Tow Center Terrorism and Media White Papers

Type of Activity: Project Grant
Grantee: The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
Amount: Up to $150,000 in 2016-2017

What is the Tow Center?

The Tow Center operates as an institute within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. It is poised to take advantage of a unique combination of factors to foster the development of digital journalism. This grant will explore the relationship between terrorism, policy, and all media.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe that the emerging dynamics of a media system which fosters real time coverage and responses are largely unexplored and are increasingly influential. This project will generate papers reporting on emerging practices and their relationship to the current elections cycle, and convene media industry decision-makers to discuss the findings. This aims to inform  pre-election discussion regarding reporting trends, and the effects of social media on the racist and/or Islamphobic rhetoric that has become prevalent.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York in the amount of up to $150,000 to support the Tow Center within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2016-2017.

Veterans Against Islamaphophia

Type of Activity: Project Grant
Grantee: Human Rights First
Amount: Up to $200,000 in 2016-2017

What is Human Rights First?

Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. This grant will support HRF’s work to organize retired military leaders and other veterans to speak out against Islamophobia and promote the argument that anti-Muslim speech and policies are fundamentally un-American.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe the United States is an inclusive nation and at its best when it embraces diversity and champions human rights. This project will address the recent rise in Islamophobia, xenophobia, and subsequent divisive rhetoric in the United States. Through its Veterans for American Ideals platform, Human Rights First is uniquely suited to engage retired military leaders and veterans to participate in this discourse and encourage meaningful change.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to Human Rights First in the amount of up to $200,000 in 2016-2017.

Building Civic Resilience to Terrorism Project

Type of Activity: Planning Grant
Grantee: New America Foundation
Amount: Up to $40,000 in 2016-2017

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: New America Foundation
Amount: Up to $115,000 in 2016-2017

What is the Building Civic Resilience to Terrorism Project?

This project will explore strategies to strengthen media responses and civic resiliency in the face of major shocks and disruptions.  More specifically, this project explores how official communications, social media, and news media can either incite or calm reactions to terrorism, and to identify best practices and pitfalls. As these strategies are determined, we hope that the research and knowledge gained will result in improvements to the public sphere, civil liberties, and improve our democracy. This grant is funded through the New America Foundation, a think tank and civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe the unprecedented tension in the current elections cycle and the recurring violent incidents at campaign events could speed the erosion of democratic institutions and intercultural partnership in the United States. In such a climate the occurrence of a terrorist attack would expedite this erosion. This project explores how official communications, social media, and news media can either incite or calm reactions to terrorism, and to identify best practices and pitfalls.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a twos grant to the New America Foundation in the amount of up to $155,000 in 2016-2017.

Faith and Public Dialogue

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: Faith in Public Life Action Fund
Amount: Up to $886,500 in 2016 – 2017

What is Faith in Public Life Action Fund?

Faith in Public Life Action Fund (FPLAF) is a strategy center that seeks to advance faith in the public square by building coalitions and supporting campaigns through which the faith community can influence public debate. They will engage a diverse group of faith leaders from across the political spectrum in a call to elevate the tenor and quality of public debate, and to foster more civil politics.

Why do we think the project is a good idea?

Faith leaders play a unique role in the lives of many Americans. The unique moral standing of faith leaders has the potential to shape the tenor and tone of the public dialogue and how policy and politics are covered by the media while spreading a message of tolerance and respect to political leaders and the public.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to the Faith in Public Life Action Fund in the amount of up to $886,500 from 2016- 2017.

Strategies for American Muslim Communities

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
Amount: Up to $52,238 in 2016 – 2017

What is the The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding?

The Institute conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to further community development and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. This grant will support ISPU so that it can provide research support to a convening of a diverse group of leaders and experts to develop strategies to combat fear mongering against the American Muslim community.

Why do we think a convening on Anti-Muslim rhetoric is a good idea?

This project will address the deterioration of civil discourse that is damaging our democracy’s political process. While other groups have joined together to attempt to combat this rhetoric, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has unique networks and capacity to help bring together the people who can most effectively address this serious problem.

How is Voice supporting the Convening?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to The Institute for Social Policy Understanding in the amount of up to $52,238 from 2016 – 2017.

Revive Civility Campaign

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: National Institute for Civil Discourse
Amount: Up to $127,050 in 2016 – 2017

What is the Revive Civility Campaign?

