We can’t take democracy for granted

Racial and religious minorities depend upon the values of pluralism and the rule of law for our rights to be protected.

A voter fills in a ballot in the presidential primary election at the Summit View Church of the Nazarene, March 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(RNS) — If we take democracy for granted, we are going to lose it. This is the stark reality facing Americans — especially Americans who cherish their freedoms and the rule of law. 

Many of us take democracy for granted. I include myself in this. I was born and raised in the United States, and this is the only form of government that I have known. As a historian, I know other types of governance have existed in the past, and as an observer of the world, I know there are other models operating today. But even though I know about other forms of government intellectually, it’s hard to imagine living under anything other than the democracy I have always known.

This is a bias that many of us share, and it can lead to a dangerous assumption: that U.S. democracy will forever withstand challenges because it has done so in the past. We might assume this, yet at the same time, we know that is not how our world works. Human inventions change and evolve, and our system is not immune to that. 

We are witnessing today a global movement that casts doubt on democracies and casts ballots against them. We are also witnessing the fragility of our own American democracy. 

My support for democracy is not philosophical; it is rooted in the knowledge of what happens when democracies do not endure. Racial and religious minorities depend upon the values of pluralism and the rule of law for our rights to be protected. All of us who are interested in moving public policy forward depend upon a system that can withstand disagreements and compromises to serve the greater good. 

There are practical solutions to this existential crisis. For the values that we hold dear to endure, we must work to protect them. 

Where do we begin? How can we contribute? 

As Chris Crawford of Protect Democracy noted at the Parliament of the World’s Religions earlier this year, to defeat authoritarianism and protect democracy we “have to be able to bring together a broad coalition of people who might have big major disagreements on politics and policy but who are willing to come together to prioritize the defense of democracy.”

We can build such a coalition by focusing on a simple goal that unites people across the political spectrum: ensuring that every eligible American can vote in the upcoming election and ensuring a smoothly run election that is worthy of the trust of Americans. 

Elections are not run from Washington, D.C. Thousands of local jurisdictions rely upon millions of everyday people to manage our voting system. Across these jurisdictions, faith communities often step up to serve their communities in times of need. We must recognize that the 2024 election is a moment of great need for all of our communities. And we must step up and serve. 

I have been inspired for what empowered faith communities could do by many of my friends working at the intersection of religion and civic engagement. Faith-based organizations can play a central role in voter engagement and can find ways to serve our election system that fit their values, their skill sets and the specific needs of their communities. 

This could include volunteering as poll workers, helping to ensure there are enough polling locations, helping facilitate a positive voting experience by providing a peaceful presence and building relationships with local election officials.

One helpful resource I’d recommend to clergy and other faith leaders seeking to engage their organizations is The Faith in Elections Playbook, recently created by Interfaith America and Protect Democracy. The Playbook provides a menu of options for faith communities to support the 2024 election and includes how-to guides, sample emails and checklists to make these activities as easy and accessible as possible. 

For some organizations, these activities will be the baseline for their nonpartisan activities around the 2024 elections. For others, taking on even one of these items will be a new and exciting challenge. This moment requires all of us to find the ways that we are called to ensure the preservation and continuation of our democracy. 

We must be committed to justice for all and to fight for democracy. The question before us is how we begin. This important new resource can serve as a starting point for this vital work. 

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