Advocates for Latinos have become targets of hate campaigns that underscore the critical role nonprofits play protecting minority rights and strengthening civic life in a democracy.

One of the great champions of nonprofits was Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French writer who saw in nonprofits a distinguishing hallmark of our ongoing “democratic revolution,” which he believed faced a continuing threat from the “tyranny of the majority.”

Instead of expecting government to take care of their problems, a solution that could lead to government running their lives, Americans team up and work to fix what is wrong.

Those “associations” that Americans form—known today as “nonprofits”—also represented for Tocqueville an important safeguard against the tendency of majorities and government to run roughshod over the rights of minorities.

Tocqueville’s insights and fears are important to remember in the face of growing intolerance in America for Latino immigrants and their nonprofit advocates.

As The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., reported recently, two of the state’s leading Latino advocates have been the target of threats and racist messages.

Because of the threats, Andrea Bazán, president of the Triangle Community Foundation in Durham and the new board chair for the National Council of La Raza, a national advocacy group for Latinos, has requested protection at some public appearances.

She was so concerned, in fact, that she sent her children to stay with her former husband and stayed away from home for several days in June, the newspaper reported.

And Tony Asion, a former police office and a successor to Bazán as executive director of El Pueblo, the leading advocacy for Latinos in the state, told the newspaper he had received death threats and messages he considers to be racist, and he now fears for staff members at El Pueblo.

Nonprofits work to advance the philanthropic mission of healing and repairing our communities and making them better places to live and work.

Yet in simply doing their job and advocating for the rights of Latinos, nonprofit leaders like Bazán and Asion now face threats that cause them to fear for their own lives and those of their children and fellow workers.

As Tocqueville recognized roughly 170 years ago, nonprofits perform a critical job in America by helping to make sure the most vulnerable among us do not fall prey to the intolerance of the majority.

But in a land of immigrants, a land in which the fading white majority is being replaced by a new majority consisting of minorities, the hate hurled at Latinos and their advocates only reinforces the indispensable role nonprofits must continue to play in safeguarding our continuing experiment with democracy.

imageTodd Cohen, a veteran news reporter and editor, is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal, an online newspaper published by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh, N.C. Cohen has taught nonprofit reporting and media relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University, and regularly speaks on the topics of nonprofit media relations and trends in the charitable world.