Impact Stories

A Love Letter to Democracy

Impact Story | June 29, 2023
California, (Public Health Alliance of Southern CA)-- As we prepare to gather with friends and family to celebrate the 4th of July, this moment provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon our nation's noble and aspirational founding principles.  Our country is built on the democratic ideal of equality and inalienable rights—as declared in the Declaration of Independence. It mandates governments to respect these rights, drawing their authority from the consent of the governed.

These are the ideals that make my heart sing and propel our work at the Public Health Alliance.
Yet, we cannot ignore that our democracy has been imperfect and remains marred by the legacy of slavery, systemic racism, and voter suppression. In recent years, we've seen our democracy tested in ways that were once unthinkable. The waves of challenges have come both directly and indirectly.

This shows us that democracy is not an inevitable condition, but a precious gift. A gift we must hold dear and fight to preserve. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, it offers space to commit ourselves to face these truths, learn from them, and strengthen civic engagement. These actions will nurture and strengthen our democracy.  

Civic muscle and belonging-is recognized as a vital condition of health and well-being by federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health.  That’s why our Healthy Places Index platform incorporates voting as a key driver of health, and our HPI Policy Action Guide presents strategies like enhancing voter registration and voting accessibility, conducting targeted outreach and education, fostering participatory politics, and supporting a strong community fabric to strengthen voting rights.  

Democracy is a determinant of community health, and its strength, gauged by the level of civic participation, has a profound impact on the overall health of our communities. This correlation has been underscored in studies, such as one conducted by Julianna Pacheco and Scott LaCombe, which found that democratic institutions fostering political accountability were associated with improved health outcomes, including reduced infant mortality rates.  

The Health & Democracy Index indicates that communities with inclusive voting policies and robust civic participation exhibit better health outcomes, while areas with exclusionary laws and low civic participation experience heightened health disparities.  

Local health departments too, are actively working to transform their own institutions to be committed to power-sharing with communities. As the pandemic unfolded, our member health jurisdictions understood how crucial it was to incorporate the invaluable wisdom of the community into their decision-making processes, sparking the creation of dedicated racial and health equity teams.  These teams act as an essential bridge to those hardest hit by inequities and injustices within our communities. They're finding innovative approaches to ensure those with lived experiences are at the heart of co-creating solutions.  

We are living in a historic moment of great change-whether wrestling with the effects of climate change, reckoning with racial injustice, or growing global political instability.  

In the face of these issues, the strength of our democracy relies not only on our historic principles, but our shared commitment to upholding them today, tomorrow, and for the generations to come
. It requires our collaborative efforts, to ensure that each decision, big or small, reflects the will of the people.  So, let’s engage and work together to help form a more perfect union so that we can fulfill the promise of our founders that all people are “endowed, by their Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Have a Happy 4th!  

Dr. Tracy Delaney
Founder and Executive Director of the Public Health Alliance of Southern CA