court striking down North Carolina’s racially-motivated voter identification law is reason for every Tar Heel to applaud this significant victory for democracy. And we applaud the entire team of plaintiffs in their forceful and effective take-down of this offensive law.

The supporters of this restrictive law had only one goal in mind: to silence the voices of people of color. We cannot and will not allow that to happen. Not in North Carolina, not in any state in our democratic union.

With this decision, North Carolina will continue to wipe away the discriminatory vestiges of its past and points to a brighter future for North Carolina where everyone can exercise their constitutional rights and participate in our democracy.

This decision is yet another example that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice; sometimes it takes the courts to reinforce that bend.

Wendy Fields is the Executive Director of the Democracy Initiative. Prior to joining the Democracy Initiative, Wendy was the Vice President for Campaigns and Strategic Partnerships at Common Cause, where she focused on linking economic inequality and racial inequality to the democracy agenda. Previously, she spent more than 20 years at the United Auto Workers International Union where she devoted her time to organizing and coalition building.

 

DI Statement in response to Introduction of Reform Package

Friday, July 15, 2016

Statement by Larry Cohen, Chair, Democracy Initiative

In response to introduction of legislative package to improve political system

 

The introduction in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of a comprehensive set of campaign finance reform and voter registration policies is an important victory for both the American people and our democracy.

 

A democracy only works when the voice of each person is heard and counted equally. Today, that fundamental value of political equity is under siege from twin forces that are inextricably linked – the rise in systemic voter suppression and disenfranchisement and the massive influx of big money in our political system.

 

We cannot achieve success on the country’s most pressing issues – civil rights, climate change, women’s and worker’s rights and racial and economic inequality – unless we address these weaknesses and strengthen the fundamental pillars of our democracy.

 

That is why the Democracy Initiative many of its 59 member organizations and other partners worked to ensure that voter suppression and disenfranchisement and money in politics to be addressed simultaneously in this package of policies – because we can only strengthen our democracy and make it work for all Americans by addressing both.

 

Larry Cohen is chair of the Democracy Initiative and the immediate past president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). 

 

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Democracy Initiative Board

 

Larry Cohen, Chair

Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President & CEO

Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director

Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President

Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA Executive Director

Karen Hobert-Flynn, Common Cause President

Wendy Fields, Democracy Initiative Executive Director

 

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Statement by Larry Cohen, Chair, Democracy Initiative

In response to last night’s Senate filibuster by Sen. Chris Murphy
Thursday, June 16, 2016

Last night’s fearless filibuster - spearheaded by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) – was a win for democracy. Sen. Murphy and his colleagues used the filibuster as it was intended – to ensure the minority voice is heard.

Too often, senators abuse this rule and hold “silent” filibusters, bringing critical legislation to a screeching halt without ever having to give anyone an explanation. The threat of filibuster can have the same effect – bills and nominations are left hanging out to dry until a senator gets what he or she wants – often on an unrelated project or provision that scores points back home or curries favor with a special interest. This stranglehold on democracy must end.

Three years ago, because of an abuse of the Senate rules, the Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks for certain types of gun sales, despite having a majority of the Senate’s support.

Last night, we saw the stark difference that the democratic process can have when it is used to advance the voice of the people rather than silence it.

Larry Cohen is chair of the Democracy Initiative and the immediate past president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). He was president of CWA from 2005 until June 2015. He is a leading voice for workers’ rights, fair trade, voting rights and big money out of politics. He is a member of the Democratic National Committee, and chaired the AFL-CIO organizing committee for the past ten years.

The Nation: The Most Important Protest of the 2016 Election

1,400 activists have been arrested at Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring, but few in the media have covered it.
Friday, May 13, 2016

Covering Democracy Awakening April 16-18, The Nation's Zoë Carpenter and Ari Berman highlighted the importance of the mobilization where thousands of activists, advocates, and organizations rallied for democracy and marched on the Capitol. Hundreds were arrested in one of the largest mass actions in decades to protect voting rights protections, getting big money out of politics, and an up or down vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

Click here to read The Nation article by Zoë Carpenter and Ari Berman.

