About

Welcome to the Democracy Movement!

Here Democracy Movement activists and newcomers alike can stay up-to-date, get inspired, make connections, and discover powerful ways to take action.

The Democracy Movement is coming to life as more and more Americans–across issue passions from poverty to the environment–realize that getting money out of politics, ensuring the right to vote, and that all votes carry equal weight, are essential: We can’t make real progress without real democracy.

Of course, such profound change can’t happen overnight, but the bold actions of an inclusive, compelling, and powerful Democracy Movement are achieving step-by-step gains. Here, you’ll find progress in:

  • the public financing of campaigns to replace big private donors,
  • ensuring voting rights in local to national elections,
  • gerrymandering reform so that each vote carries equal weight,
  • making campaign finance transparent and its rules effectively enforced.

We created the Field Guide to make it easy for all of us to jump into this historic and thrilling work. You can use an interactive map to discover campaigns near you, browse democracy organizations to find those aligned with your passions, get up to speed on news of the Democracy Movement, and dig into critical issues using our easy-to-digest resource materials. (Note that most of the groups presented here are quite new—launched in 2000 or after—yet another sign of the accelerating pace of the Democracy Movement’s growth.)

So please send us your thoughts on how the Guide could be more useful to you. (Email info@smallplanet.org, subject line Field Guide)

Now, to get you even more motivated, below is a quick peek at the challenges to our democracy that motivate the Democracy Movement.

The Crisis of Money in Politics

Imagine a crowded auditorium in which everyone is assured the right to speak, but only a very few are allowed to bring in electronic megaphones. Their earsplitting sound easily drowns out everyone else. This scene captures the essence of our election rules today: They allow money to become those deafening megaphones, as the biggest donors—individuals, corporations, and special interests—line the pockets of candidates, fund super PACs, and pay lobbyists to bend policy to their benefit.

Americans get it. Seventy-nine percent of us agree that “large political contributions prevent Congress from tackling important questions.” This unprecedented bipartisan alarm is spurred by the staggering increase in political spending, with the aggregate cost of all federal races climbing from over $5 billion in 2008 to $6.4 billion in 2016. This increase has been enabled by a series of Supreme Court decisions beginning in 1976 that removed limits on private spending and increased secrecy in elections.

The billions flooding our political system come from a tiny sliver of the American populace. As a result, voices of regular citizens are increasingly drowned out by the cacophony of big money. A study of policy outcomes during the 80s and 90s document this truth: It found that average citizens had “near-zero” influence whereas the elite class had significant policy impact.

This stark imbalance generates anger and political alienation, no doubt contributing to the election of Donald Trump.

 

The Attack on Voting Rights

Voting is not guaranteed in our constitution. Indeed, the first American elections were reserved only for white, landowning men. It took centuries of struggle and three constitutional amendments for all socioeconomic groups, women, and people of color to gain the right to vote.  Even after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, as Ari Berman recounts in his book Give Us the Ballot, systematic and insidious efforts have worked to keep people from voting.

Recently, barriers to voting have grown.

Today, thirty-four states have laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification at the polls—including eighteen that demand photo IDs, which many Americans don’t have. Many states have also eliminated state-sponsored voter registration drives, shortened the early-voting period, eliminated election-day registration, and even abolished pre-registration for sixteen and seventeen-year olds. These anti-democracy steps disproportionately affect communities of color, the elderly, and youth, especially students.

Much like its rulings on campaign-finance laws, the Supreme Court has actually abetted this assault. In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling, the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act.

 

Partisan Rigging of District Lines

For as long as America has been a republic, we have allowed politicians to draw the maps for Congressional and state districts. Every 10 years, after the census is completed, state representatives are required to adjust their maps accordingly. And throughout our nation’s history, many have abused this privilege by manipulating the lines to guarantee reelection of party leaders, punishing critics who are outspoken, and rigging the rules against the opposing party. This process is called gerrymandering.

