From The President / February 2, 2024

Racial justice is the test for our democracy

A letter to the Democracy Alliance community
From DA President Pamela Shifman
February 1, 2024

There is no democracy without racial justice. This fundamental truth must be more than words. It’s a call to action—and a test.

This year, as our country marks Black History Month, it also confronts the existential threat of an authoritarian future. The two are inherently connected. 2024 is the latest flashing reminder that until we do the hard work of dismantling racism, our democracy will remain unrealized. It will forever be at risk. 

As a community committed to a just, multiracial democracy, racial justice is fundamental to our purpose. No issue we care about can be realized without it. Systemic racism was built over generations, and racial justice will take years to achieve. It must be backed up with staying power and rock-solid commitment. Yet our country is not meeting the test.

A downturn in funding for Black-led organizations
The racial justice reckonings of 2020 brought a wave of new funding commitments for Black leaders and Black-led organizations, who’ve long been severely underfunded and untrusted. That same year, Black voters literally saved the future of democracy, making the critical difference in the presidential election and key Senate races and everywhere in between.

But four years later? I now hear from Black leaders almost every day who tell me that funding is drying up. Those calls to action for real reform and progress are fading away. Black voters see it all and are losing trust.

Let’s be clear: this moral failing is also a devastating and dangerous political strategy. We will never win without Black-led organizations and Black political power lighting our way to the progressive future we need. A thriving democracy will remain out of reach. Our country will fail the test.

Racial justice takes staying power
At the Democracy Alliance, we will never stop sounding this call. And we will never stop centering racial justice in our core strategic priorities for democracy. Because it’s the only way to win—today, in November, and for decades ahead.

That’s why a focus on racial justice is threaded throughout our program priorities and 10-year vision. 

Our strategic goal to change the rules, for example, invests for the long-term in efforts to unrig the rules that have been rigged against Black people from the beginning. This is driven by a commitment to invest boldly in combating voter suppression and supporting urgent work on the ground to defend and expand voting rights. And it means never letting up on efforts to pass The Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Together, we are advancing progress on two time frames at once: the next election and the next generation. Building for Democracy is moving money right now to Black, Indigenous and other organizers of color on the ground in states like Georgia and Michigan to support research and combat disinformation campaigns targeting voters of color.   

Similarly, our strategic priority to invest in worker power has a long-term focus on racial justice embedded into its core. Our Democracy Takes Work initiative, for example, channels investments to organizations like the National Black Worker Center because we know that when Black workers organize and build power, our democracy grows more powerful in return. And it fuels unions, which are proven to increase support among white workers for affirmative action and other policies that benefit Black households—the very policies that are now facing sustained attacks.

Meeting democracy’s test
The road to racial justice is long and unfinished. It is also the only road to the thriving democracy to which we are all committed. Through the lens of Black history, we can also glimpse the possibility of a very different future: one of liberty and justice for all. This year, that future faces a fundamental threat, but it is still within our reach.

When the work gets challenging, some lose focus. Others lose courage. But I know this community is different. With resolve and staying power, we can meet the test.