Voting Justice and Democracy Building

Congressman John Lewis’ final essay urges, “Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

While 2020 marked the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter registration for millions of voters of color continue to be met with suppression including: misinformation and delayed mailing of absentee ballots, purging of naturalized citizens and others from voting rolls, widespread voter intimidation, and repressive voter ID laws. In Florida, the largest of the swing states, 65% of voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018 to resto [...]

Democracy Building

Democracy: A National Temperature Check
The Laura Flanders Show
Racial Justice Can Change the Rules of Our Democracy
Rashad Robinson
Organizing Upgrade
What Black History Should Already Have Taught Us About the Fragility of American Democracy
Jelani Cobb
The New Yorker, Portside
Hold The Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy
H. Merriman, A. Asthana, M. Navid, and K. Shah
Choose Democracy
Choose Democracy
America Is Not a Democracy, But We Must Become One
David Korten
YES! Magazine
HEA Summit Aug 21: Building Communities of Belonging in the Face of Othering
Kevin J. Fong and john a. powell
Colorado School for Public Health
Pathways to a Racially Just Democracy
J. Hardesty, J. Santos Lyons, K. Sawicki, and K. Titus
Race and Democracy Podcast
Dr. Peniel Joseph
UT Center for the Study of Race and Democracy
Take the Pledge. 21 Days for Inclusive Democracy.
Western States Center (WSC)
A Little Thought Exercise about the Right Wing and the Political Culture of Our Times
Scot Nakagawa and Suzanne Pharr
Race Files by ChangeLab
Authoritarian State or Inclusive Democracy? 21 Things We Can Do Right Now
Eric K. Ward
Western States Center (WSC)
Democracy in Color
Politically Re-Active
W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu
True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer
Ben Jealous
Center for American Progress; Southern Elections Foundation (SEF)

Organizing and Advocacy

Black Leaders Win Fair Elections in Baltimore
Demos; Common Cause Maryland
How to Vote in the 2020 Election
Nathaniel Rakich and Julia Wolve
Black Youth Vote! The Next Generation of Black Leadership
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP)
Get in the Game: Civic Participation and Community Organizing
Miami Workers Center
Moments, Movements, and Momentum: Engaging Voters, Scaling Power, Making Change
Manuel Pastor, Gihan Perera, and Madeline Wander
Racial Justice Voter Pledge
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
The 2016 Fannie Lou Hamer Report Cards
Democracy in Color
The Grassroots Fight for the Right to Vote
Advancement Project’s Power and Democracy Program

Practices and Tools

2020 Election Case Studies
Vote, Organize, Transform, Engage: New Frontiers in Integrated Voter Engagement
Voter Suppression in America
Voting Rights Restoration
The Advancement Project
Changing States: A Framework for Progressive Governance
Manuel Pastor, J. Ito, and M. Wander
Race and Economic Jeopardy For All: A Framing Paper for Defeating Dog Whistle Politics
Ian Haney López
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society; AFL-CIO Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice
Realizing a More Inclusive Electorate: Identity, Knowledge, Mobilization
Joshua Clark
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, Diversity & Democracy Research Cluster
Testing New Technologies in Mobilizing Voters of Color: An Analysis from the November 2014 Elections
L. Bedolla et al.
The James Irvine Foundation
The U.S. Electoral System and Progressive Electoral Strategy Facilitator’s Guide
Online University of the Left

Research and Analysis

Overcoming the Unprecedented: Southern Voters’ Battle Against Voter Suppression, Intimidation, and a Virus
M. Elliott, R. Knowles, N. Abudu, et al.
Striving for a More Perfect Union of “We the People”
Kevin John Fong
Elemental Partners
Exposing Extremism in Elections
SPLC Action Fund
50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics
Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers, and Ismail White
Joint Center (JCPES)
Alive and Well: Voter Suppression and Election Mismanagement in Alabama
Rachel Knowles et al.
Fostering an Inclusive Democracy: A Strategic Vision to Protect & Expand Voting Rights
Barbara Arnwine
Transformative Justice Coalition; W.K.Kellogg Foundation
More Black Than Blue: Politics and Power in the 2019 Black Census
Black Futures Lab
Youth, Race, and Voter Mobilization
Jon C. Rogowski and Cathy J. Cohen

“A final thing people can learn is that politics is a traumatic experience for a lot of people. Our focus is not just on ‘let’s stop the bad thing,’ but on helping people hack into the potential and the possibilities. We have to literally affirm communities. Politics has become so hard and divisive that we leave out the joy, we leave out envisioning the potential of what people can do when they collectively use their power. That’s what we try to do and integrate in our political work. It’s not about the politics − it’s about the people.”

