What Must We Shed to Build the Democracy and World We Deserve?

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Fall is here! Temperatures have dropped, leaves are turning, the days are getting darker, and everything is pumpkin flavored (PS, I am not a fan). Fall represents a time of shedding, reflection, and balance, where we harvest what blossomed in the spring and grew in the summer. 

It has been hard to find balance these days with everything happening in the world. I know I have felt lost and helpless. These words from magical realism author Isabel Allende are providing me comfort: “We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.” We are being stretched and tested beyond our limits right now, but I know we have the strength to persevere.

Fall also means it is GOTV and election season. 

Only four states (Colorado, Maine, Ohio and Washington) allow for statewide citizen-led initiatives during odd numbered years which means less issues on the ballot in 2023. States may have municipal or county measures and state legislatures can refer measures to the ballot. With less initiatives on the ballot, states that do have issues on the ballot this year have the potential to set the stage for 2024.

Maine voters will decide whether to prevent foreign spending in elections, give local control to electric utilities, and tribal sovereignty. Coloradans have the opportunity to increase funding to public education and Cleveland, Ohio will vote on a participatory budgeting process. 

All eyes are on Ohio as voters are set to decide whether to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitution on November 7.  In August, Ohio voters stopped a brazen attempt to undermine the will of the people when they rejected a legislatively referred measure that would raise the winning threshold from a simple majority (50%+1)  to 60%. They were soundly defeated at the ballot. 

Conservatives and anti-abortion groups see Ohio’s initiative as a bellwether for 2024 —they are targeting Ohio in an attempt to end their streak of state-level losses and create a blueprint for battles in 2024 and beyond. They are testing new tactics to thwart the will of the people like confusing ballot title language and have stated Ohio will “demonstrate to the rest of the nation how you win ballot initiatives.

Issue 1 in Ohio is a MUST WIN. Efforts to protect and enshrine reproductive rights could be on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. Constitutional amendments have already made it to the ballot in Maryland and New York. We must keep this momentum going.

What is happening in Ohio is setting the stage for 2024. Next year will be yet again a major test for American democracy and the future of direct democracy. The reality is we have already lost so much. From gerrymandered districts, vital portions of the Voting Rights Act, and restrictive voting laws to disinformation and distrust, our freedom to vote is at stake. 

Hostile legislatures are actively trying to erode the people’s tool – direct democracy –  by attempting to raise signature gathering thresholds or requiring ballot measures to be passed in primary and general elections. There are also abuses of power by state courts preventing issues from making it to the ballot altogether to confusing ballot title language which we saw in Ohio. The future of direct democracy is clearly at stake.

We must cede nothing else in 2024. We must defend the people’s right to bring critical issues facing their communities to the ballot. While we work to protect democracy, we cannot allow the opposing forces to define the terms. We must also seed more opportunity and begin the reimagination of our democracy including ballot measures. 

The world is changing all around us. This requires us to examine what it means to have a people-powered democracy not only for today but tomorrow. Perhaps we can learn from what trees do during autumn – they shed their leaves, which no longer serves them to allow for new life and growth. 

So I ask you – what must we shed to build the world we all deserve? What seeds must we plant to fully realize the potential of democracy? And what role does direct democracy play in helping us get there?

Democracy dies in darkness but when there is hope, when we work together and dream of what is possible, it will rise again in the light of the dawn. As we make ballot measures love letters to our people, we have the opportunity to reimagine and shape a new democracy that finally represents and includes all of us.