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Five Ways Funders Can Support Movements Building True Multiracial, Feminist Democracy

Thursday, November 12, 2020
by Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network and Tarso Luís Ramos, Executive Director, Political Research Associates 

November’s presidential election results will have pulled the United States back from the brink of authoritarianism. After we’ve taken a moment to celebrate our achievement and rejuvenate, there comes the challenge of plotting a course forward. Because, there’s no going back to some imagined normalcy. Many consequences of Trump’s presidency – cult of strongman personality, capture and erosion of the courts and other democratic institutions, normalization of misogyny and white nationalism, consolidation of Christian Right power, mobilization of vigilantes, enrichment of oligarchs, rise of a media disinformation infrastructure – will not be so easily undone. The toothpaste, as they say, doesn’t go back in the tube. And while elections most definitely matter, the underlying forces driving us towards authoritarianism are strong, ongoing, and global. With weakened democratic institutions and an energized far right, a democratic future for the United States is by no means inevitable. It rather depends on the decisions we make now. 

Change on this scale – the kind of change that can avert authoritarianism and build genuine, multiracial, feminist democracy – requires powerful social movements that can leverage culture change into governing power. Meanwhile, we’re almost certain to face a reenergized Right Wing. In what has become a pattern, the Right tends to become militant when shut out of governing power. Consider the 1990s militia movement and Oklahoma City bombing under Clinton. During Obama’s tenure we saw birtherism, Tea Party nationalism, and the founding of militia groups like the Oath Keepers and III%. Sustained right wing militancy is likely to assail both the new administration and the social justice movements currently leading us towards a more just democracy.

What role can philanthropy now play to restore some guardrails and resource these movements? We offer some reflections on the current moment as well as a few recommendations to guide social justice, human rights, and democracy funders.

Given these conditions, here are five ways philanthropy can support:

There is no future for U.S. democracy that isn’t multiracial, feminist, and pluralistic. It’s not enough to reject bigoted and exclusionary ideas about who is a real American, deserving of recognition, rights, and representation. We must invest in the transformational power of social movements that are modeling, mobilizing, and calling into being a democracy worthy of the name. Philanthropy must follow the courage of our movements and align our practices and processes to resource the dreams and plans of our movements at scale and in better coordination as a whole.  Our democracy and our lives depend on it.