Retake Our Democracy has been developed to engage the majority, to provide information about the issues that really matter to people, in digestible formats and with resources that make it easier for all of us to raise our voices in an effective way, on an ongoing basis, despite being buried in other priorities. We want to make it easier to effectively advocate and to organize to defend our liberties and advance our aspirations.
This document explains the context in which Retake Our Democracy was created and its mission, vision and strategies. Its abiding assumption is that throughout the Trump era, it is vital that all of us become engaged, educated and active and that we bring our activism out of our homes and into the public square—every single day. Facebook posts and online petitions will not get this done. Sustained advocacy and activism will.
Retake Our Democracy has evolved through some twists and turns. In May 2015, my wife Roxanne Barber and I created SantaFe4Bernie. Through that campaign, and with the help of a good many others, we cultivated 2,000 supporters committed to progressive change. When the primary process did not turn out as we had hoped, we followed Sen. Sanders’ direction and focused locally, creating Retake the Roundhouse. Retake the Roundhouse worked with NM Working Families Party, Progressive Democrats of America, OurRevolutionNM, Southwest Organizing Project, the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and other grassroots groups to return the NM state legislature to Democratic control. We canvassed, we phone banked, we emailed, and we honed the importance of civil, civic conversation as a means of countering the misinformation produced by mainstream and social media.
While nationally the election process and outcome were a fiasco, in New Mexico we retook the Roundhouse. Mission accomplished. But now another chapter, another challenge, and a far more ambitious goal: Retake Our Democracy.
Why Retake Our Democracy? We have been kicked in the teeth, not only by the election results but by the election process itself. If our democracy is to survive, it must be restored to ensure that the needs of the majority are met and the voices of the majority are heard. We are currently a country where all wealth and power flow to the 1% and the Corporatocracy. This must change. To understand the degree to which this concentration of wealth has increased, click here for a short video.
For at least the last 40 years, neither major political party has effectively responded to the needs of the majority. Instead, they have responded to lobbyists, corporations, and the 1%, a constituency that provides significant funding for our representatives’ political campaigns, not to mention providing generous speaking fees and other perks and then hiring them to lucrative positions when they retire.
Meanwhile the media repeats the message that our economy and job creation are strangled by regulations that keep industry from getting things done. In truth these regulations prevent industry from getting the wrong things done — dumping toxics in our water, investing our retirement funds in risky ventures, lifting limits to pharmaceutical prices. It isn’t regulations that keep us from growing our economy and developing our infrastructure, it is the 1% and Corporatocracy refusing to pay their share in taxes and thus preventing investment in infrastructure, renewable energy, healthcare, affordable housing, and other things that could contribute to a better quality of life for the majority.
For the 1%, the Dow Jones is everything, it tracks with some precision their wealth accumulation. For most Americans, quality of life is time spent with families, feeling a sense of modest security, and having a sense of optimism that life could get better. But this is not a priority for the 1% or for our government. This is how America has functioned for at least 40 years. As a result, if we raise our voices, they are simply not heard.
The voice of the majority has been silenced by an infusion of money in politics, and the media has failed to report in any consistent or honest way on the issues that matter most to Americans. This last campaign was particularly offensive. Instead of a serious public debate on meaningful issues like jobs, healthcare, Social Security, peace, our crumbling infrastructure, education, immigration, or our environment, we were buried in discussions of emails, Clinton and Trump Foundations, groping, preposterous walls, and idle—in some cases, not so idle—threats. Whatever provocative tweet Trump sent out became headline news. But almost never were the needs of the majority addressed in any substantive way.
The majority is left out of the civic process and many, if not most of us, are too busy working two jobs, raising a family, or going to school, to raise our voices effectively. If we have time to watch the local news, we find out who killed whom, what fire or traffic accident occurred, which team won, and what to expect from the weather. Seldom do we hear a discussion about anything that actually addresses the quality of our daily lives. While some of us do not always understand why all this is so, most of us have the not-so-subtle sense that our lives are getting harder, often much harder, and that life will likely be still harder for our children. Too many of us have too little information, too little time, and too little an idea how to do anything about this. So we work harder still, disengage from the civic process, and frustration grows. Here is our opportunity.
The Reverend William Barber calls it fusion: where the use of moral language in relation to policies can create common ground. Barber stated, “We must put human faces on injustice and amplify the voice of the voiceless.” He went further: “Every budget is a moral document. Or an immoral one.” We must put human faces on those suffering so that when Republicans talk numbers and tax savings, people see the consequent suffering of themselves, their parents, and their kids. We all want to be safe and secure. We all believe that people who have worked hard all their lives should find some security as they become too old to continue working. As long as we are talking in these terms, more of us agree than disagree. Unfortunately, the left has not been good at listening to conservatives, at finding common ground, at using language that others can actually hear and assimilate, even those who don’t initially agree with us.
While this movement is about advocacy, it is also about developing crucial skills to make our efforts more impactful. We must be accountable for our results; it is not enough to have large meetings and demonstrations if we are only reaching those who agree with us. We must find ways to bridge the divide, reach out to our neighbors, help all of us find common ground, and most importantly: connect the dots.
Our mission is to engage, educate, and activate individuals of all races, ages, cultures, ethnicities, genders, abilities, and political views, to promote civic and political involvement, and to ensure that the will of the majority has a central place in the democratic process. A critical part of this mission is to make it easier for busy people to remain informed and to effectively use whatever time they can devote to activism.
We envision a political process in which the voices and priorities of the majority have more influence than the priorities of corporations and the mainstream media. We do not believe corporations have the right to the same kind of voice as individuals. Corporations are not people, and money is not a voice.
We envision a democratic process in which it is easy for the electorate to get objective information on the range of issues most important to them and their well-being, and where voting is made effortless, not strewn with barriers intended to reduce the voice of the majority.
We envision communities where people meet together in small groups to share perspectives and develop a shared understanding of their collective priorities and goals.
We envision communities in which informed individuals play active and sustainable roles in advocating at the local, state, and national levels for policies, regulations, and laws that promote the health and welfare of their communities.
We believe that our government should play a vital role in ensuring that:
- No one should have to decide between paying rent, buying food, and obtaining prescription medications they need to remain healthy;
- No one working a full-time job should live in poverty;
- No one should live in fear of discrimination, bias, or hatred due to their religion, gender, sexual status, ethnicity, immigration status, or culture;
- No one should suffer homelessness;
- No one living in our country should worry about being deported or separated from their family;
- No one should graduate from college saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of high-interest debt that will take decades to repay;
- No one should live in fear of the police; and
- No woman should fear that anyone will interfere in her decisions about her body and her reproductive health.
What’s more, we believe it is the role of government to ensure that:
- The current concentration of wealth among the 1% is significantly redistributed;
- The activities of corporations, banks, pharmaceutical, biochemical, energy, and other industries are regulated and monitored closely to prevent their exploitation of labor, the earth, and our communities; and
- Elections are free from the influence of moneyed interests; that local, state, and federal campaigns are publicly financed, that voter registration is automatic upon turning 18, and that access to voting is simplified and barrier-free.
Retake Our Democracy is overseen and coordinated by a Board of Directors, a Leadership Team, Advisory Team, and Coordinating Team who each play clearly defined roles to ensure that the work of the Action Teams that are the locus of volunteer activity. For more detail on this structure, click here.
As stated above, the primary objective of Retake Our Democracy is to make it easier for the Majority and our communities to use their voices effectively to collectively promote our well-being. As such, prior to engaging in significant action, Retake Our Democracy must first develop a clearly defined method or protocol for how we plan to implement this vision. This begins by developing a core leadership that is trained in effective communication, community organizing, cultural competence, and coalition building. For more information on how you might become involved in a leadership role within Retake Our Democracy, click here. Our Leadership will coordinate the work of Action Teams who develop:
- A web-based information framework used to house an array of materials and tools to make it easier for our base, the Majority, to remain informed and to use their voice effectively;
- A communication strategy for disseminating this information;
- Relationships with advocacy, community organizing, cultural, political, and interfaith organizations with similar visions and priorities; and
- An approach to more easily organize new hubs of activism in other communities.
