Reflecting on Our Role in the US Election Season

Paulina Helm-Hernández + Somer Nowak

30 October 2020

Record voter turnout. Widespread voter education. Mass trainings of poll monitors and volunteers to offer PPE, food and water, and even entertainment as people wait in long lines to cast their votes. 

Diverse coalitions of grassroots groups are mobilizing people across the country to participate in and defend a free and fair US election. As a funder that has supported pro-democracy movements in different parts of the world and that makes grants in the pivotal region of the US Southeast, we have been reflecting on how philanthropy can best show up in moments like this. 

In the midst of a pandemic, recession, and reckoning around deep-rooted structural racism — all of which have exposed major flaws in US society and its economic structure — the US is now in an election season that poses profound questions about the health and future of our democracy. 

Funders who are hesitant or unsure how to engage in this moment would do well to trust and follow the lead of grassroots organizations and movements, who are all hands on deck right now. Whether their core work is around reproductive justice or racial justice or LGBTQI equality or labor rights, grassroots groups are clear about what is at stake in this election, and they are coming together with a shared purpose: to protect and promote democracy. 

At FJS, we see the urgent need to show up too, because beyond any priority issue areas, democracy is our issue. There is no social justice vision, and no community, that is not harmed by authoritarianism. Democracy is a feminist issue, a racial justice issue, an environmental issue. 

Across the US, a vibrant ecosystem of movements is working in harmony to support record voter turnout and a fair election. Led by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, youth, communities of color, feminists, migrants, trans and nonbinary people, and so many others impacted by injustice, these movements have been chipping away at entrenched power — at white supremacy, sexism, and economic and environmental exploitation. The open hostility we are witnessing and experiencing is a backlash against these visionary movements. It is an orchestrated attempt to consolidate and preserve the status quo. Movements for justice are demanding a change that is long past due.

Grassroots movements that have grown out of the lived experiences and organizing brilliance of BIack and Indigenous women, trans and gender-nonconforming folks, and diverse communities of color are showing us what democracy looks like: collaboration across differences to advance shared values like fairness, justice, care, and the belief that everyone, and every vote, counts. Our role as funders is to move resources to support and sustain that work. 

While rapid giving in critical moments like this can help, grassroots organizations and their networks are best positioned to respond to opportunities and challenges when they have sustained funding they can depend on and spend as they need to. Yet, the Center for Effective Philanthropy reports, multi-year general operating support remains rare. To support rapid response in urgent moments as well as long-term work to create structural change, FJS prioritizes multi-year, flexible funding. We also make additional grants as requested by grantee partners to support their efforts in specific areas, like strategic communications – which includes combating disinformation – and holistic safety and collective care for the organizers and activists who are taking risks and facing ongoing challenges on the frontlines. 

We have the privilege to fund fierce feminist leaders and organizations that are on the frontlines defending our multiracial democracy and building a just society. Across philanthropy, we must show up and move resources to the movements that are fighting for democracy and creating the world we want to see — in this moment and for the long term.   

In Solidarity,

Paulina Helm-Hernández, Program Officer, US Southeast

Somer Nowak, Program Associate, US Southeast