Observations from Alexandra Fenwick
The Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), a network fiscally sponsored by NEO Philanthropy, hosted their annual convening from May 23 – 25, 2016 in St. Paul Minnesota. This year’s theme, Following the North Star Toward Real Change for a Just Democracy, was the framework to discuss how to create a democracy that works for everyone, take lessons from states that can help guide civic participation work on a national level and much more.
Key takeaways from the convening:
- Hitting the target in Minnesota: Model for working together locally for gains around the country – No group is a better example of this than Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, a collaborative whose members share a commitment to knocking down the false divide between organizing, advocacy and electoral engagement. This group proved that you don’t have to have the same goals or agree on all aspects of a campaign to continue to move forward as a collective. By joining forces and coming together around long-term power building they were able to make real gains, including “banning the box” in all Target stores across the country.
- Look forward to accomplish more – When we look at the large problems that surround civic participation, money in politics for example, it’s easy to enter a vortex of despair. The problem seems too big to solve and the immediate barriers look so daunting a solution doesn’t seem possible. If we expand our vision beyond the immediate some of those challenges will begin to melt away and the work can and will be done. The organizations that focus on the long game and not the daily obstacles are the ones that will give us hope.
- Put individuals, communities and families at the center of policies – When you look around the table, are those seated representative of the groups they are supporting? In most instances, the answer is no. Those who are most impacted from the lack of democracy in our country should be leading the way on how we achieve true democracy. Funders have the unique opportunity to cultivate leadership roles and empower local leaders in the community.
- Civic participation goes far beyond Election Day – In the world of civic participation, things seem to heat up in an election year. But as one speaker put it, “You don’t go to the Super Bowl without going to training camp.” Civic participation is an every day, every year issue. Before an election year, the amount of work that was put in and the number of conversations that were had in different languages matters and is what makes a real difference. One presenter gave funders this food for thought: “You assume that some communities won’t vote, so you don’t engage them. Now, there is a possibility they won’t vote because you never knocked on their door to ask what they cared about.”