Democracy on purpose

True, participatory democracy should be about so much more than voting. We know this—but besides occasional rallies and letter-writing, few things come to mind. Maybe this has nothing to do with the options that are available to us and everything to do with how much or how little we’ve built deliberate cultures around the things we do.

Voting is an action, but Election Day is a culture. A culture that we do on purpose. The waiting in line at your local rec center or fire station or dance studio. The background noise of holes being punched through thick paper. The sticker. At home you turn on the network news ahead of time because you want to feel the anticipation before the results pour in and all of the national channels have special programming designed to make you feel like today is a big day. The culture is distinct—and it’s fun, too.

There are countless open slots in participatory democracy that we could build a culture around. There’s no culture around getting into an accidental political debate with friends or family, for instance, with the goal of arriving somewhere new together. Maybe it’s no wonder that we avoid these conversations even though they would strengthen our ability to communicate our own opinions and deepen our understanding of others’. There’s no shared playbook, and as a result, when the opportunities crop up, we feel unsafe.

We could make new rituals, new norms, an entirely new taxonomy designed to make these conversations productive and fun.

I was at an activist meeting the other day, and two activists sitting next to each other realized they had similar, interconnected ideas that they each wanted to share.

“You wanna stack?” one said to the other.

We could make stuff like that.