A Citizen’s Guide to Saving American Democracy

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I asked a politician, an activist and a professor who studies democracy. And there were also some interesting thoughts from Karl Rove.

Barbara Walter is a professor at the University of California at San Diego and has published a new book, “How Civil Wars Begin and How to Stop Them”.

She is among those who have warned that the country’s democracy is in a dangerous place.

When I asked her what ordinary Americans could do to protect democracy, she returned me a long and thoughtful email, which I’ll summarize in a few key points.

Vote. Even in presidential elections, millions of Americans do not participate in the democratic process. The share of non-voters is even higher in the mid-term elections, and even more important at the local level.

“If they voted it might change the makeup of Congress and break the minority’s grip on power in many places,” Walter said.

Expression. Walter pointed out Harvard University research and argued that nonviolent protest is an effective tool for change.

“It would be very, very difficult for politicians to refuse to reform our democracy if even 3% of Americans continued to protest in the streets until changes were made,” Walter said. “Americans did this in the civil rights era, when citizens demanded equal rights and freedoms for African Americans, and the government responded, satisfying a desire for fairness and justice.”

Connect. It was this last thought that caught my attention. Walter shared an excerpt from her book in which she argues that Americans must reclaim and arbitrate public discourse so that we can “get out of the path of self-segregation and predatory factionalism and restore hope in long-term health. term of our country ”. She gave examples of local groups across the country trying to get people to talk to each other.

“Americans have started to realize how fragile our democracy is and to take steps to preserve it,” Walter said. “It is at the local level – in churches, voluntary associations and grassroots groups – that we can come together again and relearn the power of citizenship and community.

Get engaged

There are many activist groups out there looking to bring more Americans into the political process. RepresentUs is a group committed to fighting corruption at the federal level and enacting laws at the local level.

He is pushing for the national voting standard this Democrats are trying to figure out how to get through the Senate.

“Stay informed with multiple credible sources of information and join the conversations going on in your community,” RepresentUS CEO Joshua Graham Lynn told me in an email.

There are numerous reports on the types of public servants, election workers and volunteers who make democracy work. targeted and give up.

“If you see your local election officials, school boards, election officials and other democracy keepers under attack, come forward to support them. This could range from sending a quick email of support to participating in community meetings, ”Lynn said.

I will add here that you can call your local election office and see if there are any vacancies. We know from Steve Bannon that Trump supporters seek to fill as many election-related positions as possible.

“In this time of heightened anxiety it can be tempting to disconnect from the world. But we really need all hands on deck to make sure our democracy doesn’t collapse,” Lynn said.

Don’t generalize. Accept the facts.

Being respectful and honest is not, and should not be, partisan.

One of the most interesting developments this week was former Vice President Dick Cheney – once vilified by Democrats as Darth Vader – appearing on Capitol Hill to show his support for the Jan. 6 inquiry, that her daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney, is helping lead.

In the Wall Street Journal, the Republican spinmeister Karl Rove wrote that Democrats and Republicans have responsibilities to truth and civility.

Stop generalizing about Republicans. Democrats, he said, must resist “the petty habit of deepening partisan fault lines by indiscriminately condemning anyone who came to Washington that day.”

Accept the facts. Proving Democrats need to separate goodwill Republicans from those who stormed Capitol Hill, he admitted his own party had more work to do.

I was shocked to see these words come from Rove:

“I have been a Republican my entire life and believe in what the Republican Party, at its best, has stood for for decades. There can be no soft pedal on what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Fatherland love demands no less. This is true patriotism. “

Respect each other

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich, now a CNN contributor, is a Republican who criticized Trump and ran against him in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

He acknowledged the threat of January 6, and when I asked him on Friday what ordinary Americans should do to protect democracy, he got a ready answer:

“The most important thing we can do as individuals is to recognize the intrinsic worth of all other people – even people we don’t like, people we don’t agree with, people we struggle with, maybe people we get along with so angry that we insult them. ”

I pushed him on how this helps save democracy.

“Because then people have, you know, we have a set of expectations.”

We then moved on to an anecdote that he had to accept a friend who chose not to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

“It’s very frustrating and it makes some of us angry that he doesn’t. Okay, but basically I care about him and respect him as a human being.”

I didn’t follow the connection between Covid-19 and democracy, and the conversation seemed to agitate Kasich, who said there was no superficial response.

“I know you’re looking for a short, concise line here. I’ll give it to you,” he said. “Until we all begin to recognize the intrinsic worth of all human beings, we will continue to erode and be a danger in our culture and in the strength of our country.”


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