Revive Civility is a nationwide campaign to demand civility in the 2016 campaign. The campaign encourages and provides tools for Americans and leaders to take solution-oriented actions to restore and call for civility in our public elections.

Why do we think this campaign is a good idea?

We believe that hate speech, fear mongering, and rhetoric that condones political violence are dangerous for our democracy. The National Institute for Civil Discourse is a national champion for more civil discourse and it’s Revive Civility Campaign will call for our political leaders to lift up the tone and tenor of our politics.

How is Voice supporting the NICD Civility Campaign?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to the National Institute for Civic Discourse in the amount of up to $127,050 from 2016 – 2017.

ReThink Media’s Security and Rights Collaborative

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: Rethink Media’s Security and Rights Collaborative
Amount: Up to $500,000 in 2016 – 2017

What is the Security and Rights Collaborative?

ReThink Media’s Security and Rights collaborative builds the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups working toward the protection of human and civil rights. Democracy Fund Voice’s grant supports the Collaborative’s efforts to combat political fear mongering in our public discourse by developing and deploying new messaging strategies for the American Muslim community via collaborations with related experts and advocacy groups.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe rhetoric that dehumanizes and isolates specific groups of people in our society weakens our democracy. In recent years, political leaders from both parties have exploited public fear in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando, in ways that breed prejudice and xenophobia. Through this project, ReThink Media will combat political fear mongering and provide a voice for those who are being targeted by these attacks.

How is Voice supporting the Project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a one year grant to ReThink Media for up to $500,000 to support message research, refinement, and deployment to respond to the escalation of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Joint Committee on a Modern Congress

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: The Congressional Institute
Amount: Up to $339,000 in 2015 – 2017

What is the Congressional Institute?

Founded in 1987, the Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents, and help their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. The Institute sponsors major conferences for the benefit of Members of the U.S. Congress as well as a number of smaller gatherings, all devoted to an examination of important policy issues and strategic planning.

The Congressional Institute’s latest project, the Joint Committee on a Modern Congress, encourages Congress to convene a bipartisan commission on procedural reform to restore confidence and comity in the legislative process. The project has recommended procedural changes that are the result of months of discussions and collaboration among several organizations dedicated to the effective operation of the Congress.

Why do we think the Joint Committee on a Modern Congress project is a good idea?

The bipartisan Commission on Political Reform recently found that “Congress is simply not performing the job it is required to do—passing budgets, responsibly managing the nation’s finances, making the decisions necessary to ensure that government functions at a basic level of efficiency.” Congressional job approval has dropped to near record lows following ongoing gridlock that has damaged the institution’s reputation with the American people.

The Congressional Institute’s efforts to establish a bipartisan venue through which our Congress can identify and adopt measures to improve the legislature branch’s ability to fulfill its core responsibilities represents an important opportunity to restore public confidence in our governance process.

How is Democracy Fund Voice supporting The Congressional Institute project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a two-year grant to the Congressional Institute in the amount of up to $339,000 in 2015 to support efforts to advocate for the establishment of an ad hoc Joint Committee on a Modern Congress to make recommendations on the organization of the Congress, its processes and procedures, and the behavioral patterns that currently drive congressional action.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

Democracy Fund Voice has engaged in direct advocacy and made an advocacy grant related to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Each effort is described below.

Type of Activity: Direct Advocacy in 2014

What is the Election Assistance Commission?

The Election Assistance Commission was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration. The Commission also accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems, as well as audits the use of HAVA funds. Other responsibilities include maintaining the national mail voter registration form developed in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Why do we think the Election Assistance Commission is a good idea?

There are nearly 8,000 local election jurisdictions across the United States – each one responsible for supporting the administration of one of the most important civic activities in our democracy. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is an independent federal bipartisan agency that provides critical support, resources, and standards. Their efforts ensure that the local and state officials in charge of each of these jurisdictions are able to ensure that our elections will be accessible, fair, and cost effective.

Among other tasks, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission examines how elections are administered to find patterns of problems and models for solving them. The Commission creates voting systems standards and oversees the certification process to ensure machines (and any upgrades or patches) are reliable, accessible, and secure. It creates resources for local officials on how best to train poll workers, manage polling places, and design voting materials. The EAC also provides comprehensive data to election officials, advocates, and the public on how elections are administered—and allows others to assess how they might be improved.

How is  Voice supporting the success of the Election Assistance Commission?

