Government of the people, by the people, for the people
Those ringing words from Abraham Lincoln are inspiring me today.
Things seems especially hopeless to me right now, with contributing factors including:
- The lack of justice in the Breonna Taylor case, where damaging the neighbor’s walls was considered to be a more serious crime than killing Taylor.
- The Republicans brazenly pushing through a Supreme Court Justice nominee since they (hopefully) won’t win the election and she might be the deciding vote if (when) the election is contested.
- The ongoing Covid pandemic, where 5,000 people are dying each week, and somehow that’s not news.
- A president who will not denounce white supremacy, or state that he will accept the results of the election, and is still minimizing the pandemic even after getting sick, and infecting who knows how many others.
- Wildfire season in California where the air has been unhealthy to breathe for most of the past two months.
- State after state (e.g. Pennsylvania and Texas and Florida and Alabama) shamelessly looking for ways to reduce voting options as a way to avoid hearing the will of the people.
And yet sitting in hopelessness and doom-scrolling through Facebook is not helpful.
So I write today to ask everybody who reads this to take some action, any action, rather than passively accept hopelessness. What can you do to fulfill Lincoln’s vision that democracy is a government of the people, by the people, for the people? How will you take responsibility for the situation, and take action to change it?
In a way, I am inspired by the Republicans. They claim to be the party of personal responsibility and integrity, and yet take no responsibility, and have no integrity. A few recent examples:
- Even after Trump was infected with the coronavirus and is actively contagious, masks are still not required in the White House, and that they don’t have a mask rule because “everyone needs to take personal responsibility” rather than the administration taking any responsibility.
- With the death toll from the Covid pandemic exceeding 200,000 American deaths, Trump insists this is because of Democrat cities and governors, or because it was impossible to avoid, when every other civilized country has managed to get it under control e.g. Japan has one third of the population of the US, and less than 1% of the coronavirus deaths, despite a much higher population density.
- Trump and the Senate refuse to pass another coronavirus relief bill despite millions of Americans being out of work due to the virus, because he’s trying to spin it as a “blue-state bailout”, forgetting that people in blue states are Americans too.
- When Trump doesn’t pay his taxes, it’s because Democrats didn’t pass tax bills to close those loopholes.
- Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans made up a rule to avoid even discussing Merrick Garland’s candidacy, and now say that rule doesn’t apply; Lindsey Graham somehow is blaming the Democrats for his own inconsistency.
- When police are encouraged to brutalize protestors by Trump, the ensuing violence is because of the Democrat mayors being “soft on crime”.
- When the economy is going well, they take all the credit and profits, and when things take a turn for the worse, they ask the government to bail them out rather than suffer the losses from the decisions they made.
- Somehow Trump still wants to blame Hillary Clinton and Obama for the state of the country, even though he’s allegedly been in charge for four years.
I feel it’s up to those of us with integrity to take responsibility, and start taking action to change things. When we see injustice, it’s not enough to point it out or lament it; we must move the world towards justice, or we are de facto endorsing the unjust status quo. There is no more room to be apolitical when human rights and democracy are at stake; either we fight, or we are accepting an unjust system where those who crave power and seek only to win will exclude and exploit everybody else.
The impending sense of doom that many of us feel, the constant comparisons to the slide into Nazi fascism, can feel dispiriting, as if there’s nothing we can do to prevent these historical forces. That is intentional. As Heather Cox Richardson writes: “The current chaos is designed to make you hopeless about creating change so that you give up.” It’s easier to blame the other side, or “the system”, or “those idiots”, rather than decide to help change how things are going.
I ask you to take those feelings of frustration, and channel them into action.
First off, please vote, either in person or by mail. Voting is how we enact Lincoln’s vision, as it is our responsibility as citizens to share what matters to us, and hold those in office accountable for their decisions. It is More than a Vote – it is democracy in action. As that site says, “We all know that if our vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be spending so much time and money trying to keep us from voting.”
More than a Vote also asks you to please consider volunteering as a poll worker if you can take time off for election day, and are not high-risk for coronavirus. As Power the Polls says: “America is facing a record shortage of poll workers this year due to the coronavirus. Our democracy depends on ordinary people who make sure elections run smoothly and everyone’s vote is counted. You can make sure we have a safe, fair, efficient election for all.” I volunteered, but Santa Clara County has enough poll workers.
You can also volunteer through Protect the Vote to be an Election Protection volunteer. I’ve signed up to take their training, and hope to be on call to address questions about voting and the election by Election Day. For questions about voting, you can share their page on voter information.
Another easy thing you can do is to write letters to encourage people to vote, as organized by Vote Forward. I wrote five letters to infrequent voters in Florida sharing the Lincoln quote above, and plan to do more before the mailing date of Oct. 17th.
Swing Left has a great set of actions you can take to help, from writing letters, to texting or calling for Biden/Harris or other elections. I have donated to both their Immediate Impact Fund (split among 12 Congressional elections) and their Senate Fund (focused on 8 critical Senate elections).
Another way to ensure our government is acting for the people is to call your Representatives and Senators about any or all of the above – the Supreme Court justice approval process, the coronavirus relief bill, etc – so they hear what you think. I haven’t been doing this, because I live in a solidly Democratic district, but I’ve been considering calling Republican senators to ask them to hold themselves accountable to their previous words, and remember they represent America, not just the interests of Donald Trump.
Those are just a few of the actions that anybody can take, even from the safety of their home to avoid the risk of coronavirus. I’m not asking you to do everything – we have only so much capacity and time and attention (especially amid the chaos that is 2020!). But something is better than nothing. Even a small effort each week will help move things in a new direction, especially if you inspire one other person to also take action.
One of my mantras for 2020 has been “Do the work, and do it in public”. I’ll be honest – I checked out on politics after my previous election volunteering in 2004, feeling that I couldn’t make a difference. But that ability to ignore politics is a reflection of my bubble of privilege where I am protected against most of the worst consequences of this administration. I won’t be able to live with myself if I do nothing for this election and rely on other people to fight the fight.
I ask you to join me in stepping up to take responsibility by taking one action, any action, to ensure that Lincoln’s words remain true, that America is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. We are the people, and we need to make our voice heard. When you look back on the fall of 2020, what will you say you did to stand up for your beliefs and for justice?