2017 Wakeup Call

Guest post by Michael Cardwell

It was hard to avoid the inauguration yesterday. If you’ve been avoiding it, or if you feel that knot of frustration in your stomach when it comes up, this article is for you. If you’ve felt demoralized since November 8, 2016, I am writing to you. I believe – like Dr. King – that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. But it doesn’t bend inevitably. It bends because people fight for what is right.

Women's March in Washington D.C., January 21, 2017. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Women's March in Washington D.C., January 21, 2017. Photo by Ted Eytan.

I know many of you fear for the future. I see the posts and articles about how 2016 sucked and 2017 will be worse. Don’t let your disgust with our system drive you to opt out. Instead, get involved. If you don’t become an actor, you’ll never be a factor. The women’s march today is a nice start – and it’s effective for expressing grievances and for bringing activists together. But protests aren’t sufficient to effect change. After all, you may notice that Donald Trump just took the oath of office as our 45th president.

The real opportunity for improvement lies in those who didn’t vote in the election. I’m looking at you Colin Kaepernick, Mike Evans, and over half the people arrested at post-election Portland protests. In political science we often call politics the “decision-making process of who gets what, when and where.” In our representative democracy, the people only have direct political power during elections, referendums and recalls in states that have them. The rest of the time, elected officials make the decisions. Of course the people can peacefully protest to affect their politicians and the political agenda, but if you neither voted for nor against them, you have no leverage against them. So if you didn’t vote in 2016, make the pledge: “I will vote in 2018.” If your friends didn’t vote in 2016, encourage them to pledge, too.

But an effective system requires more from citizens than simply casting a ballot. Unfortunately, campaigning and governing require a complex coordination of people and money. In many ways our parties have failed to empower the average person – but too few people are meeting parties halfway. The average person doesn’t attend party meetings or participate in primaries. The result of this lack of participation: “Just 14 percent of eligible adults – 9 percent of the whole nation – voted for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton” in the primaries.

If more people participate, the Democratic Party will be a better party: closer to the people, more responsive, and more powerful. So get involved with your local Democratic party. If you had beef with our candidates we had this year, getting involved with your local party is the best way to make your voice heard before the primary election. And, if you’re a young adult in the Hillsborough County area, I cordially invite you to come out to a Young Democrats meeting. You may discover some local or state issues that have a bigger impact on your life than the president does. That being said, there is a lot of work to do to prepare for 2018.

Join us on Tuesday, February 21 at Cowork Ybor for our monthly meeting. You can join our fieldwork team, our events team, or our research team. Or you can grab a drink after the meeting and chat. Whatever you do, come take up the fight and help bend the moral arc back towards justice.