When I first moved to Berkeley, California, almost three years ago, someone told me about the NextDoor app. I signed up right away and soon discovered that it is a great way to connect with your neighbors. People post about free lemons and plant cuttings. They request help with odd jobs like weeding. They share details about upcoming events like community open mic nights and movies in the park. People generously responded when I asked to borrow some snowshoes (for a trip). And there are, sadly, many posts about missing (but also some found!) pets.

Immediately through NextDoor, I felt more connected to my neighbors and my neighborhood. And, as I’ve responded to posts, taking advantage of free fruit and doing some childcare for neighbors, the degree of connectedness has grown. Now I walk past a lot of houses and know at least a little about the people who live there.

So, when the Practicing Democracy Project published a Practicing Democracy in Your Neighborhood Guide, I thought NextDoor might be a good place to share some of the activities. I went through the guide and posted one practice at a time with a question for people to respond to. I also asked people to let me know if they did the activity.

I will admit I was a little nervous -- democracy can be a contentious topic. I hadn’t really seen anyone post about an activity like that before, and I worried the posts might seem out of place. But, if the “likes” and the responses are any indication, people appreciated the chance to be encouraged to think about democracy and to share their thoughts. They expressed appreciation that someone wanted to hear their experiences, their opinions, and their stories.

When I posted about going on "Neighborhood Walk", some people suggested we do it together. It was hard to coordinate schedules well enough to make a group outing, but I said I would be willing to walk one on one with anybody. I will admit, again, I was a bit nervous — but was pleasantly surprised. I learned mostly about the story of the neighborhood and how, unfortunately, many people and businesses have been priced out of it. Yet I also learned about the many multigenerational families who still live here. I learned about the railroad that used to go through the area, the only evidence now being a line of parks that cut diagonally through otherwise residential streets. I now have more faces that I recognize as I walk down the street — and more buildings and spaces that I know more fully.

I believe that part of strengthening democracy is having shared stories and knowing one another’s stories. It is about being rooted in a place and aware of what the people are thinking about, worrying about, and dreaming about. I am grateful to NextDoor for being a helpful tool for me in that — and I would recommend taking a look for yourself to see if it, or something similar, is available where you are so you can see what you can do with it!

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