We, the People
By Magdalen Andreoni
“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness”
–Declaration of Independence, 1776
Patriotism is hard to miss this month as we celebrate the birth of the United States of America. The fourth of July has come to represent a day of fireworks, family and wearing as much red, white, and blue as possible. Many get the day off to relax and enjoy the festivities, making it easy to forget that the Declaration of Independence was the beginning of an experiment, one that has been a long, hard-fought, and sometimes inconsistent road towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
This great nation was not built by one or two men, but by the collective voices of many people, of all colors and creeds. Much has changed in the 241 years since the United States’ birth, but this experiment in self-government, although it doesn’t always live up to its own highest ideals, perseveres. Civic Engagement is the cornerstone of progress as the will of the people not only shapes policy, but ensures that good policy remain in place. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formally food stamps) is under attack, fueled by pervasive myths and misconceptions. Numbers and statistics can be numbing in the age of information, whereas personal stories can illuminate the importance of these crucial government programs.
Democracy depends on our constant vigilance and civic engagement, beyond the role of occasional voter. As one voice amidst the swelling current of information and opinion, it feels like it is easy to get lost in the clatter. Screaming to be heard over the din solves nothing, if we don’t take a moment to listen. Each side merely increasing the volume and vitriol to the point of drowning out all agendas creates chaos. This chaos blinds us to the changing policies through distracted petty bickering.
We have to reimagine what it means to be a citizen, and more often than not, we are the change we’re seeking. Or at least raising our voices is the first step. Even in these times of stagnated partisan politics, I refuse to believe that the world is as fractured and broken as our politics sometimes portrays. If the festivities of the 4th of July are any indication of the love and pride for America, then there is hope for change, and plenty of patriotism to go around.
It is our participation in our communities that amplifies our voice, strengthen our resolves and inspires us to keep fighting for our values. We are at local schools, community centers, non-profits, farmers’ markets, and churches. This participation is more urgent than ever with the release of the 2018 federal budget and proposed health care bill, gutting vital community services for the elderly, children, and the poor.
We blame the system, but we have the power to change it.
There are plenty of ways to become involved and there’s no wrong way to get started.
- Learn who all your elected officials are and what they stand for.
- Vote in each and every election, in both primaries and general elections
- Call, e-mail, and send snail mail, or visit, your elected officials to lobby them on an issue that matters to you.
- Join with a civic, political, business, professional, or political group to ask for a direct meeting with each of your elected officials.
- Volunteer on political campaigns.
- Attend town meetings held by your elected officials and give them a piece—or a bunch of pieces—of your mind.
- Call into talk radio shows (even right-wing ones) or C-SPAN call-in programs.
- Send letters to the editor of your local newspaper.
- Attend peaceful, productive protests.
- Donate to, or volunteer with, excellent, proven advocacy organizations (such as Hunger Free America, hint, hint).
- Tweet (or re-tweet) or post (or re-post) your opinions and those of people you agree with, in a fact-based, respectful manner.
- Suggest that your book club read a book or two on politics. (Hint, hint: America, We Need to Talk: A Self-Help Book for the Nation by Joel Berg)
Here are some resources I’ve taken advantage of lately:
- Presidential elections may get most of the attention, but local and state races are equally as important. To find out your voter registration status and information about upcoming elections visit: http://www.vote411.org/
Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) in October of 2006, VOTE411.org is a "one-stop-shop" for election related information. It provides nonpartisan information to the public with both general and state-specific information on the following aspects of the election process. VOTE411.org will also help you find your polling location.
- For New York City Residents, learn who your current representatives are at: http://www.mygovnyc.org/
New York City will hold regular elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, and all 51 seats on the city council in 2017. Partisan primaries are scheduled for September 12, 2017, and the general election will be held on November 7, 2017.
So, as we celebrate our national pride this month, let’s all remember that there’s always more work to be done year-round.