Organizing to get big money out of politics is frequently missing the voices of those who are the most marginalized by the failings of our democracy. Public discussions about money in politics and corporate rights can feel disconnected from people’s everyday realities because they focus only on concerns like the increasing amounts spent on elections, the donors and companies benefiting from the pay-to-play system, and Supreme Court cases like Citizens United, which have blocked our representatives’ ability to rein in the influence of big money.
Too often, efforts to limit the dominance of corporations and big money, and even conversations about these problems, have failed to consider how our big-money system hurts people marginalized by systems of oppression like structural racism and white supremacy, heteronormativity, transphobia, misogyny, and xenophobia. Pro-democracy organizations recognize the lack of diversity and want to engage more communities, especially communities marginalized by systems of oppression, but often do not have the tools to do so. As a result, we have collected some tools as a starting point.
First, what is intersectionality?
Critical Race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to refer to overlapping or intersecting social identities, such as race, class, and gender, and related systems of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. People who live with multiple intersecting social identities tend to experience multiple systems of oppression, so their perspective and experience tends to be different from people with fewer subordinated intersecting identities.
Why do we need an intersectional democracy reform movement?
Those who experience the most harm from the unequal influence of money in politics are usually those who already face discrimination, oppression, or domination in other areas. A political system that favors the wealthiest few is particularly harmful for Native people, Black people, people of color, queer and trans people, and other communities who have been systematically excluded from economic opportunity. Our allies at Demos have written about both the racial wealth gap and how the racial bias in our big money political system undermines our democracy. We know that:
- Because of our country’s history and present practice of excluding people of color from our economy and our democracy, there are gaps of over $100k in the median household wealth controlled by white families and families of color.
- Trans and gender non-conforming people are 4x more likely to live in extreme poverty. Looking at the intersection of gender identity and race, black trans and gender non-conforming people are 8.5x more likely and Latinx trans & gender non-conforming people are 7x more likely to live in poverty than cisgender identified people.
Talking about money in politics without talking about systemic oppression ignores some significant structural challenges, which makes us less effective. Also, society and the money in politics movement are missing out on unique and valuable voices, which could allow us to build a more thoughtful and critical movement that would truly help everyone. The most successful movements to expand democracy have been multiracial, so imagine a movement with even more intersectionality and inclusivity.
How can we promote intersectionality within the democracy reform movement?
Historically, organizing to get big money out of politics has been driven largely by straight, older, white, and male leaders, which means we are frequently missing the voices of those who are the most marginalized by the failings of our democracy. We need to actively work toward centering and listening to voices that are the most systemically excluded, as well as working toward understanding – in our own spaces – how power dynamics and privilege play a role in the advocacy we do.
Free Speech for People and Demos discussed how to promote intersectionality on this Every Voice Podcast.
Where do we start?
Free Speech For People has been working with other pro-democracy organizations to create an initiative that will provide people with some tools and resources to work toward engaging necessary communities in the fight for democracy and to make us a fully intersectional and inclusive movement. In partnership with Demos, we created a flexible framework for events that, instead of centering scholars and leaders in the money in politics advocacy community, centers the communities we are trying to reach. We developed this framework through our experience organizing events in Boston and D.C. on how money in politics affects the queer and trans communities. When planning these events, we worked with many other pro-democracy organizations as well as organizations in the queer and trans community to create a space for trans and queer activists to talk about how big money affects their advocacy. Free Speech For People has also worked with Move To Amend to host a national webinar on how to promote inclusivity and intersectionality in the pro-democracy movement.
Below are materials and recommendations for how to work toward making our movement more intersectional.
Initial Guides for Centering Communities Marginalized by Systems of Oppression
- Centering Marginalized Communities: A Framework for Intersectional Money-in-Politics Events – a framework for events that center voices and communities marginalized by systems of oppression
- Every Voice Podcast on Centering Marginalized Communities – a podcast dedicated to intersectionality in the money in politics movement, and the Centering Marginalized Communities intersectional framework
- Movement Educational Program (Move To Amend) – an educational program to help democracy activists build authentic and trusting relationships with people from groups hardest-hit by structural oppression
- How Racial Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy (Demos) – great background reading to understand some of the impacts money in our political system has on racial equity
- Specific Educational Materials – consider creating educational materials specifically related to the community you are attempting to reach.
- Example: one-page educational material on how money in politics and corporate personhood affects the LBGTQ+ community
- Mulilingual Options – translate educational materials to reach a broader and more diverse audience
- Example: Spanish translation of report on how money in politics affects immigration policy
- Centralizing and Sharing Information – find useful ways to share the information and insight you gather when centering new communities
- Example: webpage that hosts information around how money in politics and corporate rights affects the LGBTQ+ community
Video and Materials from Intersectional Events
- Video: Inclusivity and Intersectionality in the Pro-Democracy Movement (March 29, 2018)
- Video: Inclusivity and Intersectionality in the Pro-Democracy Movement (March 25, 2018)
- Video: Queer and Trans Concerns Around Voting Rights and Money in Politics (Washington, D.C., June 2017)
- Video: Queer and Trans Concerns Around Democracy, Money & Politics (Boston, April 2017)
- Facilitator’s Guide for Educational Program: How Money is Painting Your Life: Art, Money, and Politics – toolkit including facilitator’s guide, video of event, and photo of art
Additional Intersectional Resources / Research
- Queer and Trans Concerns Around Democracy, Money & Politics – central resource listing for how money in politics affects the LGBTQ+ community
- Private Prisons & Political Contributions: How Big Money Shackles Immigration Policy / Prisiones Privadas y Contribuciones Financieras Electorales: ¿Cómo la Influencia del Dinero en la Política afecta a las Leyes de Inmigración? (available in English and Spanish) – research report looking at the impact of money in politics on immigration reform
- The Hill, Mar. 17, 2017: “Trump’s Link to Private Prisons Proves Why Citizens United Must Go” by Jasmine Gomez
- Truthout, Oct. 06, 2016: “Big Money in Politics Threatens Political and Racial Equality” by Jasmine Gomez
- Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 4, 2014: “Equal Protection for People, Not Corporations” by Ron Fein
- The Hill, June 25, 2015: “Marriage Equality and Corporate Litigation” by Ron Fein
- Background Research: Money in Politics, Corporate Rights, and Queer/Trans Rights – information and linked resources from a panel in Boston that highlights how money in politics and corporate personhood affects the LGBTQ+ community
- Educational Materials (one-pager): Money in Politics, Corporate Rights and the LGBTQ+ Community – one-page educational material on how money in politics and corporate personhood affects the LBGTQ+ community