Patriotism in America used to mean something. It wasn’t about just draping yourself in the flag, It wasn’t about being free to not vote. It wasn’t hating other countries, or hating anyone who was different. It wasn’t about hating and dismissing all elected representatives.
Patriotism was founded in this country, on the principle of self-governance. We were meant to have a say. We were meant to vote for who would represent our interests and the interests of our communities. We were meant to tell our representatives how to represent us. In this age of information, we have no excuse not to. Our country used to be thought of as the leader of the free world, yet our citizens spend a lot of time complaining about our government, and little action to do our part. A self-governing government can’t govern itself. Say that a few times.
You would think we would have 90% or higher turnout, but instead, a local election year we see around 30%, depending on where you live (30% is generous for my community).
|Monroe County, New York Voter Turnout in 2015. Source: https://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/2015%20General%20Voter%20Turnout.pdf|
In 2016, we had 65% turnout, among registered voters. It was 58% of eligible voters, according to this: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-turnout-2016-elections
I am considered among those who know me, to be a politically engaged person. I work in IT, but that is my day job. I have a BS in political science. I have worked on campaigns, run a campaign, and worked with the Democratic Committee in my county. In 2016 I took election day off work. I volunteered at my county Democratic committee office helping people verify their voter registrations, find polling places, get a ride to the polls, and answer questions. It was a fantastic day engaging with voters and other volunteers committed to helping as many people vote as possible.
Now I’m volunteering with the Warren campaign. I am someone who loves to talk about politics, and I love to engage with people on the issues. I know most people hate politics, roll their eyes, and would rather do anything else.
The problem is, the only way we are ever going to fix our government and make sure it’s working for us, is if we make it a priority in our lives. I know everyone has too many priorities. The problem is, this affects every one of them. Got kids in school? Education. Drive on roads? Infrastructure. Military family? Military and veterans affairs. Got a body? Health care. Over 65? Social security.
I hope I’m making my point.
I did phone banking to voters in North Dakota, trying to help re-elect Heidi Heitkamp in the midterms. I have good Senators in NY, so I wanted to help other states. Even though she didn’t win, I had some really good conversations with people, and yes in the red, red state of North Dakota, Trump supporters would have a good conversation with me a life-long liberal Democratic voter.
Volunteering with the Warren campaign, I have received some of the same feedback as I did from voters in 2016, during the 2018 midterms, in last year’s local election, and on social media. People have a few popular responses to a conversation about politics or an election. One common response is that all elected officials are bad. Not only is it an excuse for not paying attention or voting, it’s a 100% false statement. Before you dismiss me, who has met, volunteered, campaigned, and talked with more candidates and elected representatives, you or me? Hint: If it’s you, this isn’t meant for you.
For the rest of you. It’s time to make this a priority. You don’t have to make it your number 1 priority, like I do, but there are some things that I need you all to do this year, and going forward. These need to go on your to-do lists. A lot of them don’t take that much time.
In order to start making this at least a priority, try to spend 15 minutes a day working on the list below. Imagine what we can get done, as a nation, if everyone does this.
- Verify you are registered to vote, and register if you are not: https://www.rockthevote.org/
- Look up your representatives. To do this, google the county you live in and “Board of Elections”, e.g. Cool County Board of Elections
- Get signed up on a tool that will let you be in contact with your reps in Congress.
- Alternatively, you can go to https://www.senate.gov/ and https://www.house.gov/ to look up your representative’s contact info. *Tip: Make a contact for your reps (House rep and 2 Senators) in your phone and/or email. Make the company their title like “House Rep ## District” or “Senator”. This way you can email them or call them any time there is an issue important to you. (More on this below)
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start paying attention. I get that the news sucks, but not all of it is political, and the politics is what you need to pay attention to. It’s important you know what your reps are saying and how they are voting, or what they are signing into law, repealing, or vetoing. This is the civic duty of citizens in a self-governing democracy. We all know it’s a democratic republic, but we have always cherished that our founding fathers wanted this country to be, if nothing else, a truly representative democracy.
Use an app like countable, and you can see what bills are circulating in Congress. You can vote on the app, for which way you want them to vote and send them your comments on it. You can go straight to the House and Senate websites to see what they are voting on, and what’s in committee.
