Our democracy is under attack. After attempting to overturn the 2020 election results, anti-democratic forces are now placing deliberate barriers to voting, drawing election districts to prevent competitive elections, and stacking how elections are regulated and certified. These barriers disproportionately impact the civic engagement of certain communities, including rural, tribal, and people of color. In the face of these urgent challenges, groups are developing innovative and effective ways to engage voters, shape policy, and save our democracy.

On February 23, 2022, Neighborhood Funders Group’s Integrated Rural Strategies GroupFunders' Committee for Civic Participation, and Heartland Fund hosted The Fight for our Democracy: Innovations in Rural Civic Engagement.

Our goal for this program was to engage funders and build support for power building and civic engagement. Three Heartland Fund grantees shared their innovative strategies and tactics. Scot Nakagawa set the context and facilitated the conversation.

Key Learnings

  • If pro-democracy advocates don’t engage in rural communities with compelling solutions, then the only messengers will be autocratic, anti-Democracy forces. Each panelist shared strategies for supporting voters to be active participants in grassroots power building. People are skeptical of patronizing strategies that place them as passive recipients needing to be saved or educated.
  • To hold a majority in Missouri, the Missouri Organizing and Voter Engagement Collaborative (MOVE) needs to grow to 1.6 million people. That means they need to expand their base significantly, and they are using long-form deep canvassing conversations to forge connections and common ground across race and geography.
  • People trust nurses, doctors, and pharmacists, and Vote-ER mobilizes trusted health professionals to register voters and mobilize them to vote. Vot-ER stresses that patients’ civic engagement practice can improve their health.
  • Rural Utah Project uses digital outreach to engage Indigenous voters, many of whom live far away from each other and may not have an official post office address. They elevate Indigenous content producers to share creative and compelling messages while giving everyone an opportunity to participate.