defend democracy

Activists with the progressive group Our Revolution hold up signs spelling out "Defend Democracy" during a protest near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2022.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Progressives Call for Philanthropic Investments to Defeat the Rise of US Fascism

"The good news," the authors of a new People's Action white paper assert, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."

Amid what many experts fear is a Republican-led slow-march toward fascism in the United States, a report published Tuesday by a progressive advocacy group answers the question: "How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism?"

The white paper—entitled The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy—was published by People's Action with support from the Democracy Fund and the endorsement of more than a dozen progressive groups.

"This simple truth—that ordinary people, organized effectively, have the power to drive social change upwards to create the conditions for justice, equity, and freedom—has been the power behind every great expansion of our democracy, from abolition and women's suffrage to civil rights and marriage equality," the paper notes.

Paper co-authors Beth Jacob and James Mumm said they interviewed more than two dozen leaders of national social change networks, academics, philanthropists, and organizers.

"Arevival and expansion of community organizing is essential to reinvigorating democracy across lines of difference; this is the foundation of a multiracial pluralistic democracy," the pair asserted. "Philanthropies that want to address the root causes of racial inequity need to partner with community organizing on a long-term agendathat builds enough relationships and power to make progress on structural racism."

"Community organizing and philanthropy can reduce economic uncertainty that is fueling authoritarianism and help people win and make meaning of public investments as building blocks of an inclusive economy," the authors added.

Among the paper's key findings:

  • Good organizing, which builds from the ground up, is essential to defeating authoritarianism.
  • Not all organizing is created equal; good organizing is rooted in the best practices of relational power-building.
  • Philanthropy and organizers must share a commitment to advancing racial equity by addressing the root causes of racial inequity: structural racism, corporate power, and concentrated wealth.
  • To win lasting, meaningful change, we must build collaborative infrastructure between community organizations, national networks, and philanthropy.
  • Just as organizers must create new ways to work together through a shared understanding and infrastructure, so too must funders.

"Organizers and philanthropy have a big task before us: to strengthen and defend democracy at a time when some feel that democracy fails them and others want to throw it out to advance an authoritarian agenda," People's Action executive director Sulma Arias said in a statement.

"Community organizing is the solution, and for it to work, it must be fundamental to what we do, not just a tactic or short-term strategy," Arias added. "This white paper outlines the shifts and investments we need to make it work."

Ana Maria Archila of Action Lab, one of the groups endorsing the white paper, argued that "in order to avert the rise of authoritarianism, and address the combined crises of climate disaster, growing inequality, unprecedented levels of loneliness and political fragmentation, we must double down on efforts to build community and transform who holds power in our democracy."

"There are no shortcuts here," Archila added. "This moment requires community organizers, donors, and leaders to reinvigorate community organizing, and re-commit to a long-term strategy to bring into existence the multiracial democracy we want."

Jacob and Munn remain hopeful, as daunting as the task ahead may be.

"The good news," they wrote, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."

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