Research-and-Action Notes

photo by RZA

“Democracy may not exist, but we’ll miss it when it’s gone” –the provocative title to Astra Taylor’s awesome book – is feeling hugely apt to the times we are in.

It’s 2022, and here in the U.S. many of us are extremely concerned about the next elections. It’s clear that some are attempting to regain at the ballot box, the allegedly  “stolen election” that the instigators of and the participants in the failed coup on January 6, 2021 were attempting to violently take back.

In this context, it’s clearly necessary for as many of us as possible, to focus on the immediate short-term effort of attempting to preserve whatever degree of “democracy” remains in this country — and here’s one great resource for doing so: the 2022 Campaign Bootcamp, created by the awesome Dr. Karen Tamerius, founder of Smart Politics.

On my end, I am doing a little bit along these lines… and also, making whatever small donations I can. Yet right now, I am deep in the midst of writing a doctoral dissertation, and my own work does not contribute directly to this much-needed effort. Instead, it is centered on democratic innovations that create forms of participation beyond the ballot box.

And still. In my research, I’ve been delightfully shocked to discover Judith M. Green’s Deep Democracy (1999) for the first time; here’s a thoughtful review. Similar-yet-different to Ben Barber’s Strong Democracy, she offer extremely prescient diagnosis of how liberal democracy has been “hollowing out from within” for quite some time now, thus creating the conditions for our current circumstances. 

Of course it’s easy to blame others, and also understandable, given that have plenty of evidence of a long-term, well-funded effort to prevent the creation of a multi-racial democracy in this country (for starters, Dorothy McLean’s “America in Chains” and Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money”.) The question remains, how effective can we be, if we only consider others’ responsibility for the situation we are in? And conversely, how might looking at our own contributions to this predicament, both individual and collective, open up some opportunities for effective action?

In the last few weeks, I’ve sent a few friends the NYTimes review of Thomas Frank’s “Listen, Liberal”. Written in 2016, shortly before 45 was elected, it’s still enormously relevant as an examination of our own role as “liberals” (as well as the Democratic Party’s role) in our current mess. And yet, as the review notes, it’s short on answers…

I also don’t have many answers at the moment, but I do have some good questions. For instance, I’m wondering what it does to the prospects of a deeper democracy, to have a polarized situation where one of the two major parties has taken on the entire mantle of “democracy” by appropriating that term for its name? If we consider that democracy is important, how are we inadvertently making it harder for people to think about what democracy means, when it all to easily merges with, “the name of the party that I am opposed to”?

Wondering further… words matter. Or at least, many of us like to think that they do, when we are the ones being hurt by them. So what if, the Democratic Party were to say something along the lines of, “democracy belongs to ALL of the members of our republican system. We are ALL democratic citizens of this republic, so each of us is in fact, both democratic AND republican”? How might that “play in Kansas”?

And, to bring it even closer to home… what if, those of us who choose to do so, were to identify ourselves as members of a larger “solidarity” movement, a movement that cares about the well-being of those who are less advantaged, as well as those who are more advantaged… and actively works to create a culture of respect for the dignity of each human being –regardless of color or gender, rural or urban, faith or health or wealth? 

And finally, what if many of us “woke white or white-passing folks” were to engage in two-way learning conversations with others?  “Yes, of course, ‘all lives matter’… Black Lives Matter… and Blue Lives Matter… and brown lives matter… indigenous lives matter, and green lives matter, and our own lives matter, too… And yet our current system seems set up to pit us against each other. I wonder what might it take, for us to feel and know, that our lives aree valued by others?”

And then, what if we LISTENED first, to create an opening for, speaking from the heart?

Along those lines, if anything has given me hope for the upcoming elections, it’s the growing Deep Canvassing movement, and their skills for “changing conversation together”. BTW, these deep canvassing skills are one of the practices that participants will be learning at the 2022 Campaign Bootcamp mentioned earlier…. maybe see you there?

And, if you’d care to leave a comment, would love to read any of your thoughts.

(Am also posting this on my online research journal, if you’d prefer to leave a comment there.)

with love and solidarity,


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