How to be Active in the Democratic Process

This fall has been a big year for elections, with a presidential election happening in the U.S, a provincial election being called here in BC, and rumors of an upcoming Canadian election sometime in the near future. As politics get a big buzz, I’ve been thinking about ways that I can get involved with the democratic process, both locally and federally.

1. Vote, of course!

The best way to exercise your democratic right is to show up at the polls on election day (or at any of the advance polling days) and mark your ballot. I’ve voted in every federal or provincial election since I turned 18, except when my husband and I were Alberta residents living in BC in our University of Victoria days. Voting takes only a few minutes and gives you a voice in your government.

Both federal and provincial governments go to great lengths to making voting accessible to everyone, with advance polling days, long hours at the polling stations, and accommodations for voters with language barriers or disabilities. Even during a pandemic, I’ve been impressed at the measures BC has put in place to ensure that voters can still vote safely.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

It can often feel like one little vote doesn’t make a different, but it does. In our local riding, just a few hundred votes made the difference between the winning candidate and the runner-up in the last election. Other ridings across Canada have also been hotly contested. While the media can make us think that a certain party or candidate is a shoe-in for the position, the election isn’t over until it’s over—and there are often surprises on election day!

Smiling woman points to a yellow "VOTE" sign on a wall.

Before going to the polls, don’t forget to research the issues of this election, the candidates for your riding, and the political parties’ platforms. Your local news outlets are a good place to start, but they are often biased or limited in their coverage of events and issues. Other places may have better information on campaign promises that affect you.

For example, in the BC election, our local independent schools sent a questionnaire to all the political parties. Because our daughters’ education was affected this year not just by a pandemic but also by government funding cuts, I was very interested to see how the parties answered that questionnaire. The BC Catholic also had a great comparison of BC’s political parties’ stances on various issues.

And as Robert Byrne says, “Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.” There are no perfect candidates and no perfect political parties. While reading candidate bios and party platforms can be frustrating at times, that doesn’t give us an excuse to do nothing. I sometimes joke that we must pick the lesser of two evils or choose the best of the worst. Try to find the party or candidate that best aligns with your beliefs and values, or that has the best answer to an issue near to your heart, and let go of the areas in which they disagree with you.

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

2. Join a political party

This is the first year I’ve held membership in a political party. I joined because the leadership race within that party caught my attention. As a party member, I was able to cast a vote for the future leader of the party. I received “insider” emails from each of the party candidates about their thoughts and views on a variety of issues, which helped me decide who to vote for. Although my favourite candidate didn’t win the leadership vote, I enjoyed being part of the process.

My friend Deborah is an American citizen living in Alberta with her Canadian husband. While she can’t vote in the federal elections, she can hold a party membership and vote for the party leader. She and her husband both have party memberships in a provincial and federal party. She says,

While I’m not necessarily a big fan of associating myself with a political organization, I also figure I can’t do a lot of good complaining about things, but not stepping in and trying to do something about it and trying to change it from the inside. And becoming a member isn’t some major financial investment, so I don’t feel like I’m giving them large amounts of money to support things I’m against, even if there are some parts of the platform that I don’t support.

For me, personally, as a non-citizen (who plans on becoming one but is way to busy and keeps forgetting to do the paperwork), because I can’t directly vote like most people, this is how I can be civically involved still, and in a way, I think it has a greater difference. I get to help filter policies and leaders and whatnot before it gets out to the general public. I’m not gonna lie, there are people who come up with some pretty bad ideas, LOL. Especially after a few too many beers . . .

Joining a political membership doesn’t require a huge investment of either money (as Deborah mentioned) or time. As a party member, though, you’ll become more aware of opportunities to get involved with your party. Deborah says she’s “not HUGELY involved with either of the parties. I’m a bit more along for the ride, although I am currently on the board for our riding association.” Her husband is very involved, as he’s VP of policy and governments and ensures that party policy doesn’t run top-down but stays grassroots.

Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy. ~ Michael Moore

My friend Danielle shares frequently about politics on Facebook, so I asked her about her involvement with politics. She says,

My desire to help create a more humane, kind and healthy world is what motivated me to get involved in politics. It’s important to me to be involved with making the world a better place in every way I can—and political parties have a lot to do with how our community thrives (or doesn’t). I’m involved by firstly knowing and trying to understand the policies/platforms and what those mean for all demographics/people/earth.

