In the Hollywood version of politics, people get inspired to run for office, gather support, and enter a contest where everyone, even the underdog, has a chance to win.
In reality, elections are shaped by gatekeepers who protect incumbents; promote their own hand-picked candidates; and block the flow of resources and support to unwelcome challengers. These practices harm women and people of color who are seeking to serve in office as reflective leaders.
Across the political spectrum, gatekeepers operate without transparency or accountability.
We’re working to change that. We’re shining a light on the role of gatekeepers. We’re calling upon gatekeepers to shed their biases. And we’re building the power of grassroots organizations to serve as alternative gatekeepers supporting reflective candidates.
Pulling the Curtain Back on Political Gatekeepers
Political news coverage tends to focus on the “horse race,” the public, competitive face of our elections, without examining how gatekeepers shape our elections. Occasionally, due to an over-reach or a rare visible move, the gatekeepers become unveiled, providing a view into their role. Reflective Democracy Campaign director Brenda Carter seized on such a moment to explain who gatekeepers are, how they operate, and how they impede reflective democracy.
A political system aimed at stopping change and excluding challengers promotes an unrepresentative democracy that voters are rejecting, in word and in deed. Now that the electability myth is busted, and the demographics of political power are starting to shift, gatekeepers must heed the voters rather than hide behind rules that protect an unsustainable status quo.Brenda Choresi Carter, “The DCCC’s ‘blacklist’ protects a white male political status quo.” The Hill
Organizing Gatekeeper Allies as Agents of Change
To understand how to transform the role of gatekeepers, we went right to the source: gatekeepers themselves. Focusing on those who support progressive candidates, we interviewed more than 30 allied gatekeepers working nationally and in four cities: Huntsville, Oakland, New Haven, and Milwaukee. We also held in-person convenings with political activists, consultants, and major funders in Washington, Detroit, Dallas, and San Francisco.
Our findings? Gatekeepers supporting progressive candidates eagerly critique the system, but can fail to see how their own decisions are informed by outdated notions of electability and entrenched assumptions and practices.
The Campaign is leveraging our findings to create a plan and tools to inspire allied gatekeepers to shift their thinking, and support more women and people of color seeking elected office.
New Gatekeepers are Stepping Up, Stepping In, and Making Change
In her report, Beyond Shattered, Reflective Democracy Campaign Journalism Fellow Judith Warner documents the momentous changes underlying the 2018 election, when historic numbers of women — and women of color specifically — shattered barriers to win seats in the US House of Representatives.
Warner ties these victories to an emerging cadre of alternative gatekeepers, who provided resources and connections to candidates without access to the “old boys’ club” network of gatekeepers.
In response to Trump’s victory, and in the face of continued frustration on the part of non-traditional candidates — particularly women of color — advocates of reflective democracy have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve built a vibrant and highly successful universe of independent and grassroots organizations, some new, some newly energized.Judith Warner, Beyond Shattered
Investing in Alternative Gatekeepers
Our Community Power-Building grants help grassroots organizing groups like Michigan United, Take Action Minnesota, and the Texas Organizing Project train their members to be effective advocates for their communities as activists, organizers, campaign managers, and elected or appointed officials. Our Power-Building model helps transform grassroots groups into bases of political power that challenge traditional gatekeeper systems.
The model has been adopted and is being brought to scale by National People’s Action, a network of community organizing groups.