Image: Wooden Ballot Box, c. 1870. By National Museum of American History [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Vote. Nothing you do matters nearly as much as this one thing. Vote in ALL elections, from the very big to the very small. The smaller the election the more your vote counts. The larger the election the larger the stakes. Either way, it’s important.
- Register others to vote. The more of us vote, the more fair our democracy can be. Volunteer to sign up others to vote. Check with the League of Women Voters for opportunities to carry out this democratic deed.
- Learn before you vote. Where do the candidates for dog-catcher stand on the issues where their opinions count? To whom are they beholden? What experience or training do they bring to the job? Watch for smokescreens, like the potential dog-catcher who wants to tell you what they’ll do about school vouchers, (They can’t do anything about school vouchers.) Notice who endorses them, and who doesn’t.
- Don’t spread rumors. The difference between “news” and “rumor” is the sourcing. “Jones Kicks Kittens!” is a headline. “According to whom” are the sources. If a story isn’t adequately sourced, it’s a rumor, nothing more. Don’t be one of those people who passes around rumors online. Link to stories from reputable journalists who care about and list their sources.
- Support reputable journalism. Subscribe to publications that adhere to journalistic ethics: they get multiple sources for stories, they admit it and retract when they are wrong, and their stories come not straight from a journalist, but have to pass by an editor. I have digital subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the East Bay Times (my local paper, formerly the Oakland Tribune.) Yes, that’s a lot. No, I don’t read it all every day. My subscriptions support an important part of our democracy even when I don’t have time to read the papers.
- Treat biased news coverage as what it is: junk food. Everyone knows that Fox tilts right and MSNBC tilts left. It’s pleasant to listen to people who share our biases and instincts. However, news reported along with snarky comments or opinionated discussion is not really news – it’s opinion. Make sure that you spend at least as much time with news sources that report facts and keep opinions in the opinion section.
- Communicate with your elected officials. They work for us. How will they know what we think if we don’t tell them? Phone calls are good. Emails are good. Postcards are good. Letters in envelopes get delayed by security screenings. If something is really heavy on your heart, go see them or their aides at their local offices. Politicians pay attention to people who are willing to show up.
- Attend the functioning of local government. Have you ever been to a city council meeting or a school board meeting? It is a highly educational activity (and sometimes good theater, too.) See how your government actually works – then go home and communicate with those elected officials! Let them know that you are watching and paying attention. Let them see you watching at least occasionally.
Can you think of other ways to support democracy in your home country or state? Please share them in the comments!