I don’t know about you, but I am tired this week. I held my breath until 12:01 am on October 1st, when the efforts to repeal the ACA through budget reconciliation maneuvers were ended. I’ve been worried sick about the American citizens suffering without food, water, electricity or adequate attention since hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. I’m trying to keep up with information about the DACA recipients who need to get their status renewed by this evening. I’m contacting my reps about their failure to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which protects millions of vulnerable American children. And I am heartsick about the massacre in Las Vegas and furious that it coincides with a week where there are not one, but two NRA-backed bills moving through Congress, to further loosen our gun laws. All of that before I can even focus on the travesty of a budget that Congress is trying to sell.
I have had moments this week when I have just felt worn to the bone. I’ve picked up the phone to make my calls, or typed my emails and faxes, and I just feel as though I am shouting into the wind.
In those moments, I understand the people around me who feel defeated by our political system. Who have looked at this whole mess and just said, “I don’t have the money of an NRA or the Koch brothers. My voice doesn’t matter.” Who have opted to focus on other issues, because politics makes them feel powerless.
Then, I take myself for a walk, take some deep breaths, and force myself to re-engage. Because what I have learned in the past year is that I, personally, don’t have a ton of power in the political system. But if I am persistent and informed and I show up, I make a small impact. If I find a few other people to show up with me, we make more of an impact. If they find a few more people, we can stop terrible legislation like Trumpcare.
Part of why it feels as though we have lost power in politics is because we have handed that power over. We have been told that every candidate is corrupt, so our votes don’t matter. We have been told that money rules politics, so our voices don’t matter.
I refuse to accept that storyline any longer. Not all candidates are created equal. None of them may be perfect, but some candidates & elected officials take their jobs seriously. They show up at town hall meetings to truly listen to their constituents. They work out of the spotlight, to fix real problems, in a bipartisan way. We should be asking candidates how they plan to act if elected, and we should hold them to their answers. We also have to become educated. Too many candidates get away with glib, vague answers to tough questions. We need to ask for details, and we need to know enough that we can push back when we don’t get them.
As we get educated, we need to vote. EVERY SINGLE TIME. In every single election. For city clerk and US President. In the 2016 election, more people didn’t vote at all than voted for either major candidate. There is no way that our government can be representative if a third of eligible voters (or more in smaller elections) just don’t show up. It is my responsibility to vote. It is your responsibility to vote. When we fail at this responsibility, we are handing power to extremists and special interests. We need to show up.
Once someone is elected, we need to be engaged with them. I had a legislator tell me that she got most of her education about issues outside of her field from lobbyists, “because no one else is giving me that information.” We should all be talking to our legislators about our areas of knowledge--they should be educated by constituents, not by lobbyists.
Representative democracy can’t be a spectator sport. It is our responsibility to be educated, aware & engaged in our democratic process. If we are not, that spot will be filled by special interests, who are not looking out for the good of all. We must show up. And when we do, I truly believe we can change the world.