Blog > Peter Pula

An inaugural All Citizens Meeting in Peterborough, ON hosted by a local publication, Electric City Magazine, ahead of this year's provincial and municipal elections offers a glimpse of what's possible for a reimagined democracy. Candidates and citizens sat knee-to-knee for an authentic dialogue on what matters to them.

Beyond Voting: It’s Time to Reimagine Democracy

reimagine: to imagine again or anew; especially: to form a new conception of.

Our democratic politics are rife with debate rather than dialogue, competition rather than collaboration. What team wins seems more important than just about anything.

  By seeing democracy predominantly as participation in government-led activity, we can be blinded to a much richer and effective form of democracy.

Our dominant approach to democracy puts politcal elites in the driver's seat. Citizens take a back seat. Democracy is something we engage in by fits and starts. We campaign then, for long stretches, consume. For most of us, and for the most part, political democracy is a spectator sport. It is not a mode of democracy that has much more to offer us as community members than it already has.

By seeing democracy predominantly as participation in government-led activity, we can be blinded to a much richer and effective form of democracy. French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a richer source for a deeper democracy. He referred to it as the mother of all science. He called it "the art of association."

This form of democracy is far more potent and powerful. It is led by citizens and community members. It is centred in the freedom of agency and association with one another. What de Tocqueville noticed was people working with one another, in place, with persistence, to address what was important to them, with the materials already at hand locally.

This form of democracy is enabling and ennobling of community members in their agency and in their giftedness.

Let us consider, for a moment, what happens when we vote. What our political elites would like us to believe is that we have exercised our power. What we have done is given away some of our power. With the ballot box, we have pinned our power to the purveyor of promises yet to be unfulfilled.

That being said, I believe it is critically important to vote. The people who represent us will have influence in a system that has power disproportionate to its abilities. Better people are better by far.

But, with this small act of participation in government-led functions, let us not leave the rest of our power on the table to waste.

Consider that there are powerful people. This is an acceptance of a power differential. We have become quite comfortable with power differential. We defer to it all the time.

  Every community teems with an abundance of talent, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, care, and inspiration.

Unlocking this abundance is what a reimagined democracy is and is for.

But here is the thing: concentrated power is not a lot of power when compared to diffused power. Power in a hierarchy is Power Over (in most cases). Power in the art of association is Power With.

Having hosted hundreds of gatherings and led a six-years-awarded democratic workplace, I have seen how much more power there is in a group, room, organization, or community when it is diffused. When everyone in a group is exercising their agency, there is exponentially more power in the room than when only one or a few are doing so from the top.

That such power is not explicit leaves it underutilized. When we leave the voting booth, let us not forget the other 98% of our power and to take it with us and into community.

Our communities are filled with more potential and wonder than we can imagine. Every community teems with an abundance of talent, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, care, and inspiration.

Unlocking this abundance is what a reimagined democracy is and is for.

Imagine what community life would be like if each of us was seen and heard, if our gifts were recognized and enlivened, if we as community members came together to create the things we wanted to see. What if, in our uniqueness and diversity, we were supported in our goals by those near to us, and they were supported in their goals by us?

In diversity and interdependence, we have the ingredients for whole and healthy community life.

This blog is Part 1 of a 4-part series on the topic of reimagining democracy. Upcoming segments explore the elements of a reimagined democracy. To ensure you don't miss any of this content, sign up for the free Axiom News e-news by clicking here.

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 2: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Citizen-Led Community Building & Democratic Workplaces."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 3: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Unleashing Local Capital & Pent-Up Capital."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 4: "Inclusive and Generative Journalism for a New Narrative."

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Peter Pula's picture

Peter Pula has been exploring the pathways to social evolution since founding the Grassroots Review in his hometown of Peterborough in 1992. Since then he has served on the boards of civil society and arts organizations and served as board president on two of them.

He has been actively involved in federal politics and led a corporate communications firm. Axiom News was incorporated under his leadership in 2009 and went on to establish the practice of Generative Journalism in an international arena.
In 2015, Axiom News founded and funded the Peterborough Dialogues in its hometown. The Peterborough Dialogues hosted over 350 deep community dialogues, established and refined hosting arts, and has had lasting impact in the Peterborough community. For this work in community, Peter was awarded the 2017 Brian L. Desbiens Community Service Award by Fleming College after being nominated by his peers and members of the community.

Peter works in support of deep democracy and passionately but lightly-held spaces for citizen-led community development. He believes that artfully hosted dialogue and generative media making are together a necessary social innovation for cultivating local-living abundance.

Peter is an artful dialogue host, newsroom director, team leader, mentor, trainer, and consultant. He can be a supportive force in the cultivation of initiatives in your community, network, or organization.

He has been invited to host dialogues, summits, workshops, and learning circles in Canada, the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and most recently in France.

If you would like to enjoy an exploratory conversation about engaging Peter in appropriate ways to enliven or enlighten your initiatives, you can reach him directly by writing to

Latest Blog

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What's the point? Why is it important to deepen democracy? What does it mean to deepen democracy?

What deepening democracy does not mean is tinkering with electoral politics. Turn away from this in your thoughts before continuing. Put it behind you. Never mind left and right, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican. Forget for now the stories liberal humanism and global capitalism proffer. Press all that noise and distraction, the sturm and drang, the circus and its players, the side shows and arcades beyond the horizon of your periphery.

All this is escape, abstraction, excuse. Frenetic, restless, immovable. Exhausting. Diminishing. Disempowering. Far Away. Untouchable. Unreachable. Let's stop wasting our wild and precious lives there.

Beyond all that is a field. Let's meet there. Take a deep breath.

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The time to move well beyond representative democracy as the way we 'do democracy' is well upon us. Representative democracy has been found wanting. It has become the bastion of professional politicians, and the limits of its usefulness to the every day citizen are increasingly apparent. A strong argument can be made that worse than not being particularly useful, it has ensconced us in a system in which the political and state apparatus, in its habitual pattern, actually interferes with citizenry in a detrimental way. That does not mean that it must be abandoned, but it must be transcended. We must do better. And that means proliferating democracy into spaces where we as citizens can experience both agency and efficacy. 

What’s next for all of us is at the intersection between big and small, system and life world, institution and citizen

We are in a global storm of shifting sands. Big, having the uses it does, has reached the limits of its usefulness. Doing more and more of Big isn’t going to get us any more significant results than it already has.

During the last eight months, a small group of Appreciative Inquiry practitioners has been exploring Generative Journalism.

Unbearably practical words pointing to where new worlds of wonder await

So much mystery and romance are conjured by the word piano. The piano is a powerfully evocative musical instrument. A piano is capable of sounding as many notes, and by some mysterious art even more, as a pianist has fingers and in endless combination. The harpsichord, the piano’s predecessor, could do all that too.

Media shift towards civic communications is worth appreciating

Over the past two weeks, the journalistic stance of media here in Canada, and I suspect other countries, has been changing in a manner worth appreciating.