Strengthening Our Democracy Now

Strengthening Our DemocracyPromoting democracy, that's a phrase that until recently seemed alien to our political culture. Pro-democracy demonstrators fight for political freedom against autocrats and dictators all over the world. As a term, it fits naturally for Egypt, for the Arab Spring, for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, all of this sounds natural. But in America? Really?

During the Trump impeachment hearings, one of the quotes most often used was from Benjamin Franklin. As he was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone shouted out, "What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" To which Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it." Thomas Jefferson, who had a flair for the dramatic, expressed a related sentiment by declaring, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

This wisdom is as true today as it was then. Unless we actively resist the tyrants amongst us, we really could lose our democracy. The articles below provide a bit of context for the struggle we must wage.

Why Democracy: For 2024 & Beyond

If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, fail to retake the House, and lose the Presidency in 2024, Republicans are certain to use their power to reverse everything the Democrats have accomplished under President Biden. Policies would be weakened and programs underway to address our most pressing problems would be greatly scaled back or defunded altogether. How far Republicans would go depends mostly on how much power they had gained. In the worst case, if Republicans in the current mold were to take both houses and the Presidency in 2024, it is impossible to predict when rationality might return to the United States government. More >>

Our Democracy is a Neglected Commons

Healing our democracy is the common thread that runs through all the many different pathways leading to a future we could look forward to and be happy to bequeath to our children. But for decades now we've been treating our democracy a lot like we've been treating our roads, bridges, and water lines - with gross and willful neglect. Think of our democracy as a commons. Our democratic commons consists first and foremost of a set of shared beliefs and values. More >>

The Spirit of Liberty & Democracy

No matter how much we improve the functioning of our democratic system, we will fall far short of what we need unless we also restore the spirit of democracy. There is a growing recognition that tribalism, hostility, and vilification must be unwound if we are to move forward together as a country. We must learn to honor and respect each other again, or we will fail as a nation. If we fail, the tragedy would not be an isolated episode, but instead an ongoing and worsening condition, worse for our children than for us, and worse for their children than for them. More >>

Our Stake in Strengthening Democracy

Our democracy isn't working very well. Depending on how you look at it, you could say it isn't working in the ways that matter most. In a working democracy, the citizens would not be moving ever further into hostile camps that view each other as evil. In a working democracy, the government would address our most urgent needs and look out for our long-term safety and security. Because hostility is growing, our democracy is struggling to hang onto even the most minimal level of public trust and confidence. More >>

Needed: A Well-Functioning Democracy

Without a well-functioning democracy, we will be unable to cope with rapidly mounting challenges. At the same time, a dysfunctional democracy will be unable to recognize and grasp opportunities. Trapped inside our broken system, we face mounting problems, significant although often unrecognized opportunities, and all of it made much more difficult by the ever accelerating and unrelenting pace of change, change that unmoors and disorients even as it delivers a rush of thrills and a plethora of wild promises. If we fail to establish a well-functioning democracy, the most likely future is that we will simply be overwhelmed, overcome by a complex, ever-evolving, boiling witches' brew of unsolved problems and missed opportunities. More >>

Making Democracy Work: A "Wicked" Problem

The mess we are in has many roots, many causes operating over a long period. The nature of our current situation is difficult to describe with any rigor. Pretty much nobody really understands where we are exactly, how we got here, and, most critically, how we can move ourselves to a better place. A "wicked" problem is a problem whose social complexity means that because of interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of the problem may reveal or create other problems. More >>

Saving Democracy: An Overview of Reforms

It is widely understood that what comes out of the results end of this Rube Goldberg sausage-making monstrosity we call democracy and government often bears little resemblance to the voters' and taxpayers' intentions and expectations on the input side. Because the results also so often bear little resemblance to the promises of dissembling politicians, the disappointment, cynicism and bitterness of voters grows. As a consequence, it should come as no surprise that so many don't even bother to vote. More >>

A Massive Reform Movement is Building

The table is set for growth of the pro-democracy movement. If advocates actively push a pro-democracy agenda, resistance to our self-evidently fair and reasonable demands will diminish and some important reforms may become very achievable. A sufficiently aroused and engaged public would be, in fact, exactly what pro-democracy advocates claim. Virtually unstoppable. Advocates are working to engage a broad political base. It is now apparent that at least 60 percent of all voters support pro-democracy reforms. More >>

Policies to Expand Our Electoral Base

Success in and for our democracy in the 2020s requires a real improvement in both present conditions and future prospects for our citizens. It also requires that we pass the test of basic adequacy on issues where part way isn't good enough, like avoiding nuclear war and stopping climate change. To succeed, we must restore functionality to our democracy and to our institutions. This means restoring the ability to distinguish facts from falsehoods, the ability to focus our attention on the most important things, and vitally, the ability to sustain a coherent agenda over decades. Tacking back and forth with every shift in political control would take us ever deeper into failure. More >>

Many Ways to Be a Pro-Democracy Activist

So many things need doing to restore our democracy, the problem lots of people encounter is too many choices. It's like one of those restaurants where it would take you a good half-hour just to really look at the menu, and you must fight down the impulse to order the first remotely appealing thing you run across. Long-term engagement is what we need from citizen activists, but to sustain a long-term effort, attention must be paid to what is emotionally and practically sustainable. More >>

An Ambitious Strategy for Success

Because strengthening democracy is a "wicked" problem, our approach will need dozens of active parts. Registering voters, fighting gerrymandered districts, restoring civics and U.S. history education, pressuring local news outlets to do a better job, going door-to-door educating voters, the list can seem endless. There are so many useful things we could do, for many people the hardest part will be deciding which to do first and where to put the most effort. Your choices will depend on local circumstances, on finding the best opportunities to make progress in your community. More >>

Making Your Efforts Count the Most

Everyone has limits on their time. You can ensure your efforts will have the greatest impact by making thoughtful choices. Roles you play often bring distinctive opportunities (business owner, public manager, parent, teacher, club or organization member, nurse, doctor, lawyer, minister, church member, therapist, firefighter, journalist, advertiser, and many others). To spot opportunities, use your imagination. There may be obvious steps that could easily win broad support. Community problems in the recent past may open opportunities. This article offers suggestions for how you can consider your skills, roles, preferences, and community to pick things that will have the most impact. More >>

Why It is Essential to Support Activists

With Republicans doing everything in their power to suppress the vote and to otherwise stack the deck against Democratic candidates and areas, the elections of 2024 are likely to be much closer than they would be if the playing field were level. That makes it vitally important to turn out every vote we can, and the role of pro-democracy voting activists and groups is key because they can turn out "low propensity voters." Without them, these potential voters could be left disengaged – and we may very well need them to win. More >>

Strengthening Our Democracy Resources

Every voting activist wants to be as effective as possible. Register as many voters as possible. Get as many people to vote as possible. Some pretty smart folks have been looking at what has been done to increase registration and turnout in the past, and they have quite a bit to tell us about what we can do to be more effective, to get better results, to produce more new voters for our efforts. You can start at the Strengthening Democracy Resources Home, or visit the subsections directly: organizations, turnout resources, videos, books, and articles included to help activists do exactly that.

Published: August 2019
Revised: July 2023