The Work Doesn’t Stop on Election Day

November 1, 2004

Howard Dean

By Gov. Howard Dean M.D.

By the time most readers see this column, unless we have a repeat of the 2000 election, we will know who the president will be for the next four years.

But it is not over. Over the last 40 years, ordinary Americans have become less and less involved in politics. Voter turnout consistently declined between 1960 and 2000; and in non-presidential years, less than 30 percent of eligible adults across America vote, much less volunteer to work on or donate money to campaigns.

This year has been different. There has been enormous intensity on both sides, and a real conviction that individuals can make a difference, even in national elections. Both campaigns, but particularly the Democrats, have rediscovered that hundreds of thousands of small donors giving $25 or $50 at a time can actually raise more money collectively than the so-called "fat cats" and special interests do.

There is more to politics than elections. Thousands of young people have discovered, as generations have before them, their efforts matter. Their actions matter because by getting in the game instead of staying on the sidelines, they are empowered, whether or not their candidate wins.

Historically, whether through the campaign of Gene McCarthy in 1968 or John McCain in 2000, the enthusiasm and hard work waned after the election.

This time we cannot let that happen. Democracy is the most highly evolved system of government ever created by human beings. And like everything else we create, it will wither and die unless we nurture it.

When I was governor of Vermont, I used to go to schools and colleges and tell the students how important it was to vote. I don't think that any more. On an A - F scale, merely voting gets a "D". It is the bare minimum required to keep our democracy alive. To grow and thrive, ordinary Americans need to run for office. Democracy for America, the political action committee which is an offshoot of my campaign for president, sponsored nearly a thousand candidates, many of whom had never run for office before. A few ran for Congress, but most ran for school board, county commissioner, road commissioner or state legislature. And they ran everywhere, in both traditionally conservative and liberal states. Some have already won, some didn't. Many of those who did not win will try again.

Politics is too important to be left to professional politicians. It matters who is in office, from the school board to the presidency. The next election cycle is in a few months for local office, and in two years for federal office. If you love America, it's not enough just to vote. Run for office. If you cannot do that, volunteer or work on a campaign for three hours a week. Donate to a candidate’s campaign. It does not have to be a lot – it can be $5, $10, $20 – every bit helps. That is how you stop politicians from responding only to special interests.

We can change this country. It will take time and hard work, but if we start today ordinary Americans can take this country back.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
Email Howard Dean at
Copyright 2004 Howard Dean, All Rights Reserved.
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