A few weeks ago, I was part of an event that explored the theme of democracy for racial justice. I oversaw the logistics of the event so I don’t remember much of the conversations. Yet the theme and overall conversation have stuck with me. At the event table conversations were focused on what does democracy mean to our community (macro level) and how does democracy show up in our lives and in our schools (micro level). It was and continues to be a timely topic because of the 2018 mid-term elections, the recent shooting of 11 people at a Pittsburgh Synagogue and the killing of two Black people at a grocery store, talk about stripping birthright citizenship, and taking away services from people through public charge rule changes. Democracy is felt in the elections, but do we understand it and seek it out in our daily interactions?
If I were explaining the concept of democracy to someone else I would probably say it is how we work to get what we need from each other, to allocate and share resources, seek just relationships, and the semblance of normalcy and predictability. At the democracy conversation event, Jondou explained that democracy can be sought through everyday interactions. I am purposeful in not using the words voting, government, or president because too often we default to those terms as explanations for what democracy is, but if we dig deeper democracy is about daily life and we uphold or squash down democratic values by just living.
Democracy in everyday life
I’ve been listening to the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I’m on disk three (out of eight) and in this section, the author describes how to structure events to be more democratic. The principles of democracy are worth protecting and structuring interactions around. She described how one host purposefully sits people by male/female/male/female to disrupt and distribute gender imbalances. She also described how President Obama would purposefully call on female reporters and in a specific order to allow women to have a voice and their questions fielded. As she described these actions Parker narrated how this is creating a more democratic environment at these various gatherings. She sees it as part of an organizer’s duty to protect the gathering, guest, and to create democratic environments that allow people to fully participate as their best selves.
While Parker doesn’t write explicitly about race many of her principles can be translated to race. At gatherings, we should work to create environments that are implicitly and explicitly welcoming for people of color. An example of bringing in democracy into events is to pay attention to whose voices are heard. Such as at meetings I facilitate I sometimes will purposefully ask everyone to pause and write down their thoughts to allow introverts, people who’s native language isn’t English, and those who want to take a quick mental break to process information. This small pause in a gathering allows everyone to reset and shifts energy away from those are used to controlling the conversation to rebalancing power to include voices need protecting and uplifting.
In another example related to the elections, a Facebook friend posted a picture of postcards she wrote to encourage people to vote as part of an online Get Out the Vote effort. I decided to sign up – I figured it was something I believe in, I could spare a few minutes to write five postcards, I like supporting the postal system, and it was good to belong to the civic voting online tribe. I found the organization’s website and signed up. The next step was to write a sample postcard with their key message and send a picture to them for approval. The note I got back was because I didn’t follow their prescriptive message exactly I had to ‘fix’ my postcard before moving forward. I gwaffed and hit delete – it bothered me but whatevs I wasn’t going to waste my time with their righteousness. After thinking about it for a few hours I decided to write back to the organizers telling them I was opting-out (even though I hadn’t really been let in). I wrote about how their dictating the exact messaging didn’t feel right to me. I explained for many generations families like mine were told to assimilate to have the right to vote and I am standing in solidarity with other people of color who are constantly censored and told exactly what to say and how to say it. If democracy is about uplifting a freedom of speech, then we as a collective have to tolerate and embrace diverse messaging and voices. I didn’t say it but I found it ironic an effort that is embedded in democracy wasn’t embracing this aspect of democracy.
Election day is coming up on 6 November. I voted because it is important to me to participate in this form of democracy. I also have to remember and work to keep democracy alive in everyday interactions not just voting to prop people up or voting them out of office. Those are important but daily democracy is just as important and those are actions I can own daily.
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