It was Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7 pm. I waited at a Washington, DC restaurant’s upstairs area for people that had been invited to attend the vice-presidential debate. It was to follow an introduction to Interactivity Foundation (IF) history and process and a chance to explore a few possibilities in the Democratic Promise report by Dennis Boyer. We had expected about thirty people, mostly people new to the Interactivity Foundation Public Discussion process. That many had RSVPed and some had subsequently emailed that they wanted to bring a guest. We knew that there was great interest, but not to the extent that we ultimately experienced. They came, indeed, close to fifty strong or possibly more, mostly new faces wanting to take part in the principles of the Democratic Promise and the process that the Foundation offers to us to discuss and to learn. This evening was an incredible example of democracy in action. It was a roaring success on many levels.
Introductions and explanation of the occasion went on as usual. The history and concept of IF were explained and the IF facilitators that were present were introduced. After a four question plenary open discussion about democracy and opinions about the first presidential debate, everyone joined a group led by one of the facilitators to look at the possibilities of The United States Democratic Promise. The group that I facilitated was comprised of seven adults, all women and one man. They were all very educated with at least one lawyer, an author, PhD, writer, and a career federal worker among them. The ages were, I would guess, between forty and sixty. All but one had never attended an IF salon. One person in the group stopped the beginning conversation with questions, “Why are we discussing Democracy? What is democracy anyway? Why are we even talking about this?” I really had my hands full. Somehow, it occurred to me to say that this very evening is all about democracy and by being present in an environment where people of all political persuasions are together to experience a choice is clear evidence that democracy exists in some form in America. As we talked further, it was mentioned that African Americans sometimes find it difficult to talk about topics on American policy, especially democracy since the democratic system has been so unfair, skewed, and dangerous for our race that it is less painful to remain silent. After all, why discuss it since we are helpless to change it and so many have suffered and died to change what has changed while also suffering and dying for the country in wars.
Those points were well taken, understood, and agreed with as we discussed possibility D of Democratic Promise, level the playing field for a democratic society. The major point was that removing economic barriers so that all people have equal access to the democratic promise is the quest of the sitting President Barack Obama and not of interest to the challenging candidate for president. In possibility E, democracy is a conversation, the assertion that as bad as society has treated African Americans, it is still the best advanced place to live and the fact that we can assemble and listen to the debates and talk about Interactivity Foundation products without censure is positive.
At minutes before 9:00 PM, the atmosphere was somewhat charged with anticipation of the upcoming debate, so we concluded our discussion and promised to get back together to talk in the future. As a facilitator, I think that I saw a breakthrough in members of the group from hesitancy and dread of talking about such an emotionally charged topic to their stating that they are willing to have the experience again. I thought that Jay Stern would smile.