The Workshops of Democracy

Daring Democracy, part 3

It's true that fixing the mechanics of elections would be helpful. It would help us feel more empowered, less fragmented, more hopeful, less isolated and indifferent. But democracy is more than elections. We also need to do the work of opening our hearts to democracy as a way of life. And when I say “we,” I need to acknowledge that y’all (that’s Southern for youse guys) are awesome. Just being here today, and Sunday after Sunday, and at other programs during the week is huge.

At congregations and other voluntary associations across the land, the work is done. Being here regularly helps grow an understanding that we are all in this together, dependent on, and accountable to, one another. It helps foster appreciation of the value of “otherness,” and hospitality to the stranger, those who seem different. It helps us engage creatively with the tensions: the internal tension when we find ourselves doing something not precisely in line with what we’ve said we value – and the external tensions with people whose opinions differ from ours. Engage those tensions, neither hiding them nor hiding from them, but using them to better understand ourselves and our neighbors.

Being here helps us find our voice, know the satisfaction of contributing to positive change, and resist narratives of our own powerlessness. It creates community, knowing that it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks, and that steady companionship of kindred spirits nourishes the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.

Regular participation in congregational life is not the only way to do the work of opening our hearts to democracy as a way of life, but it is the best way I know.

So I really want to appreciate and invite us to appreciate together what an important thing – what an amazing thing -- it is to decide to be a congregation together, to keep this place going, to stay at the table to hash out differences, to resist the many temptations to take our ball and go home when things get a little hairy, to hang in and let the friction rub us smooth, to discern finally the lovely and delightful in one another and the light shining through our cracks. You’re here and you’re doing that, and that is such a great, hopeful thing – I just gotta say that.

But most Americans aren't here. During any given week, most Americans will not participate in any congregation where people practice and learn the gentle and the rough and tumble arts of being a people. More and more, Americans are either staying home, or they’re attending a mega-church, where they see a good show every week but participate in no decision-making, no dialog, no real encounter with one another. And our country suffers from the decline of heart-habits of democracy.

Fortunately, noncongregational forms of voluntary association may be gaining. Lappe and Eichen describe a growing network of organizations and concerns pushing back, reclaiming the vision that government of the people be for and by the people. Since most of the country isn’t here – that is, they’re not coming to us -- we can go to them. We can participate in and support noncongregational associations building democracy. What we learn here in our congregation about how to be together, how to be a people, are the attitudes and skills those other groups most need.
  • Visit the website of the Democracy Initiative to identify national and local campaigns.
  • The Move to Amend website connects a coalition of organizations and individuals quote “building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.”
  • Reclaim Our Democracy is a group based at First Parish UU in Concord, Massachusetts working on the issues of escalating inequality and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Check out their website.
  • Take a look also at Democracy Spring dot org, and
  • Democracy Awakening dot org. More than 500 UUs participated in the launch of Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening in April 2016.
  • The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives started last November 2017 – they’re doing good building.
  • The League of Women Voters has been toiling for democracy since 1920, and their ongoing work is more vital and important now than ever.
I’ll stop there. That should be enough to get you started.

Lappe and Eichen quote William Hastie, who, they note, was America’s first African American federal appellate judge:
“Democracy is becoming, rather than being. It can easily be lost, but never is fully won. Its essence is eternal struggle.” (Hastie)
It’s not consensus and parades. It’s not easy, quiet, orderly, and safe. It is struggle. It is the fullness of life: connection and meaning, purpose and agency. It is the life of wisdom and love that we can only find and make collectively with others. It is very exciting.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Daring Democracy"
See also
Part 1: Democracy: Not Quiet and Orderly, But Exciting
Part 2: Democracy: The Spiritual Need

Above text is excerpted and slightly revised from sermon delivered on 2018 Mar 25:

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