Thomas Jefferson, reflecting on a nation’s best hope for the future, once remarked that its greatest defense is an educated citizenry. Today, as the United States faces tremendous and unprecedented challenges, these words remain just as salient now as they did two hundred years ago. The effects of the actions we take today will be long-lasting. Our best hope for a more just future lies in the hands of an informed and engaged citizenry at the polls.
America is headed down a perilous path. Our top elected officials have ceased to represent the people, instead choosing to spread lies, sow fear and division, and slowly but deliberately chip away at our democratic institutions to hold onto power. Millions are struggling to survive as the cost of living continues to grow disproportionately higher than wages, while people are dying or going bankrupt due to the highly inflated costs of medical treatment. Economic elites and interest groups have become so deeply entrenched in the legislative process that they are undermining democracy and enriching themselves at the remarkable expense of the people and planet. Voter suppression efforts and actions are shamefully rampant, as our leaders have all but abandoned the words and spirit of the Constitution. Our children are being massacred at school, while gun violence devastates and terrorizes our communities. Systemic racism continues to poison our institutions and minds. Police brutality and an oppressive criminal justice system are ravaging and destroying countless black and brown lives. Our Earth is on the path to becoming uninhabitable by the end of the century, yet no meaningful action is being taken. Dangerous conspiracies that prey on the ignorant have swept the nation, claiming lives and further undermining the pillars of our democracy.
Challenges like these test the strength of our representatives. Good leaders rise to challenges and bear the problems they are faced with with integrity and courage. But today, ignorance, hatred, greed, apathy, and tribal self-certitude have resulted in a dangerous trend of inaction and dysfunction on Capitol Hill. The courage, commitment, foresight, and sense of higher purpose needed to solve this country’s problems are all but absent in far too many leaders. Rather than work towards solving our country’s biggest challenges, these representatives seem to have instead become their main perpetrators.
This is unsustainable. A people cannot survive and prosper when their representatives have no respect for their dignity or are unwilling to acknowledge basic truths and uphold their duties. We cannot afford for our leaders to continue to be indifferent to, or contemptuous of, the suffering of their constituents and the constitutional rights of their citizens, to spew out lies and hatred for their own personal gain, or to sell out to private interests whose agendas enrich themselves at the expense of millions.
In the face of such threats to our people, our democracy, and our planet, there is too much at stake to allow ignorance, hatred or apathy to dictate our decisions at the polls. We cannot evaluate candidates only through a narrow and shortsighted lens tainted by ignorance, appeals to fear, and the shameful decrees of spineless politicians. As we are faced with the challenge of sustaining momentum and enacting real change, we need now, more than ever, honest and courageous leaders with a commitment to progress, not the opposite.
As voters, we hold the power to change the course of history. We must evaluate candidates with a critical lens, and we must stay engaged in the electoral process. When faced with the injustices that permeate our political systems at the most deep seated-levels, it is imperative we vote in midterm and local elections. Turnout for these elections is extremely low, often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes — yet, city, county, state elections, and midterm congressional races have among the greatest impact on our everyday lives and potential for real, systemic change. This moment in our history can be a turning point, but only if we allow it to be.
For all the flaws and evils it is capable of, the United States remains equally capable of good. Our history has taught us that we have the potential for immense destruction, and also for progression and compassion. We can either continue on the path we’re on now and watch our country self-destruct and our people suffer, or we can elect leaders who will fight for a future for all and who will bring out the best, not the darkest, parts of ourselves. The choice lies with the American people at elections, no matter how seemingly small.