By DA Managing Director Julie Kohler and Zoe Hudson
The Democracy Alliance, through our new Inclusive Economy Fund (IEF), has doubled down on support for local economic campaigns. In less than a year, we formed an Advisory Board, crafted a funding strategy, consulted with dozens of experts and organizers, and – most importantly! – approved $1.9m in grants. We moved quickly because we feel the urgency of this moment – to solidify and broadcast the progressive economic view, capitalize on the remarkable energy for reform, and win important policy victories. Americans have suffered through four decades of stagnant wages, followed by a financial crisis. They demand an economy that works for all, not just for a privileged few. We can and must do better.
Thanks to many of the organizations in our portfolio (Americans for Financial Reform, Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Demos, Economic Policy Institute, National Employment Law Project, Roosevelt Institute), we know much of what needs to happen to truly make a difference in people’s lives. We must make significant reforms across the board, from social insurance to education, public infrastructure, and healthcare. We must close tax loopholes, eliminate debt traps, address the extreme concentration of wealth, and move away from an extractive economy. We must respond to conservative “dog whistle” politics that capitalize on racial anxieties to discredit government action and reform. We must strengthen workers’ ability to bargain collectively. And we must do all this in a political context where an elite few – the very wealthiest and the largest corporations – are writing the rules to their advantage.
The IEF made some tough choices about what to support, especially given modest initial resources. We start with the belief that an “inclusive economy” is not just good politics, it’s good economics. No free and open society can endure long-term stagnation and continuously rising inequality. Building a more inclusive economy – one that recognizes innovation and demand as the key to growth – will benefit everyone.
Given Congressional dysfunction and the movement and energy we’ve seen at the local level in recent months, we felt it was important to focus on cities and states, investing in campaigns that offer us the opportunity litigate before the public the economic choices before us. Here, we benefit greatly from partnership with other DA funds that are building strong in-state infrastructure, working to take back political power, increasing civic engagement, and advancing complementary democracy and climate policy agendas. We work with them to identify the most promising organizations with the capacity to deliver – and to ensure that our plans were aligned. In many instances, the funds are supporting the same organizations, helping them build a year-round organizing operation that moves more seamlessly between issue campaigns and civic engagement.
Fundamentally, this is a power-building exercise, as we must engage and motivate millions to be able to challenge the formidable combination of wealth and political control. To enact the long list of necessary reforms, we must have more organizing muscle. At the end of a campaign, we want the groups we support to be even stronger – more members, more resources, a higher profile in the community – so they’re poised to take on the next fight.
In December we approved $1.9m in grants, with a focus on the Democracy Alliance’s priority states. The grants support organizations working to:
- Pass ballot initiatives in Albuquerque, Arizona, and Colorado that provide millions of workers higher wages and earned sick leave and further momentum towards federal action. It’s particularly significant that these campaigns are much more ambitious – calling for $12 an hour – and are taking these fights to “purple” states. Winning here changes the national debate.
- Highlight the worst offenses and excesses of the financial services industry through dynamic public education campaigns. The IEF-supported “Hedgeclippers” campaign in Florida, for example, is building awareness and activism around the Puerto Rican debt crisis by contrasting the “winners” (the hedge funds who reportedly own nearly 50% of Puerto Rico’s debt) and “losers” (everyday Puerto Ricans who have seen their livelihoods destroyed and have lost access to basic services including healthcare, education, and even electricity due to the government’s austerity measures).
- Pilot new, local childcare campaigns that unite the interestsof parents struggling with the crippling costs of child care with the interests of the primarily female and disproportionately immigrant early care and education labor force. These campaigns will test our ability to win new revenue and expand access to a fundamental public good. We’re also investing in a national platform to get the issue back at the top of the national economic policy agenda.
Donors could do this work on their own, but we think it makes strategic sense to do it together. By bringing together private foundations, labor unions, and individual donors and pooling our expertise – not just our money – we are better able to map and monitor activity at the state level and ultimately, make stronger investments. Building this table has the potential to better align not only the fund’s direct investments, but also the resources spent outside the fund itself. Over time, we hope to strengthen alignment in the field.