Hello, and welcome to the inaugural episode of Unpacking Philanthropy. I’m Aaron Dorfman.
Over the past 15 years while I’ve been lucky enough to lead the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, I’ve written scores of opinion pieces that have been published in various sector and mainstream press outlets. I know that many of you have resonated with some of those pieces and perhaps have been infuriated by others.
Well, now it’s time to see if this old dog can learn some new tricks.
We’re launching this video series, Unpacking Philanthropy, to communicate with NCRP’s members, followers, allies – and adversaries – in new ways.
Philanthropy, Democracy and the Common Good
As we enter 2022, American democracy is threatened by a dangerous movement of authoritarians and their followers — people who want to return the nation to what they think was a “better past.”
This movement is explicitly violent and white nationalist. And if last year’s insurrection wasn’t enough to prove that to you, a recent University of Chicago study showed 47 million Americans believe the Big Lie that the last election was “stolen,” and a full 21 million Americans believe political violence is justified in order to “return Trump to the presidency.”
These same individuals largely subscribe to the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy, believing that white people are having their rights superseded by the rights of people of color and that the Democratic Party is “importing immigrants” in order to disenfranchise conservative white voters.
These opinions represent a minority of Americans, but they can no longer be called fringe views in our society – they have infiltrated the mainstream and are echoed in the corridors of Congress, by state and local officials and on our televisions and in our newsfeeds daily.
The Challenge Before Us All
The authoritarians and their followers have taken the battle to our schools, demanding American kids get a white-washed, propagandized version of our complicated national history. They have taken it to our elections process, seeking to strip non-white Americans of the right to vote and undermine confidence in our most basic democratic process. They have taken it to our bodies, criminalizing people who have abortions and healthcare workers that provide them.
They have taken it to our communities, cheering on and using hateful rhetoric that demonizes and dehumanizes immigrants, Black, Brown and Indigenous people to justify violence against them.
I’m tempted to say that if 2022 were a Batman movie, these violent, authoritarian, white nationalist groups and their supporters would be the Joker. If it were a Harry Potter movie, they would be Voldemort. If it were a Black Panther movie, they would be Ulysses Klaue.
But the fact is that for many of us the people in these movements are our relatives, on our boards, and in our neighborhoods. Unlike in the movies, we can’t focus on just one bad guy and call it a day.
This means that if we aren’t part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Our democracy is threatened not just by the insurrectionists and their supporters. The bigger threat may be the complacency and risk-aversion of those who say they want a more inclusive, just future but aren’t willing to stand up to meet these battles head on and do what it takes to protect and rebuild our fragile democracy.
The Good News is All Around Us
The good news is there are organized, growing movements to protect democracy and human rights that have a long track record of fighting and winning. These movements are led by leaders like my friends Analilia Mejia and DaMareo Cooper, who just took over leadership of the Center for Popular Democracy; like NCRP board member Lorella Praeli, who, along with Dorian Warren, leads Community Change; like LaTosha Brown, who leads NCRP member Black Voters Matter; and like so many others – too many to name in this video – who are ready to build and wield the people power we will need to fight for and save our democracy in the years to come.
These movements are ready to absorb and deploy serious philanthropic investments.
Another piece of good news is that the philanthropy sector is clearer now than we’ve ever been about how philanthropy can contribute in meaningful ways to building the kind of society we want and need.
We’ve seen up close and personal during the Covid crisis that when it comes down to it, we are in this together. For each of us to be safe and healthy, we need a society where all people are safe and healthy. For some of us to thrive, we all have to thrive. We need a society where communal responsibilities are as important as individual rights. Where democracy is for real.
Three Principals to Guide Philanthropy’s Work
For philanthropy to have maximum impact, we need to keep three key principles top of mind:
My friends, there is so very much at stake in 2022. Our democracy hangs in the balance. Unpacking Philanthropy will explore these issues and more with a new video message every few weeks. Subscribe, and you’ll be sure not to miss an episode.
Philanthropy can help build a society of, for and by the people – a democracy where all of us thrive. It’s up to every one of us to make it happen – or face the consequences if it doesn’t. Be bold, friends, and use your power now, when it is needed more than ever.