Why We Need You to Save Our Democracy

Sherry Heyl
Jan 7, 2017 · 6 min read

The ongoing political shit-slinging has resulted in me unfriending family and friends on Facebook. I know I am one of many who are disconnecting from people of different points of views and thus finding myself in an ever-increasing echo-chamber. It is not that I am not capable of or unwilling to listen to and discuss various ideas and opinions. But, that is not what is being shared on social media or in real-life conversations. What is being shared are insults, conspiracy theories, and the real, exaggerated, or made up character flaws of our political leaders. People are revising history and making up their own facts to prop up their own beliefs. This is pushing us away from one another. We are all retreating to our own corners and shutting out people that we once cared for.

Other people are choosing to shut the political conversation out all together. They have either turned off their social media or choose not to participate in any dialog. They have resolved that it is what it is and they are just going to focus on their life and maintain relationships by ignoring any topic related to politics.

There was a time when this country was more divided than it is today. A time when not only did people stop writing to friends and relatives, they actually picked up guns and started killing to defend their beliefs.

During that time, Lincoln gave a brief speech that is considered one of the greatest and most influential statements of our union. The words that are remembered by most everyone are the final words of that speech “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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Today, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is under the worse threat it has faced in the history of America. Yes, even more so than during the civil war. We are relinquishing our power to the distractions of partisan shit-slinging while those in power are preparing to craft a government for the interests of themselves and their friends. Whether you are a Republican, Libertarian, Democrat, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Green Party, or Independent, I am talking to you.

The current climate has been referred to as a “populist movement” as though it is something that has risen up by and for the people. I might believe that if what was being debated were issues related to how to best serve the people. But instead we are wearing our colors and spitting in the face of the other team simply because they are not part of our team. This is how we have been manipulated to relinquish our powers.

Once you have chosen a side and you are in your corner, you are then inundated with panic-inducing news stories about the evil intentions and actions of the other side and told it is up to you to fight for your rights. Meanwhile, you have bills to pay, friends to meet, family to care for. You’re just one person and the problems seem so overwhelming. You want to care. You do care. But all you can give is a moment to like a post or share an article. Is that enough?

No. No it is not.

You are a citizen of a country that at one time believed that as a citizen you have a responsibility to discuss and debate issues, to be informed and thoughtful about possible outcomes and to vote for leaders who will further your beliefs and you are to hold them accountable. We have an overwhelming amount of information at our finger tips which is both an opportunity and a threat to this idea of our democracy. On one hand we can be distracted by the nonsense of the shit show. On the other hand we can get focused on what really matters and easily find the information, resources and connections needed to push ideas forward.

Don’t Take Sides, Take Issue

The first step is to identify two or three issues that are most important to you. You do not have to take on every issue. You are only one person after all. But you are one person that is part of this vast puzzle of democracy, so you are needed. Figure out what your piece looks like. What are your issues that you are passionate about and that impact your life.

Most issues can be debated on the merits of the ideas and are party neutral. Take healthcare as an example. Most people, no matter the party, will agree that we should not let a person die because they do not have healthcare. This is a starting point for the conversation. Another starting point is to ask how will people be covered if the freelancing trend continues to grow. Currently about 1 in 3 people are freelancing and that trend continues to grow.

When you talk about issues, no insults and conspiracy theories are needed. You can stop reading them or responding to them or letting them take up your precious time. Just focus on your issues.

Hold Your Members of Congress Accountable

First, think locally, not nationally. When you think about how much needs to be done on a national level you will feel small and overwhelmed. But our political system is arranged so that it is our local members of congress that speak for us on a national level. Whether you voted for your members of congress or not, they are in a position to represent all the people, not just the people who voted for them. The next step is to know who they are and what their contact information is which you can find at http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com/

I have learned that it is more effective to call than to email your representative. You will most likely be leaving a message with a staff member, so write a script of exactly what you want your representative to know and do. Focus on key points and specific requests. Put their phone numbers in your phone and schedule time to call them once a week at least.

Why would they care about your call? Because election results are getting closer and closer and they know they need every vote they can get to be re-elected. Also, you are showing them that you are still focused on the issues you care about and not distracted by the current shit show.

Educate Yourself and Others

You are one of many, many people feeling frustrated and overwhelmed about the current political climate. When you see people giving up, help them get back in the game and get focused. Show them what is working and how to make an impact. Create a support group where you hold each other accountable for making your weekly calls.

Invite people of different ideologies to your home or coffee shops to discuss the issues you care about and listen to the different perspectives that are offered. Comment on discussion threads that seem to be respectful or start an online discussion and insist on respectful commentary with the right to delete comments that are hateful or off topic.

The one thing that helps me most during times like these is to study history and reflect on the many struggles this country has already prevailed through. Through the stories of other struggles I am reminded that one person makes a difference as a leader. One person increases the numbers of those at a protest. And each person shapes the world that we all get to live in.

This is still the United States of America. A country that we can be proud of, not because we have ever been great but because we continuously strive for greatness.

You can find me at www.sherryheyl.com

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