We celebrate all of the significant wins that emerged thanks to the diligent organizing efforts of community leaders. We are also proud of the many ways our sector activated to help increase civic engagement, support leaders on the ground, and continue to position California as a leader on the issues that matter most to our communities. However, even as we take in our wins, we cannot deny the continued threats to our democratic systems and processes.
As 2022 comes to a close, we must take stock of, condemn, and combat the forces threatening our democracy.
This year, we witnessed the Supreme Court eliminate a person’s constitutional right to an abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade, therefore establishing a precedent that could roll back other rulings. On the cultural level, we are seeing the ever-growing presence of hate speech directed at marginalized communities, most recently the influx of anti-semitic ideas and rhetoric proliferating popular culture and political discourse. Hate speech and false narratives also inform anti-trans laws across the country and, in the worst scenarios, can turn into unspeakable violence, as in the recent Colorado Springs tragedy. These forces that work to erase marginalized people from our cultural, physical, and constitutional fabric are rooted in intolerance and authoritarianism. Two years after the insurrection at the Capitol, we continue to see an emboldened white supremacist and heteropatriarchal wave retaliate against our communities and threaten our democracy.
It’s time for philanthropy to take a firmer stance in the fight for democracy. Our sector must look beyond election cycles and consider what types of investments and advocacy will yield long-term systems change. Today, we have the opportunity to build the infrastructure we’ll need for the next election and an entire political and social ecosystem designed to create a more equitable future.
Below, I would like to share some initial reflections from the midterm elections and broader takeaways for our policy and advocacy efforts moving forward.
Helping New Leaders Govern
The 2022 elections resulted in a historic slew of victories for many women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks at the state and local levels.
Of the 678 LGBTQ+ candidates on the ballot this year, 340 won. Notable wins include: James Roesener from New Hampshire, who is the first trans man ever elected to any U.S. state legislature; Erick Russell, the first Black LGBTQ person elected to statewide executive office in U.S. history; and Maura Healey and Tina Kotek from Massachusetts and Oregon respectively, who are the country’s first openly lesbian governors.
Over 80 Muslim candidates won local, state, federal and judicial seats in over 20 states, including Zaynab Mohamed, the first Muslim woman of Somali descent to be elected to the state Senate.
However, winning elections is only the first step. We can partner with the equity-driven leaders elected to office and help them pass the policies and budgets that support our communities. We can also work to build relationships founded on co-governance with our elected officials, where they see themselves as extensions of our communities, not as entities outside of them, and where leaders prioritize the wisdom and agendas of movements and work in concert with them. In 2023, join SCG at our policy conference, Sacramento Day, and Foundations on the Hill to meet and discuss your priorities with state and federal legislators.
Funding Organizations at the Forefront of Systems Change
We celebrate the passage of Proposition 1 in California, which enshrines a person’s “fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives” in our state’s constitution. Proposition 1 was a victory led by BIPOC communities. Black-led organizations — such as Black Women for Wellness — have been at the forefront of transforming California into a reproductive freedom state. Now that California has chosen to codify bodily autonomy and reproductive justice in our state constitution, we must fully recognize the efforts, vision, and leadership of the Black women, femmes, and gender-expansive folks who made this victory a reality. More importantly, we must acknowledge and fix the chronic underfunding that BIPOC- and women-led organizations leading these battles often experience.
To continue seeing the types of victories we are celebrating this election cycle, philanthropy must fully invest in the infrastructure and longevity of those at the frontlines who are changing systems. Undeniably, part of expanding philanthropy’s advocacy work entails deepening its investments in 501(c)4 organizations. Many power-building organizations have a 501(c)(4) arm that philanthropy can support by funding their non-partisan activities, such as increasing their capacity and helping them scale their work. Some examples of organizations building power to advance equity and democracy include Black Women of Wellness, Power California, and the California Native Vote Project. Our sector must engage in the sustained work needed to coordinate movements and build the power and capacity of communities at the forefront of our movements.
Changing Culture is a Vital Part of Protecting Democracy
Hate speech is not a new phenomenon, but it’s been particularly magnified in the past few years. From the anti-Asian and xenophobic rhetoric prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic to the anti-semitic rhetoric circulating through popular culture to the wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment guiding our legislative landscape, it is evident that white supremacy and heteropatriarchy are an emboldened plague in our cultural imagination. We know that the language and collections of stories and ideas we disseminate — our culture’s hegemonic narratives — can turn into violence. We know too well that hate speech is often a reaction from a dominant culture trying to reclaim its positional power.
If dominant narratives remain unchallenged or their backlash is left unmet, we will continue to see decades of work undone, inequities worsened, and acts of violence intensified. As Bia Vieira, Chief Strategist of the Women’s Foundation, asserts, “The reality is we need to change attitudes and build broad public support before and while we achieve legislative change, or we risk regressing and fighting an uphill battle.” For our advocacy and public policy efforts to be long-lasting, they must include narrative and culture change components. Today, philanthropy can invest in the infrastructure movements needed to disrupt dominant ideas and hate speech. We must help artists, truth-tellers, and cultural workers build narrative power and provide them with the long-term support they need to craft more courageous stories and help us collectively imagine new possibilities.
Philanthropy can no longer hesitate when it comes to advocacy and policy work. As our constitutional rights continue to be threatened by autocratic forces, we must focus on preserving our democratic systems and processes. Even as we lay the groundwork for the 2024 election, we must reorient our work toward long-term systems change.
Changing one policy or funding one organization are essential steps, but isolated actions will do little to enact long-term systems change. Achieving long-term reform will require funders to broaden their scope and holistically invest in an entire ecosystem and a range of power-building strategies, including investing in organizing infrastructure, wielding narrative power, forging coalitions, and engaging in advocacy. Additionally, in the op-ed above, Ludovic further outlines the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) investment opportunities funders can engage in to build an equity-focused ecosystem. This work will take decades and maybe even generations. It’s time that philanthropy’s work reflected the long-term nature of creating an ecosystem for change.
The Work Ahead
Civic engagement and inclusive democracy are at the forefront of the SCG's Policy Team's priorities for the coming years. We recognize that a robust, fair, and representative democracy is crucial to progress in all other issue areas. We will continue to focus on policy and advocacy at every level: local advocacy, such as the fight for equitable government contracting to support community groups and nonprofits who lift community voices and provide essential services; state policies, like anti-hate crime legislation and the creation of racial equity-focused government agencies; and federal initiatives including bills to increase voting rights and language accessibility. At a regional level and in partnership with our statewide alliance, Philanthropy California, we will continue to work toward a stronger democracy and guide others in their policy and advocacy work.
I invite you to connect with SCG's Policy Team as you consider all the different ways you can get involved with advocacy work.