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Democracy Awakening Brings Thousands of Activists and Advocates to Rally in Washington, DC

Democracy Initiative environmental, labor, civil rights, and student organizations are mobilizing thousands to fight for an equal voice in our democracy at U.S. Capitol this weekend
Friday, April 15, 2016

Washington, DC – This weekend, April 16-18, the Democracy Initiative and its endorsing organizations are participating in Democracy Awakening, bringing together thousands of members, activists, and advocates from a wide variety of backgrounds to fight for an equal and influential voice in our democracy as the power of money in politics, attacks on voting rights, and Senate obstruction over the Supreme Court nomination process are disenfranchising voters across the country. Notably, Democracy Awakening participants from various ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as issue communities of environment, labor, good government and civil rights reflect the modern and diverse coalitions demanding systemic reform in our political process.

“Congress' refusal to take action on voting rights, money in politics, and the pending Supreme Court nomination is systematically undermining our democracy and denying the American people an equal voice in our political process,” said Democracy Initiative Chair Larry Cohen. “This is the time to stand up and fight back. We need solutions for the real problems people face – massive student debt, jobs without real benefits, and equal pay for women. Democracy Awakening is the voice of thousands of Americans in Washington, DC and millions more across the country demanding action.”

More than 200 organizations have joined together to fight back against and out-of-balance system dominated by wealthy special interests that produces outcomes that fail to reflect the needs and concerns of everyday people. That is why thousands are joining for a rally this Sunday and why thousands more are risking arrest on Monday to demand a Congress of Conscience. A full day of workshops, panels, and forums will educate participants on Saturday and explore the convergence of democracy issues.

Democracy Awakening uniquely represents the diverse potential of American democracy with a wide array of constituencies prepared to fight side by side. Young and old, people of color, and those of every economic class are joining together to build a democracy of, by, and for the people.

 

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The Movement to Fix Democracy Can't Be Stopped

Democracy Awakening inspires Americans hungry for a government that works for all as tens of thousands participate in a tele town hall and sign up to mobilize in Washington
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Washington, DC – Regardless of the outcome of the presidential primary, it is clear voters are demanding a democracy that guarantees all Americans an equal voice. As the polls closed on Super Tuesday, nearly 12,000 activists and advocates joined a tele town hall (click here for recording) with leaders from the labor, environment, and civil rights communities to hear about Democracy Awakening and the Congress of Conscience. The historic event will mobilize thousands, some participating in direct action, to come to Washington, DC April 16th-18th to demand a democracy where every vote is heard and counted, and all Americans have an equal voice.

Speakers on the tele town hall included NAACP President & CEO Cornell William Brooks, Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard, Former U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chair Mary Frances Berry, CWA President Chris Shelton, and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. They touched on the critical solutions to rebalance our democracy – restoring and expanding essential voting rights protections, and curbing the power of wealthy special interests and corporations on elections, and fighting obstruction of the president’s Supreme Court nomination.

“We have Super Tuesday today but that’s not directly solving any problems. I say the only way to do so is to mobilize,” said Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “If you look at history, the only way people really can change the structure of power in Washington and in America is through mobilizing, through organizing, through energizing, through showing up and asserting their rights as people – making a ruckus!”

Supported by over 180 groups including a recent endorsement from the AFL-CIO Executive Council and its 12.7 million members, and with more than 10,000 people signed up on the website, the people demanding a democracy that works for all of us will continue regardless of the nominees.

“Together, through Democracy Awakening, we are standing up for the right to vote and we are standing up for the integrity of the vote,” said NAACP President & CEO Cornell William Brooks. “Why? Because we well understand the need to protect citizens’ votes from being stolen before the election and legislators’ votes from being bought and sold after the elections. We have to stand together, to stand with courage.”