Democracy Fund Voice staff worked with a coalition of organizations in 2014 to help encourage the United States Senate to confirm three commissioners to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The Commission had been without a quorum since 2010 – which prevented the agency from fulfilling its responsibilities. In December of 2014, the United States Senate confirmed three nominees to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. That confirmation provided the agency with a quorum and enabled it to move forward on long-delayed tasks like updating its certification standards for voting technology, pursuing solutions to the voting machine crisis, and bringing election officials, experts, and advocates together to solve challenging problems of the day.

Democracy Fund Voice continues to work with leaders in the field to support the agency and its ongoing funding, because the EAC’s guidance and support for local election offices provides resources that cannot be found in most local or state elections offices.  The Commission serves to support best practices and promote cutting edge resources for its constituency of elections administrators (and the end users—the voters).

The latest:

Letter to Oppose House Resolution 634: the Election Assistance Commission Termination Act – Democracy Fund Voice urges Congress to oppose this bill, which will put an end to the indispensable work of the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC acts as a liaison between the states and the federal government, provides federal agencies, states, and the public with national election data and trends, and serves a vital role in setting voting equipment standards. We urge Congress to support the ongoing existence of this small but effective group of public servants.

 

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Amount: Up to $143,523 in 2015

What is the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights?

Founded in 1950, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition of more than 200 national civil and human rights organizations charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Through advocacy and outreach to targeted constituencies, the Leadership Conference works toward a goal of a more open and just society – an America as good as its ideals. As part of its work to support the right to vote, the Leadership Conference advocates for Congress to continue to support and fully fund the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in order to ensure that it is able to fulfill its important mission.

Why is this advocacy project important?

Last year, the United States Senate confirmed three commissioners to serve on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission after several years in which the agency lacked the quorum necessary for it to act. Now that the agency has regained its governing quorum, it is essential that the EAC continue to have sufficient resources to fulfill its responsibilities. Democracy Fund Voice supported the Leadership Conference’s advocacy on behalf of a strong EAC to ensure that government officials, Members of Congress, and the public understand the important, nonpartisan role that it plays in sustaining the health of our system of elections.

How is Voice supporting the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant of up to $142,523, which includes a subgrant of $69,300 to the NAACP’s National Voter Fund, in 2015 to support advocacy for continuing federal support of the EAC’s appropriation.

 

Citizens’ Initiative Review

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: Healthy Democracy Action
Amount: Up to $250,000 in 2015

What is a Citizens’ Initiative Review?

The State of Oregon established a Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission in 2011 to provide voters with quality, unbiased information about ballot measures to help them make good public decisions. Each election year, the Oregon Commission convenes groups of randomly selected and demographically representative voters to hear arguments for and against ballot measures. Designed to be fair and in-depth, the review process culminates with the production of a Citizens’ Statement detailing the key findings of the Citizens’ Initiative Review panel. The Citizens’ Statement is included in the statewide Voters’ Pamphlet mailed to every voter prior to an election.

A team of nationally recognized researchers funded by the National Science Foundation has concluded that the CIR Citizens’ Statements are widely used and helpful to a large percentage of voters.

Why do we think the Citizens’ Initiative Review is a good idea?

While lawmakers have access to public hearings about proposed legislation, the initiative process asks citizens to vote with very little objective information on important, often complex topics. Most voter information comes from political campaigns and campaign ads. As a result, most voters tell pollsters that they often find ballot measures too complicated and confusing to understand, and most say that they have cast ballots on measures with which they are unfamiliar. While voters say they like the ballot initiative process, they want it to work better.

The Citizens’ Initiative Review is a bipartisan idea that responds directly to the needs of the public and reduces the ability of campaigns to deceive or manipulate the public with misinformation. External evaluations of the informative value of Citizens’ Initiative Reviews show consistently positive results. In Oregon:

  • 65% of voters who read the statements said they helped them decide how to vote.
  • CIR statements were found to help voters become more informed.
  • CIR deliberations were found to be fair and respectful, producing statements free of gross factual errors or faulty logic.

How is Democracy Fund Voice supporting the Citizens’ Initiative Review?

Democracy Fund Voice approved its first grant to Healthy Democracy Voice in the amount of up to $250,000 in 2015 to support advocacy for the adoption of legislation that would enable the creation of Citizens’ Initiative Reviews in states outside of Oregon.