What can philanthropy do
when democracy quakes?

Hank Rubin, founder of the Institute for Collaborative Leadership &
retired vice president of Rochester Area Community Foundation

Here’s a message for our friends in philanthropy …

Aaron Dorfman’s current blog 3 Lessons for philanthropists from the midterm elections could not be more timely or important. (Dorfman is president and ceo of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.) Democracy is not yet broken, but it’s quaking: sending seismic messages of its fragility and our need to care for it. What should philanthropy do when democracy quakes?

I’ve been blessed to have the chance to play a role in a significant community foundation so, for me, this question is personal.

Our democracy was created to be tumultuous. Democracy isn’t a static concept; there’s a reason we talk about the “democratic experiment”. The drafting of our Constitution entailed battles and compromises between the advocates of freedom and the advocates of equality. The social contract that emerged was intended to guarantee and manage this ongoing and challenging tension. The lynchpin of this social contract is the sanctity and guarantee of each citizen’s equal vote.

Within this experiment, we each have a role; just as we enlist our youth when our borders and global interests are threatened by outside forces, we must enlist our moral, political and philanthropic leaders to defend our democratic system when it is threatened by forces from within. 

Today, our democratic experiment demands our attention to mounting corrosive challenges. Irrespective of your political position, there can be no doubt that we are facing an internal threat. Voter suppression and attacks on full and fair counts of all votes that were cast are such a threat. And, while philanthropy’s role is emphatically not a partisan one, neither is it a passive one. Its role, inherently, is to promote, support, and celebrate freedom on the one hand and to, somehow, put our collective thumb on the local scale to support equality when there is concern that it is losing ground in the democratic experiment.

What we are witnessing is not partisan so much as it is an assault on the guarantee of each citizen’s equal vote. It is an assault worthy of philanthropy’s aggressive attention, leadership and action.

Hank Rubin