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Ana Garcia-Ashley Headshot

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like

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As Election Day came to a close, I was both inspired and saddened. Having come to this country as an immigrant, the ideal of American democracy is one that I hold dear. Leading up to this election, we hit a new low in this country, as anti-democracy forces coordinated their attempts to suppress the voting rights of low-income people, people of color, the young, and the elderly. But, at the same time, I was inspired by the new level of collaboration between community organizations, unions, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other community institutions, as we struggled together to push back against regressive forces and to rekindle our democracy.

Voter ID laws, intimidation, and suppression, and other restrictions on democracy have created new obstacles for community organizations who seek to expand civic engagement. But the fire of our faith has allowed the Gamaliel faith-based organizing network to make some significant gains in rekindling our democracy this fall. Three Gamaliel trained organizers were elected to public office yesterday: Mandela Barnes was elected to the Wisconsin state legislature, Maggie Hassan was elected as the Governor of New Hampshire, and President Barack Obama was re-elected and sent back to the White House. Gamaliel of California also won a progressive tax ballot measure that will ensure that the wealthiest Californians pay their fare share of taxes, and at the same time beat back an anti-union measure. Against the backdrop of unlimited funds and restricting access to the ballot box in our communities, these victories would not have been possible without a powerful network that works from the ground up.

As one of my first acts as the Executive Director of Gamaliel, I worked with our affiliate organizations in 17 states to build the Fire of Faith campaign, focusing on rekindling our democracy and our economy, while strengthening the faith-based institutions that make up our base. This bold campaign aims to move 1 million families into economic dignity, by creating jobs, striving for educational and transportation equity, reforming the criminal (in)justice system, and strengthening civil rights for immigrants. This three-year campaign is built upon the notion that we cannot rekindle anything without creating strong partnerships with other allies.

It is in this spirit that we have deepened our relationships with electoral organizing allies to develop an ambitious program to register, engage, and mobilize over 350,000 faith leaders. It is because of these relationships that we were able to push pass voter suppression and ensure that democracy was safe in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Iowa, New York, Ohio, California, New Hampshire, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and beyond. We have worked with unions to build out a powerful and coordinated jobs campaign. And we have partnered with many more organizations and networks to help coordinate a new progressive movement of workers and faith leaders who will work together for the common good.

As we came upon Election Day, these relationships may have saved our democracy. Gamaliel partnered with our allies to send Fire of Faith Poll Watchers into polling places to ensure moral integrity at the ballot box. Dressed in clergy attire, Gamaliel leaders kept the peace in the face of trained bullies who were harassing voters. This was vital, as election judges handed out a myriad of provisional ballots and voters in low-income areas stood in line for hours to participate in their democratic right to vote.

So what happens now? We now have in place a powerful alliance of relationships that allowed us to navigate undeterred through these threats to our democracy. Now we can take next steps together. We seek to create a just world, built around our faith values. We will work together to repeal the laws that limit our democratic rights, and go even further, working to change the system that created the Great Recession and several concurrent wars. As leaders of the new progressive movement in America, we envision an economy that works for all, and with the fire of our faith we will work together to make that dream a reality.

This is what democracy looks like!