Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Dozens of volunteers and activists turned out Tuesday at the State House to show support for referendum to strengthen Maine’s Clean Election law, July 28, 2015. (Photo: BDN File)
By Ilze Peterson /
Sep 28, 2016

Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our state.

I remember she said “democracy is not a spectator sport.” But each time I turn on the television, listen to the radio or read the paper, I quickly turn away from “the news” that focuses mainly on the latest outrageous attack by Donald Trump and counterattack by Hillary Clinton. Is this what democracy looks like? If so, count me out.

Writer and blogger Tom Engelhardt got to the core of the inanity and insanity of this seemingly endless election campaign. In an Aug. 7 article on, he says, “The spectacle of our moment is so overwhelming, dominating every screen of our lives and focused on just two outsized individuals in a country of 300 million plus on a planet of billions, that it blocks our view of reality.”

He suggests that “missing in action” is meaningful discussion of endless war, the federal budget that feeds this war with billions of our tax dollars, climate change that threatens the future of the planet and what we as citizens in a democracy can do to help shape a future for our children that is more peaceful, just and sustainable.

"I believe that unless we as individuals commit ourselves to becoming involved with others in creating fundamental change as an ongoing part of our daily lives after Nov. 8, our vote (or abstinence from voting) will only lead to disappointment when the elected 'leaders' respond to the more powerful voices of the wealthy, corporations and the military establishment."

Amazingly, in the midst of this bread and circus, Bernie Sanders was able to mobilize millions who donated an average of $27 to his campaign. His rallies drew thousands, despite the lack of mainstream coverage. I can understand why many of those who backed him are bitterly disappointed with Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic Party candidate and why they plan to vote for a third party or sit out the election. But I believe that the Nov. 8 election is important. The outcome will shape the possibilities for working for long-term fundamental change. I will vote to defeat the fear-mongering, racism and hate represented by Trump.

This is why I plan to vote for Clinton, not because she will bring about that change but because she has espoused more progressive policies in response to the amazing grass-roots support for Sanders. His campaign addressed income inequality, health care, student debt and climate change, and he was not dependent on wealthy and corporate donors. The nomination of Supreme Court justices also will be in the hands of the next president.

But I believe that unless we as individuals commit ourselves to becoming involved with others in creating fundamental change as an ongoing part of our daily lives after Nov. 8, our vote (or abstinence from voting) will only lead to disappointment when the elected “leaders” respond to the more powerful voices of the wealthy, corporations and the military establishment. We will be left to complain and become even more cynical about the possibility of a more humane future and wait for the next “great leader” to do the job for us.

As Sanders said in an interview, “We can elect the best person in the world to be president, but that person will get swallowed up unless there is an unprecedented level of activism at the grass-roots level.”

How can we as ordinary citizens become involved in meaningful action? Some may choose to run for local or state offices. But electoral politics has limits as we have witnessed, and it needs input and support from those most affected by the enacted policies. In order to ensure positive change, we can support some of the hundreds of grass-roots organizations working for an increase in the minimum wage, alternative energy, local food, Medicare for all, and against the racism and hatred that divides us from each other. We can join others by volunteering, donating, or simply showing up when called.

Because we know our individual and single issue efforts won’t be enough to create needed long-term changes, we can come together to affirm the power of our united efforts based on the values of caring, compassion and cooperation. By showing up, we can honor those, such as Guay, who, even when wheelchair bound, continued to speak out for justice and equality. We can become part of the process that is democracy.

© 2016 Ilze Peterson

Ilze Peterson was program coordinator for the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine for 20 years before her retirement.

0.0 ·
Trending Today
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 9,953 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 7,724 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 6,002 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 4,579 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 3,954 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 1,957 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 1,216 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 1,057 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 918 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 900 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
#ReclaimMLK Seeks to Combat the Sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy
Danielle C. Belton · 861 views today · Martin Luther King Jr. had more than “a dream,” but you might not notice that on Monday during observances for his birthday. Somewhere between his assassination and today...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 847 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Here's How We're Going to End Factory Farming
2 min · 708 views today · Factory farming is a huge problem. But the solution is simple, if you'll join us. Watch this short 2 minute video to see how... Help make a kinder world possible...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 537 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 479 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 396 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: A Guide to Gracefully Losing Faith in a Collapsing Dominant Culture
Jim Tull · 365 views today · I recall a Buddhist parable involving a stick that appears from a distance to be a snake, causing fear to rise in the perceiver. As the perception shifts upon closer...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 306 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 282 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism
Drew Serres · 240 views today · “The creation of today’s market society was not the result of a sequence of spontaneous events but rather of state interference and violence.” – Naomi Klein in The Shock...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots