Democracy Alliance Blog / From The President / April 1, 2020

Opening Remarks by Gara LaMarche – DA Donor Meeting – April 1, 2020


This is an adapted version of remarks delivered by DA President Gara LaMarche at the opening of the DA’s Spring Donor Meeting on April 1.

The last time the DA staff and I had to overhaul a DA conference at the last minute – with even less lead time than we had this spring – was to deal with the cataclysm of Donald Trump’s election as President almost four years ago.  That is not something I wanted to live through again, for many different reasons.

This time we had to take a three-day conference planned for New York — my home — and fit it into a few hours online, planning changes from our bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens and staring into a screen as you are doing now.

A lot gets left out – speakers and topics, to be sure, but much more.  What we all miss in these challenging weeks — in our work lives, as well as in our families and other relationships — are those moments of connection that bind us together and transcend the too-often transactional world in which we operate.  In the weeks and months to come, as long as this pandemic forces us to radically alter our ways of doing things, the DA will do its best to keep our community together online and find new opportunities, like virtual salons,  for diving deeper into shared interests and initiatives.

For the two hours we are together today, and for another two hours tomorrow – slightly more time than it may have taken you to watch The Irishman – here is what we have planned. We’ll explore the path to victory in November and how it looks given the serious and unexpected detours that path has taken.  The essentials remain the same – organizing, mobilizing, persuading, protecting the right to vote both before and after the election – but the challenges and opportunities for doing all those things have been altered markedly.  We’ll also talk about what leadership means in a viral moment.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore how organizing is being retooled in a crime of crisis, we’ll look at the electoral battlegrounds, and then we’ll look at what resources are necessary to get the job done this year.

We can take nothing for granted, particularly not this tumultuous year. Not Trump’s approval rating, which in a just world would be zero, but which is actually ticking up a bit; not the narrative about what the country needs to cope with a pandemic; not the way the election is waged, and not even the way it ends.

None of us has a crystal ball, but it seems inevitable that after we get through the time of social distancing, our world will never be the same.  Just how it is different is in critical ways up to us and how we use this moment.  As writer Rebecca Solnit wrote a few days ago, in moments of crisis like these, “the possibilities for change, for the better or the worse, for a more egalitarian or more authoritarian society, burst out of the gate like racehorses.”

The DA has fought for an inclusive economy and a fair democracy, and we’ve made some progress in shifting both the debate and the policies.  But the last few weeks have thrown into sharp relief just how unequal our economy is, particularly for frontline workers and many in the gig economy for whom the pandemic is a threat not only to their economic security but to their very lives, with stark racial disparities as a disproportionately Black and Brown and female labor force serve and protect those “sheltering at home.“ With strong advocacy by many of you, and most importantly by the progressive groups we support, the recent relief packages passed by Congress contain some steps toward progressive goals like paid sick leave and direct income support.

Not nearly enough, and despite the size of the stimulus we are already gearing up to push Congress to do much more.  We are in an economic crisis already causing tremendous pain in record unemployment and mounting losses of health insurance in the midst of a pandemic — with major premium hikes looming in the not-so-distant future.) This calls for nothing less than a massive restructuring of our economy. You know that corporate lobbyists, as they have for the past few weeks, will be working hard to slip in grotesque tax breaks and regulatory relief for big business.  What we need, as our friends at People’s Action have called it, is a people’s bailout that makes a big down payment on an economy of regeneration.

We also need to accelerate efforts to protect our elections from disinformation, interference and rigging, with COVID-19 added to the list of threats both in its human impact and its manipulation by our opponents who think the best election is the one in which the fewest people get to the polls. Here, too, advocates are leading the way in recent weeks, as the voices and experiences of civil rights leaders have come together with the passion and expertise of Vote at Home advocates.  We have no time to waste in securing the right to organize and to vote at every level of our democracy.

We can rise to this crisis by increasing democratic participation … by strengthening the social safety net … by reorienting economic priorities … and by underscoring the critical need for strong and effective government, a free press and unfettered and independent science.

But we can only do it if we seize this moment to make the world we want to build an economy and a democracy that work for all of us.  Let’s rededicate ourselves to that urgent task together, today.