Grassroots Dayton is a not-for-profit 501C(3) organization that has a great purpose: “to promote the development of citizen democracy in the Dayton region.” I like its motto — “sowing the seeds of democracy” — it suggests an interesting path of thought. Maybe I’m inspired by Chauncy Gardner from “Being There,” but, I’m wondering: What is a seed of democracy? What does a seed of democracy look like? How does one go about sowing such seeds?

I’m glad that Grassroots Dayton didn’t choose an easier motto, something like, “building democracy.” A free press, an educated population, fair elections are all aspects of building democracy. All good ideas. But the motto “sowing seeds” suggests a lot more. An architect directs the growth of a building based upon a blueprint he himself designed, but a gardener understands that his role is different. He knows that the growth he seeks comes not from his blueprint or his direction, but that growth comes from a force of life beyond his direction. He just needs to get it started. He needs to sow seeds.

We might think of our democracy as being a grand old building in bad disrepair and might imagine that the solution to its problems are architectural. But it seems more accurate to think of our democracy in ecological terms. Our landscape is a desert, when it should be a lush and productive garden. It rings true, to me, that the solution of the problems of our democracy are more those requiring the skills of a good gardener, rather than those of a good architect. It is interesting that Grassroots Dayton’s motto suggests just one gardening activity — “sowing seeds.” Nothing about preparing the soil. I’m wondering if an expanded slogan — say, for a membership drive for Grassroots Dayton — might be something like this: “The ground is ready, the conditions are right, we need workers to help us in our work, ‘Sowing The Seeds Of Democracy’.” (An extended video commercial — soliciting new membership or donations — could develop this theme, showing an historical understanding of the development of our democracy, emphasizing that the opportunity for democracy did not happen without a price.)

One thing is certain, a seed of democracy has great potential and great power. Totalitarian states are ever vigilant to notice any evidence of democracy sprouting up and are relentless and merciless in ever uprooting any growth of democracy that becomes evident. Totalitarian states spend great energy to make sure that seeds of democracy never enter their borders. The idea of democracy, itself, is a seed of democracy. Totalitarian states know that the idea of democracy is a powerful idea that has inflamed imaginations throughout human history. So, they purge libraries of material promoting democracy, and censure and control speech within their country to deflect any interest in or discussion of democracy.

Democracy, of course, is more than an idea. Democracy is a means to meaningfully organize a group of people, a means to make group decisions. Democracy rests on faith in the belief that there is such a thing as group wisdom and that, given the opportunity, a group will make good decisions in choosing its leaders and in charting its course.

It is an interesting fact that a lot of Americans have really never experienced democracy in the sense of meaningfully participating within a democratic group. Most work places are not democratic; most schools are not democratic; the military is not democratic; even churches often are not democratic. And, many people have stopped voting because they have concluded that even our democracy is not democratic.

The fact is, we have allowed our system of democracy to degenerate into a system of elitism. I wrote this post — “For Our Future’s Sake, We Must Transform Our System of Elitism To a System of Democracy” — developing that idea. It’s true, our democracy is not democratic. When you look at the landscape of our democracy, you see a desert where there should be lush and productive growth. Our democracy is in need of vitalization; we need many new outgrowths of democracy throughout our entire region. We need to sow seeds of democracy.

I believe that the idea of democracy should be an idea that should dominate our political discourse. I wrote a post last September that said, “The irony of our effort to build democracy in Iraq is the fact that our own democracy is barely functioning and is in need of a building effort itself. A consensus view is growing that ours is a very weak democracy and that our government is a far cry from one that is ‘of the people, for the people.’ The ascending issue in our democracy, in my judgment, is democracy itself.”

Because a seed of democracy is the idea of democracy itself, Grassroots Dayton should find ways to bring the topic of the state of our democracy into public discourse, and should find a way to support a meaningful study and discussion of the state of our democracy.

I’m thinking another seed of democracy Grassroots Dayton should sow is the creation of realities within which people can directly experience democracy. The more people experience democracy, the more they will want to experience it. I like the idea of creating forums, for example, for the study and discussion of issues concerning our future. Such forums, in the way they are organized, could function as temporary communities and could serve as positive examples of how people can form communities and work democratically together to achieve a common purpose. I like the idea of creating school clubs, “Democracy Clubs,” that could serve as democratic communities for students dedicated to a common purpose — understanding and advancing democracy. Such clubs might work cooperatively with organizations like Kids Voting, or The League of Women Voters.

I like the idea that a seed of democracy Grassroots Dayton might sow this political season is the organizing of community meetings where neighbors can get together for the common purpose of socializing with each other but also for meeting and dialoguing together with Republican and Democratic candidates running for office. Anytime communities are brought together for meaningful work, the cause of democracy is advanced, because, active communities are the essence of democracy.

And I like the idea that Grassroots Dayton should facilitate the discussion of and understanding of important issues facing our community. A seed of democracy is basic public awareness.

Finally, I’m thinking that Grassroots Dayton, itself, must become an active democratic community. Grassroots Dayton must use the opportunities of the internet to form a meaningful internet community, operated democratically to pursue and accomplish Grassroots Dayton’s mission.

So, in general terms, I’m thinking Grassroots Dayton can work toward fulfilling its mission — “sowing seeds of democracy” — in the following ways:

  1. Find ways to bring the topic of the state of our democracy into public discourse; find ways to support a meaningful study of the state of our democracy.
  2. Create realities within which people can directly experience democracy.
  3. Organize community meetings.
  4. Facilitate understanding of important issues.
  5. Define itself as a democratic community and act as a democratic community.

This whole question of how Grassroots Dayton can meet its purpose — the development of citizen democracy in the Dayton region — is an important question and I want to suggest some workable answers to that question in future posts.

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