We have work to do.
CFO & Co-founder
November 6, 2020
As I’m writing this, it seems likely that we will survive an autocratic attempt by a sitting president. That’s great news, and we should celebrate it. But there’s work to do. As insidious and omnipresent as Donald Trump has been in our lives over the past four years, he is not the cause of our society’s problems. When a new president takes office in January, those structural infirmities will still exist. Many of us will be tempted to return to a semblance of normalcy, to consider the last four years as an anomalous, temporary hell that we luckily escaped. Still, unless we seal the structural cracks that gave us an incompetent, wanna-be autocrat, we leave an opening for a competent one.
So let’s get to work. Structural problems require structural solutions that can’t be achieved by a presidential stroke of the pen. As I’m writing, Joe Biden is ahead by 4 million votes nationwide — and the election feels close because we cling to the electoral college, an anachronistic institution designed to retain power for the (at the time) slave holding elite. A constitutional amendment to elect the president directly by popular vote would solve the obvious problem with electing the candidate that received fewer votes (as we have twice since 2000). It would also solve an indirect problem: that campaigns for president must focus on a handful of voters in select competitive states to win. Constitutional amendments are hard, but not impossible; we ratified the 27th in 1992 after renewed interest spurred by an undergraduate at the University of Texas.
While we’re amending the constitution, we should revisit the 13th amendment. The abolishing slavery part? Great. The exception "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”? That’s still fucking slavery. Not only is it abhorrent in and of itself, it creates incentives for the state to incarcerate more people. And since our prison system has been largely privatized, some judges have gone above and beyond, profiting personally from it. Egregious cases have been punished, but the incentive structure remains.
Constitutional amendments are long term endeavors, but there are more immediate goals to reach for. If your city is anything like mine (Los Angeles), it spends an inordinate amount of money on police departments, which respond to everything from actual crimes to people having mental health episodes. If you think there’s a better way to respond to most emergencies than armed police trained for a few months to be a paramilitary presence, there are candidates running for local office with better ideas. If those candidates don’t exist in your city, you can do something about that too.
When election season is over, there’s still work to be done. Black Lives Matter showed us how the hard work of organizing and the consistent drumbeat of public action changes public opinion. The policy ramifications of that opinion shift will be slower, but at least in Los Angeles, we’re already seeing results.
These four examples don’t scratch the surface of structural issues we face. From local action all the way to constitutional amendments, there’s plenty of work to do, and that’s because democracy is hard. It requires vigilant citizens, focused on the actions of the people to whom we delegate power. It requires us to seek out facts and patterns and causal chains to figure out what’s really affecting our communities. It requires empathy for members of those communities whose voices have been muffled by malefactors or by circumstance. Luckily, there are lots of us, and we don’t need to overwhelm ourselves as individual champions of every single fight. Democracy doesn’t rely on heroes, it relies on citizens doing the work they can handle.
Part of being a patriotic American in 2020 is recognizing that the high-minded ideals of our founding haven’t yet been implemented in practice. “All men are created equal” was written by a dude that owned other men. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has been opposed in every era by fearful racists that comprise a higher percentage of the population than we’d like to admit. A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has always defined “the people” narrowly to exclude huge swaths of Americans. We can choose to see the discrepancy between our best ideals and our historical actions as a cause for despair or a call to action. I choose the latter.