Two Unconventional Democracy Strengtheners

Vintage ad for CFRB Radio reading "Good News Blooms Again This Summer"
Very groovy ad for CFRB Radio's "Good News Reporters" Credit: Jamie

All kinds of juicy policy stuff is happening right under our noses! And an easy way to get some visibility into the juice is our Unconventional Democracy Strengthener #1:

Sign up for our town or county's newsletter (if they have one).

Mine shows up in my inbox on Fridays and here are some things I've learned:

  • The City Council's 2024 goals. This is very fine to know if there's ever a policy change I want that's related to them; I can make the case that what I'm pushing for is a way to help reach the Council's goals, which makes my pitch more relevant and compelling.
  • When the city budget will be available. This is a super duper doc to read; here's why!
  • The incorrect and correct placement of trash bins. (Incorrect: blocking sidewalks, bike lanes, streets. Correct: not in any of the aforementioned locations.)
  • The date of my state's primary; find yours here!
  • The city's comprehensive plan vision and goals. More about why that's fabulously important here!
  • That a restaurant I find pretty uninspiring won a small business award.

There are all kinds of other democracy gems tucked into these newsletters, including available loans and grants, when warming centers are open and absentee ballots are available, scheduled roadwork and trail cleanups, blood drive dates, tax changes, and much more.

Every item won't be relevant to us, but I'll forward these newsletters along to folks who might be interested in one bit or another. And gently encourage them to subscribe, too.

If you're thinking, "My inbox is a dark and stormy place and you'd have to be a real buccaneer to kick down the door and wade into it," I stand in solidarity. To ensure I actually read my weekly municipal newsletter, I unsubscribed from three other newsletters, including some political fundraising stuff that I kept getting out of guilt.

Our democracy is made no stronger by the number of unread political fundraising emails in my inbox. Permission to unsubscribe!

David Axelrod, long-time advisor to President Obama, says that democracy isn't a gift, it's a project. These newsletters are evidence of the project at work, and they often hold a chance or two for us to get involved, benefit from, or better this unwieldy project.

Unconventional Democracy Strengthener #2: Make a Practice of Sharing Good News.
There's been a lot of bad news since January. There's surely plenty more to come before November 5. And this news finds us easily; the Bad News Mobile is remarkably speedy. Our mind naturally amplifies it, too - without an ounce of effort! As neuroscientist Rick Hanson says, We're like velcro for the bad and teflon for the good.

But bad news will not be the only news of this year. In fact, no matter how rotten a year is, there are still kind acts, creative works, inspiring moments that happen. But they need amplifiers.

We could do that.

Not because we're naive Pollyannas. But because we're reminding ourselves, and others, that there's more to this moment - to any moment - than gloom and doom.

A few goodies to get us started (feel free to share!):

  • 22 states raised their minimum wage this year.
  • It's now within the realm of possibility to massively reduce the cancer death rate.
  • Suicide-prevention barriers are being put on the Golden Gate Bridge, bridges in Rhode Island, and a bridge in my own Maine.
  • The Pittsburgh City Council used $1 million of federal COVID relief money to wipe out medical debt for some 24,000 Pittsburghers.
  • Lewiston, Maine has a Treebate program which provides homeowners up to $100 for planting trees on their property.
  • And then this: just about the sweetest little sweet (hat tip to my wonderful, good news-sharing pal who shared this with me).

A buddy of mine gets lousy migraines. He says when they're really all-encompassing, he makes himself find one part of his body that isn't in pain. Sometimes, the only thing he can identify is the tip of his nose. But it reminds him that there's more to him than being in pain.

Holding the good stuff up to the light is similar: it reminds us that there's more to this time we're living in than the ugly stuff. It helps us see the whole reality - good things are just as real as not-so-good things.

And it can inspire people to stay in the game. Feeling like it's all gone to pot is a fast track to cynicism, and the research tells us that cynicism erodes democracy. We could help safeguard against that.

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