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The Civic Revolution coalition is working toward an audacious goal: To create a force of 100 million diverse citizens who consistently share news, policy, and voting information with friends and family, dramatically increasing civic engagement, voting, and pressure for democracy reforms. Its five-year goal is to cut the racial voting gap by 55% and the youth voting gap by 25%.
Led by PushBlack, Pulso, ParentsTogether, Noticias para Inmigrantes, and Accelerate Change, The Civic Revolution has worked together for five years and is a recent recipient of the Lever for Change Stronger Democracy Award.
Read more about the project and how donors can get involved.
What inspired you to launch the Civic Revolution project?
At this moment, our democracy is in crisis: Polarization and misinformation have fueled distrust in government, disgust with politics, and attacks on our democratic processes; pernicious racial civic engagement gaps lead to policy-makers who neither reflect all communities nor respond to all communities in making policies. These policy disparities disproportionately impact marginalized communities, but all communities suffer when we do not address issues such as inequality, criminal justice reform, educational opportunity, and climate justice. To transform our democracy to be responsive to and representative of all communities, we need to close racial and youth voting gaps and dramatically increase year-round civic engagement, particularly in underrepresented communities.
In creating the Civic Revolution project, we were inspired to try to address the challenges facing our democracy and ultimately catalyze a transformation in civic engagement that will make our democracy responsive to all communities.
The project focuses on information sharing to drive voter engagement. Tell us why you’re focused on digital media to strengthen democracy.
A slew of studies have shown that the most impactful civic engagement is “relational:” Reaching out to friends and family to encourage them to vote, register to vote, or get involved in an issue. While relational civic engagement is the most impactful, it’s also difficult to scale. Fortunately, Civic Revolution coalition partners have found a way to do just that using digital media.
Each Civic Revolution partner is a successful nonprofit digital media property deeply rooted in our communities. Together, we have over 12 million subscribers (over three-quarters BIPOC) who sign up for our news, culture, and history content. These subscribers drive our relational voter engagement and issue education campaigns by sharing messages with friends and family on social media and text. We also have a network of hundreds of influencers and celebrities who are deeply committed to nonpartisan civic engagement and use their digital media platform to drive views of voter education and Get-Out-The-Vote messages.
At its best, we believe digital media is a tool for building community. It creates spaces for people to connect with one another related to mutual interests, culture, and other shared identities. The media properties and celebrity and influencer networks in the Civic Revolution coalition build community focused on these interests and cultural connections, which results in deep relationships that create avenues to also engage in voting.
What are the biggest challenges you see in our democracy? What are you most hopeful about?
America has long struggled for a more perfect union with cycles of civic enfranchisement and retrenchment that continue today as anti-democratic forces promulgate voting restrictions, disinformation, and insurrection.
Today, our democracy is under duress with the intersection of deep polarization, widespread misinformation, policy-making gridlock, and malign actors’ attacks on the integrity of our elections. Look beneath these immediate threats, though, and longer-term deficiencies in our government’s representation of and responsiveness to all communities undergird these immediate threats:
- Racial Voting Gaps: Racial voting gaps are a central driver of unequal representation and responsiveness in our government. Racial voting gaps have persisted year after year at every level, with the brief exception of Black voters turning out in historic numbers to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Racial voting gaps for Black and Latinx Americans actually worsened in 2020, and racial voting gaps are now larger than they were in the mid-90s. In 2020, eligible Black, Latinx and Asian American voters had 8%, 17%, and 12% lower voting rates, respectively, compared to white voters – totaling millions of votes. (Source)
- Youth Voting Gaps: Turnout among young people increased in 2020, but voters aged 18-34 still voted 17% less than other voters.
- Elected Representation Gaps: Although significant gains have been made in some areas, major gaps in elected representation persist in federal and state offices, courts, and appointed positions. For example: a) 23% of Congress members identify as BIPOC, far from the roughly 40% of the population that identifies as BIPOC; b) of the 1,436 active federal judges, only 20% identify as BIPOC; c) 47 of 50 U.S. governors are white; and d) only 18% of state legislators identify as BIPOC.
- Policy Disparities: Most importantly, these voting and representation gaps lead to policy-makers who neither reflect all communities nor respond to all communities in making policies. These policy disparities disproportionately impact BIPOC, low income, and LGBTQ communities, but all communities suffer when we do not address issues such as inequality, criminal justice reform, civil rights, LGBTQ equality, educational opportunity, and climate justice.
So how do these deficiencies fuel our current crisis? We think of the crisis in our democracy as a cycle with a set of critical issues that reinforce one another:
- Polarization and misinformation have moved into hyperdrive in the age of social media.
- Anti-democratic forces are taking advantage of this polarization and misinformation to warp our democratic processes with voting restrictions and gerrymandering.
- Pernicious racial voting gaps are getting worse, both as a result of misinformation and racialized attacks on voting rights.
- The racial civic engagement gaps lead to a government that is not reflective of all communities and doesn’t make policies that respond to all communities.
- An unrepresentative government combined with gridlock in policymaking fuel further polarization and misinformation as partisan actors use government shortcomings to stoke distrust in our democracy.
Anti-democratic forces take advantage of historical and present-day injustices to promulgate disinformation in underrepresented communities that “all politicians are the same,” that the “government will always be your enemy,” and that “voting doesn’t matter.” And the cycle repeats…
Here is what gives us hope: We are not destined to be stuck in this doom cycle of democratic erosion. The best antidote to disinformation and reactionary, anti-democratic forces is a groundswell of citizens from all communities who are well-informed, civically-engaged, and empowered to reach out to their friends and family about issues and elections. One of the key drivers of polarization and misinformation has been the devolution of media, which has left America with thousands of media sources incentivized to enrage and generate controversy. There is no going back to the old media world, but we can capitalize on the disruptions in digital media to fuel a civic engagement revival – a Civic Revolution.
What do you want donors to know about funding bold solutions?
When it comes to bold solutions, particularly related to civic engagement, multi-year funding is critical. Civic engagement funding is too often short-term, leaving little room for the growth and experimentation that are necessary for transformative solutions and impact. Donors prioritizing multi-year funding gives organizations the runway to build infrastructure and run experimentation to deliver bold solutions and it gives organizations the confidence to know that this building and experimentation can be sustained between election cycles. We think this kind of transformative, multi-year funding investment is exactly what’s needed to realize lasting change for our democracy.
The Stronger Democracy Award is a competition to identify bold solutions addressing systemic barriers and advancing structural reforms in three key areas of U.S. democracy: Voting and elections, policymaking, and civic engagement. The Award is managed by Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that uses open and transparent competitions to help donors identify and fund high-impact solutions for significant societal challenges.