Contributions and grants received in 2009: $5,218,389
The Advancement Project (AP) describes itself as a “civil rights law, policy, and communications 'action tank' that advances universal opportunity and a just democracy for those left behind in America,” meaning nonwhite minorities. Specifically, the Project works to organize "communities of color" into politically cohesive units while disseminating its leftist worldviews and values as broadly as possible by way of a sophisticated communications department.
AP was founded in 1999 by veteran civil-rights lawyers seeking “to dismantle structural barriers to inclusion, secure racial equity, and expand opportunity for all.” Its major initiatives consist of the following:
Right to Vote: AP asserts that while the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibit discrimination on account of race and ethnicity, individual states may nonetheless pass “arbitrary” and discriminatory election rules “with vast consequences.” For instance, the Project cites Georgia and Indiana laws “limiting the right to vote to citizens who can show a photo identification, thus disenfranchising elderly voters who do not have driver's licenses and poor people who cannot afford a car.” According to AP, “the U.S. is one of only eleven of the 119 democratic countries in the world that do not explicitly provide the right to vote in their Constitutions.”
Felony Re-enfranchisement: Lamenting that African Americans constitute a disproportionate share of those individuals who cannot vote due to prior felony convictions, AP has initiated an “advocacy campaign” to “eliminate this discriminatory barrier to voting.”
Redistricting: To “build power in communities of color,” AP supports the creation of majority-black and -Hispanic congressional voting districts, so as to virtually ensure that members of those demographic groups will win election to the House of Representatives.
Immigrant Justice: In an effort to unite “the oppressed people in this country” in a broad struggle for “social, racial, and economic justice,” AP calls for the creation of “multi-racial and multi-ethnic alliances” between native-born blacks and illegal immigrants. According to AP, “immigrant offenses” should be decriminalized in a manner that “recognize[s] the dignity of all people,” including the “undocumented.” Further, the organization contends that border-control initiatives unfairly “demoniz[e] people of color while diverting attention and money from the systemic issues that are much more serious threats to our national security”; that laws “target[ing] immigrant populations for harsh treatment” are “modern-day equivalents to 'Jim Crow' laws”; and that “claims that undocumented immigrants are a drain on social services” are “overblown” and “counter-factual.”
Quality Education: AP asserts that low-income, nonwhite students have “tragically low” high-school graduation rates mainly because of the “structural and institutional barriers” they face “from their first day in kindergarten.” These barriers include “academic tracking of Black and Latino students into low-level classes”; governmental “failure to provide [educational] resources equitably”; the use of “high-stakes testing to narrow and distort curricula and turn students off from learning”; “discriminatory discipline policies”; and “the pairing of the neediest students with inexperienced and ineffective teachers.”
Ending the Schoolhouse-to-Jailhouse Track: “[O]verly harsh school policies and an increased role of law enforcement in schools,” says AP, “has created a 'schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track,' in which punitive measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests are increasingly used to deal with student misbehavior, and huge numbers of youth are pushed out of school and into prisons and jails.” In AP's calculus, this is “a racial justice crisis, because the students pushed out through harsh discipline are disproportionately students of color.”
Reconstructing Justice Post-Katrina: AP charges that Hurricane Katrina “exposed not only the consequences of structural racism but also its repugnant underbelly … the unaddressed racial disparities and poverty that plague this nation.” The “greed and racism” allegedly inherent in “market forces,” says AP, have “presented challenges to [Katrina's] survivors in the area of relief efforts, housing, contracting and employment.”
Inclusive Development: In partnership with community groups across the United States, this program works to derail “community development” plans which, “in the name of revitalization,” have had the effect of “uprooting families, breaking social networks, and destroying political power.”
Economic Stimulus: AP demands that significant amounts of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (i.e., the “stimulus bill”) be used to “strengthen communities of color” by redistributing wealth through the public funding of “community development infrastructure, transportation, schools, and … job opportunities.”
In 2012, AP urged the Department of Justice (DOJ), headed by Eric Holder, to investigate Florida election officials' efforts to remove the names of non-citizens from the voter rolls of their state (where the names of many tens of thousands of non-citizens and deceased people had already been identified). As AP saw it, the Florida initiative was a thinly veiled attempt to block African Americans and Hispanics from voting. In May 2012 the Justice Department complied with AP's request and ordered Florida to halt the name purge. When Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner defied the DOJ mandate (saying “we have an obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate and ... ineligible voters cannot vote”), AP co-director Judith Browne Dianis accused him of being “recalcitrant.”
The Advancement Project's efforts on a national scale are supplemented by a corollary AP chapter whose scope is limited solely to California and whose objectives more or less mirror those of the national group. The California AP's board of directors includes such notables as Harry Belafonte, Molly Munger (a former counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Joe Alvarez (a former official with the AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE!), Gerry Hudson (executive vice president of the SEIU), and Bill Lann Lee (former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Clinton Administration).