fresh voices from the front lines of change







Democracy dies when we give up freedoms, thinking they are a small price to pay. That's why we need to defend our right to vote and defeat authoritarian leaders everywhere.



I recently returned to El Salvador for the first time in many years. I went with my daughter, Genesis, and the ELLA Initiative, a nonprofit she founded, to grant scholarships to girls and young women so they can finish high school or college.

It was such a joy to meet these young women and hear their hopes and dreams. It was a full circle moment for me as I stepped into my childhood school after 40 years. There was also a sense of pride, joy and healing as my daughter now finds connection to a place that means so much to me and to my sisters, who had to flee in the 1980s during El Salvador’s civil war.

Going home is always bittersweet. After decades of violence and fear, I was excited to hear how many people, including my own family, are finally able to walk the streets and imagine better futures for themselves and for their children. El Salvador’s current president calls himself “the coolest dictator,” and his seeks to bring peace to the country with “la mano dura” - he has arrested over 75,000 people with alleged gang connections, and is now threatening to imprison their family members, too. He has suspended civil rights for those he detains and sidestepped the country’s constitution in order to run for a second term and stay in office.

For many Salvadorans, after years of gang violence, this feels like a small price to pay. El Salvador’s murder rate has gone from one of the highest in the region to the lowest; it is one-third of the murder rate in the United States. And yet El Salvador now imprisons more of its own people than any country in the world - more even than the United States, which incarcerates 1.8 million people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we are willing to give up in moments of division, crisis and fear. That's because our own would-be dictator, Donald Trump, wants to return to power.

To say Trump wants to be a dictator is not an exaggeration. He says so himself. Trump boasts about his plans to seek vengeance and punish all those who oppose him. He is recruiting advisors who put loyalty to MAGA above the rule of law. They failed in their last attempt to seize power, so won’t run that risk again.

And in many Republican-controlled states, legislatures have already taken away women’s freedom to control their own bodies, are criminalizing doctors and censuring teachers.

Are we safer in the United States because we imprison so many of our own people, or stronger because we punish those who come here for a better life? No. Are we safer when we give up our freedoms, one by one? Not for long. Not here, not in El Salvador, and not anywhere.

And yet many find Trump’s promises of law and order appealing, even if they know they are ultimately hollow. This includes many immigrants of my generation, who learned to keep their heads down and mouths shut, so they could offer a small portion of opportunity and hope to their children. Republicans know this, and are aggressively marketing a message of prosperity to working-class immigrants, who will pay a very high and dangerous price.

My hope is people like us are voters who will see through this propaganda and stay vigilant of  all leaders who go too far and abuse their power. I, for one, can not  stay quiet.

Author Isabel Wilkerson, in her book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, describes American democracy as an old house which looks beautiful from the outside. When we get inside, we discover warped beams, cracks and splits. These flaws are born from injustices which came long before our time, like the Atlantic slave trade and the theft of ancestral lands from Native peoples. They are not our fault, but we inherit them.

We live here now, so it is up to us to rebuild this house stronger from within, so it does not crumble before we can pass it on to our children.  This is our democracy.

It is up to us. It may not feel like a single vote, or a single scholarship, makes a difference, but it does. Every time we choose to connect and believe in one another, we strengthen our society and democracy. Democracy is fragile and imperfect, but together, we are our best hope for building a system that is fair, inclusive and increases opportunities for everyone.

Here’s what you can do:

If you are a U.S. citizen, register to vote.

Find a People's Action member group near you. We have 42 member groups in 32 states. This is where you can find an organizing home and connect with others who share your hopes and dreams.

Join our next Deep Canvass training, so you can learn how to have transformative conversations across differences.

Join one of the many phone banks and deep canvasses we are organizing with allies across the country this year.

Learn more about or Organizing Revival, and join one of our organizer trainings, where you can learn the fundamental skills to organize for meaningful change where you live and across the country.

Donate and help us train and reach millions of people, so together we can change the course of our lives, our communities and this country we share.

Join People's Action in doing all we can to build a democracy we can feel proud to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Sulma Arias is executive director of People's Action and the People's Action Institute.

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