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Refreshing the tree of liberty

Refreshing the tree of liberty
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Last week was a historic week and a new beginning for a country battered by four years of the Trump presidency. President Biden and Vice President Harris have taken the reins to confront the massive challenges before us, with COVID-19 and a shredded economy taking precedent. 

But there is one lesson from the Trump era that we must never forget: Our votes, and our voices, must never again be taken for granted. Through hard work, organizing and mobilizing, ordinary Americans-turned-activists let everyone know that their voices and their votes were indispensable.

They slowly turned the tide, took back the House for the Democrats in 2018, elected Biden and Harris and took back the Senate in 2020.

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But the hard lesson must not be forgotten: Democracy is not a given. It is fragile, difficult and cannot be assumed or ignored. We know what happens when we do. We cannot let it happen again.

From the moment Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE was elected in 2016, many Americans realized the aberration they had let happen. It is no surprise that, immediately, protests were organized and manifested in the biggest march seen during a presidential inauguration in U.S. history. That was followed by a record number of women running for office in 2018, and record voter turnout in which Democrats took control of the House.

Still, electoral disappointments continued for Democrats: Stacey Abrams’s defeat in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race was a big  setback. It was also a huge catalyst that led to massive voter registration, education and mobilization of African Americans, Latinos, women and young people.

Those efforts came to fruition during the 2020 elections when, in one of the most surprising outcomes, Georgia went to Biden. Those same voters turned out again in even greater numbers in the Georgia Senate runoffs to propel Democrats Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockAdvocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis LeBron James's More Than A Vote ad campaign focuses on defending voting rights MORE and Jon OssoffJon OssoffAdvocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE to victory. 

These victories did not come easy, nor did they happen overnight. And it was not just in Georgia. Many other states saw record voter turnout, especially among communities of color, who contributed to Democratic wins.

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When Trump won in 2016, many of his supporters believed it was divine intervention. White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersTrump likely to form new super PAC We knew media would coddle Biden — here's why it's much worse House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE Sanders went as far as to claim that God put Trump in the White House.

If you are a person of faith, you could also believe that God put Trump in the White House to teach Americans the value of their vote and to ensure we never take it for granted again.

None of this is to say that the 70-plus million voters who supported Trump in 2020 do not matter. They do. But when more people stand up to have their voices heard, when policies are put in place that protect more people’s right to vote, people get elected who represent most of the voices in our great country, and this leads to policies that expand rights, instead of diminishing them.

There are leaders who do not believe that every citizen’s voice should be heard, nor that everyone has the right to live the American dream. Many Republican elected officials have fought to keep more people from voting. It was the basis for Trump’s lies about a fraudulent election. He and his supporters argued that millions of votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia should not be counted.

Thankfully, righteousness exists in both parties, even as it was absent in the Oval Office. Republicans of good conscience stood up for the votes that Trump and his supporters were eager to overturn. Republican Gov. Brian KempBrian KempTrump fires back at WSJ editorial urging GOP to move on Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee Democrats must prepare now for a contested 2024 election MORE and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger upheld the Georgia election results. A conservative Supreme Court Justice in Wisconsin did so as well. 

Justice, democracy and the will of the people prevailed. They were stretched to the limit, dented even, but they withstood the forces against them. 

Thomas Jefferson famously said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.”

But America has just demonstrated that the tree of liberty must always be refreshed with the ability for the people to be heard. Through voter registration, mobilization, education and laws that make it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to vote, the tree of liberty will flourish, bountiful in its fruit of freedom and the promise of justice for all. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and was co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.