Now that you have gotten this far, I want you prepare for the election. Not just 2020, but every year. This is real patriotism. Honor your civic duty. Our government can only function if we run it. Would you run a company, hire someone, and never check on their work? If the person you hired wasn’t doing what you asked them to do and what they said they would do, or acted in unethical and/or immoral way, would you keep them on or would you hire someone else?
We talk a lot about how elected representatives aren’t doing their job, but we aren’t really doing ours. It feels like it would be a lot of work, but once you do it, once you really get informed and aware, there is a good reward to it. There is service to our government. Not every elected official is corrupt or bad. Some people dream of being doctors, some want to be athletes, or go into music, or be farmers. Some people want to want to go into public service. They want to represent people’s interests.
I have met them, I have worked with them, I have supported their campaigns, and I am volunteering with one of them right now. None are perfect, and yes there are a lot of bad apples, who self deal and have insidious aims. There are also many, who are good and decent people. There are people out there who believe that our government can cultivate a common wealth and common vision for the interests of every citizen.
The reality is that good representatives are accessible, accountable, and transparent with their constituents. They will hold town halls, and their staff are on hand to answer your questions and help you find resources when you are in need.
I know the idea of paying attention, being informed, making the tough choice of picking the best representative out of the candidates on the ballot, seems like a lot. Democracy, and being the leader of the free world, takes work. I am also only asking for 15 minutes. 15 minutes a day to see if we can do our part to make sure our government works for all of us, and not only for those who decided to show up and those with the most influence and money.
If you see that value, then having finished the to-do items above, please work on the following until you registered party’s primary election:
- Check when your primary is: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/2020-state-primary-election-dates.aspx
- Research each candidate. That’s right. At least know something about them. Not rumor. Not what you saw from some post on social media with no source. 15 minutes, getting to know 1 candidate a day for yourself. At least those polling in the top 5, if you are a Democratic voter or planning to vote in the Democratic primary this year. Google them and go to their website. Look for their plans or agenda. Read up on what they want to do and decide if you think it’s the best approach for where we are right now.
- Pick a candidate. One of them will represent us, in this election and in office if they win.
- Vote in the primary. Saying none are good is not an option. You are part of picking the nomine and these are the choices. One will be chosen. It’s up to you to pick who you think will be the best out of those who showed up to do the job.
Now we know who is running in the election. If you are supporting a candidate who doesn’t take PAC money or high donor contributions, know that they rely on small donations to run their campaign. They are up against massive dark money influence. If you can’t donate, consider volunteering some time. Phone bank, text, canvass. Do something to ensure our government is run by someone who will serve our interests and not serve that which is not in our interests. Talk to friends and family, and make sure the people in your life know that you are taking your civic duty seriously, and they should too.
Pay attention to who has a plan and is using facts, figures, recorded factual information and who is making claims without any proof or solid information. Vet the information. Make sure the information is solid. Remember 15 minutes a day.
The more we pay attention, the more we can ensure our government isn’t just by people but for people. It’s time we acknowledge that running the government is a big, complex job and it needs all of us to contribute for it to be a success.
When we can do that, We can ensure everyone has health care. 18 countries have been able to do that, and there is no reason why we can’t. (https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=how+many+countries+have+universal+health+care)
We can ensure everyone has a livable wage, and the resources to ensure our homeless are not abandoned on the streets.
We can ensure secure elections, fair elections, and accessible elections for every eligible citizen.
We can ensure we have maintained roads, bridges and tunnels.
We can ensure excellent public education for every child and we can ensure child care.
We can ensure that our borders are safe, and so are immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers needing our help.
We can ensure a healthy and thriving environment, renewable energy, and the means to address pollution.
If we stand up and do the truly patriotic act of fulfilling our civic duty, we can ensure our government lives up to the legacy of our nation. We can ensure it lives on.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for your time. I hope this took less than 15 minutes. I hope it gave you something to think about. If you are willing to do the above, and give me 15 minutes a day, to be an informed member of the electorate, then I thank you as a fellow citizen of this country. If you have questions about any of the above, would like more or specific resources, or have feedback, please leave me a comment.
Once you do the above, you have just one more thing to do, in November: