What Will It Take? The Requirements of a Multi-Racial Democracy

By Crystal Hayling & Daniel Lau

With democracy under threat here and around the world, this election year poses the question: what are the requirements of a multi-racial democracy?  What must be in place to ensure that our right to participate survives for all of our children? There are many elements, of course, and at the Democracy Frontlines Fund we support power building organizations that protect and enhance our right to vote, as well as groups that are creating community-led strategies to keep us all safe and designing solutions to the climate crisis. 

To have a functioning democracy, we need to ensure that people, and in particular Black people who are closest to injustice, are safe and thriving.  With this pivotal election year, our DFF blog series  will focus on our civic engagement pillar and three aspects within: vibrant and well-resourced community organizing, free and fair access to voting, and addressing disinformation.

We’ll start with organizing in this inaugural blog, because that is where the hard, often unsung work of democracy begins. We can’t fully exercise our democratic rights unless groups in our communities have first laid the groundwork by tilling and sowing the ground – that’s like trying to grow a garden without any soil.  True organizers don’t just show up and try to harvest votes in an election year – they are at their work in the winter, in the fallow times, and as we write this they are seeding this fall’s successes in the spring.

Organizing is the diametric opposite of despair —the belief that no one cares and nothing can be done about the threats to our democracy. Organizing at its best can stoke our precious sense of hope, and help us imagine coming back together as vibrant, whole and well – while steering us from this fragile moment to that destination. This is because organizing leaves people feeling connected to their neighbors, part of a network in their community. It can also help overcome toxic divisiveness.

People’s Action gets this, and that’s why their “Organizing Revival” takes us beyond transactional spurts of organizing that fall conveniently in election years. Their goal is a much more longterm “strategic alignment and shared movement infrastructure that will help independent as well as networked organizations build and wield power more effectively across issues, geographies, and constituencies.” They’re bringing poor and working people back into a process from which they’ve too often been sidelined or excluded.

Our grantee partners in the Democracy Frontlines Fund know better than most that organizing is a long-term investment that builds deeper relationships over time. No one understands the deep and lasting role of organizing better than Black Voters Matter, working to increase power in marginalized, predominantly Black communities. “This isn’t about one election, this isn’t about one person winning or one party being in power,” LaTosha Brown reminds us. “I have the audacity to believe that there are far, far more of us that want an inclusive, representative democracy than those who seek to undermine and destroy it.” Amen.

In preparation for this year’s consequential election, Black Futures Lab is leading a five-state electoral organizing strategy to engage Black voters through deep canvassing, relationship-building, and voter education. Alicia Garza shares, “Every election cycle, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not Black voters are going to show up. We know that our communities show up when we invest consistently and with curiosity - when we listen to, rather than talk at our folks.” Black voters have made a significant difference in every election, and this cycle will be no different.

There are so many more amazing folks out organizing our frontline communities, too many to mention by name here, and their compelling work at the grassroots desperately needs resources. So it’s shameful to see many funders scale back their racial justice work in this critical moment. This is a time for funders to follow the bold lead of DFF and move their money to organizing – now.  After completing our first round of multi-year investments of $39 million in Black power building from 2020-2023, our funder community came back to the table with starting commitments of $35.5 million through 2026. In election years, organizers need the money early to engage and inform their communities. 

We are proud to sign on to the All By April campaign, joining nearly 200 pro-democracy funders and donors in accelerating our 2024 giving to frontline civic engagement partners. We thank our funder community who, through our swift and collective efforts, make possible the accelerated awards of $11.5 million to our 11 grantee partners building power in Black communities across the nation six months ahead of our normal grantmaking timeline. We must have the vision and the bias to action to get the resources to the grassroots.  As we’ll discuss in future blogs, this is not the sole requirement of our democracy. But organizing is the beginning, the core element that makes it all possible.


Democracy Frontlines Fund (DFF) is an initiative of the Libra Foundation. Crystal Hayling is the Executive Director of the Libra Foundation and Founder of DFF. Daniel Lau is the Initiative Officer for DFF.

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