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Democracy Initiative Responds to Passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Unexpected passing ignites U.S. Senate battle over President Obama’s anticipated SCOTUS nominee in election year
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Washington, DC – Following the unexpected passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Democracy Initiative issued the following statement:

“The President joined the nation in mourning the loss and honoring the life of Justice Antonin Scalia, a dedicated public servant and advocate for the ideals enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The President was clear that he intends to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. He also called on the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give the nominee a fair hearing and timely vote.  

“Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley has indicated his willingness to use the process to stop any nominee, announcing, ‘…it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.’  What he proposes is an unprecedented dereliction of his responsibility. Each Senator when sworn in takes an oath to ‘support and defend’ the U.S. Constitution that clearly states the Senate should provide ‘advice and consent,’ not ‘refuse to consider.’

“The American people expect and deserve a Senate that will do its job. Since 2010, the Democracy Initiative’s Fix the Senate Now campaign has focused on Senate reforms, such as those made in November 2013, which help to restore the Senate to its traditions as a deliberative body where qualified nominees can receive up-or-down votes. Ensuring that qualified nominees can be judged on their merits and can receive a full and fair hearing and vote should not be a contentious or partisan issue. The U.S. constitution clearly outlines the procedure for replacing a Supreme Court Justice and the roles of the president and Senate. Preemptively disavowing constitutional procedure for political objections undermines the integrity of our democracy.

“This April 17th and 18th in Washington, DC, the Democracy Initiative will be joined by more than 150  civil rights, labor, and environmental organizations along with thousands of activists and advocates, some participating in nonviolent direct action as part of Democracy Awakening and the Congress of Conscience to demand a democracy that works for all Americans. 

“The institutions of our government need to function regardless of who has power – it is bigger than party or politics. That is why this spring, when thousands of Americans come to Washington to demand reform, we will call for the Senate, the nation’s highest deliberative body, to act as the founders intended.” 

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The Democracy Initiative (DI) is a network of 60 civil rights, environmental, and labor organizations formed to restore the core principles of democracy and political equality. Originally formed in 2012, the DI represents more than 35 million members nationwide.

Democracy Initiative Endorsing Organizations Celebrate Passage of Voting Rights Restoration in Maryland

Organizations including the NAACP, AFL-CIO, SEIU, and others sent letters to House and Senate leadership, and asked their members to contact elected officials to overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Washington, DC – Today, the Maryland state Senate successfully overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2015 veto of legislation (SB340 and HB 980) restoring voting rights to more than 40,000 Marylanders with significant majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate. Under the new law, Marylanders with felony convictions will be allowed to vote upon their release.   

Democracy Initiative organizations were heavily engaged in this campaign and are thrilled by the final result. The Democracy Initiative is working state by state and voter by voter to ensure that all Americans have an equal voice in the process, while our elected leaders are accountable to the people and the public interest. NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks sent a letter to House Speaker Busch and Senate President Miller thanking them for their persistent leadership and urging them to keep their delegations united. Building grassroots support, the AFL-CIO organized hundreds of calls connecting their supportive Maryland members with their local state delegates and Senators. Additionally, a letter sent by the Democracy Initiative also thanked Speaker Busch and President Miller for their hard work on this important effort.

“Throughout the country, an estimated 5.8 million American citizens are prevented from participating in the voting process,” said NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks. “Nationally, 1 out of every 13 voting-eligible African-Americans has been stripped of their voting rights. I applaud the courage of the Maryland legislators who voted to restore voting rights to the more than 63,000 people disenfranchised in Maryland due to previous convictions, of which 40,000 are African-American.   We firmly believe in second chances and that citizens who have completed their sentences be allowed to exercise the constitutional right to vote.”

