America is divided both politically and socially. If we ever hope to establish truth and civility in public life, and be able to have respectful conversations with neighbors and friends, our organizing efforts and the way we practice politics must work to bridge the divide, not deepen it.
Political parties are not designed to mend society in this way. They are built to collect money, mobilize voters, and win elections. They operate to advance policies. They should not be expected to care about democracy — much less entrusted to defend it — over their own pursuit of power.
This means — with democracy in the balance — we can no longer invest so much time and money into parties at the expense of community. Instead, we must channel energy into nonpartisan local activities that benefit and serve people in nearby communities.
These projects and locales vary greatly, but the best of them are free, public, and they attract people of different backgrounds, cultures and opinions. They provide the space to discuss real problems, identify potential remedies, and actualize success. Most critically, they have the capacity to nurture and grow the sense of togetherness that is needed to move society forward.
There is no perfect process for creating community, or one way to reach a durable consensus among neighbors or across regions. This work can be chaotic and at times uncomfortable. But it is imperative that ideals and goals like these become the primary objectives of modern political organizing.
Such vision and the willingness to evolve our conception of democracy, moves politics beyond simply mobilizing for politicians and party platforms. It shifts the focus to real people — our neighbors — and ensures that democratic capacity derives from local independent power.
The future of our democracy ultimately rests on whether or not we have this capacity to change, and how we form the foundations of society through organizing and engagement efforts.
We must commit to movements that maintain and expand civil and economic rights. We must strive to identify the personal and collective responsibilities people have to the nation and each other. And we must refine the methods and modes of discourse that exercise new ideas, foster collaboration, and inform governance.
Democracy can persist, but only if we are willing to talk, disagree, negotiate, compromise, and struggle together — as one populace — toward a better, yet always imperfect union of many cultures, beliefs, hopes, and ever-evolving dreams.
Suspension foot bridge in mountainous terrain with left side in winter and right side in summer. Images from Unsplash users @samscrim (https://unsplash.com/photos/x8zEeH7euQI) and @lastly (https://unsplash.com/photos/5krgkKmeiMI); edited by Robert Beets.