In November 2016, I was a bright-eyed 18-year-old, proud of myself for being “an engaged citizen.” I’d attended my state’s primary caucus earlier that year, registered to vote and mailed in my absentee ballot (I was living overseas at the time.) I thought I was doing a pretty good job of changing the world.
“A pretty good job” means something different to me today. Every election shapes history, but 2020’s sure feels unique. This year, if I want to feel the same pride as an engaged citizen that I did in 2016, it’s going to take more than mailing in a ballot. The bar for civic duty has been raised. I challenge myself to do more for this election, and I challenge you to do the same. Here are six critical ways that we show up for democracy:
- I challenge you to vote. Voting is the bare minimum requirement to be a changemaker. It doesn’t matter whether you like the candidates, whether you live in a swing district or how populated your state is. You don’t have to like the system, and you don’t have to “play the game” any other day of the year. You just have to show up to the polls on Nov. 3. Think of this as running laps, practicing scales or eating your veggies: If you can’t do the basic, boring bits, how are you going to build the skill, strength and street cred to do anything more powerful?
- I challenge you to persuade one friend to vote. I don’t have to tell you that am individual vote is quite small. So if you want to have an impact in this election cycle, you have to look beyond yourself. And although your friends might love to tell you why “voting is stupid,” remember that people are heavily influenced by their peers. To look someone in the eye and ask them, “Can I help you register to vote today?” or “Will you come to the polls with me?” is powerful.
- I challenge you to promote voting on social media. There’s a lot of noise on social media right now. That’s why I challenge you to talk to a friend in-person before going online. But since social media is part of all our lives, what we post does matter. When you write or share something that encourages people to vote, it makes civic engagement more culturally normal and expected.
- I challenge you to volunteer. Do you have a body? Then you can participate in voting efforts. Pass out clipboards at a voter registration drive (contact your local ACLU, League of Women Voters or other political organizations to get involved). Or spend a couple of hours phone- or text-banking for voter registration or to campaign for a candidate (contact your local chapter of Indivisible, 350.org or Sunrise Movement to sign up). On election day, work as an election judge or volunteer as a poll watcher.
- I challenge you to be all-in about voting. I know it can feel like we don’t have any good choices on the ballot, and that sucks. The system certainly needs fixing, but it’s the system we have right now. So much depends on this election, so pick your candidates, get behind them and be all-in.
- I challenge you to pay as much attention to local races as you do to the presidential race. Local elections don’t get much hype, but a lot of change happens at the local level. Small communities can experiment with new ideas and then share what they’ve learned with the rest of the country. Local elections are where your voice is loudest. So promise me you won’t skip over the local races on the ballot. Spend an hour researching the candidates so you can make an informed choice.
Of course, the voting cynics are right about one thing: Voting alone can’t solve all our problems. We don’t just need grudging voters. We need activists, investigators, orators, boycotters, people to run for office and people to support all the other roles. But becoming a serious change-maker isn’t simple. It takes sustained effort. That effort has to start somewhere, somehow. This November, it starts with voting.