To Counter Anti-Democracy Efforts, It’s Time to Invest in Florida Year-Round

Florida organizers mobilize to ensure a quality of life for Floridians because of the year-round work they do—so why don’t we fund them year-round? 

Organizers with Women Voices of Southwest Florida outside the Florida State Capitol protest a six-week abortion ban in Tallahassee, on April 3, 2023. (The Washington Post / Getty Images)

Florida is ground zero for what is known among organizers and philanthropists as “boom-and-bust” funding—meaning money flows in during big election cycles and dries up immediately after. Yet electoral and issue-based organizing is a 24/7 operation. In recent years, these efforts have led to restoring voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and legalizing medical marijuana. These massive wins were led by the people of Florida, even as the legislature acted against their will. 

Strong, successful campaigns take years of strategic building and grit. It’s expensive to bring communities along in a democratic process that actualizes their power and improves material conditions. The focus during a presidential election year is always at the top of the ticket, but the real gains come when investment is made at local and state levels over time.  

Boom-and-bust patterns are sure to pose a particular challenge in 2024, given the state’s six-week abortion ban officially taking effect is now coupled with a citizen-initiated opportunity for Florida voters to undo the ban this November and enshrine protections for abortion in the state Constitution. 

Along the way, of course, the Florida legislature has passed extreme anti-LGBTQ bills, as well as policies attacking immigrant and voter rights and inhibiting free speech and education. Like the current anti-abortion law, these rollbacks are directly tied to the dichotomy between a robust people’s democracy and an authoritarian state government.

That’s why democracy is the heart of this fight.

Look at Ohio, where an attempt to raise the petition threshold for ballot measures was defeated—and an abortion ballot measure went on to win with overwhelming support in 2023.

Voters have affirmed the decision to maintain bodily autonomy in every state where it has been on the ballot since 2022. And there is no greater expression of direct democracy than citizen-initiated ballot measures—especially where the legislature is at odds with the public will on account of gerrymandering and voter suppression. 

The focus during a presidential election year is always at the top of the ticket, but the real gains come when investment is made at local and state levels over time.  

Florida holds its place as an authoritarian stronghold in America as a result of extreme backlash. Conspiracy theories fueled legislation, culture wars exacerbated the death rate for LGBTQ+ Floridians, “anti-woke” propaganda has been weaponized against children in schools, and votes have been nullified when DeSantis took out elected prosecutors

As we look ahead to the abortion rights landscape, we can expect a comparable anti-democracy blueprint as attempted by Ohio leaders. Given what we have learned about Florida politics, we know the buck does not stop with the election. We need to prepare for legislative manipulation designed to interfere with and undermine a participatory democratic process. 

Right now, philanthropy leaders have the opportunity to get out ahead, break the boom-and-bust stronghold, and care for the foundation of our democracy. Campaigns like All by April calling for immediate investment in the 2024 elections are important—but need to fund through April 2025 and beyond, and plan for how their grantees will be set up to counter inevitable backlash politics.   

Rather than funding a single issue or candidate during an election cycle, an integrated voter engagement approach, with year-to-year financial and capacity-building support for gender and reproductive justice groups, is the most essential element of a healthy pro-democracy funding environment. Multi-issue funding is a must for advancing lasting, durable progressive infrastructure—support for groups like Florida Rising—as well as those that have consistently organized communities to advance reproductive justice in key states like Ohio and Michigan (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, or URGE and Mothering Justice, for example).  

To advance democracy, all types of investments are needed: in 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, LLCs and PACs. For too long we’ve ignored the cutting-edge ways progress gets made by the communities who are directly impacted. 

Most importantly, philanthropy must follow the lead of those who have invested in building trust with the communities they serve. That is the core tenet for a pro-democracy funding blueprint. 

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Quanita Toffie serves as executive director of Groundswell Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) public foundation supporting electoral organizing led by women of color, transgender and gender expansive people of color. Prior she helped found the New Florida Majority and led Groundswell Fund’s Integrated Voter Engagement program, which equips reproductive justice groups with cutting-edge voter engagement skills and technology. She began organizing for social and racial justice alongside her parents in her native South Africa during the transition from apartheid to democracy.