We’ve GOT to make noises
in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad!
For every voice counts!
Horton Hears a Who!
This edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly is about the connection between nonprofits and democracy. And, because I am a simpleminded individual, when I think about democracy in all its complexity it always takes me back for a split second to Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!—because, as you will remember, it took every last small voice yelling to make Whoville heard.
Boy, ain’t that the truth! As I write this, one of the women from Pussy Riot, the feminist punk-rock band that in February engaged in a political protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s influence on elections, won an appeal and will be released—but the other two band members will serve out their two-year sentences. Twenty-fouryear- old Maria Alyokhina promised that, even if sent to a penal colony, they would continue to speak out.
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One of my favorite articles in this edition, by Chao Guo, Jun Xu, David Horton Smith, and Zhibin Zhang, is a snapshot of China’s organizational scene—a scene that is to a large extent divided between those who won’t trade social independence for government concessions and those who will. The article, such a calm description of a scenario rife with inherent, profound drama, also picks up on a theme that I have heard repeatedly abroad—that of a distinction drawn between NGOs that are primarily contractors for services and NGOs that represent and embody the efforts of citizens taking action together. It is a useful frame to keep in mind as you consider the degree to which your organization is and could be a facilitator of people as they seek to preserve, or remake, or make just, or enliven the world around them.
I have suggested in the framing article—“Use It or Lose It: Frittering Away Civil Society’s Strategic Advantage”—that acting as a co-creator of the future with your constituents gives you power and influence that extends well beyond strict institutional borders. This theme has been picked up by George Pillsbury, who, in his article on nonprofits and voter engagement, talks about how “nonprofits’ inherent civic engagement assets make them a potent force for political and electoral engagement,” and by Marcia Avner and Laura Wang, who offer strategies for insulating nonprofits that engage in legislative conversations from charges of partisanship in the current polarized political environment. For, as they rightly insist, “Having a voice in policy debates is essential to the work done by many organizations.”
You are likely receiving this edition just as the presidential vote is occurring. We urge you, no matter what happens, to think carefully about how your organization can get involved in democratic action, because we are in the midst of an era change that will require each of us Whos to yell forth:
“We are here! We are here! We are here! We are here!”