Janis Richter

Janis Richter


In response to the request for an update for our 55th reunion book I went beyond the personal because I was so concerned about the future of our democracy. If you can use this for the symposium as well, feel free:

The year we graduated was full of political turmoil but, as I remember, there was hope and optimism that we were making progress – on civil rights, on questioning the war in Vietnam, on raising some alarm about environmental degradation. That optimism was sorely challenged post-graduation as the war dragged on and Reagan's “welfare queen” rhetoric put a black face on poverty.

But there were also times we met our collective challenges – addressing air and water pollution, protecting native habitats with the Endangered Species Act, making health care possible for millions of families through the Affordable Care Act, and reforming racially charged police practices one community at a time.

As I reflect now with the experience of the ups and downs over the last half-century, however, I realize that we never can assume a victory will survive without due diligence and support.

After Watergate it seemed we had exposed and put an end to political corruption. Not so, apparently, with the rampant self-dealing and corrupt use of power exposed in the Trump administration.

When I was growing up we were taught to hide under our desks or along the wall in the hallway in case of nuclear attack. After allowing the federal assault weapon ban to elapse, schoolkids are now required to practice lockdowns in case a mass shooter should come to their school.

Voting rights for minority voters that gained federal protection while we were still in college are now being undermined by state laws across the country designed to make it harder for certain populations of voters to get to the polls, submit their ballots, or even have their ballots counted.

My optimism about the promise of our nation has been sorely tested in the last decades. I no longer feel optimistic that each success – to protect immigrant and minority families, to make the social and physical environment safer, to offer help with the costs of education or health care – will be a permanent victory.

Instead I now know that we can never rest on our laurels. I realize now that democracy requires a determined commitment to stay in the “game” and do what we can, with our words, our money and our votes, to support leaders and decisions that match our democratic values and aspirations. And when we are no longer on this earth, the next generations will have to do the same 

As one of my young grandsons said during the most recent Presidential election – “this is important – my future depends on it. 

Janis Richter 

Rochelle, VA 22738


PS The best research I've read on the dangers to democracy in "How Civil Wars Start" by Barbara F. Walter. The conclusion of data-driven research on dramatic changes toward or away from democracy is that rapid change in power structures fuels divisions that can lead to big social divisions as groups re-align themselves and fight to retain or gain political power.