“Our elected officials heard the voice of working people across the state of Maryland. A strong voice that said justice and rehabilitation demands voting rights restoration! As we continue to build stronger communities we must make it possible for all people to have a voice,” said Fred Mason, MD/DC AFL-CIO President. “Formerly incarcerated individuals deserve the opportunity to build a better life for themselves and participate fully in their communities. I proudly stand in support of this decision and the Democracy we are intentionally building.”

“Democracy is on the march in Maryland. The Maryland General Assembly’s vote to override Governor Hogan’s veto and restore the right to vote for formally incarcerated citizens comes at a critical time for our democracy,” said Emma Greenman, Director of Voting Rights and Democracy at the Center for Popular Democracy. “The time has come to lift up the voices of those in Maryland and across the country who have been locked out of our democracy by unjust laws. Today in Maryland because of the advocacy of a diverse coalition of organizations with formally incarcerated citizens leading the way, more than 40,000 Marylanders have regained their fundamental right to vote and their voice in our democracy.”

Restoring voting rights to previously incarcerated individuals who have served their debt to society is critical to a functioning democracy, while punitive measures serve to disenfranchise and isolate ex-offenders who are rejoining their families and communities. As some state legislatures around the country shamefully roll back the fundamental right to vote, we are encouraged to see that the Maryland General Assembly is working to expand voting rights for all of its citizens.

The campaign, led by the local Maryland coalition Communities United and supported nationally by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Democracy Initiative, was successful in uniting grassroots and grasstops leaders around this important democracy issue, committed to building a democracy of, by, and for the people.

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New Report Explores How Attacks on Unions, Voting Rights, & Campaign Finance Laws Part of Concerted, Anti-Democratic Effort

“Democracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent Is Silencing Our Voices” Traces How Everyday Americans’ Voices are Being Silenced
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Washington, DC –new report released today from the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, Democracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent Is Silencing Our Voices, examines how the attacks on unions and the right to organize, assaults on the right to vote, and the dismantling of campaign finance laws are not isolated incidents. Instead, these events are inextricably and directly linked as parts of a systematic effort to shift power from the majority of Americans to a tiny minority of the very rich and the most powerful corporate interests.

The report, written with support from Every Voice Center and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), examines how everyday Americans’ voices in the political arena are being silenced through unprecedented attacks on three pillars of our democracy: 

  • Restricting voting rights. Between 2008 and 2015, at least 22 states have imposed carefully targeted voter photo ID laws that disproportionately affect working Americans, communities of color, seniors, and young people. States have cut back on early voting, election-day registration, and other reforms that would increase turnout. These efforts are concentrated in communities with diverse electorates.
     
  • Targeting assaults on campaign finance laws at the state and federal levels. In the past four decades, campaign finance laws have come under assault at the state and federal levels, and especially in the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts. Opponents of campaign finance regulation have slowly dismantled meaningful contribution limits, eliminated many restrictions on moneyed special interest campaign spending, reduced disclosure of sources, and weakened enforcement of remaining laws on the books.
     
  • Mounting attacks on unions and the power of workers in state legislatures, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Unions are the collective voice of working Americans. They help to level the field when workers negotiate with powerful employers; reduce economic inequality; raise wages for workers; and ensure adequate health care, paid sick leave, and retirement programs for all Americans. Recently, however, state legislatures have passed laws severely compromising workers’ ability to organize and to bargain collectively, Congress has been hostile to pro-worker legislation and has made federal enforcement of labor laws more difficult. At the same time, the Roberts Court has ruled consistently on the side of big business. 

These attacks on American values are the result of an organized effort to shift political power away from ordinary citizens to a small, wealthy elite. This elite group is using vast resources to influence policy makers, the media, and the public to protect its position. The same group has taken aim at the foundations of our democratic tradition, undermining principles of equal representation and civic participation that sustain our nation. Attacks are taking place in state legislatures, in the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, and in the Supreme Court.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to have their voices heard as attacks on our democracy have continued to erode their ability to participate fully and freely in the democratic process," said Tova Wang, Director of Democracy Programs at CWA. "This report explores how attacks on voting rights, campaign finance laws, and unions are taking place at every level of power -- state legislatures, congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court -- to shift power away from average Americans. Using this knowledge, advocates and activists will be able to understand what is at stake and fight back to build a democracy that is of, by, and for the people."

