Joan Cardellino: Defending Democracy

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As Ukrainians fight to defend the democracy they only recently built, Americans find themselves trying to defend a democracy we may have taken for granted. Joan Cardellino has this Perspective.

I sit at the kitchen table and write postcards to voters in Wisconsin while listening to the news that Russia has invaded Ukraine. The postcards I write encourage Wisconsin voters to sign up for mail-in ballots, on the assumption that they will be more likely to vote if it’s easier.

Ukraine’s population is about the same as California’s. Recently California has felt like a democratic refuge from a country that seems unsure that it wants to be a democracy anymore. Our former president admires Putin and has called the invasion “smart.” I reach for a second stack of postcards and think about the importance of the mid-term elections. I will do more to encourage voter turnout, but this is my work today.

My first political activity came when I was about 11 years old. There was a measure on the local ballot to increase property taxes to support the public schools. My mother gave me a list of names to call and told me that if I wanted to have field trips and new textbooks that I should do my part. I bravely made calls until I got to Mr. and Mrs. Butt on my list and collapsed into giggles, unable to imagine making that call with a straight face. Let’s just say my phone skills have evolved significantly since then.

In 1994, my husband and I traveled to Slovakia for an international conference. Some of the conference participants from former Soviet bloc countries were curious about what it’s like to live in a democracy. 'It takes constant work,' I remember telling them. 'We are never finished trying to make things better.'

Being actively involved in political work is not for everyone and doesn’t need to be. As Ukrainians are forced to defend their democracy with rifles and Molotov cocktails from invaders, we need to figure out what our individual responsibility is for supporting our democratic freedoms here. It’s increasingly obvious what we have to lose.

With a Perspective, this is Joan Cardellino.

Joan Cardellino is a retired State of California employee.