When we think about democracy, we often think first about what early lawmakers like Jefferson imagined: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the guarantee that our government should function without falling into tyranny or fascism. So how did we end up here, with Trump in office and democracy on the brink?
For a long time, the US electorate has been pushed (I’d argue by capitalism) to basically ignore politics when there’s not a big election cycle. We also often learn that, as citizens, our obligation to democracy is to vote, and once we fulfill that obligation, our work in the political sphere is done. We’ve largely ignored local and state politics and therefore watched some of our freedoms disappear. And then we watched as Trump was elected, and a big wave of movement work started (yay!). But it takes more than four years of fighting to win back what we’ve lost. So how do we push way beyond where we were four years ago?
In fact, our obligation to democracy goes far beyond voting. What other obligations might we have? What obligation might we have to the undocumented domestic worker who is being harassed by their employer? Is that part of democracy? What obligation do we have to failing schools that are funded by property taxes in cities where the “good schools” have PTAs with million dollar endowments? Is that part of democracy?
Community organizing is one way that people stay engaged with politics and hold policymakers accountable long after the election results are certified. Community organizers hold a nimble and crucial position in democratic societies because we can push on policymakers to do better. Because often, policymakers are moving more slowly than community, and they may represent some, but not all of what we—the people they represent—actually want.
And policymakers need to be pushed! I don’t know about you, but I would have LOVED it if Senator Harris said, “you know what? I’d love to ban fracking. I’d love to see a Green New Deal so that we have good green jobs in the future instead of no jobs at all.” But she didn’t say that—and that’s why we need organizers who can help connect the dots for the public on important issues and push policymakers to amend their positions.
Our work depends on deep intersectionality, too. What I mean is that we must do our work from an anti-racist perspective, looking at systems and people with all the layers and identities that we hold. Senator Harris represents many things: as a Black woman, she has faced and overcome incredible challenges. AND, as a person with class privilege and an attorney general, she has also contributed to mass incarceration of Black and brown people in California. So as organizers, we are tasked with holding both deep respect and fair critique of our policymakers and the systems that they may be upholding. Our work is to push for systemic change, change that fixes problems where they crop up: at the root. We are dismantling broken systems and building with vision and equity at the core.
As we enter the final stretch of this election, each of us must consider our obligation to democracy, both as we encourage other people to vote in the run-up and demanding that every single vote be counted before any result is certified. But this is a time-limited campaign, and defending democracy is something that organizers are doing day in and day out, regardless of elections. So after November 3 or inauguration day, you should also be thinking about your role as a US citizen and what you can bring to our democracy, no matter where you live. What are you fighting for—and what aren’t you fighting for? Why not?
Today, there’s a ton of stuff you can do: text and phone bank, use Vote With Me to contact all your people, especially in swing states, learn about election defense and sign up to do back-end support, and bring people together on the ground to support from afar.
But tomorrow, by which I mean after the election is certified, your work will not be over, so devote yourself also to what happens after the urgency of now, and what you’ll be holding onto, and how you’ll continue to fight for a democracy that grows stronger with each of your actions and demands.