Picking Up the Pieces: Our Reaction to the Assault on American Democracy


By Janine Lee, Regan Gruber Moffitt and Robert Dortch

Over the past week, we have seen images that will be forever seared into our minds: an armed mob laying siege to the heart of America’s government; a lone Capitol Police officer successfully defending the Senate chamber against armed insurrectionists; other officers being beaten and crushed; lawmakers in the House chamber, fearful for their own safety.

The horrific events that enveloped the Capitol last week were unprecedented – but we cannot say they were unexpected. They were the culmination of dangerous trends, decades in the making, that have sought to divide us while providing a space for disinformation to take hold. Too many political leaders, instead of trying to reverse these trends, have unfortunately sought to exploit them – this time, in an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election.

These actions brought into the halls of Congress people whose ideas run counter to the principles our country aspires to uphold. While some of our nation’s greatest social movements have fought for equal justice under the law, inclusiveness and equity, the insurrection at the Capitol was led by groups that promote hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or ideology.

We were glad to see that, despite this warrantless attack, Congress succeeded in doing its duty, affirming Joe Biden as President-Elect and Kamala Harris as Vice President-Elect. We look forward to working with their administration and lawmakers at all levels of government, in both parties, as we work toward building a society that rejects bigotry and disinformation and, instead, embraces equity and objective truth.

The work of rebuilding democracy cannot be left exclusively to elected officials in Washington and elsewhere. This moment, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for racial justice, is another call to action for philanthropy. No other sector of society enjoys the combination of social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial capital that is prevalent in the charitable sector. We are obligated to do all we can to reverse the forces that brought us to this point. We must recommit to the belief that a strong America is synonymous with a strong participatory democracy.

This task will not be easy, and the solutions are not obvious. But we strongly believe they begin at the community level. We must rebuild trust – in each other, and in major institutions. We must revive meaningful dialogue that embraces difference, encourages peaceful dissent and seeks to win hearts and minds instead of defeating them. 

Philanthropy, particularly in the South, is deeply rooted in community – this is why we are confident that philanthropy not only must help lead the way forward, but also is up to the challenge.

Janine Lee is president and CEO of the Southeastern Council of Foundations. Regan Gruber Moffitt is Chair of the SECF Board of Trustees and Chief Strategy Officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. Robert Dortch is Chair of SECF's Equity Committee and Vice President, Programs & Innovation, at the Robins Foundation.

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