I’m a member of the party. I vote for the party leadership. I vote. I have a sign up and share about the people and parties I support. We donate to political causes. I haven’t done campaigning yet—but again, I feel as the kids get older I would like to get more involved with running and supporting local campaigns. Also – yes – I post on Facebook and try to have SOME discussions although I’ve stopped much of that due to wanting to pull all of my hair out of my head.

3. Work a polling station

This election will be the third that I’ve worked at a polling station. My husband and I worked the provincial election together in 2017 and then I worked the federal election in 2019. I really enjoy participating in the political process in this way. Applying to be an election worker is easy (it’s a one-page application). Training is provided a couple weeks before the election. Election workers are paid a couple hundred dollars for their training and the actual election day.

Working at a polling station in my community helps me feel part of this community. I see my neighbours and others come in to vote. As I look at their addresses, I get a better sense of the different parts of my city. And as I count the votes at the end of the night, and hear the results from the other stations at my polling place, it’s interesting to see how the election played out in this little area compared to the final results across BC or Canada.

4. Volunteer for a candidate

You can also get directly involved in an election by volunteering for one of your local candidates. They need help calling voters in the riding, assisting at campaign events, spreading their message on social media, and even watching polling stations during the election itself. Again, volunteering is a great way to get to know other members of your community and to learn more about the political process and the issues at stake during this election.

I was impressed when I saw my friend Daniella sharing on social media that she was making phone calls and distributing flyers for her local candidate. I reached out to her to ask her what motivated her to get involved. She said:

As a Girl Guide member, my promise includes the line “I will take action for a better world.” This is something I talk a lot about with my Brownies. We discuss using our voices to champion causes we believe in, and doing actions that make our world a better place for others.

For many years, I felt disappointed and frustrated with our MLA (she doesn’t respond to calls or emails, and never seems to be in her office).

I got to know the candidate running against her, and saw that he had the qualities of a good representative: he was actively involved in our community and took time to listen to concerns. His political party’s values came the closest to alignment with my own out if any other party, and so I decided to put my words into action, and get involved.

I was nervous about volunteering in politics, because I was worried about having to deal with confrontation and drama. Turns out that my fears were baseless! I did phoning from the comfort of my phone using a simple computer program that dialed the numbers and provided a script. I delivered flyers. I knocked on doors of party supporters to help them learn about mail in voting and advance polls.

I feel strongly that volunteering in this way helps to build a more engaged and string democracy, and I hope my children feel encouraged by my example to get involved someday too.

5. Donate

Yep, it always comes down to money, doesn’t it? The truth is that our political parties require a lot of money to help voters know who they are and what they stand for. Donating to a party doesn’t take a lot of time or effort but can help your favourite party be prepared for an election or spread the word about their platform and ideas.

6. Involve your kids

The best way to raise informed, active citizens is to model that for our children—and to involve them in the elections process. Both my parents took my brothers and I to the polling station with them when they voted. As a kid, I remember regarding the whole process with awe because it was shrouded with so much secrecy and formality. When I visited the advance polls during this election, I did so with my youngest three in tow. Despite a pandemic, they were welcomed, and even given stickers when we finished voting!

Mom and three kids with "I voted" / "Future voter" stickers on their hands.

Children can also learn more about politics and the election process through StudentVote.ca. Created by CIVIX, student vote helps teachers and parents use the election as a teachable moment with their kids. Schools can organize a student vote day where kids get the chance to physically cast a ballot for candidates in their riding (or a nearby riding). I’ll be taking my girls to their school today to participate in student vote.

StudentVote.ca also has links to provincial websites for ongoing elections (like the one in BC right now), where you can find videos, classroom resources, printables, and more to discuss with your kids. There are 8 lessons geared for either kids in elementary (grades 4 to 7) or secondary (9 to 12).

Kids can also be involved in some political events, rallies or protests. We have participated in small, peaceful protests with our older daughters when they were younger. Danielle notes, “With kids—protest can also be making posters for a cause and putting those up in our house/windows. It doesn’t always feel safe to attend large protests (for me, anyways).

Danielle adds, “I involve the kids in that they are aware of political issues and how those affect people. We have done some protests—although as the kids get older I’d like to do more. We also try to use our own actions to support the movements—for example, we pick up garbage when we go to nature and try to leave it a better place than how we found it.

How do you gotten active in the democratic process? What tips or ideas would you share?

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