As people demand more from their government and push for a vibrant and bold democracy, far-right movements that do not represent the majority of Americans have gained outsized political power in states, communities, and even in the courts, seeking to prevent positive change and reverse progress. What we do now will determine the future of people and democracy. While the playbook for this moment remains to be written, history provides a roadmap of how people have fought against long odds for democracy and won.
Our #WorthTheFight series explores the people and movements — past and present — who inspire our team, our partners, and our allies to fight for democracy and our rights.
To kick us off, we spoke with President and CEO Skye Perryman about who motivates her to keep up this fight and what gives her hope for the future.
Whose fight for democracy and our rights inspires you?
The first person that always comes to mind for me is the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan – the first Black woman from the South elected to the United States House of Representatives – whose regal, relatable and principled approach helped many Americans find faith in the country’s ability to progress and be better.
As a woman from Texas, her legacy defines social progress in our state, and growing up I often thought about historic barriers she faced to entry and opportunity in our democracy. And yet, Jordan always found ways to make a more inclusive, vibrant democracy possible even when every deck was stacked against her.
While in college, I worked in public schools throughout Central Texas, including schools that had historically been separate and unequal. During my work, I reflected that it was the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education — a battle fought and won against long odds in the courts–that was central to advancing education for all people. Jordan herself was raised in the Jim Crow South and reflecting on her experiences and the way in which she was a catalyst for change helped me see the ways in which advocates working in the law and policy realms could make change even when faced with the most difficult landscapes.
What about their work inspires you?
Rep. Jordan’s steadfast belief that advancing democracy is something that everyone should be–and can be– engaged in – and ultimately that it is the project of American democracy to bring about a more inclusive and vibrant society where all are valued. She believed that Americans want a country as good as its promise. This conviction that we all have a role in insisting that our country make good on its promise – on the ideals of democracy, justice, and equality– has stayed with me throughout my career – from my time working in Central Texas schools to my law office at Democracy Forward where I fondly keep a book of her speeches near my desk.
Jordan once said, “The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport.” That still rings as true today as it did in 1979. Each of us is only one piece of what is required to preserve democracy, protect social progress, and improve the lives of the American people. It will take all of us.
Why is democracy worth the fight to you?
For me, it’s a question of creating the future for our present and next generations. Just take a look at the more than 260 clients and partners that at Democracy Forward we have the honor of working with. These clients make up very fabric of American democracy: workers, educators, students, health care professionals, veterans, cities, counties, small businesses, conservationists, scientists, researchers, immigrants, voters, the press, community-based advocates, national organizations, and many others — and they have used their voices and platforms and power to work for change. Our work at Democracy Forward — bringing the voice of people into the courts and insisting that our institutions represent the best of all of us — shows that fighting for democracy isn’t just about fighting for a lofty ideal—it is about fighting for real people and communities, fearlessly and tirelessly. We remain committed to seeding ground for the future because we believe that democracy requires a government that represents and works for all of us.
Want to learn more about Rep. Barbara Jordan’s legacy and the fight for democracy?Register for our SXSW panel today:
How do you fight for democracy?
It’s in the everyday things – professionally and personally: from raising my son and being a member of our community here in D.C. and in Texas to working at Democracy Forward and working to insist that the courts are used as an instrument of justice and not oppression. When our children and grandchildren will one day ask what we did during this critical moment for American democracy, I want our team to be able to tell them that we on hard fights that were important and worth fighting, even when the deck seemed stacked against us. Those seeking to undermine our democracy and an inclusive future want to take away our hope – I believe a critical part of the fight is not letting them do so and finding our hope and inspiration in those who have come before us who used adversity as a catalyst for change.