The Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy That Works for All
The fight to reduce the influence of big money in politics is also the fight for more racial justice, says an important new report released by Demos last week. In collaboration with a number of organizations, including Public Campaign, Demos assembled compelling information on the racial bias inherent in the way political leaders gain power and make policy, with devastating affects on the lives of people of color in particular. At a time when the nation is wrestling anew with racial disparities in police treatment and political representation, this report adds layers to the systemic ways communities of color are barred from political voice and economic security.
In the report titled Stacked Deck 2, Demos shows how the economic bias of our political system creates and maintains a related racial bias, how privileging the big money used to select politicians translates into policies that benefit a wealthy and overwhelmingly white donor class, at the expense of the rest of us. Then disproportionately, communities of color face additional exploitation, whether through subprime lending, mass incarceration, voter suppression, or a host of other issues.
Thankfully the report also suggests ways to break this ruinous cycle. One recommendation is small donor democracy, which means funding campaigns with small donations matched with public funds. Below are graphs we contributed, showing stronger representation of more diverse neighborhoods at the smallest levels of giving. A small donor campaign system in Connecticut is the linchpin in an inspiring case study: in 2011, Connecticut became the first state to require paid sick days, an incredibly important policy for low wage workers, after key publicly-funded leaders took office. Small donor democracy was critical, for example, in electing a progressive governor (Dan Malloy), who could also be competitive in his races.
Another case that stood out in the report was the 2012 voting rights battle chronicled by TakeAction Minnesota. This fight showcased the importance of grassroots mobilization in maintaining the most basic democratic right: the vote. But it also took a wider lens, linking voting rights to big money politics and the need to build power for democracy efforts broadly: Voter restriction measures thus translate the economic gap between rich and poor into a political gap between donors and voters. They allow wealthy people to control the political system the way they already control the economy.
By linking organizing for a true democracy and fair economy to organizing for racial justice, the Demos report reminds us of the urgent need to build power broadly and lift up many voices.