trends to watch in civil society

The situation is fluid and unpredictable, but it’s worth tracking these developments.

  1. Lots of philanthropy for COVID-responses. The Foundation Center and GuideStar are tracking $7.9 billion in philanthropic commitments (so far) that specifically address COVID-19. You can find extensive detail here.
  2. Deep layoffs in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit service agencies are either losing donations or contracts or simply letting employees go because they can’t do their jobs.
  3. Lots of creative new forms of collective action and dissent under pandemic conditions, including protests in which participants stand far apart or ride in cars, refusals to go to work, etc. This crowdsourced list* is admirably broad, encompassing everything from pure service efforts (e.g. sewing masks) to adversarial politics, and ranging from evangelical pastors holding services in defiance of meeting bans to pro-ban parishioners protesting such pastors.

I continue to think that the problem for civil society will not be the pandemic; it will be the depression. If you can resume pre-COVID values, priorities, methods, and habits once the pandemic eases, you will. But many people will not be able to do so because they will have lost their jobs in civil society or their ability to afford civic activity. Still, some of the creative ideas that we’re seeing under the current extreme conditions may prove durable.

*Chenoweth, E., Choi-Fitzpatrick, A., Pressman, J., Santos, F., Ulfelder, J. 2020. “Methods of Dissent & Collective Action Under COVID: A Crowdsourced List.” Crowd Counting Consortium, crowdcounting.org. See also: effects on civil society will be mediated by the economy; and COVID-19 is not a metaphor.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.