Elections are the beginning, not the end

I’ve had some time to reflect. And here’s the thing: I never, ever, believed that we can/should “trust” our representatives to do the right thing. We have to MAKE them do it. One of the most inspiring people I met while covering mass protests in Brazil was a woman who told me she wrote to ALL of her representatives almost every month, including then-President Dilma Rousseff, saying: “Hi, this is Juliana, and I voted for you, so what have you done for me this month?” She also challenged them on education and public security issues.

Juliana didn’t always receive a response, but she continued anyway, and at least once, received an e-mail from someone in Planalto thanking her for her feedback and acknowledging her criticism.

So to all of those who are in rage, in mourning, who are out on the streets protesting, please funnel that energy toward making sure we stay on top of this administration, and of our congressional representatives. Make sure our voices are heard on policy matters. I think we often as Americans make the mistake of putting too much value into campaign promises during general elections, thinking that if we just choose the “right” candidate, it’s smooth sailing from there. I think that is partially what drives the emotions many of us feel this week.

The truth is, no matter who won this insane race, it would have been up to us all to make our voices heard and to get involved when it matters. Social media protests and street protests are fine for venting, but when the venting is over, it’s time to exercise your rights as citizens of a democracy, and protest over issues as effectively as possible. Write to your elected officials. Know what they are voting on and how they are voting. Keep them in check. And please, please, can someone else run for some of these local offices around the country, where many officials fly under the radar from most of their constituents and run uncontested for years and years? Nothing keeps an elected official in check like competition.

The media also has an obligation to fulfill its role in society, and it (we) hopefully will continue to do that. But the truth is, the media’s reach and resources have greatly diminished, so it will often be up to civilians to show up at community board meetings, to pay attention to state governments, to spread awareness, and to fight for all of our rights as individuals. Please remember that.

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