As we saw in the January 6th siege of the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob–and law enforcement’s response to it–American democracy is in tatters. Since the November election, we have witnessed a coordinated attempt at a coup for the first time in American history. This moment is the culmination of unbroken centuries of white supremacy coupled with a parallel long-brewing anti-democratic/pro-authoritarian streak in our population, politics and politicians.
Fascism is defined as “a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, and insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.”
The events leading up to and manifested by the takeover of the U.S. Capitol, especially when contrasted to the police response to Black Lives Matters and other racial-justice protests, should make it clear that we are dealing with a coordinated mobilization of white supremacist fascism. It is nothing less than this –the videos don’t lie.
Fundamental democratic norms and institutions have been battered by the events and inaction of the last four years. Despite this, in no small part due to the work of decades of judicial independence advocacy, federal and state supreme courts have followed the rule of law, and did not bow to political pressure to undermine this third branch of our democratic system.
As if to demonstrate just how pernicious this movement has become, several states, including Florida, are actually using the events of this week to introduce or re-introduce legislation to criminalize peaceful protest. In fact, in the last four years, 40 statehouses have introduced bills to severely restrict and even criminalize peaceful protest and dissent. We cannot allow elected officials or security forces to criminalize social-justice protesters peacefully demonstrating against white supremacy, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and inequality.
Although we all have much urgent work ahead to build an inclusive, multi-racial and robust democracy, the following immediate actions are essential to ensure accountability, the rule of law and protection of democratic norms and institutions:
This moment must serve as a wake-up call to American philanthropy to prioritize the building of an inclusive, multiracial and robust democracy at every level of government. This will be the only effective antidote to the rise of white supremacist fascism. This is not and cannot be classified as “partisan work” or any other characterization that enables inaction.
If we fail to take the necessary actions and confront another moment like this in the future, the chances are better than not that that it will succeed. The question for philanthropy is: Is this a risk we are willing to take?
Paul Di Donato
President & CEO
The Proteus Fund
Open Letter: Philanthropies Condemn Political Violence, Call on Leaders to Protect Democracy and Get Back to the People’s Business
As representatives of nonpartisan philanthropic institutions, serving rural, urban, and suburban communities across the nation, we condemn the violence that broke out at the U.S. Capitol this week. The events in Washington are a stain on our nation’s history and a painful break in the peaceful transition of power that has been a defining hallmark of American democracy for more than 200 years.