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Celebrate voting: A different approach to securing a democratic American future

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As Independence Day nears, we are reminded of powerful language in the Declaration of Independence from our forebears that “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” As citizens we can be doing much more to honor that pledge, with our civic responsibility to voting at the top of the list.

Americans need to do more to honor and celebrate voting. When we vote we come together as a community of equals, feeling and enacting our deepest connections to each other and to a common future.

We propose instituting several voting holidays and celebrations to strengthen our commitment, including a National Voting Day Holiday with public gatherings and celebrations as well as ceremonies throughout the year. The National Voting Day holiday would also be a way to celebrate and honor new voters, including immigrants and 18-year-olds voting for the first time. Voting can be experienced as what Robert Bellah called civil religion — the values, stories, heroes, objects, memories Americans hold sacred.

Let’s experience this moment of democratic participation and power as a cross-cultural, egalitarian community that shares a sacred and patriotic commitment to voting rights for all.

Complete and universal suffrage is the most important and defining characteristic of American society. The celebration of independence from a foreign monarchy, whose chief characteristic was the lack of universal suffrage, needs to evolve into a celebration of voting rights for all. The rallying cry of our founders was, “No taxation without representation!”

The story of the United States has been about honoring and expanding that original principle. July 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the inclusion of 18-year-olds in the voting process.

Whatever the political outcome over voting legislation in the next few months in Washington, it is essential that we the American people find new ways to make voting a truly universal right and practice, thus fulfilling a dream that was only begun in 1776 and still has yet to be fully realized. During the aftermath of the Nov. 3, 2020, election — when the country and the world were awaiting the outcome of votes in contested states that were being counted and recounted — a common refrain heard on popular TV news stations was, “This vote is sacred.”

The election process repeatedly has been proved to be reliable, but it also has been attacked by absurd numbers of recounts, harassing and bullying officials — Democrat and Republican — at every level. This bullying violates and undermines a fundamental value and trust, and we must resist it with the opposite behavior. We need to celebrate, honor and sacralize the voting process that we all as Americans hold dear and that we all stand in danger of losing.

On voting days and other periods of the year, the national community of Americans comes together and acts out a ritual that embodies the consent of the governed, a ritual that rationally but also culturally integrates all citizens into that consent. By doing this one act of voting together, we project ourselves into a common future and also imagine ourselves in a common past.

We become one community — fractious, but one — e pluribus unum. Now is the time for us to use our creative skills across all of our divides to secure an American future in which voting is not a memory but a regular celebration and feature of our common identity. This is the way to overcome the dark periods of history and secure a more hopeful future.

Heidi Ravven is professor of religious studies at Hamilton College and the author of “The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will” (The New Press, 2013). Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor and director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, Carter School, George Mason University, and author of the forthcoming Oxford book, “Compassionate Reasoning: Changing the Mind to Change the World.”

Tags American democracy Civic engagement Democracy Elections Suffrage Voting

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