“A sustained, multi-faced nationwide attack on voting rights, money-in-politics laws, and collective bargaining has silenced the voices of millions of Americans while giving a megaphone to a handful of billionaires and the country’s wealthiest special interests,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Every Voice Center. "This report shows, in exhaustive detail, where these attacks have happened and, importantly, what people can do to fight back and create a democracy that works for all of us."

Despite the challenges of the past few years, a growing pro-democracy movement is pushing back. Polls show the majority of Americans favor stronger campaign finance laws and restoring the Voting Rights Act. Most also oppose weakening peoples’ voices in the workplace. Across the country citizens have fought to block restrictive labor and voting bills, to expand access to the ballot box, and to pass laws making small campaign donations more important than big money. The report concludes by outlining policies and examples of how to place power back in the hands of the American people – which is where it belongs in a democracy. 

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The Democracy Initiative Education Fund (DIEF) is a national, nonpartisan, research and education organization committed to building a vibrant democracy where everyone can participate fully in the democratic process, every voter has an equal voice, and policymakers are accountable to the people and the public interest. DIEF’s core activities center on research related to democratic engagement and public education on important issues to preserve and improve our democracy.  

Every Voice Center is a national nonpartisan organization that fights to raise the voices of everyday people in our democracy through changing our campaign finance laws and through holding elected officials accountable. Learn more at everyvoicecenter.org

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents 700,000 workers in telecommunications, media, airlines, higher education, health care, public service and manufacturing.

Democracy Initiative Adopts Bold Action Plan for 2016

DI member organizations are taking on the linked consequences of attacks on voting rights and the power of big money in politics
Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Washington, DC – Last Wednesday, December 9th, 45 endorsing organizations of the Democracy Initiative (DI) adopted a four-part strategic action plan for 2016, calling for joint action in states; a major grassroots mobilization; a national education, communications, and outreach strategy; and continued efforts to strengthen the growing DI network. Collectively, we strive to build a 21st century democracy where the voice of every American is heard and counted with a government that is of, by, and for the people.

“Together we can build a democracy where our dreams are imaginable and not blocked by a system with abysmally low voter participation and outrageously high spending that’s considered by many to be ‘business as usual,’” said Democracy Initiative Chair Larry Cohen. “We must fight back, but changing it will need all of us working together.”

The action plan for 2016 will build on victories that already have been achieved in communities and states, and will continue focusing on issues such as automatic voter registration, support for small donor matching programs, and voting rights restoration for previously incarcerated people, among others. Endorsing organizations adopted a plan to engage in at least six states and support for other local and state reform efforts. Pro-voter initiatives will go on offense, fighting to give more people a voice in their democracy. Popular education for potentially hundreds of thousands of people will prepare activists to participate in a national mobilization as well as state campaigns. 

This spring, DI organizations will organize a mass mobilization to overcome the public cynicism that little can be done about the corporate stranglehold on decisions affecting the lives of Americans. This plan joins the demands for voting rights with money-in-politics reform, bringing together historically separate communities and reform proposals. Member organizations are coordinating their campaigns at the highest levels, to take on the fight to ensure Americans are voting and that their vote makes a difference.

These efforts will be bolstered by a comprehensive education, communications, and outreach strategy that will unite democracy issues with the challenges we collectively face on climate, workers’ rights, and civil rights. Strengthening and growing the Democracy Initiative network will be vital to this effort and we will be working closely with our organizations to educate, engage and mobilize their collective memberships and resources.

For more information and a list of endorsing organizations, please visit www.democracyinitiative.org.

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