Democracy is hard. Democracy requires a constant nurturing and consistent participation. A healthy democracy has a palpable, potent energy with debate on both sides and can feel, at times, aerobic.
For some in our country, government is done. The process requires minimal participation, if any, only exerted to preserve standing policy. Others see our system in a desperate need of reform or reconstruction, requiring they show up every day and work tirelessly just to accept the slow, grinding progress toward their end that they’ll ultimately win.
Small, simple fixes can allow for a lubricant in that grind, easing the gears of change, intentionally built, not incrementally doled out. It requires labors of love, the regular overcoming of disappointments and setbacks. Disappointments like hearing nearly unanimous rhetoric in support of a necessary fix, just to see it ultimately rejected when talk turns to action.
Before the most important election in living memory, seeing the blatant attempts at voter suppression happening across our country, it is up to every elected official to increase voter access, by any power their position is afforded. It is inarguably our prerogative.
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With that in mind, I recently introduced an initiative to give free rides to the polls on Regional Transportation District vehicles, as many other cities in the U.S. have already done. We regularly offer free rides for promotional purposes, like when the new N-Line first opened, and we are sitting on a rainy-day fund of hundreds of millions of dollars, allotted for a project to start a living generation from now.
I listened to my fellow directors in turn speak their support for the spirit of this important initiative. They complimented the nobility of the bill, delivering cleverly crafted lines about cost concerns, or the ability to market the move, before just enough of them voted “no,” killing the idea in committee.
Let me be clear: Had this initiative enabled even one ballot be cast that would not have otherwise, it would have been a success.
Saying the quiet part out loud, a fellow director cited their concerns that the lack of access to transit routes in her rural district – a separate issue – could mean that urban Democrats would be given a disproportionate advantage. Saying clearly that your no vote is partisan, while using a tired dog whistle for Black Americans, is especially disturbing.
As we march toward Election Day in 2020, after years of difficult battles fought to not only advance our republic, but to preserve democracy, another defeat like this could dishearten just enough of us to make a difference. The grind is meant to wear us out, to send us home too tired to show up again.
I’m fortunate that this vote came immediately after I went with almost 100 of my friends and neighbors from around Colorado for a weekend of rallying for our rights in Washington, D.C., attending programming organized and built by the next generation of young leaders — youth leaders, rightfully not waiting for a seat at the table.
Hearing from speakers as young as 13 who were already standing up on the right side of history reminded me of why I first chose to run for this position. Reminded me that our youth will lead us out of the mess they did not create, to a world they so dearly deserve.
We have a lot of work to do, and it will take a long time, but like anything else worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly. It’s worth the effort of showing up and preserving those noble intentions.
Democracy is hard, and worth nurturing.
CORRECTION: This opinion column previously said incorrectly that free rides are being offered on RTD’s N Line rail service. Actually, the period of free rides has ended, and the line is now operating on a local-fare basis through March 2021. This column was updated at 10:20 a.m. on Nov. 2 to correct that information.
Shontel Lewis is a member of the RTD Board of Directors representing District B, which includes parts of northeast Denver, north Aurora and Adams County.
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