December 12, 2022

Written by Ilana Foggle, Opinion Writer, Redistricting & Political Analyst

Growing up, I loved Election Day. As I observed my mother scrutinize her ballot, I playfully slapped “I Voted” stickers on the tip of my nose while performing for giggling poll workers. Each car ride home, I’d ask my mom who she voted for and why. I never really understood what she was saying, but that didn’t matter. My parents instilled in me the belief that our democracy – and our votes – mattered. So for seven-year-old little Lana, my mother fulfilled her civic duty, and I couldn’t wait to be just like her one day.

Nine-year-old Ilana on her first trip to D.C.

I voted in my first election in 2018. I eagerly marched from my college dorm to my voting precinct with the hopeful twinkle in my eye of a newly minted adult who was about to participate in democracy for the first time. I had long dreamed of this day. My voice was finally going to matter.

My eighteen-year-old naivety was short-lived. In Ohio’s Fourth Congressional District, my vote didn’t matter. Hell, it barely even counted. The election was already decided before I even cast my ballot. In a gerrymandered district like mine, politicians choose their voters – not the other way around. The bright sparkle in my eye rapidly transformed to a gloomy cynicism in my mind.

After graduating from college, I moved to Washington DC. The child-like glimmer returned as I drove down I-295 with the Washington Monument shining above the skyline. I wanted to be in the city where it happens. Perhaps, if I made the nation’s capital my home, I could work towards creating the democracy that I dreamed of as a child.

Since my post-grad move, I’ve learned a hard truth: democracy doesn’t happen in DC. As I watched Congress strike down voting rights bill after voting rights bill, I progressively lost hope in our federal government to uphold the basic democratic principles that make up the foundation of our republic.

Over the past few months, I’ve penned op-eds and blog posts about the attack on our right to vote. I did my best to write with hope about the future of our democracy, but oftentimes, it was a challenge to remain optimistic. When we turn on the news and see countless restrictive voting bills being signed into law in states around the country, who can blame us for feeling pessimistic?

As my time writing for RepresentUs comes to a close, I wish I could tell you, “Congress is going to act. They are going to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and we will restore our democracy.” I cannot, in good conscience, feign a sense of confidence and tell you that those things will happen.

But what I can tell you with absolute certainty, as cliché as it may sound, is that democracy is about you – your community. Democracy doesn’t just happen in Washington. It occurs on the local level.

In my first ever post for RepresentUs, I wrote:

“The truth is, voting rights advocates on the ground, like ourselves, have been using public pressure and grassroots organizing for years to expand voting access across the country. And, guess what? It’s working.”

And it’s true. Now, after the 2021 elections, this sentiment rings more true than ever. Cities across the country – like Ann Arbor, Michigan; Westbrook, Maine; and Broomfield, Colorado – passed ballot initiatives to implement Ranked Choice Voting on the local level. New York City residents used Ranked Choice Voting for the first time to elect their most diverse city council yet. That same council recently passed historic legislation granting voting rights to noncitizen residents for municipal elections. Anti-corruption reforms passed in cities from coast-to-coast, and voters throughout the nation demonstrated that local politics matter. None of this would have been possible without grassroots movements ignited by passionate advocates like yourself.

Democracy dies when hope is lost. But I am here to remind you (and frankly, myself) that hope is not lost.

When you have a conversation with your neighbor about Ranked Choice Voting while waiting for your child’s school bus to arrive, you are strengthening our democracy. When you attend a city council meeting to voice your concerns about a local policy that affects low-income residents, you are strengthening our democracy. And when you vote in a local election, you are strengthening our democracy.

Democracy isn’t just an idea. It’s a practice.

It has been the greatest pleasure to pop up in your inbox each week. I know that you will carry on our people-powered campaign to create an equitable, accessible democracy. And remember, We the People hold the power. So next time you see an article about obstructionists stalling a voting rights bill in the Senate or state legislatures passing gerrymandered maps in your home state, don’t let the despair consume you. Keep fighting the good fight for the starry-eyed, sticker-covered child standing next to their parent at the ballot box. Let’s make sure our democracy stands strong for generations to come.

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RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.