How to Protect Democracy

The Democracy Playbook

We all have different skills, backgrounds, and perspectives. And we all have a role to play in defending our democracy against authoritarianism. Learn the six steps to do your part.

Step 1: Know the signs and red lines

Step 1: Know the signs and red lines

The first step to defending our democracy is learning to differentiate genuine political disagreement from authoritarian behaviors designed to consolidate power and undermine majority rule. Healthy democracy has room for disputes — even ugly, angry fights — on policy, rhetoric, values, politics, candidates, and priorities. But it has no room for authoritarianism.

Only by separating democracy vs. authoritarianism from left vs. right, from progressive vs. conservative, can we learn to police the boundaries of healthy democracy in our own politics, communities, and conversations.

For decades, scholars have studied authoritarian regimes and backsliding democracies. Those experts have identified seven tactics that are common in authoritarian factions, but dangerous to healthy democracy: politicizing independent institutions, spreading disinformation, aggrandizing executive power, quashing dissent, marginalizing vulnerable communities, corrupting elections, and stoking violence. These tactics help differentiate genuine authoritarian threats from the sometimes ugly business of partisan politics.

Staying informed about our democracy, and the threats to it, is the best way to become a champion for democracy from the streets to the thanksgiving table. Attend events and discussions, read diverse news sources, and find experts you trust.

Need a hand? We’re here to help.

Step 2: Engage in democracy locally

Step 2: Engage in democracy locally

Our democracy crisis may be playing out on national news, but the soul of our democracy is local.

The shortest path to defending our democracy is often through local and state politics and government — halls of power where the spotlight is dimmer, but your voice echoes louder. Attending and participating in city government meetings and functions, meeting with your state legislators, and even running for office at the local or state level can help fortify and rebuild our democracy from the ground up.

You can also contribute to our elections themselves. Across the country, the hard work of administering free and fair elections happens at the local level — not federal, not state — and you can help.

Now more than ever, it is critical that polls are staffed by non-partisan, well-trained, and objective individuals who will administer a safe, secure, and accessible election. Protect Democracy partners with Power the Polls to make becoming a poll worker in your community simple and seamless.

Step 3: Find your voice, lead a chorus

Step 3: Find your voice, lead a chorus

We can protect our democracy just by talking about it, consistently and often. Speaking up at a community meeting or writing a letter to the editor (or to your member of Congress) can help remind everyone around you that democracy, and not just ideology, has a powerful and motivated constituency in you.

Better yet, find a chorus of people around you willing to say the same thing, to speak together with one voice, louder than the sum of its parts.

Write a letter to the editor when your local paper covers an issue related to democracy as a partisan dispute

Circulate an open letter among your friends and colleagues, standing up for democracy before ideology

Organize a petition calling on your elected representatives to vote for measures strengthening democracy, to push for accountability for abuses, or to reject election lies and conspiracy theories

Use your social media platforms not just to advocate for your political beliefs, but also to attest how and why democracy should be separate from politics, a shared value even among those who disagree

And as you use your voice, make certain that you — and those around you — never share or amplify disinformation or misinformation, even to debunk it. Pausing to verify all information with trusted sources is a key step to contributing to a healthy democratic discourse. This is especially true for news that triggers anger, outrage, or fear; simply pause and verify.

Step 4: Embrace your niche

Step 4: Embrace your niche

Protecting democracy requires every institution, and every one of us, working in tandem. Do the most good for our democracy by leaning into your skills, your strengths, your profession, and your community.

Step 5: Remember democracy in the voting booth

Step 5: Remember democracy in the voting booth

Protecting democracy requires a broad, cross-partisan coalition. The best way to empower that coalition is to vote for it — at every level, from city council to the president of the United States. The same is true if you volunteer for political campaigns or donate to candidates.

Sometimes this means making hard choices and being willing to put our democracy ahead of partisan labels, policy priorities, or other important values and voting for candidates we might not otherwise support.

And once you have done so, let them know. Write or message them letting them know precisely why they earned your support, and encourage them to do even more.

Step 6: Keep the faith

Step 6: Keep the faith

Authoritarianism thrives on despair, hopelessness, anger, and resentment. Democracy depends on hope and possibility. The most important tools we have are our optimism, willingness to trust and collaborate, openness to possibility, and strength in diversity. Democracy is, at its core, nothing less and nothing more than the conviction that, together, we can build a better world than any one of us could design on our own.

Democracy is nothing less and nothing more than the conviction that, together, we can build a better world than any one of us could design on our own.

To believe in democracy is to keep faith that it can endure dark times and immense challenges, and to know that — in the long run — the democracy of tomorrow will win out, and we can get back on the path to creating a truly pluralist, multi-racial, representative democracy.