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Skye Perryman: President and CEO of Democracy Forward

Democracy Forward is a national legal organization that uses innovative legal advocacy, expert counsel, and amplification of community voices to fight for a bold and vibrant democracy for all people. They’ve taken more than 650 legal actions and achieved victories advancing democracy and improving the lives and wellbeing of millions. In a time when there is much at stake, Skye & Democracy Forward are working to protect the rights and interests of all Americans.

Tell me about the Democracy Forward process. When you see an issue that needs changing, what are those first steps you take?

When bad actors engage in unlawful activity, we sue in both state and federal courts to affect positive change and to disrupt alarming trends. We bring cases and legal actions at the state and local levels, providing capacity where there are gaps and leaning into results-oriented and innovative legal strategies to address unprecedented or complex and difficult challenges. Outside of the courtroom, we proactively identify opportunities for federal agencies to make positive change and elevate such opportunities on behalf of communities. Democracy Forward has represented more than 200 organizations and communities that make up the very fabric of America. This includes voters, veterans, teachers, students, workers, the press, doctors, health care professionals, patients, small businesses, conservationists, cities, counties, tribes, civil servants, unions, immigrants, academics and researchers, among many others.

What are some of the issues and policies you’re currently working on?

We work on issues where people and communities need a voice in government, including where actors entrusted by the public engage in harmful and unlawful activity. This includes issues affecting economic opportunity, health care, civil rights, public education, the environment, and much more. We recently brought a case in Mississippi alongside the ACLU of Mississippi on behalf of Parents for Public Schools. Our lawsuit alleges that the Mississippi legislature explicitly violated the Mississippi constitution when they appropriated federal pandemic aid funds to private schools instead of public schools. In addition to the courts, we do a lot of work through the regulatory process to make sure that communities most impacted by policymaking have a chance to make their voices heard.

Between the potential overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the endless mass shootings, outrage has become the uniting emotion among Americans. How do we channel that anger into change?

We have no option but to act for change. We have to remember that while we are at an inflection point in American democracy, our country has been at these critical points before. What helps us change that tide, however, is people using their collective power to push forward. For lawyers right now, that means: being strategic and determined in court, being prepared for anything, and representing people and communities who have a stake in our democracy – from voters, to workers, to teachers to parents and medical professionals, and so many others. The way through these challenging times is to use all tools to insist on an America that is as good as its promise. I don’t believe the last chapter of American democracy has been written yet. But it is up to us to make sure this is the case.

Are there any other areas you hope to expand into?

Our work has expanded in the last year to meet greater needs. During the Trump administration, many of the threats to democracy we challenged were at the federal level. January 6th demonstrated that those threats wouldn’t end when Trump left office. The Trump Presidency was a watershed moment that showed us what we were up against in the fight for democracy. We’ve now expanded the scope of our work to challenge abuses of power and attacks on democracy at the state and local levels. We’ve fought the actions of governors like Greg Abbott who tried to eliminate funding for the Texas legislature and endanger state employees’ jobs; we challenged a local abortion ban in Lebanon, Ohio; we sued over the misuse of taxpayer funds in Mississippi and over Wisconsin’s partisan election investigators destroying public documents behind closed doors, in violation of the state’s laws – to name a few. Democracy Forward was built to do challenging things and to take on difficult problems. While the present moment is bleak, there are wins to be had and progress that can be made, including through empowering people, communities, and institutions with the legal resources and tools to make their voices heard and leverage impact. This crisis can be a catalyst for change.


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