By Mike Kubzansky, CEO, Omidyar Network
2020 has challenged and consumed us — as individuals and as a society. From the pandemic to politics, to the severe economic downturn and the desperate cries for Black lives to matter; too many across the country and around the globe are struggling — financially, physically, and mentally.
We are at times scared, or angry, or resigned, and a pervasive sense of helplessness underpins so much of current daily life, across whole swathes of society. Yet so many people have remained remarkably resilient and resolute. We have donned our masks and taken to the streets to peacefully protest, help at food banks, or simply serve as poll watchers. We have prayed, meditated, eaten (and then tried to exercise) our way through this year of chaos and uncertainty. Several of us even got new kittens or puppies.
While everyone has different coping mechanisms, there is one thing I hope we all do: vote.
As political scientist Larry Sabato said, “Every election is determined by the people who show up.” Whether it’s by mail, drop box, in person, early, or on election day (masked, of course), we must all show up. We believe deeply in democracy. It is the bedrock of this nation, and it will only be of, for, and by all the people if we all vote. That’s why Omidyar Network signed A Day for Democracy pledge to give our staff in the US time off to vote and do their civic duty.
And when voters do their civic duty, their votes must be counted. We are proud of the work of our sister organization, Democracy Fund, and many of our grantees like Community Change Action, Demos Action, Public Citizen, and Jobs With Justice for their ongoing efforts to dismantle barriers to voting, so that everyone who is eligible can vote with ease — and can trust that election outcomes are legitimate, so that we have genuine majority rule by a full and fully empowered electorate. It’s also why I signed on to World Justice Project’s letter, along with a number of other foundation presidents, demanding that the rule of law is protected to ensure the security and integrity of the elections.
We cannot let expediency outweigh accuracy. We must be patient as election officials do their jobs and count every vote, even if it takes extra time before a winner is declared. Ensuring that every vote is counted will enhance the legitimacy of the election and strengthen our democracy.
While democracy is not a focus area for Omidyar Network — nor is improving its functioning our mission — it weaves through much of our work to strengthen technology and the economy. And pluralism, if true to its ideals, should have spillover benefits that improve democracy.
In Responsible Technology, we know that online platforms with outsized power can ravage our democracy by allowing unfettered hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and disinformation to run rampant. We support organizations leading the #StopHateforProfit campaign to call on Facebook to change its policies that inflame intolerance and undermine democracy. We also support Graphika’s investigations into domestic disinformation and potential foreign interference in the 2020 election, as well as its partnership with the Election Integrity Partnership, which identifies instances aimed to “prevent or deter people from voting or to delegitimize election results.”
In our call to reimagine capitalism, we recognize that democracy and the economy are fundamentally intertwined. We cannot address one without taking into account the other. Concentrated economic power too easily spills over into political power. That has resulted in policies that prevent the economic interests of the many from being fulfilled. We are working to address these imbalances, and support communities, working families, and small businesses to have greater power and voice in the economic decisions that impact their futures.
We also cannot reflect on American democracy without reflecting on race. The US is still not living up to its democratic ideal in which all people are created — and treated — as equal. In addition to the continued horror of the 164 Black individuals who have been killed by police through August, we see every day continued work to disenfranchise and suppress voting by Black and brown voters. So it’s not surprising that some voters drop out of the system and choose to simply not participate — real change has been too slow to come.
We know that change won’t always happen as quickly as we would like — or many times need — but it will happen. Voting is the first step on this journey toward a more just and equal future.
As President Obama said in Philadelphia at a rally last week, “Voting’s about using the power we have, and pooling it together to get a government that’s more concerned, and more responsive, and more focused on you and your lives and your children, and your grandchildren, and future generations. And the fact that we don’t get 100% of what we want right away is not a good reason not to vote. It means we’ve got to vote, and then get some change, and then vote some more, and then get some more change, and then keep on voting until we get it right.”