Ten years ago, Pierre Omidyar and I launched Democracy Fund and Democracy Fund Voice after a three-year incubation inside Omidyar Network. The world has changed a lot since then, and so have we.
Over the past decade, Democracy Fund and Democracy Fund Voice have committed $425 million in grants to strengthen American democracy. In that time, we have evolved and grown in our understanding of the perils facing our country and the importance of racial justice as fundamental to our work. We believe that achieving an inclusive multiracial democracy means we must fight for our democratic values now — while pursuing transformative changes that can unrig our political system.
As we enter the 2024 election season, the challenges in front of us are sobering. Despite overwhelming evidence of the dangers posed by authoritarians, new Democracy Fund research shows just how easily Americans will accept undemocratic actions if it benefits their side. For example, even though they say that they reject political violence, about half of Republicans describe the January 6 insurrection as an act of patriotism. While our grantees have worked to ensure consequences for those who tried to undermine our free and fair elections in 2020, the authoritarian threat has not subsided.
Today we face a set of challenges that create profound uncertainty about the future of our republic. The pro-democracy field cannot afford to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the high stakes or range of threats. We’ve risen to the moment before and we can do so again.
Democracy Fund and Democracy Fund Voice are focused on ensuring the field is prepared and resourced for the challenges that may emerge before, during, and after the 2024 election cycle:
- We are working on protecting free and fair elections by shoring up election administration.
- We’re fighting back against mis- and disinformation.
- We’re strengthening accountability systems for authoritarian abuses that could come in 2025.
- We’re also calling on our peers to join us in making their nonpartisan election-related grants by April, so that groups have the resources they need in time.
While we stand up against urgent threats, we continue to pursue transformative change toward a political system that is open, just, resilient, and trustworthy. This work is complex and challenging, but innovators and advocates continue to make steady progress and real strides toward transformation.
For example, a decade ago, Democracy Fund began responding to warning signs that local journalism was under threat. The sector was seeing layoffs, newsrooms collapsing, racism and sensationalism were all too common, and communities were being left with little or no trustworthy reporting. Together with our grantee partners, however, we saw in this crisis an opportunity for reinvention. We saw the promise of promoting new business models and centering the voices of communities who were never well-served by traditional journalism. Today there is a growing and thriving landscape of non-profit journalism. A tremendous community of news innovators, including our grantees, have created a new way forward for civic journalism. It’s taken years of patient investment to build from a ripple to a wave — but today we see the wave.
This past fall, funders made a new commitment to scale these approaches. Democracy Fund and a coalition of 20 funders announced plans to invest more than $500 million into local news and information over the next five years. We see this as a down payment toward an even more ambitious vision to reimagine the place of local news in the life of communities and our democracy. Local news will never be what it once was, but Democracy Fund grantees have had the vision to rebuild it as something better. The work ahead of us, in journalism and across our democracy, will take more collective action like this.
Exactly what lies at the end of 2024 is uncertain, but with a clear focus on resourcing, mobilizing, and expanding the pro-democracy movement, our field can navigate the year. It is also the time to work with resilience and purpose on advancing the promising ideas that may grow to be the next wave of change for our democracy.