The People

From across the country, individuals and organizations, have come together to create momentum in helping to rebuild American democracy. From the editors and authors of Democracy Unchained, to the conversation partners in our episodic series, to our partner and supporter organizations, we have come together to acknowledge that we must rebuild our politics and government for all the people.

Contributing Writers & Conversation Partners

Van Jones
CNN political contributor and host of the Van Jones Show

Van Jones is a U.S. media personality, the founder of multiple social enterprises and a world-class change maker. A three-time NY Times bestselling author, Van hosts two shows on CNN: “The Van Jones Show” and “The Redemption Project.” He is the host of CNN’s “Incarceration, Inc.” podcast series. In 2013-2014, Van was a co-host of CNN CROSSFIRE, along with Newt Gingrich; he later hosted a special event series on CNN called “The Messy Truth.” He is the co-founder of Magic Labs Media LLC, a producer of the WEBBY Award-winning Messy Truth digital series. Van’s life mission is to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity. He has been a leader in the fight for criminal justice reform for more than 25 years. To achieve his goals, Van co-founded a series of social enterprises, including: Ella Baker Center for Human Rights,,, Rebuild The Dream and the Dream Corps. The Dream Corps houses three social impact initiatives: #YesWeCode, Green For All and #cut50. Today, Van is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, an initiative founded by Jay-Z, Meek Mill and six billionaires to transform the criminal justice system.

In 2018, Van and #cut50 led the winning campaign to pass the FIRST STEP Act — a bipartisan federal bill that the New York Times called the most substantial breakthrough in criminal justice in a generation. This was not Van’s first history-making legislative victory: a decade earlier, Van was the primary champion of the Green Jobs Act of 2007. In 2009, he worked as the green jobs advisor to the Obama White House. Van has won numerous awards, including: the World Economic Forum’s “Young Global Leader” designation; Rolling Stone’s 2012 “12 Leaders Who Get Things Done”; TIME’s 2009 “100 Most Influential People in The World”; the 2010 NAACP Image Award and; a 2017 WEBBY special achievement award. Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Van lives in New York City and Los Angeles. He is a proud father of two sons. In 2017, Van signed a management deal with Roc Nation, becoming the first political commentator in their family. In 1990, he earned a B.S. in communication and political science from the University of Tennessee at Martin. In 1993, Van earned a degree from Yale Law School.

Jill Lepore
writer for The New Yorker, and author of These Truths: A History of the United States

Jill Lepore, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 2005. Her books include “The Name of War,” which won the Bancroft Prize; “New York Burning,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history; “Book of Ages,” a finalist for the National Book Award; and “The Secret History of Wonder Woman;” and the international bestseller, “These Truths: A History of the United States.” Later this year, she will publish her fourteenth book, “If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.” Lepore received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale in 1995 and is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University.

David Brooks
New York Times columnist

David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday. He is currently a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is the author of “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.” In March 2011 he came out with his third book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,” which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller. Mr. Brooks also teaches at Yale University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Sally Yates
Former Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is a partner in King & Spalding’s Special Matters & Government Investigations practice. Sally’s deep experience, leadership and wide-ranging background provide clients with seasoned judgment in difficult times. Her practice focuses on counseling clients in complex and sensitive matters, including government enforcement and regulatory matters, congressional investigations, compliance, corporate governance and crisis management. Drawing upon her nearly three decades at the Department of Justice, she specializes in internal and independent investigations for public and private organizations and boards.

As the second-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and as Acting Attorney General, Sally was responsible for all of DOJ’s 113,000 employees including all prosecutorial, litigating, and national security components. She also was responsible for all U.S. Attorney’s offices and law enforcement agencies and the Bureau of Prisons. Sally oversaw DOJ’s most significant matters and was instrumental in setting DOJ’s enforcement priorities and initiatives.

An accomplished trial lawyer and Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, Sally has tried numerous high-profile cases.

Tiokasin Ghost Horse
speaker, musician, and member of the Lakota Nation

Tiokasin Ghosthorse—a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota—is an international speaker on Peace, Indigenous and Mother Earth perspective. A survivor of the “Reign of Terror” from 1972 to 1976 on the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Lakota Reservations in South Dakota and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding and Church Missionary School systems designed to “kill the Indian and save the man,” Tiokasin has a long history of Indigenous activism and advocacy. He is a guest faculty member at Yale University’s School of Divinity, Ecology and Forestry focusing on the cosmology, diversity and perspectives on the relational/egalitarian vs. rational/hierarchal thinking processes of Western society. Tiokasin is the Founder, Host and Executive Producer of the twenty-four-year-old “First Voices Radio” (formerly “First Voices Indigenous Radio”), a one-hour live program now syndicated to seventy radio stations in the US and Canada.

A master musician and a teacher of magical, ancient and modern sounds, Tiokasin performs worldwide and has been featured at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the United Nations, as well as at many universities and concert venues. Tiokasin serves on boards of several charitable organizations dedicated to bringing non-western education to Native and non-Native children. Tiokasin describes himself as “a perfectly flawed human being” who is a Sundancer in the tradition of the Lakota Nation

David Orr
founder, State of American Democracy project and co-editor, Democracy Unchained

David W. Orr is Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics Emeritus and senior advisor to the president of Oberlin College. He is a founding editor of the journal Solutions, and founder of the Oberlin Project, a collaborative effort of the city of Oberlin, Oberlin College, and private and institutional partners to improve the resilience, prosperity, and sustainability of Oberlin. Orr is the author of eight books, including Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (Yale, 2016) and Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (Oxford, 2009) and coeditor of three others. He has authored over 200 articles, reviews, book chapters, and professional publications.

