Democracy is an audacious – possibly ridiculous – idea, one never attempted in all of history before America’s founders placed their history-changing all-in (we’re-finished-if-we’re-wrong) bet that kings were no longer required – that ordinary people could self-govern. Of course, therein lies our challenge – in a country without a king, someone has got to make a few decisions.
The framers built a system of governance that forced us to keep an uneasy peace across different groups in order to solve problems (someone please tell Congress). They knew what we sometimes forget today – human nature being what it is – we need each other in order to fully comprehend (and possibly solve) each challenge ahead of us.
Even before electricity, muddling through citizenship wasn’t likely our first choice on how to spend an evening. But now with the sheer volume of excitement we can experience from our couch, we’re less willing to suffer through the marginal entertainment value of talking to (annoying) people who don’t see it our way.
We now know that an unintended consequence of the digital age is dramatically less direct contact with our “neighbors,” particularly the ones we don’t agree with politically (or look like us demographically). Simultaneously, a global world fuels instantaneous equal and opposite reactions by relatively small groups of furious people who sweep the rest of us 24/7 into their escalating anger and invite us to choose up sides.
And we have taken sides.
These are developments with real danger to the underpinnings of democracy. Our decision to avoid mixing it up constructively with the “other” is essentially a decision to sit out what makes democracy stable. We are no longer having the conversations required to run anything as big as a country, or even as small as a one-stoplight town. And we’re closing the door to the human connectedness that has always been a prerequisite for healing division.
So unless we’re going to call it a day for democracy and go back to having a king, it is the challenge of our time to innovate democracy. And we think the best place to start is the way we did it the first time – we’ve got to embrace the foundational power of divergent opinion. And like the first time we did it, it’s going to have to happen between regular people. If there is nothing else we can agree on now, surely we know we can’t look to Washington to get this done.
Book Club on Race is simply one tool we’re offering to begin the process of asking ourselves how to do it. We’re also test-driving Race to the Movies, Tallahassee in Technicolor, and we’re throwing down the 5 Foot Challenge to you.
If not us, who? And if not now, when? One day we want someone to say “look what they did in Tallahassee… we can do that too.”
We challenge you to be part of coming back home to American democracy – this time in the colors of the human rainbow that ought to have shined in it the first time. Oh – and try to have a little fun while you do it, your joy will inspire others. Self-governance is kind of a wild ride, may as well just embrace it.