September 27th, 2019
Civic activism should be extended beyond voting
MON. | 01-18-21 | OPINION
Throughout the 2020 Presidential Election, Democrats pushed the narrative that voting out President Donald Trump was the end-all, be-all to solving the issues (COVID-19, immigration reform, climate change, police brutality, etc.) the United States is facing. Many Democratic candidates during the primaries even had their main goal as “defeat[ing] Donald Trump,” which was referenced throughout multiple debates.
In tandem with the idea of beating Trump, Democrats engaged in a massive get-out-the-vote movement. As vocal as I am about getting-out-the-vote — which is by all means crucial — I hate the idea that voting alone will save the United States.
Many moderate Democrats have been embracing that once Trump is out of office,
Graphic by Lexi Karaivanova
things can return to normal. There is even a niche group of people that believe “If Hillary Clinton were president we’d all be at brunch right now,” as seen throughout Twitter. But what is the “before” that these individuals are referring to? As far as I am concerned, police brutality, climate change and children being locked in cages at the border did not begin under the Trump administration — the very issues Democrats claim to be devoted to fighting have been allowed to continue under their watch when voters do not hold them accountable. To an extent, the “return to normal” that Democrats are touting reeks of the same underlying privilege that “Make America Great Again” has.
On the ladder to true change, voting is only the first step and it is, quite frankly, the bare minimum in terms of civic duty. If there are at most four elections in any given year, what is being done the rest of the year? Once votes have been casted in a primary, general, run-off or special election, is that it? When we become unhappy with ineffective and sellout politicians, do we just wait until their term is over to vote them out? Voting means nothing without accountability and activism by the people, for the people.
The First Amendment ensures our right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” thus keeping us in mind at every step of the legislative, judicial, or executive process. Judge Stephen Higginson provides a colonial example of the right to petition being effectively used: in 1713, Connecticut ceded a few towns to Massachusetts during border disputes, but the towns were not consulted. As those in the seceded towns grew displeased with the higher taxes in Massachusetts and petitioned to re-join Connecticut. Connecticut ignored its agreement with Massachusetts and received the petitioning towns. Those in the seceded towns did not just wait for the next election to cast a ballot to fix their circumstances, especially since they technically could no longer vote in Connecticut.
Similarly, disenfranchised voters throughout U.S. history have opted for activist movements to create change instead of expecting an unmotivated Congress to do it. As the father of the civil rights movement, Frederick Douglass, once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Think of it like this: we are dating Congress, and Congress just happens to be that significant other that needs you to spell out everything for them because they are inattentive and unable to read minds.
From the abolition and suffragist work of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Well in the late 1800s & early 1900s to the recent anti-voter suppression work of Stacey Abrams in Georgia — activism has pressured politicians and led to the expansion of Black rights. In the case of Abrams’ work in Georgia, activism drastically increased the number of registered and well-informed Black voters.
For those that are unable to vote, whether through de jure (legal) or de facto disenfranchisement, activism is far more accessible and even effective. The rise of youth activism, and the notoriety surrounding it, is evidence of the political power available outside of the voting booths. Take for instance seventeen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg; the activism of Thunberg and other youth protestors reinvigorated the United Kingdom’s desire to actively fight climate change back in 2019. In the United States, climate activists such as Thunberg and Isra Hirshi (co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and daughter of Representative Ilhan Omar) have been able to pressure politicians of all ideologies to at least pay attention.
Despite Thunberg and Hirshi not being old enough to vote, they have been able to impart their political will on politicians. If the decisions made by those in power will linger and affect us — the youth — for years to come, why should we delay our political involvement? Voting is simply not enough.
Activism and holding representatives accountable can be done year-round, while voting is limited to just a few days out of the entire year. We should not limit the political impact we have to only the time in polling booths. There are a multitude of methods to ensure a representative democracy, and voting is just the first step.
To find the contact information for elected officials, check out usa.gov/elected-officials or democracy.io. For guidance on what to include when writing to or calling your elected officials, click this link.