The Cure for What Ails Us

8 mins read
Voice of America [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been informed by numerous people that it’s time for us all to panic:

I’ve also been informed that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I have never lived under a dictatorship.

(1) My husband’s family experienced the Pinochet dictatorship, so I have first hand accounts.

(2) panic never helps.

Panic didn’t get the Chileans out from under Pinochet. The Pinochet dictatorship ended when enough people who were opposed to him came together to oust him. Pinochet used violence and terror, but his oust happened because of people coming together.

I entirely fail to understand what good comes from putting our hair on fire. Will we think better with our hair on fire? Will we be better able to plan and mount an effective defense? Or will we simply play into the hands of the enemies of democracy?

A little bit of agitation is good. It motivates us to action. It stimulates voter turnout. Too much is paralyzing. And pointless.

The reason I recently warned you all to expect lots more Crisis and Spectacle between now and November is precisely so, when it happens, you don’t all go set your hair on fire.

I find the sudden rise of panic fascinating given the timing. Why panic now, when we’re nine months from an election?

I do understand the urge to panic. Democracy is under attack.

The antidote is more democracy . . .

. . or what Barack Obama calls “citizenship”:

Our democratic institutions are being battered and damaged.

The antidote is to strengthen the institutions.

Need ideas on how to do that? Here are a few:

#1: Make sure you’re registered to vote. Lots of people are being purged from lists. Check to see if you are registered here. Deadlines for each state are here.

#2: Double and triple check any information you are given. There a lot of people out there trying to confuse people in order to suppress votes.

#3: Want to really make a difference? Don’t just march, run for something. Run for Something recruits and supports young progressives running for local office with the long-term goal of building a bench for decades to come. Learn more about them here.

If you’re in California, Close the Gap California is working to get women elected.

#4: If you can’t run for office you can volunteer to help Run for Something, including screening candidates Learn more here.

#5: Get involved with your local election. Elections are held and monitored locally. Start by contacting your local election board. In some states, you can become an official volunteer voter registrar. James tells how he did it in Maryland.

Here is James being a good citizen on a Saturday:

The fact that elections are held and monitored locally explains why good people need to run for office. Be the official making the decision about how the election will be conducted.

Isn’t that better than complaining that you don’t like the process? We are the people. Don’t like how things are done? Run for office and change it. (I understand this is the long-term solution; the short term solution is to vote in large numbers)

#6: Check out Fair Fight, the organization Stacy Abrams started for free and fair elections. Their website is here. Find out how you can help.

Recall: Stacy Abrams would have been Governor of Georgia if not for the cheating. Is she panicking and fear mongering? Noooo. She got to work.

#7: Protect the Vote. If you’re a lawyer, volunteer with a protect the vote organization (usually through the Democratic party).

They always need lawyers. So far I’ve helped monitor elections in two states, and I’ve done legal work in a third. It’s eye opening, and gives perspective. I can tell you that elections are messy. But then, democracy is messy. That’s why people don’t like it. Dictatorship, by comparison, is efficient. One person makes the decisions. No need to bicker and compromise and work out differences.

#8: If you’re a teacher, consider an assignment requiring students to advocate on behalf of an issue of their choice, or allow / encourage them to substitute an assignment with a civic engagement activity of some kind.

#9: Help People Become Citizens and support low-cost immigration services by volunteering at organization such as CUNYCitizenship, or organizations that tutor English and civics for the naturalization test.

#10: On election day, you can drive people to the polls to help increase turnout. Here’s one place to start.

#11: Want to find the right group to join? Click here.

#12: Volunteer in your local Democratic office. Even if you’re a conservative, 2020 is the year you have to vote Democratic. (Even if you don’t love the candidate) The GOP needs to learn a lesson. If you find that your local office is a bit disorganized, help them get organized.

#13: Organize your community. One reason the Tea Party was so effective was that they organized locally and put pressure on local representatives.

Bringing people together in an inclusive way is the antidote to “us v. them” politics.

#14: Tell your representatives your views. The Democratic Coalition keeps a list and easy instruction here.

#15: Americans of Conscience has ideas for letters you can write to elected officials.

#16: A great way to get involved and donate from your own home is to write postcards to voters. More on that here and here.

#17: Subscribe to local newspapers, and national journals that do good investigative reporting.

#18: Donate to organizations like RAICES or the ACLU, or Democratic candidates.

#19: Make your views known, but try not to increase the polarization.

Volunteering not only saves democracy, it can save your sanity. It’s a good way to lift yourself out of the exhausting news cycle without guilt (because you’ll know you’re pushing back in tangible ways) and you’ll connect with like-minded people.

Multiply this by thousands, then millions, and we make the world safe for our children.

The cure for what ails us is more democracy.

[View as a Twitter thread]

Originally posted on Musing about Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.


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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

1 Comment

  1. Another excellent remedy for what ails us is to join up with Sister District. There are chapters all over the US and many of the most active ones are in CA. This is an action-oriented, energetic organization that works on flipping strategically chosen state legislative seats. With redistricting coming after the 2020 census, we must reclaim power in our states if we are going to have fair congressional maps! https://sisterdistrict.com/

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