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This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Advancing a People-First Economy

November 3, 2023

In the United States today, too many families cannot achieve the life they want, too many communities have not benefited fully from national economic growth, and too many Americans believe the economy does not work for them.Advancing a People-First Economy is the final report of the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The interdisciplinary and crosspartisan Commission comprises scholars, journalists, artists, and leaders from the faith, labor, business, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities. The Academy convened the Commission to address the problems facing the American political economy, problems the Commission believes are inextricable from the challenges facing American democracy and American institutions more generally.This report argues that too much attention is devoted to how the economy is doing and not enough to how Americans are doing. An economy should be judged not only on its efficiency and productivity but on its ability to improve people's well-being. In listening sessions across the country with people from different walks of life and from across the political spectrum, the Commission heard about the challenges people are facing and how current economic arrangements often do not prioritize their needs. A lack of economic security and opportunity fosters distrust of the political and economic system, a distrust that threatens the nation's social fabric, its institutions, and the ability of those institutions to provide security and opportunity for Americans.

Still Not Free When They Come Home, a Community Report: How Wisconsin's Criminal Legal System Harms Democracy and the Black Community on Milwaukee's North Side

October 16, 2023

During the first half of 2023, Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), a Black-led community-based organization in Milwaukee, and the Center for Popular Democracy conducted a participatory action research project where six of BLOC's member leaders from the North Side of Milwaukee interviewed their family members, neighbors, and other residents of the community about how policing and incarceration impacted their community's ability to participate in our democracy.Community members living on the northside of Milwaukee, where a large share of Wisconsin's Black residents live, have long experienced racism and state violence, criminalization and incarceration, poverty, and disenfranchisement (having their rights, especially voting rights, taken away). The community also has a long history of civic and political involvement—from civil rights era demonstrations against racial segregation to more recent protests against police violence. Today, its residents are among the most incarcerated in the US—and people often describe one of its zip codes, 53206, as among the most incarcerated zip codes in the country. This horrible status is the result of deeply entrenched historic and ongoing racial segregation, economic exclusion, and targeted policing that have torn at the fabric of North Side families and community fordecades.Drawing from interviews with community members, the BLOC researchers' long-term observations from their community, and their own and their family members' personal experiences, this report discusses the impact of Wisconsin's criminal legal system on the Black community on the northside of Milwaukee.

A Critical Minerals Policy for the United States: The Role of Congress in Scaling Domestic Supply and De-Risking Supply Chains

June 20, 2023

The United States currently faces a rapidly shifting global environment that increasingly places strategic importance on responsible and resilient access to critical minerals. These minerals—which are essential inputs to a wide range of applications ranging from clean energy technologies to advanced defense systems—will continue to increase in importance over the coming decades. Global competition over these resources due to the rapidly accelerating energy transition, fragmentation of international supply chains, and rising geopolitical tensions with adversaries is of key importance to the climate, economic, and national security interests of the United States in the 21st century.There is an urgent need for policymakers to define a coordinated critical minerals strategy for the United States. A U.S. critical minerals strategy must set out to achieve two objectives. First, it must seek to responsibly increase domestic and global production and processing of critical minerals at the scale and timeline needed to limit global temperature increases. Second, it must aim to secure responsible and resilient critical mineral supply chains that minimize vulnerability to external risks.


The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy

May 23, 2023

How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism? This question is front and center for People's Action Institute and our allies. How can we strengthen our democracy, when some feel it fails them, and others want to eliminate it? In our new White Paper, The Antidote to Authoritarianism, People's Action Institute takes this crisis by the horns. Through in-depth conversations with 27 of the most experienced and thoughtful leaders who build power among the multiracial poor and working class – current and former directors of national networks for social change, academics, philanthropists and on-the-ground organizers engaged in the defense of civil society – we explore current challenges and chart the path towards a shared solution.

Civic Participation

Economic Democracy Explained: Reimagining Public Goods

May 16, 2023

For decades the federal government has invested insufficient resources into the essential goods and services that communities depend on to survive and thrive. A notable exception was the investments made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which illustrated both that government can invest in community well-being even though it has typically declined to do so, and the extent to which public goods have been hollowed out over time, making emergency measures necessary. Public goods—the goods and services produced and distributed by government—are the critical scaffolding that help ensure that communities can thrive.By distributing the costs—and benefits—across the broader population, they strengthen our economy by guaranteeing access to basic needs like education, care, critical infrastructure, and more. Public goods can also finally help begin to level the playing field for those who have been structurally stripped of wealth and wealth building opportunities. Moreover, access to robust public goods ensures that power is not concentrated among the wealthy few, which in turn strengthens our democracy.


State of America's Libraries Report 2023

April 24, 2023

In 2022, the global COVID-19 pandemic entered its third year; political, economic and digital divides grew; and book challenges and bans surged across the country. ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked a record 1,269 book challenges, the highest number of demands to ban books reported since they began compiling data about censorship in libraries. But despite all these challenges, libraries thrived, pivoting to offer new and updated services to their communities. Adaptation and innovation shined in 2022, proving that there truly is "more to the story" at libraries.

