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10 Ways to Rekindle Democracy

Posted on October 19, 2020
By Christine Hadekel

In a recent webinar discussion hosted by Tamarack, Cormac Russell talked about his new book Rekindling Democracy: A Professional's Guide to Working in Citizen Space. Cormac, who describes himself as an itinerant storyteller, filled the book with stories from his travels while asking the question what these stories might call forth from us. His overarching thesis is that citizens must be at the center of any authentic democratic response to the challenges we face.


Here are the 10 key points from the webinar discussion:

  1. Things are not getting worse - they are getting clearer

    While the term “apocalypse” is being thrown around a lot lately, the multiple crises we are facing are bringing clarity to our present-day circumstances. The pandemic has not only exposed our individual vulnerabilities but is also giving us empirical evidence of the importance of social connectedness for community resilience.

  2. We don’t need a path - we need a compass

    There isn’t a clear linear path out of the challenges we currently face in our communities, but there is a compass. We can turn to stories as our wayfinder - stories of communities that have harnessed citizen power and built authentic relationships to confront adversity and meet collective challenges.

  3. We need to stop outsourcing citizen work to institutions

    Our dominant storyline tells us we are better off when institutions and professionals meet our needs through providing us with programs and services. This cultural habit of outsourcing citizen work to institutions has caused our civic life to recede. We need a new storyline which shows us that citizens can meet the majority of their own needs without institutions.

  4. We live in a technocracy, not a democracy

    We are currently experiencing an inversion of democracy where the role of the professional has superseded the role of the citizen. To return to a democracy, we must ask the fundamental question of what is the work of the citizen, both on the individual level and as a collective?

  5. Democracy is a verb, not a noun

    Democracy is not a fixed institution – it’s a way of being that is enacted by how people show up in each other’s lives and how we find ways for our individual and collective gifts to be in service of the greater whole.

  6. We need to re-function community rather than reform institutions 

    It’s time to reframe the problem. Rather than looking for ways to reform our institutions, we must ask what we can do to re-function community.

  7. We are citizens rather than consumers

    We have shifted our core allegiance from each other to an allegiance to the marketplace and institutions. In order to rekindle democracy, we need to see ourselves as citizens and community members rather than as consumers who are recipients of services.

  8. ABCD is not a substitute for services

    Asset-based community development is not a framework for how professionals can get more people to participate in their programs or receive their services. It’s an approach that is outside the contractual world and outside the realm of transactional experiences. It’s an orientation of the heart, a way of being in relationship with one another, and a way of walking alongside people to truly understand what well-being means for them.

  9. Community needs can’t be categorized

    Community needs often get defined in terms of market needs and get put into service categories. To rekindle democracy, institutions must authentically seek to understand what individuals need to live a full life and what communities can do on their own and with their own assets. Institutions should keep their services in reserve to supplement and fill in the gaps when needed.

  10. Young people are citizens of today, not tomorrow

    Each young person has something the world needs. Communities can organize themselves to call forth the gifts of young people. The great healing moment in our communities will be when young people feel there is a place for them and that they are genuinely needed in their communities.

Take your learning further:

Community Building, ABCD, Cities Deepening Community, Christine Hadekel

Christine Hadekel

By Christine Hadekel

Christine joined Tamarack as a Manager of Cities with the Vibrant Communities – Cities Deepening Community team. Her previous work has taken her across the globe where she has worked with community leaders, policymakers, funders, and researchers to catalyze cross-sectoral poverty reduction and food security initiatives.

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