A Year of Progress While Apart: Learning and Leading Through the Challenges of 2020
Amid the global pandemic, 2020 has seen a convergence of crises around racism, climate change, political polarization and economic inequality. Along with these crises, this year has offered lessons: It has exposed major cracks in our democratic system; demonstrated the ever-growing battle for power over the future of our country between concentrated money and the voices of the people; and, above all else, taught us that cooperation and understanding are necessary if we hope to solve our most pressing problems.
The 2020 elections saw record voting numbers and highlighted the overwhelming influence of money in politics on races up and down the ballot and on both sides of the aisle. We broke records in both voter turnout and spending, with total campaign spending reaching $14 billion— which reflects an increasing number of people and organizations donating to races outside their home state and growing spending by Super PACs and other national groups with big coffers—showcasing the battle for the heart of our democracy.
The backdrop of this year has brought our mission into stark relief: We need to work together to eliminate big money in politics through passing a constitutional amendment, now. The foundation of our democratic system is cracked, and without repairing it we are unable to realize the promise of an America where everyone’s future offers freedom and opportunity. Luckily, a majority of Americans remain united on the need to limit the role of big money in politics and place power in the hands of citizens rather than wealthy special interests.
American Promise and our nationwide, cross-partisan network of citizens know that ratifying the 28th Amendment to the constitution will amplify the voices of all Americans, while also securing equal rights, effective representation and a more functional government for future generations. As we gear up for a momentous 2021, we’re proud to look back at what the American Promise community has accomplished in 2020.
States Get ‘Ready to Ratify’
Alaskans vote to become the 21st State and the Amendment takes the Senate debate stage in Maine
This year Alaska citizens joined those in 20 other U.S. states in formally calling on Congress to pass an amendment to limit money in politics and send it to the states for ratification. To ratify, 38 of the 50 states must vote yes; already the cities, towns and states that have called for the amendment represent a national majority. On the November ballot in Alaska, over 50% of voters said “yes” to formally calling for a constitutional amendment to enable limits on big money in politics and protect their voice and self-government. Gathering more than 171,000 votes, Ballot Measure 2 will reduce partisanship, end the secret influence of dark money, create a single unified primary open to all voters, and institute ranked choice voting. The ballot measure is designed to reform and strengthen the state’s election system by ensuring representation for the Alaskan people.
Working alongside the American Promise Maine Chapter, we launched the Stand with Maine campaign to help ensure Mainers, not big out-of-state donors, decide Maine’s elections — amid the most expensive senate race in the state’s history. The Stand with Maine petition called on Congress to stop the waves of outside money pouring into local elections. We successfully made Stand with Maine a voting issue: The two leading senate candidates addressed it on a televised debate, and the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper, the Portland Press-Herald wrote an opinion piece on the issue on the weekend before election day. Citizen leaders gathered thousands of signatures from across the state, wrote letters to the editor, and garnered support from state legislators across the political spectrum. We also built a strong alliance of Maine organizations including small businesses, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Sierra Club of Maine, Citizens Climate Lobby and more.
Driving Support in Washington, D.C.
Volunteers secured over 400 candidate pledges to fight for the Amendment
American Promise continued to grow cross-partisan support this year. Our network reaches out to candidates across the political spectrum with our candidate pledge campaign. This election season, 400 candidates signed the American Promise Candidate Pledge, including 13 of the 2020 presidential candidates. Of those, 100 candidates were elected into office. We are excited to have support in the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is an American Promise pledge signer.
Our network of volunteers across the country continues to grow and be active. Around Constitution Day on September 17, 29 letters to the editor were published in local newspapers across the nation in support of the 28th Amendment. Additionally, we launched the American Promise Contributor Network to amplify the voices of Americans across the country and welcomed two new members of our citizen empowerment staff: Empowerment Director Dr. Jessica Hare and Empowerment Coordinator Marnie Walsh. We are excited to see chapter leaders stepping up to help train others. American Promise Citizen Leader Ishwari Sollohub led pledge training and Citizen Leader Ann Drum led LTE writing training. In Minnesota, American Promise volunteers turned a simple meeting with an elected official into legislation introduced into the Senate. In New Mexico, a pledge signer approached by the local American Promise chapter recently led adoption of a local resolution in favor of the Amendment. These are just a few examples of the significant victories our network has achieved this year.
