From the community | it can happen here

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Thomas Ehrlich is an adjunct professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

“It Can’t Happen Here”, published in 1935, shortly after Hitler became German Chancellor, is the story of a ruthless dictator elected President of the United States on the basis of traditional American values, as well as reforms spectacular social and economic. He quickly seized all the levers of government power, supported by his own paramilitary forces. The novel was written by Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the time, it was considered a dystopian fantasy. But as Hitler quickly took full control of the German government, the book became a wake-up call to protect American democracy.

Today, Ukrainian President Zelensky is a wake-up call for nations around the world to protect their democracies and is a role model for defending the freedoms that democracy provides. But unlike Ukraine, American democracy does not face its danger from another nation. Our democracy is threatened from within.

Abraham Lincoln predicted this could happen in an 1838 speech when he said, “If destruction is our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through time or die by suicide.

On January 6, 2021, an insurgency sought to overthrow our democracy, followed by 147 members of Congress voting to overturn the results of the presidential election. Our democracy escaped destruction, but it was very close. It is up to us — to all of us — not to let our democracy die by suicide. I wish that was hyperbole, but it’s not.

What can each of us do? It’s tempting to think, “Not much: I’m just an American – how can I help save our democracy? But we can do a lot. And if we don’t, the level of destruction is certain to increase.

Our democracy is fragile and in critical need of strengthening in four key areas:

  • First, protect the right to vote.
  • Second, stop the gerrymandering of congressional districts.
  • Third, limit the influence of money in political campaigns.
  • And fourth, reverse the political polarization that has crippled the ability of our country and many states to enact sound public policies supported by the majority of voters.

I encourage you to consider these four clusters of issues in terms of what is actually happening – or not happening – in your own state. It can be tempting to focus only on the domestic scene, and that scene is important. But most of the action in these arenas takes place in the states, just as was the case when the Supreme Court recognized the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry: two-thirds of the states had already done so. Choose a problem and find a way to help.

It should be easy to vote. But the sad reality is that it has become much more difficult in many states. In Texas, for example, legislation passed last year prohibits counties from allowing 24-hour voting, prohibits drive-thru voting, makes it much more difficult to vote by mail and imposes other severe restrictions on the right to vote. vote. Florida, Georgia and other states have adopted similar limitations.

You can volunteer your time, money, or both to an organization to help defeat these restrictions before they are passed by your state and overturn them when they are already in effect. Rock the Vote, a leader in the fight against voter suppression, has many ways to help.

Gerrymandering distorted our elections and deprived millions of people of a fair say in who will represent them. The parties in power can ensure that they stay in power by strategically drawing the lines of congressional districts. Nonpartisan state commissions are an effective way to prevent such partisan action, and seven states have taken this approach. Consider volunteering for All On the Line, one of the organizations working to eliminate gerrymandering.

Common Cause is a national organization working to control the dangerous impact of money in the campaign. Unlimited money spent on elections has a corrupting influence. Common Cause was founded by John W. Gardner, a Stanford graduate and administrator, and a Republican who served in the Democratic administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. Make calls, write postcards and help get the vote.

Political polarization paralyzes our country’s ability to adopt the necessary public policies. A corrective would be the passage to the preferential vote, already adopted in Maine, Alaska and in certain cities. This reform can curb the power of a vocal minority to win elections over a moderate minority. The current win-win approach is skewed towards extremes on both sides. Preferential voting does the opposite. Fairvote.org is dedicated to promoting ranked voting; ask how you can help.

With freedom comes responsibility. As has often been said, “democracy is not a spectator sport”. We all have both the opportunity and the obligation to engage in the protection and strengthening of our democracy.

My college, Professor Samuel Huntington, concluded one of his books with these words: “Critics say America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it’s a disappointment. But this can only be a disappointment because it is also a hope.

There is hope for our democracy. But only if each of us is an active participant.

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