Economic Democracy Explained: Deconcentrating Corporate Power

April 6, 2023

Our economy is increasingly defined by deep and rising inequality that exists across race, income, power, and wealth. Over the last few decades, corporations have lobbied to weaken laws and policies governing antitrust, environmental protections, worker rights and protections, and more—all to further consolidate their own power. The effect of this consolidation has been particularly acute for Black and brown communities who, as a result, face deep and persistent economic insecurity and inequality. Rising corporate consolidation has helped channel power further away from these communities and into the hands of a wealthy few. Addressing this imbalance requires more than policy changes. Power must shift away from corporations and back to the people—particularly Black and brown communities.According to the Center for Economic Democracy, an economic democracy brings more people to the decision-making table to "collectively decide how to use land, labor, and capital to serve the public good." This brief outlines the consequences of corporate actors consolidating their power to act against the public good, and how Black and brown communities can collectively envision and advance a just, inclusive economy.

Power Restored: Congressionally Directed Spending in the 117th Congress and Recommendations for Improvement

February 27, 2023

The 117th Congress (2021-2023) reformed and restored one of the legislative branch's oldest and most basic powers under Article I of the Constitution: the ability of individual members to direct federal funds to priority projects in their local communities. In 2011, through a series of formal and informal policies, Congress placed a moratorium on this mechanism, known as "earmarks." Congress's legislative capacities suffered since it established the moratorium, and the executive branch accumulated additional discretion over where and how federal funds should be invested. Beginning with fiscal year 2022, members could submit funding requests to each chamber's Appropriations Committee, which would consider and approve a portion of those requests before final floor consideration. The annual appropriations bills for FY2022 and FY2023 included directed funds for projects.This report provides a detailed overview of directed spending during the 117th Congress. The report includes background information on the history of directed spending, information about new rules and restrictions meant to improve the process, and a data-driven analysis of the trends that emerged, with comparisons to trends in the pre-moratorium period. The data reflect the requests and approvals as published by the Appropriations Committees before floor consideration and final passage. The report concludes with recommendations for further improving Congress's use of its directed spending authority.


Challenging the Dominance of Big Tech: For Us, Not Amazon in Arlington, VA

August 25, 2022

This case study is part of Demos' new Economic Democracy project, which asks how poor and working-class people, especially in Black and brown communities, can exercise greater control over the economic institutions that shape their lives. This framework has 3 goals:Break up and regulate new corporate power, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook.Expand the meaning of public goods and ensure that services are equitably and publicly administered.Strengthen "co-governance" strategies so that people and public agencies can collectively make decisions about the economy.This case study spotlights how For Us, Not Amazon (FUNA) coalition resisted the power and influence of Amazon in order to secure affordable housing, investments in the health, education, and economic futures of Black and brown communities, and stop a police surveillance partnership.

Changing Power Dynamics among Researchers, Local Governments, and Community Members: A Community Engagement and Racial Equity Guidebook

June 22, 2022

Increasingly, local governments seek to partner with research institutions to understand and undo their legacy of racist policymaking and other aspects of structural racism. This legacy includes historical and current policies, programs, and institutional practices that have facilitated white families' social and economic upward mobility and well-being while creating systemic barriers to the mobility and well-being of families of color.This toolkit highlights community-based approaches that can catalyze equitable public policy, programs, and investments by centering a community's expertise. Our aim is to equip local government agencies and their research partners with the tools needed to transform practices, structures, and systems by joining the highly collaborative processes of racial equity and community engagement. The toolkit is designed for local governments but also for researchers and policy experts who partner with local governments.

Civic Participation; Government

Banking for the Public Good: Public Bank NYC

May 26, 2022

This case study is part of Demos' new Economic Democracy project, which asks how poor and working-class people, especially in Black and brown communities, can exercise greater control over the economic institutions that shape their lives. This framework has 3 goals:Break up and regulate new corporate power, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook.Expand the meaning of public goods and ensure that services are equitably and publicly administered.Strengthen "co-governance" strategies so that people and public agencies can collectively make decisions about the economy.With the accelerating frequency of climate disasters, it is especially important to build the power of those most impacted by disasters— often Black, brown, and Indigenous communities—to ensure they have equitable access to the resources needed to recover and move forward.This case study spotlights how the New Economy Project (NEP) launched the Public Bank NYC (PBNYC) campaign to build a public bank in New York City that is specifically configured to serve Black and brown communities. By shifting the focus of finance from private profits to the public welfare, public banks can begin to repair harms caused by longstanding discriminatory practices that have extracted wealth from Black and brown people and neighborhoods, like predatory lending, overdraft fees, and redlining.

Civic Participation

Building the Relationships for Collaborative Governance: Case Studies from Across America

November 17, 2021

In recent years, a more collaborative form of democratic engagement has emerged, primarily at the local and state level, as well as internationally. Collaborative governance, or co-governance, refers to a broad range of models of civic engagement that allow people outside and inside government to work together in designing policy. This new form of engagement seeks to break down the boundaries between advocates and officials and is not only more democratic, but also more inclusive and open to those served by the government. How are co-governance relationships best developed, sustained, and supported? The clearest way to answer this question is not in theory, but from the learned experiences of co-governance, at the neighborhood, city, and state level. In this report, we highlight five of these cases in communities across the country where progress has been made to improve the quality of life and strengthen the bonds of community for all through the collaborative work of democracy.

Civic Participation; Government