In the past 25 years, he has served as a board member or advisor to eight foundations and on the boards of many organizations, including the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Currently he is a trustee of the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado and the Children and Nature Network. He has been awarded eight honorary degrees and a dozen other awards including a Lyndhurst Prize, a National Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation, and a Visionary Leadership Award from Second Nature. Orr is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. While at Oberlin, he spearheaded the effort to design, fund, and build the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which was named by an AIA panel in 2010 as “the most important green building of the past 30 years,” and as “one of 30 milestone buildings of the twentieth century” by the U.S. Department of Energy and was instrumental in funding the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center.

Preet Bharara
Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara is an American lawyer, author, and former federal prosecutor who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for five years prior to leading the Southern District. According to The New York Times, Bharara was one of the “nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime” during his tenure. Mr. Bharara has delivered the keynote address at the commencements of Fordham Law School, Columbia Law School, Cardozo School of Law, University of California Berkeley School of Law, Pace University School of Law, New York University School of Law, and in 2014, he spoke at Harvard Law School’s Class Day ceremony. Prior to becoming the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Bharara served as Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. During his tenure, he helped to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation of the firing of United States Attorneys. From 2000 to 2005, Mr. Bharara served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted a wide range of cases involving organized crime, racketeering, securities fraud, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and other crimes. Mr. Bharara was a litigation associate in New York at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman from 1996 to 2000 and at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 1993 to 1996. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with an AB in Government in 1990, and from Columbia Law School with a JD in 1993, where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review.

Michael Eric Dyson
Georgetown University professor, New York Times contributing writer, and contributing editor of The New Republic

Michael Eric Dyson is currently University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. A renowned scholar, ordained Baptist minister and public intellectual, his scholarship and cultural criticism focus on race, religion, popular culture, and contemporary issues in the African American community. Dr. Dyson is the author of the 2018 book What Truth Sounds Like: Robert Kennedy, James Baldwin and Our Unfinished Conversation about Race in America, the New York Times bestsellers Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (2017) and The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race (2016), as well as seventeen other books, including Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind, and Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, Dyson was the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught at the DePaul University, Columbia University, Brown University, Chicago Theological Seminary, and the University of North Carolina. Named by Ebony magazine as one of the hundred most influential Black Americans, Dyson holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University.

Tracy Sharpley-Whiting
Vanderbilt professor, scholar and author

Professor Sharpley-Whiting is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Humanities (AADS and French), Chair of African American and Diaspora Studies, and Director of the Callie House Center. She is the author/editor or co-editor of thirteen books. She is currently researching Men I’d Like to Have Known , a biographical study of four African diasporic figures across French historical movements. She is co-editor of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, editor of the journal Palimpsest, one of the series editors of “Blacks in the Diaspora” (Indiana University Press, 2007-2015), and co-series editor of “Philosophy and Race” (SUNY Press). She served on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (2014-2018). Dr. Sharpley-Whiting, named a top 100 young leader of the African American community by The Root, teaches and researches comparative diasporic literary and cultural movements; 18th– and 19th-century French narratives; critical theory and race; and film and black popular culture. Dr. Sharpley-Whiting has testified before Congress, lectures widely nationally and internationally and has offered commentary on a range of issues for C-SPAN2, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, CBS News and Oprah Satellite Radio. Dr. Sharpley-Whiting is also co-editor of the book, “The Speech: Race and Barack Obama’s A More Perfect Union.”

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
canon theologian, Washington National Cathedral and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School at Union

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas is the Canon Theologian at the Cathedral. In 2017, she was named Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Kelly is considered a leader in the field of womanist theology, racial reconciliation and sexuality and the black church. Prior to joining the Cathedral and EDS, she was the Susan D. Morgan Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore. Previously, she was Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity (1987-2001) and Assistant Professor of Religion at Edward Waters College (1986-1987). A native of Dayton, Ohio, Dr. Douglas was one of the first 10 black women to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. She was an Associate Priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years. She holds degrees from Denison University and obtained her Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. Her newest book is “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God,” released in May 2015 by Orbis Books. She splits her time between New York and Washington.

The Right Rev. Marian Edgar Budde
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde began her service as Interim Dean on Jan. 1, 2016. She is the spiritual leader of 40,500 Episcopalians in 89 congregations and 20 Episcopal schools in the District of Columbia and four Maryland counties. A passionate believer in the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Budde is committed to the revitalization and growth of congregations and core ministries of the diocese, building their capacity to serve Christ’s reconciling mission in the world. Bishop Budde was consecrated as the ninth bishop of Washington in November 2011. Prior to her election, she served for 18 years as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. She earned a B.A. in history at the University of Rochester, N.Y, and earned both her Masters in Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Virginia Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Paul, have two adult sons, Amos and Patrick.