Once motivated by a progressive policy agenda, a philanthropist now worries that rigid adherence to ideology can undo democracy

By  Rachel Pritzker

Twenty years ago, in the mid-2000s, I was a partisan warrior, and my philanthropy was entirely dedicated to pursuing my ideological beliefs. At the time, I served as a founding board member of the Democracy Alliance, a network of philanthropists focused on advancing a progressive policy agenda.

But at a certain point, I came to see that my efforts, under the banner of “democracy,” were actually furthering the decline of democracy. Our passionate advocacy, while aimed at strengthening the country, was contributing to mounting gridlock and toxic partisanship. Democratic elected officials felt increasingly pressured to adhere to party orthodoxy rather than passing legislation through compromise, lest they be primaried by a progressive group for being insufficiently pure. Recognizing the extraordinary period of U.S. and global democratic backsliding in which we live, I have since shifted my philanthropy toward creating spaces, such as the Democracy Funders Network, where supporters of liberal democracy from across the political spectrum can step out of our ideological bubbles, build new relationships, and learn together how to defend democracy.