To support The Practicing Democracy Project, we sent out a survey to our mailing lists asking people to describe their hopes, fears, needs, and ideas surrounding democracy. The questions were intentionally open-ended to provide opportunities for the expression of a wide range of thoughts. Here is a summary and brief analysis of the data collected. With permission, we have included quotes from the responders to support our analysis and let them speak for themselves.
"What are your hopes about American Democracy?"
As we sorted through the answers to this question, themes emerged, the most common being the need to work together across diverse beliefs and experiences. In times of increasing divisiveness, people hope for unity, civility, peace, and respect. They feel a general sense of urgency about coming together to create strong communities and to work towards democracy. The urgency stems from a shared feeling of the gravity of injustice and inequality that hinders America's democracy.
People hope for change on the individual, community, and national level. They hope that the media will become a uniting force, one that has high standards of reporting and can build empathy and compassion across geographical separations. Here are some quotations from responders:
"My hope is that America becomes a society in which all human needs are met. My hope is for universal health care [and] free public college. My hope is an end to racial bigotry and class bigotry."
"[I hope] that we work (and it will take work) to provide space for a diversity of beliefs, ideas, genders, races so that we grow as a society. That we define, teach, and talk about what democracy actually is and that we focus in all we do by living up to that. That acts of service, compassion and love [are] given space and time in the media."
"[I hope for] a culture of tolerance, equity that erases all forms of discrimination; freedom of religion and drawing from the best values of all religions and cultures; diversity and difference coexists; law of dignity leads to racial justice, equity, and banning of guns."
"I so wish that we could learn to get along in spite of our differences. I want democracy to last. And to make it last, people need to realize that they are not always in the majority, that they may have to compromise, and they may have to interact with someone with whom they disagree and must look for commonalities so that collaboration can commence."
"I came from Cuba to the United States at the age of 12, as a political refugee. My parents left everything they had, everything they knew for the hope of freedom, the hope that my brothers and I would grow up in a democracy. I am 68 years old now and that hope of freedom, hope of democracy, is the one that I continue to hold for my children, my grandchildren, and for all human beings. My hopes for American democracy at this dangerous moment that we are living is that we wake up and work to ensure democracy survives."
"What are your fears about American Democracy?"
The fears sorted into two groups: individual and institutional. On the individual level, the fears lie in increasing divisiveness and the tendency to treat people outside one's own group as "others." These fears reinforce people's hopes to come together and work across differences.
On the institutional level, people fear what will happen if education, healthcare, and voting are not reformed. People's fears are already partially manifest in a current system that needs change. Many fear that an uneducated population is leading to apathy, complacency, and a power vacuum that is filled by large corporations and individuals with lots of money. They also fear that because of low voter turnout, citizens are losing their voice in democracy and that those with the most power are not the individuals, but the large corporations who lobby and influence congress to pass laws in their favor. This leads to social and economic inequality that is getting worse and more widespread. Many fear that media is losing its integrity, and a lack of accurate information leads to further distrust and labeling of others. Here are some quotes from our responders:
"I fear our increasing divisiveness. I fear that more power is being concentrated — that only the rich have real political and economic opportunities. I fear our cynicism is becoming our dominant response to the news. [I fear] there is no hope."
"I am fearful that democracy cannot be practiced in the America of the 21st CE. Our educational system has become so fragmented that it no longer inculcates a common culture in our children. I am also fearful that with the rise of unregulated, multiple media there is no means by which to insure an informed public. Without an educated, informed public whose cultural values include a concern for the common good, democracy cannot work."
"[I fear] power will accrue only to those who have the most financial resources at their disposal. Money will become ever more central to the decisions made by those in power. Individuals will become increasingly disillusioned with the processes of democracy and will withdraw from involvement in those processes. Income inequality will grow [and] distrust of those who are different from us will grow."
"Corporations and special-interest groups will continue to buy candidates and policy, furthering the societal gap between the have's and have-not's and leading to more strife between classes, social groups, etc. Checks and balances in government will continue to be ignored in favor of party-line loyalties. Alternative parties will continue to be shunned at the expense of two-party politics, leading to more citizens feeling misrepresented and indifferent to their individual power. Unaddressed environmental and education issues [will lead] to further economic and social hardship."
“Any fears are already manifest in our current state. True democracy is incompatible with corporate capitalism.”
"What are your needs that we might address in The Practicing Democracy Project? For example, what kinds of resources would be most helpful to you in your work or community life?"
There are two types of needs for The Practicing Democracy Project: needs for the individual and needs for groups and organizations. Individuals' needs align with their hopes and fears. The overarching hope is to work together, and to do so people say they need community-engagement resources, organizations they can connect with, ideas for creating small-group discussions that can lead to greater change, ways for the generations to meet and support each other, and tools for compassionate listening. People want models that prove the effectiveness and efficacy of choosing authentic democracy. Respondents want to live in the marriage of spirit and action, and to do so they need resources, connections, and case studies.
In addition to these individual needs, the respondents see parts of the systems around us that have to be addressed for the democracy to function better. These are education, media, and government. We need to better educate young people who will be the future leaders of this world. We need to teach them to be critical and engaged thinkers by exposing them to different historical perspectives that do not perpetuate injustice and prejudice. We need to train them not to be blindly patriotic but to be passionate about their country and to work towards its betterment.
Media is a public educator, and therefore we need high standards for reporting. There needs to be more respectful media coverage of current events that teaches us from different perspectives. The media can be a unifying force in our country, a way for people separated by distance to learn about each other and gain empathy with each other's struggles. And finally, there needs to be a reimagination in government so that policies are made to protect and serve the collective and not to protect and serve large corporations who exploit natural and human resources.
"Please share your ideas for The Practicing Democracy Project. For example, what resources or practices would you recommend?" and "Anything else?"
People recommended their own practices, books by spiritual leaders, and organizations that are already working around the topic of democracy. Respondents confirmed that The Practicing Democracy Project is headed in the right direction with the information and resources we are gathering. People want more spiritual guidance and real-world spiritual engagement along these lines.
Share your thoughts with us!
We are always interested in hearing more ideas for The Practicing Democracy Project. Here's a link to the survey in case you'd like to share your hopes, fears, needs, and ideas about democracy.