The supposed stewards of democracy in our government have made basic civic participation something closer to a luxury good than a universal right. Poverty and racism are clear barriers to voting and running for office; lack of transportation, the fact that elections aren’t national holidays, outright voter suppression, a dearth of public campaign finance laws—all of these determine just exactly who gets to be a part of our country’s civic life.
Yet in spite of all of these structural odds, Democrats won a razor-thin majority in Congress. In the wake of the election, along with the energy in response to the Capitol riots, the party has a clear responsibility: It should aggressively push for policies that will actually make America more robustly democratic. Yes, give us those $2,000 checks—but make that the down payment on a more just future: Restore the Voting Rights Act, impose a wealth tax, and break up the monopolies dominating our political system with a tough antitrust agenda, so that actual, regular people have a fighting chance to make decisions for our country. Push to abolish the Electoral College; pass national automatic voter registration; turn D.C. and Puerto Rico into states—all things that would make our system more equitable. Overhaul our immigration policy so that the millions of undocumented people who live here actually have a voice in our system.
Inequality is one of the biggest barriers to a functioning democracy: To turn around a slide into plutocracy, Democrats need to address the fact that two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck right now. The party should fight to pass all of the policies that are increasingly popular among the American electorate but stymied by our anti-democratic system: raising the minimum wage, canceling student debt, universal childcare and health care. When Republicans inevitably block any of these attempts, party leadership needs to be ready to build a case to abolish the filibuster and use all of its leverage to get its policies through. It’s unlikely, of course, that it will do any of this without a mass popular movement, both inside and out, forcing those in power to actually deliver the goods. If Democrats truly care about the “assault on democracy,” they would welcome, not oppose, those movements that are already rising to meet this moment.