When I tell people about my business, I get interesting reactions. Most people give a strong nod of approval and tell me how much we need to learn to be civil to one another again. Often, they lament the state of our democracy and how tattered and fragile it seems.
But now and again, there will be that person who asks me whether I am a Socialist, or whether I am working for the Democratic Party. Somehow, they equate the word, “democracy”, which is part of my business name, with party politics. One woman went so far as to say in a very loud and insistent voice that I shouldn’t be teaching people about democracy and civic skills because I would only be advocating for one political party – “the liberal one”, she said.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by these questions and assumptions, but they do often throw me for a loop. Why? Because not only am I not advocating for any specific political party, I have no interest in what political party people belong to at all. It is not my business. Rather, I am more interested in whether they are willing to come to the public square in the first place, and, if they do, whether they have the civic skills, temperament, and patience needed to discover the common good alongside others with whom they don’t always agree.
We seem to be losing or confusing our language related to civic life and democracy – so much so, that people have told me not to use the word “democracy” in anything I do because it might offend someone. To say this is concerning to me is an understatement. How do you defend and protect a system of governance (that despite its flaws, is still the best system of governance we have), if we aren’t even willing to use the word for fear of “offending” or turning someone off?
Democracy is not a political party. It does not choose sides or support the ideas of only a certain percentage of our citizens.
Sometimes, I think about all that has been sacrificed throughout history to preserve this lofty idea of democracy and the freedoms it provides to all of us. As a form of governance, it is still a work in progress, but a gift nonetheless. There is a quote by one of our “founding fathers,” John Adams, who, in a letter he wrote to his wife, “founding mother,” Abigail, in 1777 said:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
As we get closer to our nation’s next birthday on July 4th, let’s consider his reflection as a reminder to reclaim public life – with all its inherent problems, frustrations and challenges. Let’s consider what thousands of people have sacrificed to bring us to this point. Let’s commit to renewing our roles in ensuring its success instead of fearing it, co-opting its language and meaning, or allowing it to atrophy.
If you would like to re-engage with the ideas of active citizenship and governing for the common good, please consider registering for my workshop July 13th and 20th, at:
Let’s renew democracy one person, one act at a time!