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Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Citizen-Led Community Building & Democratic Workplaces

Curator's Note: The Reimagining Democracy blog series by Peter Pula continues with an exploration of six key elements of a reimagined democracy. In this blog, Peter writes about two of those elements: citizen-led community building and democratic workplaces. The remaining two blogs consider an additional four elements: unleashing local capital, unleashing pent-up capital, schools and inclusive and Generative Journalism for a new narrative. To read Part 1 in this series, click here.

One of the challenges we face in realizing a reimagined democracy is the force of narrative. The dominant narrative, the one purveyed by mainstream media, corporate communications, and political campaigns, is for the most part an institutional narrative. It isn’t really for or by the grassroots at all. It doesn’t tell our stories, it doesn’t much illuminate or consider associational life. In that sense, the dominant narrative is repetitive and repressive.

There is another Peterborough (or Cincinnati or Salmon Arm or Iqaluit). There is another story. And, it isn’t just happening here.

  When you consider how much time we spend at work it stands to reason that, if our workplaces were democratic, more of us would be trained up in our agency and understanding of deeper democracy.
   

Associational life and deeply democratic approaches to community, livelihood, lifelong learning, environmental stewardship, and food, to name a few, are alive and well all around the world.

For 15 years, my colleagues at Axiom News were on a search to tell stories that illuminated and appreciated the value of generative, grassroots, and deeply democratic efforts around the world. What we encountered offers some direction about the elements of a reimagined democracy.
 
Citizen-Led Community Building
In Europe in particular, there is a sense that the state is in retreat or has come to recognize the limits of its usefulness. Additionally, there is the sense that too much of community life is reliant upon institutionalized programs and professional services.

In Bregenz, Austria, there is an Office of Future Related Matters. This office has had, for 10 years, the mandate to answer any call to host a community conversation about something that is important to citizens or elected officials.

The creation of citizen hubs or citizen studios as places for an association of associations and citizens is an attractive prospect and there are examples sprouting up around the world.
 
Democratic Workplaces
The amount of work that has been done on this is mind-boggling. Democratic workplaces are a fascinating field of action and study. Democratic forms of governance, ownership, and operations are myriad. Employee-owned firms are far less likely to be transient. They are rooted locally, owned by the people who work in them, and perform better than publicly traded firms for longevity, rootedness, employee retention, wage rates, and profitability.

Co-operatives are not to be ignored either in our thinking. According to the International Co-operatives Association, “the world’s top 300 co-operatives represent a global turnover [revenue] of 2.1 trillion USD. They generate partial or full-time employment for at least 280 million people either in or within the scope of co-operatives, making up almost 10 per cent of the entire employed population.”

There is a highly competent network of legal and advice support systems for co-operatives. Co-operatives are a form of deep democracy and have been formed by communities in Canada for decades to enact important functions in community.

When you consider how much time we spend at work it stands to reason that, if our workplaces were democratic, more of us would be trained up in our agency and understanding of deeper democracy.

A society of democratic organizations is a more deeply democratic one.

This blog is Part 2 of a 4-part series on the topic of reimagining democracy. Upcoming segments explore additional 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 1: "Beyond Voting: It’s Time to Reimagine Democracy."

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Peter
Pula

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.

In 2018, also in Peterborough, Electric City Magazine was acquired to marry local media capacity with citizen-led dialogue. Peter is now gently cultivating a local dialogue and media making collaborative, Common Work for the Common Good.

Peter works with persistence in support of deep democracy. He continues to innovate what he calls passionately but lightly-held infrastructure for citizen-led community development. He believes that artfully hosted dialogue and generative media making are together a necessary social innovation best suited to cultivating local-living abundance.

Peter’s experience has made him a suberb 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 peter@axiomnews.com.

Latest Blog

Last summer I wrote and published a story about a former convent, in which I kept a studio, that was fast becoming a community commons. With 131,000 square feet of space on a 10-acre parcel of land near the heart of the city this place had been purchased by way of a community bond and continues to become a community space.

For over 15 years the Axiom News space has been hosting a Space for Life. This is a phrase brought to us by Michelle Holliday and was the midwife of wonderful clarity.

By our conversations with thousands of people over the years we’ve grown into many beautiful friendships and connections. We have met mentors, supporters, fans, and like-hearted people from many parts of the world.

Imagine a warm, welcoming cottage, one that is beloved by its stewards and long-awaiting their return. It is a place lovingly imbued with the many memories and friendships held and hosted there over the years. Some time ago, the occupants of this wonderful place received a call to a work some distance away. As the call increased in its energy the occupants ventured off in answer. The home lay in wait for their return, still holding and serving as sanctuary to the intentions, care, and potential of all that was began and is still alive within its rooms, gardens, and pathways.

After 15 years of producing stories that contributed to change after change for the better, people still come to us with the concern that all we do in Generative Journalism is publish positive stories at the expense of facing reality.

The stories we tell shape our culture. Journalism as a civic art, to be of real assistance to democracy, has a few things to overcome.

I have come to see capitalism as the ideology or worship of capital, of money. Absentee investment is the root of so much in the way of dissociation. Money for money’s sake, and not for what it can do. Instead, we should look at intimate and engaged investment, that puts the power of money to good use.

During election time, we can easily get lost in the notion that voting and politicians are at the centre of democracy. And yet, democracy is so much more.

Today, democracy’s detractors point to the US experiment to denigrate the idea. In Canada, our politics have to a degree followed suit.