With this infrastructure in place, the Leadership Team will consult with partners and the Coordinating Team to direct the work of the Action Teams. To be clear, while we believe leadership must lead and coordinators must coordinate, Action Team members must bring their collective experience and wisdom to the conversation in their teams and play a significant role in shaping the strategic direction of Retake Our Democracy.
At our November 20, 2016, Town Hall launch meeting and in scores of emails sent to Retake Our Democracy, people have most frequently asked two questions: What can I do on my own? What can we do together? In response to these questions Retake Our Democracy supports both individual activism and strategic and aligned collective action.
In support of individual activism, Retake Our Democracy has developed a Personal Action Toolkit that is continuously being updated and that summarizes actions that individuals can take. This toolkit allows people who want to act NOW an opportunity to do so, while Retake Our Democracy builds the information infrastructure, relationships, communication strategy, and leadership required to achieve our vision.
To further increase the effectiveness of individual activism, Retake Our Democracy has developed a Research Action Team comprised of over 50 experienced researchers, or as the Reverend William Barber calls them, Activist Scholars, who are developing a wide range of Citizen Advocacy Toolkits.
Each toolkit will focus on a specific issue and includes highly readable, well-researched issue summaries with links to video, articles, other websites and resources, infographics, contact lists, speaking points, and progressive local, state, and national legislative initiatives relevant to the issue covered. The kits will provide individuals with information that supports a People’s agenda whether they are hosting House Parties, facilitating a meet-up, visiting a legislator, or just talking with a neighbor.
To ensure that the materials are being developed with sensitivity to the perspective or ‘frames’ of targeted audiences, training informed by the thinking of George Lakoff, author of the seminal work, Don’t Think of the Elephant, William Barber who describes the use of moral language, and other experts in rhetoric, linguistics, and communication. Other communication trainers, interfaith panels, and organizers working with populations that have been historically marginalized are being secured to participate in a series of community forums to ensure that all volunteers develop a shared understanding of effective communication, cultural competence, and white privilege. All training will be video-taped or streamed to ensure access to volunteers in other communities.
To support collective activism, Retake Our Democracy has also formed Action Teams through which individuals can work together to advance our collective vision.
The initial constellation of Action Teams is precisely that: initial. More Action Teams will be formed as people identify the need for other forms of action. Action Teams are volunteer-driven and conduct a wide range of activities. Current Action Teams include:
- Citizen Advocacy at local, state, and national levels including advocacy and lobbying with city council, county, state, and national legislative and regulatory bodies;
- Research into a wide variety of issues and the development of issue-focused “Action Packets” that include well-researched, highly readable issue summaries with links to video, other articles, info graphics, speaking points, and contact information for legislators and policymakers;
- Outreach & Engagement, including a form of ‘canvassing’ that involves neighbors speaking with neighbors in non-partisan, and non-confrontational conversations and other communication strategies designed to expand involvement of under-represented populations and to expand our activity to support communities throughout New Mexico and then throughout the US including Town Hall meetings, House Parties, Meet-Ups, Trainings, and Conferences;
- Media and Social Media to expand our use of all forms of mainstream and social media;
- Recruitment and Development of Young Leadership to create a new generation of diverse leadership to run for school board, city council, and county commissions to inject their voices into a range of locally-based community initiatives; and
- Non-Violent Direct Action to use historically proven practices to draw attention to the needs of the disenfranchised and to continuously magnify what is wrong in our country and what could be different.
Ambitious goals, yes. But the times call for ambitious goals. Join us in the next chapter, the one where we Retake Our Democracy and use moral values to guide this country instead of greed. We can’t continue to operate as if all things revolve around profit. We need to heed the wisdom of our indigenous friends and neighbors and honor harmony with nature and with each other.
We can do this if we do it together.