And while this practice is as old as our nation, it has only gotten worse, reaching new heights after the 2010 census when big money, use of “metadata,” and new technology combined to offer unprecedented opportunities for politicians to pick their voters. How effective was this for the Republican Party that held the majority of state houses after the 2010 elections? In 2012 Democrats won 1.4 million more votes, yet Republicans won the House. In four states—Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—Republicans won the majority of House seats but got fewer votes. And for state level races, the problem has been even worse. On Election Day 2017, for example, Democrats won the vast majority of votes for the Virginia House of Delegates, yet lost the majority of seats.

The Supreme Court will issue a ruling in mid-2018 on the constitutionality of such partisan gerrymandering.

 

Joining the Democracy Movement

Millions in the Democracy Movement are already committed to confronting these huge threats to democracy. As more and more of us join in, we generate people power and in this process we ourselves become grounds for hope. Please join us in this deeply rewarding work.

Who We Are

Welcome to the Democracy Movement!

If you’re worried our democracy is in big trouble and are eager to defend and further it, you landed in just the right place. Here you can explore the campaigns, actions, and players of the rising Democracy Movement. You’ll discover underreported stories of states, counties, and cities on the frontier of change—already achieving democracy reforms making a difference in our lives. You’ll find ways you, too, can put despair aside and stay inspired, meet new allies and friends, and make a difference on the “mother of all issues,” democracy itself.

We’re developing this Field Guide because we believe democracy is not a choice. It is essential. Only with real democracy can we secure good jobs with decent pay to safe drinking water to racial justice to environmental care, and more—all conditions for human dignity.

And this movement has a lot going for it. While we may disagree on certain things, Americans come together on the basics: Our elected leaders must be accountable to us, not corporate or wealthy interests. Eighty-five percent of us believe our campaign finance system needs major overhaul. Plus, almost 60 percent agree that our government must do “everything possible” to ensure the right to vote for all. We also agree that each vote must carry equal weight. For each of these democracy fundamentals, here you will find powerful entry points for big change.

We welcome your help in making this Field Guide to the Democracy Movement into an interactive hub that spurs, feeds, and fortifies an ever-stronger Democracy Movement. We’re excited that you’re here to bring your commitment to democracy to life through action.

Onward!

Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative, representing 63 organizations with 30 million members

Frances Moore Lappé, Co-author Daring Democracy, Co-founder, Small Planet Institute

Democracy Initiative

The Democracy Initiative is a coalition of organizations launched in 2013 working toward a bright future in which all Americans participate fully and freely in the democratic process. We believe that the voice of every citizen should be heard and counted, so all of us have an equal say in a democracy that is of, by, and for the people. Our partner organizations pursue a diverse range of progressive goals, including civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and climate justice, but we know that success in any of these areas depends on reforming our democracy.

United by a shared vision for a political process that counts every voice and every vote equally, we are mobilizing members of Democracy Initiative organizations to ensure that all Americans can vote, diminish the influence of corporate and special interests, and halt the obstruction that has thrown our Congress out of balance. Together, we can break down these barriers and protect our democracy from the systematic effort to shift power from the many to a wealthy few by silencing our voices in the workplace, in the ballot box, and in the offices of our elected officials.

 

Small Planet Institute

Founded by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé in 2002, the Small Planet Institute seeks to further a historic transition: a worldwide shift from the dominant, failing notion of democracy—as something done to us or for us—toward democracy as a rewarding way of life: a culture in which citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness, and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life, including the economic. We call this Living Democracy. Appreciating that we’re all social mimics, the Small Planet Institute—from its first book, Hope’s Edge, in 2002 to our tenth, Daring Democracy, in 2017—spreads stories and supports campaigns of people on every continent discovering their power to remake societal rules and norms to serve human dignity, the essence of democracy.

We also strive to spread “eyes-wide open” hope-in-action through articles, media interviews, videos, websites, blogs, and speeches. In this work, we introduce citizens to rewarding entry points, actions strong enough to interrupt the current negative spiral of powerlessness and despair and to generate a positive spiral of democratic empowerment. Small Planet Institute offices are in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Berkeley, California.

Daily Actions

Every day is an opportunity to engage in democracy. Call your senator, attend a town hall, register someone to vote--there are endless ways to get involved and have your voice heard. Follow our Daily Action tips for more ideas on how you can engage as a citizen.