It is unprecedented. The Jan. 6 committee has laid out in compelling testimony the many ways in which former President Donald Trump and his allies sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election and how close we came to losing our constitutional democracy. But, as Maryland U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin put it, what’s most important now is “what all of us will do to fortify our democracy against coups, political violence and campaigns to steal elections away from the people.”

Calls to vote simply aren’t enough for the many Americans who don’t believe their votes matter. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer, File

At the League of Women Voters of Maine, we’ve heard from a lot of people who feel powerless, overwhelmed, scared and demoralized by the events of the last few months. It’s understandable: mass shootings, relentless attacks on voting rights and civil rights in the states, and Supreme Court decisions at odds with the will of a majority of voters, most distressingly in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Add to this soaring inflation, the pandemic and relentlessly advancing climate change.

Where can one individual even begin to make a difference? 

According to Ian Bassin and Justin Florence, co-founders of the nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog Protect Democracy, countries that fall into authoritarianism share certain traits: the politicizing of independent institutions, the spreading of disinformation, the quashing of dissent, the delegitimization of communities and the corruption of elections. With this knowledge of history, we must see attacks on the free press, the demonization of minorities and marginalized groups, the politicization of the courts, and the normalization of violence and mass shootings, not only as evils in and of themselves but also as part of the authoritarian playbook. 

What can we do? We can make a difference when we pay attention and call out problems. We can make a difference when we support independent journalism, stand up for immigrants and LGBTQ people and share accurate information in our communities.

This means asking Americans to shore up institutions at a time when trust in those institutions is at historic lows. In a recent Pew survey, the vast majority of Americans (85 percent) said that the U.S. political system either needed major changes (43 percent) or needed to be completely reformed (42 percent). Among U.S. adults in favor of significant political reform, 58 percent said they were not confident the system can change.


Calls to vote simply aren’t enough for the many Americans who don’t believe their votes matter. The painful truth is that sometimes they don’t matter as much as they should. We can name the reasons: the Electoral College, gerrymandering and the influence of money in politics among them, all of which have roots in racism and are made worse by rising inequality. 

But we can’t give up. With the current crisis still playing out, we can no longer put off fixing the root causes of our democratic decline. We must strengthen our democratic institutions or lose them. This work is urgent, and it is the work of generations. No one can tackle it all, and no one is off the hook. 

Here are some ideas. Volunteer as a poll worker or as an election observer. Learn about how elections work in your community and spread accurate information in your networks. Support good journalism: subscribe to as much of it as you can afford. Volunteer or give money to organizations that are mobilizing voters, especially those who face greater barriers to engagement. Join an organization that is mobilizing around an issue that you care about, whatever that issue is. And keep doing the hard work to undo structural racism in all parts of our society. 

None of us can save democracy on our own, but together, we are the only people who can.

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