Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Voting is one of the things that make a democracy, fair and free elections evoke visions of what America stands for. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness aren’t just words; they are what we do every day. But being an American citizen does not stop at voting.

Democracy is not a passive activity that just happens while you go about your life. We have been leaving the highest level of decisions in the hands of our representatives, and when we do not hold them accountable with our voices, we have little control.  Today, there are politicians that have become complacent in their jobs without being challenged by the electorate. That electorate that is you and me.

The people we elect are supposed to represent us. Do you feel like your needs are being addressed? Do you think that the elected officials are making decisions on your behalf, that they understand what you want?  Have you ever been contacted by your representative and asked how you would want them to vote on a piece of legislation? I am sure that hasn’t happened.

How can you make your voice heard? How can you make sure that you are exercising your democratic right?  There are a number of ways to influence local politics. Being a busy college student doesn’t leave a lot of room to save democracy, but with an hour or two, a busy college student can make a real impact in a close race.  You can make an impact. You can help, not by giving money, but by giving your time.

Canvassing is the most direct way to engage in your civic right and make an impact. Things like phone banking and text banking can be done from anywhere, as long as you have a phone and computer with internet access. That isn’t slacktivism, it’s something that you can do from your sofa that actually has a direct impact in your community.

I am sure everyone has seen social media rants about politics, people that are outraged at the current political climate voice their disdain and shout into the void.  Internet comments only go so far. Real change comes from civic engagement. That is how you exercise democracy. Real conversations with people of every political party, because we are all on the same side.  We are all in America and we are all a part of the 99%.

“Being a busy college student doesn’t leave a lot of room to save democracy, but with an hour or two, a busy college student can make a real impact in a close race.”

We do not have to be divided, we can find common ground and still disagree on issues.  A healthy discussion with opposing viewpoints is beneficial to cognitive growth. It employs critical thinking and empathy, which are two things that have fallen to the wayside these last few decades. It’s called civil discourse.

You can engage in civics and civil discourse right here and right now.  There is a district nearby that has been ignored and written off by the political establishment, as well as by its own representative. The 42nd district does not include our UCR campus, but it is a part of Riverside.  The neighboring Congressional districts can have positive impacts on each other, and it isn’t a far leap to suggest that helping in a district that you don’t reside in can be beneficial to all the people living nearby.  You can have an impact as a student, as a voter, as a person that lives in this community you can make an actual difference.

The issues you care about go beyond political party and to the heart of who we are as a nation. A government “of the people, by the people and for the people” does not ignore the people; yet the current representative for the 42nd district has remained absent and often outright antagonistic toward his own constituents.

I urge everyone who wants to be civically engaged to try helping Julia Peacock. She is running against the incumbent in the 42nd district. It’s a small way to have a large impact and have a conversation with voters. Reach out to your fellow American voter and talk about things that are important – restore faith in the system and become engaged with your democratic right.  

The majority of Congress is made up of millionaires like Julia’s opponent. Is it any wonder that they’ve consistently voted for policies that serve the wealthy, at the expense of middle-class and struggling Americans? Julia’s campaign is not trying to change people’s minds, they are merely saying that there are options other than politicians that make decisions based on how it enriches them and their donors. We can support an educator that is trying to represent all voters.

As you read this, you should know that you belong to the group (gen X, millennial, and post millennial) that makes up almost 60% of the electorate; you can have a tremendous impact on who is elected to represent all of us. When we stay home, the status quo wins. Take back representation and put it in the hands of the people that care about what happens to us.

Editor’s Note: Kristin Southall is a Canvassing Director for Congressional Candidate (CA-42) Julia Peacock’s Campaign