~ LaTosha Brown, Black Voters Matter Co-Founder


AOC on How Denying D.C. Statehood Denies Slavery's Impact – NowThis

Also in this section:
  • Addressing Hate and White Supremacy

  • Criminal Justice

  • Education

  • Food Justice

  • Immigration and Refugee Rights

  • Philanthropy

  • Trauma, Violence, and Healing

  • Children, Families, and Youth Development

  • Economic Development

  • Employment and Labor

  • Health and Healthcare

  • Language Justice

  • Reparations

  • Community Planning: Land and Transportation

  • Economic Security

  • Environmental Justice

  • Housing

  • Media and Technology

  • Reproductive Justice



In the context of racial equity work, accountability refers to the ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions, and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible.

To be accountable, one must be visible, with a transparent agenda and process. Invisibility defies examination; it is, in fact, employed in order to avoid detection and examination. Accountability demands commitment. It might be defined as “what kicks in when convenience runs out.” Accountability requires some sense of urgency and becoming a true stakeholder in the outcome. Accountability can be externally imposed (legal or organizational requirements), or internally applied (moral, relational, faith-based, or recognized as some combination of the two) on a continuum from the institutional and organizational level to the individual level. From a relational point of view, accountability is not always doing it right. Sometimes it’s really about what happens after it’s done wrong.

SOURCE:  Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work, Bonnie Berman Cushing with Lila Cabbil, Margery Freeman, Jeff Hitchcock, and Kimberly Richards (2010). 

Related Resources:  Accountability

Location: PLAN / Change Process

Black Lives Matter

A political movement to address systemic and state violence against African Americans. Per the Black Lives Matter organizers: “In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. [Black Lives Matter] members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” 

SOURCE:  Black Lives Matter, “Herstory” (accessed 7 October 2019).


When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression. 

Example: Able-bodied people who object to strategies for making buildings accessible because of the expense.

SOURCE:  Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin (Routledge, 1997).

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color.


  • Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as “red-lining”).

  • City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.

SOURCE:  Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Racism (scroll down alphabetically to the box for “Institutional Racism”)

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

Movement Building

Movement building is the effort of social change agents to engage power holders and the broader society in addressing a systemic problem or injustice while promoting an alternative vision or solution. Movement building requires a range of intersecting approaches through a set of distinct stages over a long-term period of time. Through movement building, organizers can:

  • Propose solutions to the root causes of social problems.

  • Enable people to exercise their collective power.

  • Humanize groups that have been denied basic human rights and improve conditions for the groups affected.

  • Create structural change by building something larger than a particular organization or campaign.

  • Promote visions and values for society based on fairness, justice, and democracy.

SOURCE:  Julie Quiroz-Martinez, From the Roots: Building the Power of Communities of Color to Challenge Structural Racism (Akonadi Foundation, 2010), citing the Movement Strategy Center, which offers these further definitions.

Related Resources:  Movement Building

Location: PLAN / Change Process


The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following 4 conditions are found:

  • the oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others,

  • the target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them),

  • genocide, harassment, and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going, and

  • members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct.

Oppression = Power + Prejudice

SOURCE:  What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Racial Inequity

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing, such as the percentages of each ethnic group in terms of dropout rates, single family home ownership, access to healthcare, etc.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Racist Policies

A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between or among racial groups. Policies are written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. Racist policies are also expressed through other terms such as “structural racism” or “systemic racism”. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Related Resources:  Laws and Policies

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / History of Racism and Movements

For specific topics, also see PLAN / Issues


States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

SOURCE:  International Center for Transitional Justice.

Related Resources:  Reparations

Location: PLAN / Issues

Structural Racism

  1. The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of White domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.

  2. For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural, and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared to white men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress, and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access, and quality of care, and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things.


  1. Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities by Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change, and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center, for the Race and Public Policy Conference (2004).

  2. Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Structural Racism

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

White Supremacy

The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.

SOURCE: “What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Related Resources:  System of White Supremacy and White Privilege and Addressing Hate and White Supremacy

Locations: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts and PLAN / Issues