fresh voices from the front lines of change









To perfect our democracy, we must defend it. It all begins with our votes.

This week, I watched my daughter, Genesis Mercado-Arias, address more than a hundred immigrants who had just become United States citizens in Kansas City. She had been invited to speak to these  “New Americans” because of her work as an attorney and advocate for new immigrants and for her work with women and girls abroad.

“As the daughter of a community organizer, I saw the power we have when we come together, to create a more perfect union, to advocate for what you believe is right,” Genesis told them. “Be bold in your dreams, courageous in your actions, and know that you are not alone on this journey. Your fellow citizens stand with you ready to build a more perfect union together.”

My heart swelled with joy as I listened to her and reflected on the long journey that it has taken to get to this moment, to see her on a stage like this.  When I first entered the United States on foot, more than forty years ago, I was a teenage refugee from my war-torn homeland, El Salvador. I could never have imagined a moment like this would arrive. The gains we make in life, like in our work may feel at times small, but they are not insignificant. 

She, and we - all of us - are living proof that change is slow, but it’s possible and that democracy is not just a dream, It is a living story we can all build. Yet this task of “perfecting this union” is something we must choose to build, and then defend.

As we move towards the election this November, I am very clear about what is at stake - for each of us, and for our nation. I think about my grandsons, my three daughters, and the responsibilities we have to future generations. We must ask ourselves, what can I do to help bend the arc of our nation’s history towards a brighter future for us all?

This choice feels especially clear right now, when one candidate - Trump - says he will jail and punish those who oppose him, and take away freedoms from women (my daughters), immigrants and minorities. 

For me, the reason I'm voting is clear. I will vote to defend all that we have achieved over the last four years: we have an African-American woman in the second highest elected office in the country. The first black woman appointed to the Supreme Court. The 118th Congress is the most racially diverse in history, with leaders of color helping to shape legislation as committee chairs. We have 149 women - the highest number in history - serving in Congress. 65 percent of the federal judges President Biden has appointed are women. 

We have the most diverse Cabinet in history, with leaders of color serving as Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, Defense Office of Management and Budget and more, with the first Native American woman serving as Secretary of the Interior. All of this creates opportunities for us to advance progressive solutions as never before.  While we still have so much more to do, I am voting to defend and continue to build on what we have achieved. 

Even if we were not in the room with this country’s founders when the Constitution was written, this is significant progress. Advances like these can help us shape a country where we can govern and build a more perfect democracy where we all have a voice. 

This is what we must choose: to defend our democracy, so we can perfect it into what we need to be. It all begins with our votes.

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

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