This project is part of Democracy Day, a national effort to engage communities in conversations about democracy.

Nonprofits pitch in to bolster American democracy

Bay Area residents, like most Americans, may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the unrelenting stream of troubling news related to politics and democracy today — from the Jan. 6 insurrection to the effort to change state election laws to questions about whether the President of the United States is above the law.

But there are silver linings, and one largely unremarked piece of good news is that scores of nonprofits have joined the battle to keep democracy alive and well.

To explore this work, Bay City News has asked national and local nonprofits for their views on the state of our democracy – what is working, what is not and what we all should be considering as we approach the November midterm elections in a time of great division among Americans and the American electorate.

(Responses were provided in writing and in some cases have been edited for clarity and brevity).

America Amplified

Managing Editor Alisa Barba

America Amplified seeks to empower public media journalists with the skills and resources they need to put listening to their communities at the center of their reporting.

What are some of your organization’s biggest worries right now and why?

The biggest concern, which is partly selfish but also part of the largest question, is that people are so turned off by politics that they don’t even have questions and don’t care. There is so much apathy out there that we won’t get any questions and won’t have questions to answer. That’s selfish on my part because it shows the project I’m doing won’t be successful if we don’t get any questions, but it’s also a concern for the state of American democracy.

What are you optimistic about and why?

Well, I live in a bubble, as do you, working in public media and everything else, but I see a lot of energy and effort being put toward helping people figure out how to vote, helping people understand the strengths of our democracy, helping people to learn how to support democracy and become more civically engaged. I’ve never seen so much energy around that issue before. I think there’s almost desperation. Majority rule is being threatened by minority forces and if people don’t act, everything could change in this country and I don’t think people recognize the threat.

What are your organization’s biggest accomplishments?

I think we are happy that in a very short amount of time we were able to recruit enough [media] stations to join our project that we now cover half the country. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm from the [media] stations to engage with their communities and work on this project. And I think there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among all the journalists and all the stations to not just do this very small project, which is about the mechanics of voting, but ultimately to expand that in 2023 and 2024 into a 50-state project that will really dive into civic education and civic infrastructure and not just how do you vote, but why should you vote and why does it matter. And trying to get the message out there that we, as public media organizations that are supported by the American taxpayers, are a foundational aspect of our democracy. Part of our job is to provide you with the information you need to support and defend our democratic values.

How healthy is American democracy?

I think it’s running a fever and it’s a low-grade fever, but it threatens to become a full blown viral infection unless we really work hard to vaccinate ourselves against it.

Do you think it will take a full-grade fever in order for something to switch in the minds of the public?

I don’t think the threat comes from citizens, I think it comes from people within the political world and forces that want to move us in a direction that most people don’t want. Part of our job is making sure people understand the threat, but we don’t want to be fear mongering. When we are trying to encourage people to vote and make sure people know how to vote, we aren’t concerned with how they vote. We are concerned with their level of participation and that they understand that this is important.

What can be fixed and how?

The most important thing that we can do is meeting people where they are. Rather than broadcasting a story on public radio or public TV, we need to reach out to people in rural communities who are in Facebook groups, on TikTok, to reach young people, on Instagram, on Whatsapp. We need to find the platforms that will actually serve our communities, and if we can get that information out there, we are making progress. That’s our goal, that’s the contribution we can make to this.