Wednesday, January 31, 2007


National Democracy Report Released

A report summarazing the results of the national issue forums done on revitalizing democracy has been released. For the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of the highlights from that report. Your feedback is welcome.

In National Issues Forums across the country, citizens came together to deliberate for several hours about the challenges facing the country— democracy’s challenge. This report on people’s thinking in those forums is divided into four main sections: a detailed summary of what happened in these forums; a description of key tensions in the deliberations that became apparent as people deliberated; particular interests, which outlines some ideas that participants gravitated towards; and important questions and answers about the forums which suggest that people do not connect to the issue as conventional wisdom suggests. Below is a brief summary of results.

Something’s Wrong

People in these forums felt that something is dreadfully off track in our democracy. Beyond their immediate sense that the nation is headed in the wrong direction and their low level of confidence in the leaders of both political parties, participants’ comments suggest that there is something else— something below the surface that is far more troubling. And during these forums, they grappled to identify what problems trouble them and what steps might be taken to deal with those problems.

Alienated and Disconnected

As people deliberated, many felt alienated from politics and community affairs—and powerless to do much about them. They felt that community engagement has sharply declined over the past few decades but, initially at least saw no connection between such engagement and the health of the democracy or their own feelings of alienation.

A Nation of Consumers

Some felt that Americans have become consumers in the democracy instead of its citizen-proprietors. People noted that gated communities, which segregate the privileged from the larger community, have become status symbols, something to aspire to. Some including a man from Texas said that Americans are actually taught to be consumers. “We were really groomed to be consumers.…Buy a bigger house and more cars.”

Spectators not Participants

In many forums, people saw themselves as part of the audience, bystanders in the democracy instead of active members with a sense of ownership. Others saw themselves as participants at the local level but not nationally. Citing their involvement with community organizations, some felt like citizens in their community, but not in the democracy.

Feel free to add your comments or take the online survey about democracy available through this blog. See the left hand column and click on the link to our survey on "Revitalizing Democracy."

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