Unabashed white supremacy, rising nationalism and creeping fascism. Russian hacking and fake news. The manipulability of the attention economy. The threat of nuclear war.
All of these are reasons to believe that democracy is under global threat. But is it?
Yes, what we call “Big D” Democracy—i.e., the institutions of our representative democratic systems—are genuinely threatened by vote tampering, voter suppression, election rigging, propaganda, incitement and violence. As a result, these times feel full of doubt and unease. But this moment is also full of potential. It’s ripe with lessons on how to design a true rule of the people, by the people. We have the chance, right now, to craft “small d” democracy that extends far beyond our limited institutions of representative government. We have the chance to live democracy—not just live in one.
It is precisely because of our collective anxiety that we have this opportunity. The turbulence and groundlessness we have been experiencing in 2017 have already jolted many of us awake. Beyond mindfulness and the pursuit of inner peace is a call to spiritual warriorship that many of us are hearing. Embodying democracy is one way to respond to that call.
If you’ve been hearing the call like we have, you may resonate with our assertion that it’s time to make the worlds we inhabit mini laboratories for democracy, consent and equity. The communities in which we live, the groups with which we dialog and work, one-on-one interactions and even the internal, somatic experience of our own bodies and inner wisdom are all fertile ground for growing a new world. The seeds we suggest planting hold the deliberate and mindful practice of lived, “small d” democracy. Through cultivating “small d” democracy, we can build the larger systems of democracy that we wish to live in. We can open up possibilities we hitherto thought were impossible, or would never have even thought of.
Below are some practices that can be used individually and in groups, and which can constitute a collective exercise of radical individual and interpersonal leadership. They are fundamental and go to the root. It is likely that they will also be uncomfortable. They will challenge you to understand democracy in a whole new way—a way that depends on you. When you’re depended on, you can’t shirk responsibility or fall asleep. Embodying democracy means being awake and actively engaged throughout your life, and in two critical ways.
Democracy is commonly defined as a system of governance but it is fundamentally a way that individuals choose to share power in relationship to one another. It requires compromise when there is disagreement. To know how to arrive at agreeable compromise requires that the individuals involved practice 1) agency to advocate for our own positions within a social structure or relationship and 2) consent as to how we will pursue shared intended outcomes, horizons and visions—as well as how to negotiate compromise.
The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article or to download the PDF version.
Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 3:54-56