In a world of increasing political polarization, a fast-growing group of people from media and academe are pushing back in the United States in defense of democracy— donning the color purple.
According to their brazenly violet website, “We the Purple” or the “Purple Project for Democracy” is “a non-partisan coalition, campaign and movement spanning the breadth of American society to rediscover and recommit to democratic values and institutions.” And how do they plan to do this? It began with a media and education campaign of “unprecedented scope that will illuminate and dramatize the many glories of American democracy” in November of 2019. Its initial goal was to encourage day-to-day conversations about democracy, but according to its founders, this is just the start of the endless possibility for the coalition. According to its founders, the movement is simply an organizing principle for their partners to come together under the same theme and that there are no explicit guidelines for how they should publish it. With more than 40 (and growing) different participants from educational institutions, media, trade associations, thinks tanks, NGOs, and other institutions, this Purple Movement just might be the new hope for democracy defense outside of the academe.
How it began
The Purple Movement is the brainchild of New York public radio co-host Bob Garfield, who teamed up with senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education Rebecca Winthrop; Lauder Professor Emeritus and Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, Yoram Wind; and CEO of the National Conference on Citizenship, Sterling Speirn to line up an impressive and fast-growing list of content publishing partners to help inform the American public about the importance of participating in democracy and the role that media plays in it— both good and bad.
How it works
Other than being politically neutral, Garfield says that the partners and contributors only need to publish content that helps disseminate information about the history and role of democracy in the United States and why it’s important for Americans to participate in it. “We’re branding American democracy,” Garfield says. “We just want citizens to get a moment to fall in love again with the things about their government that are worth loving. It’s not mindless jingoism. It’s kind of mindful patriotism and it’s disappearing and we have to do something about that—and who more than the media?”
Currently, the project is monetized through a combination of donations and brand partnerships. However, these partnerships was limited to 10 during the initial launch phase due to practical timing restrictions, and to be able to provide category exclusivity as a selling point. The other reason for limiting the sponsorships, he explains, is that in its current phase, Purple’s operations don’t cost that much money because all of the content partners are creating and distributing the content at their own expense under their ordinary business models. Also, a lot of the partners are doing their parts pro bono, which has tallied up to about $500,000 worth of services so far, according to. It’s the next phase of the Purple Project, Garfield explains, that will require the bulk of the financial investment.
In an interview, co-founder Bob Garfield said that when they were just starting up, they saw some “eye-rolling […] and no wonder because it’s such a quixotic undertaking.” And that, it definitely is. In recent surveys and studies in the United States, trust in the government is at an all-time low in years, a substantial number of people consider that American democracy is “in crisis”, and only 39% of American youths consider democracy “absolutely important”. Being such a new movement, it would take a bit of time to see where and how far this cross-sectoral group can go in terms of changing these statistics.
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