The best way to protect democracy is to participate in it. The simplest way to participate is to vote. Although access to voting has increased, overall turnout for the 2022 primaries was lower than two years ago. Voter turnout for Cook County hovered around 20%. Turnout wasn’t low due to the weather. Election Day offered pleasant temperatures and plenty of sunshine. So why did 80% stay home?

Some believe their vote doesn’t count and feel powerless. Instead of experiencing how empowering it is to vote, they are suppressing their own. For the first time in my life, I requested a Republican ballot because I wanted to support a candidate from Forest Park. It was easy to fill out the ballot. Cook County is such a Democratic stronghold, many of the races lacked a Republican candidate. 

This didn’t feel like democracy. A major political party unable to even field candidates. It’s a widespread problem, though. A friend of mine lives in a heavily Republican county. The local Democrats only fielded one candidate for office. They persuaded someone to run for coroner. As for myself, I like every aspect of voting, including the “I Voted” sticker you receive afterwards.

Voting is like the “comfort food” of democracy. It’s an easy, painless way to support candidates and causes. It’s especially gratifying, when you consider the sacrifices many have made to even cast a ballot. Efforts to suppress voting are still underway, so the struggle to cast a ballot continues in many areas, but we can’t claim this to be a problem in Cook County.

Apart from voting, there are many ways to participate in democracy. We can write to our congressional representative. We can also man a phone bank for a candidate. We can protest in the streets, like we have done to support organizations like Forest Park against Racism.

We can register people to vote. My late friend Mark Rogovin joined me to register voters in Indiana. We spent about eight hours registering around 20 voters, but it felt gratifying to do even that much. We also conducted our own protest against the Iraq War by displaying signs on highway overpasses. We either received a honk, or a finger, depending on the driver’s political views.

We could join a political party. I seem to have been predestined from birth to vote Democratic. As a kid, I remember the Democratic precinct captain visiting our home to remind us to vote for their candidates. My grandmother served as a Democratic precinct captain in the hostile environs of River Forest.

We can volunteer to help a campaign. One of the happiest days of my life was spent canvassing voters in River Forest for a candidate from Forest Park. When we knocked on their doors, residents were so friendly and receptive. Unfortunately, our candidate lost a close race. Turnout was only around 20% on an 80-degree Election Day. 

Finally, we can run for office ourselves. We all witnessed the political miracle 209 Together pulled off to be elected to the District 209 school board. Tragically, the progress and policy making they initiated is being undone by the current board. Our local politics can be such a quagmire that it prompts some voters to ask, “Why bother?”

However, we have had so many earth-shaking changes on the national level, voting seems more important than ever. Policies that are favored by most Americans are under attack. There are assaults on everything from reproductive rights to protecting the environment.  

Wearing an “I Voted” sticker will not just make us feel good as a citizen. It’s essential to protecting democracy. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.