Derrick Pouncey lost a friend and a cousin to COVID-19. He worries that his brother Deon, who’s in prison and struggles with mental health issues, may also be at serious risk of getting the virus. The people at the prison told Pouncey’s mother that if she doesn’t get a call from them, she should assume everything’s OK. “That only makes us more nervous,” says Pouncey.
As we look ahead to the November election, these tragedies show us why it’s so important to invest in building the collective power and voice of communities most impacted by police violence and other forms of systemic oppression.
The losses and the stress have not diminished Pouncey’s enthusiasm for his work as a digital organizer at Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), a project of Tides Advocacy and a grantee of Tides’ Healthy Democracy Fund. In fact, Pouncey believes BLOC’s work to bolster civic engagement and voting in Milwaukee’s north side neighborhood is even more important now in the face of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic in Black communities like his.
“The more we can get people engaged, the better the outcomes are going to be,” says Pouncey.
Pouncey’s story exemplifies the heartbreaking trauma we’re seeing in communities of color across the nation right now. The police murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and so many others—combined with COVID-19’s devastating impact on Black and Brown communities—underscore how racial violence and racism are endemic across American society. As we look ahead to the November election, these tragedies show us why it’s so important to invest in building the collective power and voice of communities most impacted by police violence and other forms of systemic oppression.
Let’s be clear: Our democracy is fraying, and it’s been fraying for a long time. Voter suppression, voter purges, disinformation campaigns, and foreign interference are not new. But the pandemic gives the opponents of pro-voter policies the cover to ramp up their efforts to undermine the democratic process. A case in point was the Wisconsin primary in April, an election in which the state legislature, together with the state supreme court, forced voters to risk their health to cast a ballot. The lesson learned here: We need to be prepared to fight attacks on our democracy, wherever they arise.
We also must stand with groups like BLOC and keep our eyes firmly focused on closing the voter “turnout gap” for underrepresented communities. Tides and our partners believe this is still the single best investment we can make to ensure a healthy democracy and realize our collective vision of shared prosperity and social justice.
Unfortunately, the turnout gap for many of the communities at the center of Tides’ work remains stubbornly high.
While overall voter turnout among all racial and ethnic groups jumped in the 2018 midterm elections, white voters still showed up at a markedly higher rate (58 percent) than Black (51 percent) and Latino (40 percent) voters.
Closing this gap necessitates investing in organizations and initiatives committed to boosting voter participation and disrupting voter suppression in communities of color. Thanks to the generosity of our philanthropic partners, the Tides’ Healthy Democracy Fund (and related Tides’ funds) have directed nearly $10 million to support critical work to reduce barriers to voting, close the turnout gap, and build momentum for stronger pro-voter policies.
For grantmakers working on these issues, flexibility and agility are imperative. That’s why so many of our philanthropic partners chose to pool their 2020 civic engagement funding into the Healthy Democracy Fund, rather than going it alone. They’re relying on the expertise of Tides’ staff and our connections to aligned funders and movement leaders to identify gaps, stay abreast of the changing landscape, and move money where it’s needed most.
Shifting Our Focus
Over the last several months, in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the national uprising for racial justice in the wake of unrelenting police violence, the Healthy Democracy Fund has adjusted its grantmaking. Here’s how we’re adapting to meet the moment:
- Doubling down on support for Black-led organizations to get out the vote. This is the time to stand in solidarity with Black-led groups working to bring power and voice to their communities. That’s why the Healthy Democracy Fund is increasing its support for groups like BLOC, with its vision to “build long-term political power” for Black residents of Milwaukee’s north side.
- Engaging specific populations of color. Realizing the broader vision of a “new American majority” often means working in discrete ways to engage specific groups of underrepresented voters. Right now, the Healthy Democracy Fund is supporting targeted efforts to activate groups where we see important opportunities for significant upticks in turnout. These include low-propensity voters of Korean descent in the Philadelphia suburbs, members of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, and Caribbean immigrants of color in greater Miami.
- Planning for the “COVID election.” The April election in Wisconsin was a harbinger of what’s to come in November. Tides and our movement partners are supporting groups around the country to adapt to COVID-19-related limitations at a time when person-to-person organizing and door-to-door canvassing pose serious risks. We’re also supporting grantees who are advocating and planning for greater adoption of voting by mail.
- Investing in digital infrastructure. Prior to this election, we viewed digital and social media strategies as important but secondary to in-person, door-to-door organizing. COVID-19 has flipped that calculus on its head. That’s why the Healthy Democracy Fund is investing in backbone digital capabilities of key grantees, while also supporting broader efforts to use technology to activate underrepresented communities. Among our grantees are Accelerate Change, which works with a variety of partners (such as Push Black and Project Pulso) to develop digital media strategies focused on Black and Latin voters.
We’re also paying increasing attention to issues of election security and integrity at a time when there are real and legitimate questions about whether various interests will seek to undermine the 2020 election and its results.
Voter suppression, voter purges, disinformation campaigns, and foreign interference are not new. But the pandemic gives the opponents of pro-voter policies the cover to ramp up their efforts to undermine the democratic process.
I can’t think of a more pivotal election in our nation’s history—and it will take place under unprecedented circumstances. Philanthropy needs to provide the strategic and targeted support necessary to assist leaders and organizations working on the frontlines to ensure all people can have their rightful say and that our democracy survives an unparalleled test.
“We will find a way to reach the people,” says BLOC’s Derrick Pouncey in Milwaukee. “We always do.”
Tides and our partners in the Healthy Democracy Fund are helping groups like BLOC make sure our elections reflect the will of all of the people. Join us.