In the US, state governments wield enormous power and can create precedents that set the stage for sweeping national reforms of major policy. From the passage of minimum wage and paid sick leave to pioneering marriage equality and automatic voter registration, states have often taken the first steps towards massive social reforms.
But states have also been major sources of regression: restricting access to reproductive rights; limiting LGTBQ rights; fueling incarceration through punitive sentencing reforms; stymying local inclusionary housing and economic development policies; and undermining democracy through gerrymandering and the passage of voter ID laws—that are replicated across states and elevated to national debate.
In 2017, the Ford Foundation launched an integrated, multi-theme initiative in a handful of states to counter these trends - to expand democratic participation, racial and gender equity, and economic mobility.
We work to strengthen state-based and regional organizations, coalitions, and networks. Our support helps those committed to inclusive change combine approaches, such as grassroots organizing, strategic litigation, civic engagement, policy and budget advocacy, and creative storytelling. Much of our support takes the form of flexible, multi-year grants that enable bolder campaigns and alliances to take shape.
Vital to this effort are investments that build the leadership, agency, and voice of low income rural and urban communities, and women and people of color—and, in so doing, bridge key divides. The desire to protect and strengthen our democracy and make government work for everyone is bringing together diverse constituencies to focus on shared concerns across lines of race, class, culture, gender, and geography to focus on shared concerns. We believe this is critical to the larger effort to address inequality.