Why Washingtonians deserve a closer look at their democracy

Ahead of the 2020 election, Crosscut contributors helped us examine the current state of our democracy.

Four illustrations: A woman climbing a ladder onto a graduation cap, three young people by a ballot box, ballots flying into a USPS mailbox, and a person falling into a frayed safety net

(Valerie Niemeyer)

This election season, democracy despair is in the air.

To what extent will foreign government adversaries interfere? Will a flood of disinformation further tear apart our sharply polarized society? Will election results get stuck in courts until the constitutionally defined last minute, risking further damage to the legitimacy of our electoral system? And if he loses, will Donald Trump commit to a peaceful transfer of power

These questions and more have an anxious nation on edge. But for all the agonizing uncertainty around the Nov. 3 general election, this much is clear: Ordinary people seem to believe that action is a balm for despair. A historic social movement for civil rights swept the nation this summer, and a record number of voters have already cast their ballots.

But the constellation of institutions and processes that define our democracy stretches further than the right to assembly and the right to vote. That’s why Crosscut Opinion, on the eve of the 2020 election, commissioned a series of essays on other vital aspects of civic life. “The Washington State of Democracy,” which published this week, features commentary on public education, media, representative politics, the social safety net and, yes, voting. Each essay takes a piece of our democracy and makes a case, or offers an assessment, about its status during this moment in history. 

Crosscut asked seven writers to reflect on institutions that define our government — and, crucially, allow citizens to participate in it. You can read the whole collection here.

These essays show that the existence of democratic rights does not alone ensure those rights are exercised. We must also be educated, politically represented and secure in both body and mind to feel we have a stake in government — and to meaningfully participate in it. In her essay, the president of Seattle Central College, Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, asks us to reclaim the promise of public education to form discerning citizens. Olgy Diaz, a longtime advocate for politicians and candidates of color, argues that diverse representation in politics leads to better outcomes for communities long excluded from the public sphere. And Crosscut columnist Katie Wilson makes plain how poverty — and a tattered safety net — serves to disenfranchise scores of poor people throughout our state. 

The series, which also features essays from Omari Salisbury, Sam Reed, Hugh Spitzer and Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, could never be exhaustive. But we hope we’ve sketched a modest snapshot of Washington state’s democracy. Publishing these pieces, I for one am reminded that so much of political life depends on us.

Read our essay series, The State of Washington's Democracy:

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About the Authors & Contributors

Mason Bryan

Mason Bryan

Mason Bryan is formerly Crosscut's associate opinion editor.