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How Jerusalem Demsas Made Her Gift to IJ Go Viral

Last summer, Jerusalem Demsas made a donation to support IJ’s fight to end qualified immunity. Jerusalem’s passion for justice and her commitment to sharing it with the world spurred 220 other donations and more than $22,000 in gifts. This multiplying magic shows the power of crowdfunding: using social media to magnify support for an organization or a cause. We reached out to ask Jerusalem how and why she launched her campaign—and how others can do so as well.

Q: How did IJ first cross your radar? What prompted you to make your first donation?

After I watched the killing of George Floyd, I felt really helpless. Covid-19 made it hard for me to feel comfortable engaging in any peaceful protests and even when I have engaged in direct action in the past, I’ve sometimes come away feeling like I was unsure about the impact of my time.

I have found it easy when confronted with systemic problems to lose myself in how big the problem is and how small one person can be in the face of that. It reminded me of a quote that is embossed on the MLK memorial in DC from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: ““With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

I started thinking tangibly about how I could help. My belief is that ending unjust state violence begins with setting up a clear incentive system that every agent of the state feels every day as they conduct their work. A system where you are rewarded for being a part of and helping your community and where you are held accountable if you cause harm. One of the clearest ways that that system is corrupted is the corrosive doctrine of qualified immunity.

Agents of the government should feel that they are held to an incredibly high standard at all times but especially when they are using lethal force. That is not true when the criminal justice system gives them a blanket protection in the form of a legal doctrine invented almost out of thin air. As I’m sure your readers know, this doctrine allows police officers and other government officials to get away with heinous behavior that no regular American citizen would be able to get away with.

As I looked into which organizations were doing the work to try to overturn this dangerous precedent, I came across Institute for Justice’s work. When I reached out, the team agreed to set up a way for me to donate specifically to your project working to end qualified immunity and I was excited to have found a way to be useful in that moment.

 

Q: Why did you share your donation through social media?

I think people are very nervous about sharing their donations online. It can feel tacky to show exactly how much you are giving and can also feel condescending to (implicitly or explicitly) tell people what you think they should be doing with their money. But I think this is a bad way to think about it.

There’s good research showing that being public about your donations can cause others in your network to give too. I think many people were feeling similarly to me about wanting to be useful and wanting to go beyond their immediate feelings of anger and grief but were maybe unsure of how to direct their resources.

I like to think that being public on social media was a way of providing that information to people and also pushing those who hadn’t thought about how they could help to see how they could be useful in that moment.

 

Q: Your gift ended up prompting 220 other donations to end qualified immunity totaling more than $22,000! Did this outpouring of support surprise you? 

Yes, I am very surprised! That’s a lot of money!

I’m glad that I was able to be a part of raising those funds but the biggest takeaway I have from that is what it says about human nature. During a crisis, we tend to focus on the worst things that happen like looters in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But, I think the real lesson from the last year is the overwhelming amount of solidarity among Americans — the donations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the financial support on sites like GoFundMe to people struggling due to Covid-19, and other charitable donations are at an all time high.

People want to help their neighbors and we see ourselves as part of a broader community that we feel an obligation to support when times are hard. It can be really easy to fall into despair when there’s so much divisiveness to focus on, but there’s a lot more good news if we’re willing to look for it.

 

Q: Any tips or advice for readers who also want to turn their gift into a wave of support for IJ?

You know your community best, use what inspires you and your friends and families to bring people into the fold. And don’t be shy about sharing what you’re doing and why in a friendly way and asking people to join you.

 


There has never been a better time to follow in Jerusalem’s footsteps. As we announced last fall, two longtime IJ donors have agreed to match gifts from new supporters dollar-for-dollar—up to $1 million. That means that the support of every friend or colleague you inspire to donate will be doubled.

We are happy to set up a custom crowdfunding campaign webpage that you can share how you like and with whomever you choose. To learn more and get started, visit ij.org/crowdfunding.

Caitlyn Healy is IJ’s Senior Development Writer.

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