By the People

Witness for JusticeIn his eulogy for the late Congressman John Lewis, former President Barack Obama remarked “Democracy is not automatic. It needs to be tended. You need to work at it.” It was an especially important reminder that in these challenging times for the democratic process, with so much uncertainty and so much in doubt, that now more than ever, we need to keep working at it. And we need to vote.

It matters that we vote and that we protect the right of others to vote. That is not the starry-eyed idealist in me talking. It is the part of me that knows that no single thing we do brings about change, and that’s not a reason not to do it. It is the part of me that knows that we need to show up, whenever we can, in all the ways that we can. Because if we don’t show up, other interests will fill the void.

In an essay posted online several years ago titled “The Ballot or the Bullet,” author and columnist William Rivers Pitt offered an important insight regarding the decline of voter participation and citizen engagement in the United States. He wrote, “Henry David Thoreau argued for non-participation in a broken system, but a system that has been broken by non-participation requires a different remedy.

If we are to thrive, the democratic process requires the voices of all to form a robust, innovative public square of ideas, policy approaches, critiques, vision of the common good.

Yes, challenges to voting abound in 2020. There are critical, long-term democracy reform efforts that continue to face significant obstacles. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement have been present since the founding of the nation, and we will need to continue confront voter suppression in new forms in this election cycle. This year the COVID-19 pandemic presents even more challenges to the voting process.

Still, our participation in the electoral process is more important than ever. It may require us to work a little harder, to act with more intention, to map our plan to vote and even have a plan B. Even in the midst of these challenges we can build an empowered electorate like never before if we vote and tend to the work of protecting and expanding voting access in the years to come.

A lot about the upcoming 2020 elections will be different. The volume of mail-in voting this year will be higher than ever before. In-person voting will require extra safety preparations. We will need patience and a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power to ensure that all votes are counted. It will likely take time before we know the results. As President Obama reminded us, “Democracy is not automatic. We need to work at it.” Here is a place to start:

        Check your voter registration

        Make a plan to vote, whether it is by submitting a mail-in ballot, voting early or voting in person on Election Day.

        Seek out good information from credible sources.

        Sign up to be a poll worker and recruit others to be poll workers.

        Pledge to be in touch with 3 other voters, to encourage them in the voting process.

        Share the Election Protection hotline number to report voter suppression: 866-OUR-VOTE.

        Don’t end your engagement on Election Day. Election Day is the starting line for advocating for change.

In the words of June Jordan “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

For additional suggestions visit:

Sandy Sorensen is the Director of the DC Office for the United Church of Christ.

View this and other columns on the UCC’s Witness for Justice page.
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Categories: Column Witness for Justice

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