American Democracy on the Precipice: Waking up the Day After

Cara Hagan
4 min readJan 7, 2021


Morning in the Appalachian Mountains, Winter 2020.

It’s January 7th, 2021. It’s the day after what is sure to be remembered as one of the most infamous days in recent American history, preceded by what is sure to be remembered as one of the most controversial presidencies in American history. Maybe you’re horrified. Maybe you’re despondent. Maybe you’re indifferent. Maybe you’re mad as fuck. No matter what you’re feeling, the sun is moving across the sky, the baby’s just started to whimper in her crib, and you’ve gotta get up to pee. The day isn’t going to stand still. So what now? What does one do the day after an attempted coup by a group of domestic terrorists, incited by an untruthful, unlawful president? How do you do your part to make sure these events never happen again?

It takes tremendous work and buy-in from all of us to keep democracy healthy and in working order. And if recent events are any indication, it is sweat well-spent to invest the time and attention necessary to avoid the events of the days leading up to, and on January 6th. I haven’t any foolproof answers or magic tricks to making the days ahead sustainably just and peaceful. But I do have a few suggestions of how to cultivate some momentum, most especially if you are feeling stuck and unsure where to begin. It is my belief that we all have a responsibility to our society. One of the defining features of living in community is the inextricable nature of our lived experiences. Even if you don’t believe in patriotism, it is hard to argue that what you or I do today, makes no difference tomorrow. So today, I suggest you start here:

1. Vow to never miss an election. Not a municipal election. Not a midterm election. Not a presidential election. Remember the sacrifices people have made to make voting possible for all people in our country. If you are privileged enough not to have impediments to voting, help make sure that those who are disenfranchised, disabled, home-bound, transportation insecure, or experiencing other barriers to exercising their civic duty, can vote. Advocate for laws that make voting more accessible to all.

2. Hold your representatives accountable. Call. Write. Show up to town halls. Read and listen to their statements. Pick them apart and ask questions. Follow their voting records. Stage peaceful demonstrations when necessary. Be that constituent your representatives know by name. And vote.

3. Hold each other accountable in community. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about what’s happening in your communities and don’t be afraid to call out folks for perpetuating misinformation. Don’t perpetuate misinformation yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask people why they feel the way they feel, and to engage in real talk. Small talk is unproductive and boring, to boot.

4. Be intentional with your language. Don’t call people protesters when they are in fact, terrorists, for example. Call out racist, sexist, ableist, capitalist behavior and call it what it is. Identify coded language and practice using alternative, more accurate terms and statements.

5. Atone for past transgressions and vow to do better. Learn the art of apology. Use this powerful tool often. Don’t just say you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry and do the work to never have to apologize for discriminating against or disenfranchising someone again. Demand that your family, friends, colleagues, faith leaders, and representatives do the same. This work is not for the faint of heart. But do this, and you’ll feel lighter.

6. Educate the children. They’re the future. Don’t let them repeat the past. Work to give them the tools to hold the democratic process in high regard. Teach them to protect it. Teach them to protect each other, and themselves. Teach them the real history of our country. Teach them to ask questions. Teach them to ask more questions. Teach them that life-long learning is the only way to avoid becoming complacent, the only way to avoid becoming complicit in violence and corruption.

7. Do not forget these days. Don’t let them be forgotten by future generations. Write poems and stories. Share photographs. Make movies. Amend text books. Form panels and roundtables. Design museum exhibitions. Mark the day on your calendar. Don’t. Forget. When we forget history, history has a way of teaching us the same lesson until we’re truly ready to move on.

There’s no question that we have a lot of work to do. It isn’t going to be easy, and it’s likely to feel like a real slog some days. When I feel like it’s all too much, I like to remind myself that small steps are the sum of great distance. Let’s go.



Cara Hagan

Working at the intersections of movement, words, digital space, contemplative practice, community. University prof, community organizer, film festival curator.