Auden White ’26 (DCI Fellow)
In the DCI’s fall forum, “The Challenge for Democracy,” one of the participants posed an important question: “Why me?” He was a student who was in the midst of a discussion about the role of United States military interventions, nation-building missions, and sanctions in promoting democracy abroad. He had just listened to expert professors, themselves conflicted by the track record of previous US efforts, navigate the topic for the last hour. He was unsure how to add to the conversation, chart a course, and direct policy for the future, given his lack of experience and knowledge.
His caution is justifiable. He was not as knowledgeable as an expert, nor did he have a strong personal connection to the topic. Despite this background, I pushed back against his hesitancy and urged him to participate in the discussion. He did so wonderfully and brought up some interesting points during the discussion.
The Deliberative Citizenship Initiative (DCI) is designed for the hesitant young man and everyone who wants to learn more about politics. It focuses on deliberations, not decisions. We are not focused on changing government policy. The issues we try to tackle are too large, too divisive, and too complicated to find the best solution in a short deliberation about US foreign policy. Additionally, implementing that solution is difficult given the DCI does not have an advocacy wing, nor any political power. While in the longer term one of the DCI’s goals is to catalyze creative solutions that respond to and accommodate the important concerns of all stakeholders, we work to achieve this goal by first fostering greater understanding of these concerns about the issues at hand.
This emphasis on fostering understanding rather than seeking immediate solutions is valuable. Creating a space for dialogue and deliberation can lead to increased empathy, tolerance, and a deeper comprehension of diverse perspectives. Its goal is to bring members of the Davidson community closer, to hear each other’s stories, all of them, and to walk away with a more complete understanding of the American experience. It can lead to understanding between the most ardent supporter of abortion and a pro-life absolutist, where the other is no longer demonized but seen as a person who went through a slightly different set of circumstances. For dialogue, solutions are helpful, but not required.
The DCI’s focus on bringing people together to share their stories and perspectives, even if they ultimately agree to disagree, promotes a more nuanced and interconnected community. It fosters an environment where individuals can appreciate the complexity of various viewpoints without the pressure of arriving at a definitive solution. In a world often driven by the need for quick decisions and immediate outcomes, the emphasis on deliberation for the sake of understanding aligns with the principles of participatory democracy. It recognizes that meaningful change often begins with thoughtful and informed conversations, even if the tangible results may take time to manifest.
The young man at my forum on democracy is not alone: only 40% of youth say they feel well-qualified to participate in politics. This low confidence contributes to low voter turnout and political participation amongst youth. Deliberations like the ones sponsored by the DCI inspire further political participation and foster a more vibrant democracy.
Image Credit: allinonemovie