By Heidi North, DCI Fellow
“…and that visibility which makes us the most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.” -Audre Lorde
This quote, from a legendary poet and activist for queer and civil rights, perfectly encompasses the spirit of deliberative practice and its goal in helping us to realize that civil conversations between differing perspectives, and the solutions that may arise from those, are the strength of true democracy.
I approach the art of deliberative citizenship from my identity as a queer woman, which is the lens through which I view the world. Not just queer sexuality, but queer as in an identity that runs counter to what we accept as ideal and normal in Western society. Much of my research and work within the DCI has been focused on the art of civil conversation, and the potential it has to heal the rifts in our country and end the polarization that dehumanizes the Other. I do this alongside grassroots activism within Davidson College where discussion, paired with action, is done civilly, yet with intention.
Audre Lorde embodied this dynamic — discussion paired with aggressive action. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. This relationship between conversation and activism is a taijitu; one cannot exist without the other, and neither is effective alone; it is also a core pillar of deliberation. Both require vulnerability, especially if you hold a marginalized identity and are routinely denied a place at the table, but in very different ways. Discussion allows us to peel away the layers of ourselves and our culture and understand why we are the way we are; activism confronts those realizations with action that cultivates, and sometimes forces, change.
In my D-Teams and in my DCI groups, we’ve had discussions about this balance — that we cannot just discuss these contentious issues; we have a responsibility to act and to inspire action. We have a responsibility to share resources and to make education and learning as accessible as possible. However, we also cannot act without first educating ourselves, and committing to understanding our culture and the many points of view that comprise our communities. I’ve been a student of queer theory for the past 4 years, and this is the first time that I’ve been able to see and nurture this balance in real life.
It’s interesting to see the way obstacles — whether personal, political, or social — present themselves and threaten this work being done, and the flexibility we must have to allow for those obstacles while still insisting on the crucial importance of this work and holding ourselves accountable to it. The deliberative process makes us intensely vulnerable, and can be uncomfortable at times, but we cannot be truly strong as individuals, as a nation, or as a species, until we truly and authentically participate in it.