Saving Democracy aims to recruit, train, and support a group of patriotic Americans who, acting as energetic evangelists for freedom and democracy, will reach out and speak to their friends, associates, and members of their networks. We will educate our fellow citizens about the authoritarian threat to our constitutional freedoms – including free and fair elections and the rule of law – and equip them to recognize what a belief in and commitment to democratic principles and behaviors look like. We will ask them to do their patriotic duty; they decide from there.
Hundreds of leading U.S. companies and major law firms expressed their alarm at attacks on the right to vote and free and fair elections across two pages in the New York Times on April 14, 2021. These business leaders called for “all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans.” Saving Democracy provides a nonpartisan vehicle to put this into action.
The project’s principals were Coro Fellows in Public Affairs after college and have stayed in touch in the years since. Coro is a unique experiential program that teaches individuals gravitating toward politics, civic life, and public affairs the importance of working with people from diverse agendas, backgrounds, and different political views. Immersed in real world politics and policy, Fellows emerge from the experience with an appreciation for the importance of dialogue, compromise, and working with people who see the world through a variety of lenses.
Here is a Coro-type training exercise: It’s early in the 21st century and technological innovation has disrupted basic communication among people. As a result, U.S. democratic norms and guardrails are under siege from misinformation and the traditional news media is widely distrusted. A free and fair presidential election is challenged and the loser refuses to concede. Two years later, approximately forty percent of Americans have doubts about the legitimacy of the guy sitting in the White House. Many Americans openly worry that the nation is slipping into autocracy, or maybe already is there. And no one is coming to save us. What would you do?
Saving Democracy is a collaborative effort rooted in the Coro LA Fellows Class of 1980. It began out of concern that our democracy’s norms were quickly eroding. Things that would have been unimaginable even five years ago have seemingly become accepted, such as a sitting president who repeatedly proclaimed that the only way he could lose reelection was if there was widespread voter fraud, and then urged an armed mob to storm the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 election. In the aftermath of Jan. 6, the extremist challenge to the Constitution and free and fair elections has increased in its vitriol toward the system put in place by our founders and Lincoln.
What emerged from our discussions was an idea to go deep into communities to see if this shift in thinking had been absorbed to the core of our political system: the kitchen table, local civic groups, and small businesses in targeted swing precincts of key congressional districts where election outcomes are still up in the air.
We believe that by using pro-democracy, community-building deep canvassing we can reach the civic middle – moderate voters who traditionally have provided the ballast for America’s political life – as well as disaffected and younger voters across the political spectrum turned off by the angry tone of Washington D.C. and cable news. These three groups constitute core persuadable voters in today’s polarized electorate. Troubled by our nation’s deep political divide and the violence unleashed on Jan. 6, they will participate in elections, but only if given a reason.
We call this initiative Saving Democracy because our democracy is indeed in danger and there is an urgency to take fact-based information directly to those who can still hold the balance of our democracy in their hands.
Saving Democracy’s founding members began meeting in mid-2021 to discuss Kevin C. O’Leary’s new book, Madison’s Sorrow: Today’s War on the Founders and America’s Liberal Ideal. O’Leary provides a historical/political narrative of the dangers and long- term consequences for democracy emerging from the rise of reactionary politics in America. As a result of our discussions, we became convinced that a grass-roots pro-democracy effort focused on education and civic engagement was necessary to combat the authoritarian, anti-democratic tide that now endangers the very foundations of national life. Saving Democracy aims to identify, educate, and activate the patriotic, pro-democracy sentiment dwelling just below the surface and restore our political guardrails.
Our nation finds itself at a crossroads: Stay true to our democratic ideals… or spiral into a political abyss filled with danger? At its core, the United States has stood for – and must continue to stand for – freedom from tyranny.
Kevin is a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of California, Irvine and teaches in the Political Science Department at Chapman University. A graduate of UCLA, he earned his doctorate at Yale. He has been the lead West Coast reporter for TIME, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, editorial page editor of the Pasadena Star-News, editor of OC METRO magazine, and a contributor to The American Prospect. He is the author of Madison’s Sorrow: Today’s War on the Founders and America’s Liberal Ideal.
Paul co-founded and served nearly 30 years as chief executive of Los Angeles-based Community Partners, a nonpartisan, nationally recognized accelerator of social and civic ideas, innovations, and initiatives. He co-authored Networks that Work, a rich compendium of principles, practices, and examples that model success in creating and sustaining cooperative and collaborative ventures.
Jim brings decades of online and offline marketing experience to help companies devise and deliver data-driven solutions to increase revenue and marketing efficiencies. He has led major analytics engagements with many leading retail, telecom, health care and nonprofit market leaders and is currently VP, Analytic Solutions for Hansa Marketing Services. After receiving his B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his time with CORO, Jim pursued graduate studies in Public Policy at Claremont Graduate School.
Richard brings more than 30 years of experience working with diverse segments of the Hispanic community, with a particular expertise in analyzing, developing actionable insights, and strategy building of Hispanics by race, ethnicity, national identity, culture, language, religion, and region. Since 1986, his consulting firm has advised and developed programs for such entities as NBCUniversal Telemundo, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Disneyland. After Coro, he became Southern California Field Representative to U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and then Western States Coordinator for the Cranston Presidential Exploratory Committee. He earned a B.A. in political science from UCLA.