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What do you think about the state of our democracy? Add your personal reflection to the statewide conversation about democracy in America through a written statement, photograph, or audio/video submission.

New Jersey's Democracy Conversation

See what your neighbors are saying about democracy in our state. Use the checkboxes below to filter responses by question and/or media type.

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing democracy today is misinformation. Between our reduced attention span and disinclination to check sources, those who benefit from fearmongering can easily prey on our anxieties and preconceived notions to stir up anger and resentment and fuel polarization.

FIRST NAME: Marrin AGE: 30 TOWN: Mahwah

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

The main challenge facing democracy is that we’ve allowed wealthy people to exert an insane level of power. We think that rich people are smarter than poor people, that they know more, that they’ll help us get rich if they’re in power. If it wasn’t obvious in 1870 or 1910 or right now, rich people will spend vast sums on themselves and on maintaining hermetic control of government, no matter how many people die from epidemics (plural), air pollution, heat, flooding, gun violence, domestic abuse, childbirth, malnutrition, and so many more tragically preventable events.

White supremacy is another destructive force, especially when wealthy people use it to maintain power. Poor white people have much more in common with poor black and brown people, yet white supremacy allows the rich and powerful (is there a powerful person who isn’t rich?) to cultivate a completely illusory feeling that underclass white people should entrust their lives, their children’s lives, to wealthy people. Not only do the wealthiest gain supporters, but they also undermine opposition by reducing numbers and by leaving the most voiceless to protest this outrage.

FIRST NAME: Larissa AGE: 56 TOWN: Montclair

What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Being a good citizen means thinking about how my action or inaction could benefit or hurt people I don’t know personally — people who live somewhere else, live in the past, or don’t yet exist. A good citizen prioritizes our interconnectedness over individualism.

Trying to expand our knowledge and understanding is also vital. No one will ever know everything, and we’ll always make mistakes no matter how old we are. I’m 56 and feel I will always be learning (and making mistakes).

FIRST NAME: Larissa AGE: 56 TOWN: Montclair

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

The main challenge facing democracy is the lack of civic engagement on the part of the young. To put it bluntly, we are increasingly living in a gerontocracy. Democracy only works when there are enough stakeholders in a democratic society and an understanding that when too many people fall to the bottom–or don’t participate–it drags the middle AND the top down with it. Why is this happening? Because our current leadership is limited by their ideas on both sides of the aisle, and ideas have a very short shelf-life in a world where the only true universal is that the world is entirely subject to change. In other words, nothing is permanent. Leadership must be young, dynamic, courageous, innovative, and flexible because the world changes around us very quickly. Most of our leadership couldn’t explain what variables are with respect to coding, how sophisticated the digital world is, or how to approach our 21st-century information-based economy. I’m not entirely certain I see a vision for progress. It’s time for the young to take the country by storm. That’s why–out of my sense of civic duty–I’ve decided to run for my local Board of Ed. election.

FIRST NAME: Carlos AGE: 20 TOWN: Lawrence Township

What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Don’t be an Unknown Citizen

FIRST NAME: Valerie AGE: 41 TOWN: West Windsor

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

There seems to be an unprecedented disconnect with in our country. We feel angry, anxious and hopeless as the issues continue to have very high stakes. The challenge to each of us is to *listen,* embrace the fact that we live within a community. People have lost trust with our leaders and process. My goal is to stay on the high road. Do what I can to serve others and find connection, especially with those I cannot understand. We need to focus on treating others as we would like to be treated. Including our planet. And those generations to follow.

FIRST NAME: Roberta AGE: 56 TOWN: Midland Park

What does it mean to be a good citizen?

FIRST NAME: Colleen AGE: 28 TOWN: Merchantville

What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Good Citizenship: Participating on a local level to ensure the common good

FIRST NAME: Carin AGE: 41 TOWN: Camden

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

There are a number of challenges facing democracy but chief among them is the increasing disconnect between leaders and the people they serve, creating a crisis of confidence in the system. Some of it is because they’re literally disconnected from everyday American’s issues, some of it is a willing ignorance, but much of it is systemic and the vast majority of it is due to one party’s embrace of a “we can only win if we rig the game” mentality.

State legislatures making it harder to vote, gerrymandering districts, strict punishments that deter voters, and policies and laws that allow the people who were elected to decide who wins, or at least put their thumb on the scales for who wins, in the next election regardless of who voters actually want, these all make it harder for democracy to do what it is supposed to do: keep the powerful in check and ensure they work for the betterment of all Americans, not just the select few they like. The courts are stacked and underfilled, the senate is paralyzed by arcane laws that allow senators to never have to take stands on issues or do anything substantive, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to actually use the ballot box to tell officials we do or don’t like their policy choices and to remove people who abuse their power or worse. It’s only going to get worse and that scares me. We shouldn’t have a system that scares people.

FIRST NAME: Elias AGE: 26 TOWN: Fair Lawn

What do you remember about the first time you voted?

I remember going with my mom to vote when I was a kid, probably 5 years old. I have the strongest memory of the curtain closing around us and peaking out at the poll workers from behind it. My mom let me pull the lever to record her votes. That would have been around 1982.

FIRST NAME: Gwen AGE: 45 TOWN: Camden

What are the main challenges facing democracy today?

The biggest challenge to our democracy is hopelessness and cynicism. Being an American citizen – and securing the rights of citizenship – has never been easy for most Americans. Our country was founded and has been inspired for generations by people who fight for radical and broad-minded definitions of equality and liberty. That struggle is our greatest patrimony, but one that can be exhausting and disheartening in the face of oppression and setbacks. Ensuring that American democracy has a bright future requires us to nurture the hope that such a future is possible.

FIRST NAME: Tyler AGE: 34 TOWN: Burlington County

What does it mean to be a good citizen?

If a well-educated citizenry is essential to our democracy, then to be a good citizen means taking the time to learn about the important policy issues of the day. That understanding in turn can inform choices in the voting booth, in volunteer opportunities and charitable donations, and in careers themselves. These days, it’s equally important to consider the source of information to learn about the issues, but that’s a Democracy Conversation for another day.

FIRST NAME: Michael AGE: 57 TOWN: Allenhurst

What do you remember about the first time you voted?

The first time I voted was significant for me on a very personal level. The first ballot I ever cast was in a local school board election and I voted for–and helped to elect–my father to a four-year term, the first of two he would serve. This was a meaningful event for me in part because I had learned from my father and my mother the importance of participating in the electoral process, at every level. I also had learned from them, around the dinner table and in conversations over the years, that voting is itself a political act: whatever the outcome of any given election, one’s vote was an expression of one’s commitments and beliefs.

I found this truth powerful and enabling and it has sustained my engagement in the American democratic process through all these years. These are lessons that I have tried to pass on to my own children who are themselves engaged and active citizens and I am proud that the family tradition of active participation in the fundamental mechanisms of the democratic process continues. Although these are trying times and our American experiment in democracy is under unprecedented pressure and threat today, so long as citizens take seriously the right to vote and work to protect it for all, there is hope that our great and collective dream of self-governance “shall not perish from the earth.”

FIRST NAME: Howard AGE: 61 TOWN: Riverton

Why is voting important to you?

As a historically minded person, each time I consider the importance of voting, I think of the people who struggled, fought, and suffered so that I could have the right to vote – as a propertyless woman who grew up poor. I know that the rights I have today are not givens and they must continue to be remade and won again and again.

FIRST NAME: K AGE: 33 TOWN: Highland Park

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