Keep the Promise: America250
Americans are stepping up to ask what needs to be done — no matter how difficult — to preserve and improve the country we love. Our work must be based in unity and consensus, despite the differences that threaten to divide us. Together, through years of work discussing and exploring with Americans from across the country, we have developed a systemic solution: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will…
- Put power in the hands of all Americans with regulation and limits on concentrated money in elections and ballot measures;
- Combat systemic corruption;
- Protect the equal rights of Americans to a voice, a vote, and real representation in our political system;
- Make representative self-government more effective; and
- Revive the sovereignty of the American people.
On Constitution Day, September 17, we released our report Keep the Promise: America250, which outlines our efforts to find consensus among Americans. The report shares three key pieces of information needed to take on the challenge of working together to ratify an amendment to the constitution by July 4, 2026—the nation’s 250th birthday. The report answers three questions:
- Why do we need this constitutional amendment and what will it accomplish?
- How do we get the words of the amendment right?
- How do we win the amendment and what can all Americans do to help?
The work toward this amendment is led by people across partisan lines, from all walks of life, motivated by a wide variety of concerns. What we all recognize is the fundamental problem of a system that undermines the voice of the people, and instead incentivizes elected officials to focus on fundraising and securing big-dollar political donors.
American Promise has a commitment to making sure the voices of all Americans are represented. That’s why we asked for feedback on our proposed language for the 28th Amendment. With more than 250 survey respondents so far, the proposed language has an average approval rating of 4 on a scale of 1-5 (1 strongly disapprove, 5 strongly approve). Share your opinion!
Growing Institutional Support and Calls for Urgent Action
The ballot victory in Alaska is just one example of the broad, cross-partisan support for this fundamental reform. Large and long-term studies by independent nonprofits, gathering input from people about their concerns about our democracy, have returned powerful endorsements for the solution of a constitutional amendment. The Academy of American Arts & Sciences report: Our Common Purpose was based on two years of study on reinventing democracy for the 21st century. The amendment is a key recommendation, and American Promise specifically named as the cross-partisan driver of this work, as a component of the need to ensure equality in representation for every American. In Massachusetts, after citizens gathered thousands of signatures to establish its existence, the Massachusetts Citizens’ Commission Report was released in the final days of 2019. It strongly recommended that the U.S. move forward with the amendment, and the Commission has worked throughout 2020 to continue sharing its findings and message throughout the state and beyond.
Bringing People Together; learning and connecting while apart
Although connecting looked different this year, we held exciting online events that have allowed us to safely bring our community together. Our transition to Zoom events helped us bring people together to learn and connect. A few of our events included:
- Citizen Leaders Book Club with Elaine Weiss, in partnership with the League of Women’s Voters Maine, the Congressional Management Foundation, the League of Women’s Voters Massachusetts, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the League of Women’s Voters Alaska and the American Constitution Society, discussed Elaine’s book The Woman’s Hour.
- In a video conference call, Senator Nina Turner and California Representative Ro Khanna, Bernie Sanders 2020 National Campaign Co-Chairs, shared the progressive viewpoint of money in politics.
- The Conservative Case to Get Money Out featured a discussion with four Republican candidates, elected officials and former elected officials about the many reasons conservatives support an end to big money’s domination of politics and elections.
- Economist and Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson joined us to discuss the critical business case for the amendment, and how we can re-envision capitalism for the future.
Want to sign up to be part of the conversation? Find upcoming events here.
Our Growing Team
We are committed to empowering all Americans to work together, build their civic engagement muscles, and win this Amendment. To deliver on this commitment, our team partnered with Jeanelle Austin of Racial Agency Initiative to build a culture of inclusivity, sensitivity and equity that extends into all of the work we do.
Our team has continued to grow in size, reach and diversity of age, race and location, as we gear up for another year of expansion in 2021. In the past several months, we’ve added six new team members:
- Communications Director Gregory Joseph
- Empowerment Coordinator Marnie Walsh
- Communications Coordinator Zyeisha “Zye” Allen
- Empowerment Director Dr. Jessica Hare
- Political Research Intern Kyle Taylor
- Development Coordinator Jacob Brown
We are excited to build our capacity to work with all Americans to win this historic reform, to give equal voice to all the people of this nation, and to create a future filled with freedom and opportunity for every American.