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 local 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 American politics is healthy when the broad civic middle of the American electorate exercises its voice and cast ballots. This stands in contrast to efforts by both sides to energize and mobilize their base votes. Mobilizing the base is fine, but if we want democracy to both survive and to work we also must engage voters who are not super partisans. By using pro-democracy, community-building techniques (talking to civic groups, engaging neighbors) we can reach the civic middle – moderate voters who traditionally have provided the ballast for America’s political life – as well as disaffected and Gen-Z voters frustrated with the messy nature of democracy and 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.
A grass-roots pro-democracy effort focused on education and civic engagement is an essential strategy if we are to successfully turn back the authoritarian, anti-democratic tide that now endangers the very foundations of national life. Saving Democracy aims to 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.