Opinion: AU Eagles can help save democracy. Here’s how.

Vote for the good of everyone

Opinion: AU Eagles can help save democracy. Here’s how.
Jonah Estess Headshot for Op-Ed piece

This has been a horrible year. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake away fear, nervousness, anxiousness and depression for more than a few days at a time. The United States is faced with a colossal crisis.

Americans are dying of the coronavirus by the hundreds of thousands. Police officers are killing African Americans, who cannot breathe. Climate change is forcing people to flee their homes and is destroying habitats across our dying planet. Elected officials cannot figure out a way to work together. Immigrants and Dreamers fear for their safety because ICE targets them for imprisonment and deportation without restraint. Women’s reproductive rights are being rolled back. Tax cuts, bloated stock prices, and unprecedented capital gains have further expanded the largest wealth gap in American history. State legislatures are making it harder for people to vote. Foreign states continue to interfere in our elections.

And we have lost two of our nation’s greatest champions — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman John R. Lewis. They are no longer here to defend right from wrong.

The American republic is in the deepest peril since the Civil War. As a historian, I believe that this crisis threatens our democratic institutions and national security. The stakes could not be higher.

But we are Eagles. We can help solve the greatest challenges that our nation has faced in more than a century. The first step is to recognize that our nation’s fate is in our hands. The second step is to participate in democracy in every way that we can. Now is the time to act.

You can volunteer with a local, statewide or national campaign, organize a voter registration drive, use social media to mobilize your followers and their followers, sign up to phone bank for candidates, donate and raise money for candidates and for nonprofit organizations that champion the issues that you care about, attend a protest or rally (while wearing a mask), call and write to your elected officials to demand action on their part, learn as much as possible about the most pressing issues, and encourage your friends and family to follow your lead. And you can run for elected office if you meet certain criteria.

Do one or some or all of these things. Earlier generations of activists set good examples for us. A better future depends on you showing up.

The most important thing you can do is vote. You are enfranchised because brave men and women dared to challenge the establishment by fighting relentlessly to be able to perform that solemn duty. Do what they did. Fight unceasingly when the losses seem paralyzing and when the future looks bleak.

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that your vote doesn’t count simply because of who you are or where you live. The vote is your most powerful asset in shaping a more perfect union. Others will fight to deny you that right if you lose sight of its importance.

Justice Ginsburg knew the importance of vigilance in law and civic life. She expressed this best in her scathing dissenting opinion in the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Here, the Supreme Court declared a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional, making it possible for state legislatures to require voters to demonstrate specific qualifications before being allowed to vote. She argued that the majority failed to comprehend the law’s purpose, which was to safeguard elections against the spectre of voter suppression. The Court let down its guard.

Vote to stop lawmakers from making it harder, and even impossible, for others to vote. And never let down your guard.

Your vote will not count — your voice will not be heard — if you choose not to vote. Not voting can be dangerous, maybe not for you, but for many, many others who you care about. So, if you don’t believe that your vote will matter for you, then vote for the good of everyone. Vote by absentee ballot, or in person if you can and must. Request your absentee ballot today.

Some votes will seem to count more than others until positive reforms are made to the Electoral College. So, if everyone who can vote does, then the nation will get the leaders it wants. And if you do not like how the system works, you can vote for leaders who will change the system. You are your own best bet for a progressively better future.

Voting, volunteering, and supporting candidates and issues still are not the only actions you can take to ensure that the nation you want is the nation that you get. You can apply to be a poll worker — and get paid for it. Boards of elections are in desperate need of poll workers under the age of 65. You are eligible to be a poll worker no matter where you reside. I applied to be a poll worker in Washington, D.C. (click here to sign up regardless of where you reside).

Now is the time to protect the democracy, which many fought so hard to preserve, protect and nurture into something greater, from becoming irreparable. But you don’t have to take it from me. The late Congressman Lewis said it best:

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. ... The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

You can make the right moves. Let’s recover together. Let’s vote together. Let’s march together. Let’s lead together.

Right now.

Jonah Estess is a Ph.D. candidate in the American University Department of History. This article is dedicated to the late Justice Ginsburg, to the late Congressman Lewis, and to everyone who fought and is fighting for a freer democracy. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.

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