Demos, in partnership with grassroots leaders on the front lines of the struggle for democracy, has created a policy agenda that will move our country toward a more inclusive democracy. These policy solutions represent the collective vision of Demos and members of the Inclusive Democracy Project (IDP), a majority-person of color, peer-to-peer learning cohort of state and local leaders who organize working-class communities and communities of color to advance bold democracy campaigns across the U.S. The Inclusive Democracy Agenda prioritizes and amplifies solutions that are advanced by, and which build power for, those closest to the problem—the Black and brown people for whom our systems have never worked, and who have the clearest vision for what changes must be made to build an inclusive, multiracial democracy. While ambitious, these policies represent some, though certainly not all, of the steps we must take if we are to live up to our ideals as a democratic society and make it possible for all people not just to survive, but to thrive in our democracy.
The Policies of the Inclusive Democracy Agenda
The right to vote is among the most fundamental and sacred rights in American democracy. Yet far too many Americans, especially Black and brown Americans, are deprived of this right. Affirmatively and comprehensively codifying the right to vote in the Constitution—and banning the laws and practices that have compromised that right over the centuries—will help realize the unfulfilled promise of democracy and ensure every American has full access to the franchise.
In an inclusive democracy, every single voting-eligible person must have the ability to cast a ballot that counts. Yet the confusing, sometimes onerous process of registering to vote keeps too many people from voting, election after election. Through universal registration, all eligible people would be automatically registered to vote in advance of elections, and additional safeguards would allow for on-site registration for those who find they aren’t registered when they show up at the polls.
Our democracy is strongest when we all have a say in decisions affecting our lives and our communities. Yet millions of Americans, disproportionately Black and brown Americans, are denied voting rights because they are targeted by our racist criminal legal system. Ending the practice of penal disenfranchisement in all its forms will finally put a stop to this painful stronghold of white supremacy and allow us all to benefit from the critical voices and votes of people who for so long have been excluded from our elections.
Small contributions to candidates and causes we care about are a core element of a thriving democracy. However, our current system prioritizes the voices and demands of large donors—overwhelmingly wealthy, white, and male—over those of Black and brown communities and working-class people. Removing unnecessary hurdles to the participation of small donors and creating policies that lift up their voices will democratize the influence of money in our political system, and will also bring more diverse voices, especially voices of color, into that system, as donors and as successful candidates.
Energy is an integral and indispensable element of our daily lives, and energy systems are one of the most important ways we interact with the natural world and with each other. Yet today, energy is privatized and commodified, and the benefits of energy generation accrue to a small body of corporate and wealthy actors rather than the communities from which energy is sourced. Energy democracy, pursued through public and community ownership of the energy sector, would halt and repair the extensive environmental damages of the dirty energy economy while also achieving justice and equity for those most harmed by climate change and environmental injustice.
The idea of government of, by, and for a sovereign people is a core aspiration of American democracy. Yet there are well over 4 million people living under the U.S. flag who continue to be denied the right to sovereignty and self-determination for which so many have died. Sovereignty and self-determination for the residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C. means millions of individuals will finally have the right, guaranteed under international human rights law, to “freely determine their political status,” with which they can pursue a process of decolonization and finally determine their own futures.
We believe the policy solutions of the Inclusive Democracy Agenda are powerful examples of areas in which greater democratization can lead to more reflective and responsive government, better decision-making, community empowerment, economic justice, and shared prosperity. We are publishing this Inclusive Democracy Agenda at a time when bold democracy reforms are being discussed in Congress and at the state level. The “For the People Act” (H.R.1 / S.1), for example, includes several important reforms that Demos enthusiastically supports, including small donor matching funds, extended early voting and expansive poll access, strong protections against purging eligible voters from rolls, and the creation of independent redistricting commissions. We believe these and many other proposals in H.R.1 / S.1 would make significant and valuable improvements to the way we conduct elections and practice democracy in our country. These core reforms are bold and necessary, and we are glad they have been at the very top of Congress’ agenda in 2021. They are also already widely discussed in the democracy reform movement.
Our goals with this policy agenda are to elevate policy solutions that are not currently part of the mainstream conversation, encourage policymakers to think a step or two beyond the critical ideas already on the table, and elevate the policy ideas of the leaders of the Inclusive Democracy Project, who are already actively working to build an inclusive democracy in their communities. We believe a visionary, transformative approach to democracy reform and democracy policy—and one that takes its cue from frontline democracy leaders like the members of the IDP—is requisite if we are to achieve a fully inclusive, representative democracy.