Blog > Peter Pula

An inaugural All Citizens Meeting in Peterborough, ON hosted by a local publication, Electric City Magazine, ahead of this year's provincial and municipal elections offers a glimpse of what's possible for a reimagined democracy. Candidates and citizens sat knee-to-knee for an authentic dialogue on what matters to them.

Beyond Voting: It’s Time to Reimagine Democracy

reimagine: to imagine again or anew; especially: to form a new conception of.

During election time, we can easily get lost in the notion that voting and politicians are at the centre of democracy. And yet, democracy is so much more.

Today, democracy’s detractors point to the US experiment to denigrate the idea. In Canada, our politics have to a degree followed suit.

  By seeing democracy predominantly as participation in government-led activity, we can be blinded to a much richer and effective form of democracy.
   

Consider the possibility that American democracy is not actually rooted in an authentic equality or true democracy. Consider seeing it instead as a protest movement.

There was a political elite looking to throw off the yoke of another political elite. How can it be "for the people and of the people" when so few of the people were actually involved? Dissidents were ridiculed, tarred, feathered, and murdered in front of their families. Others fled north. Races were enslaved. Genocide was enacted against Indigenous people. It was a protest. And, it was a violent one.

As it begins, so it goes.

Having followed logically from its genesis moment, our democratic politics are rife with debate rather than dialogue, competition rather than collaboration. What team wins seems more important than just about anything.

That is one view of democracy. It is a view that puts citizen participation in government-led processes at the forefront. It is a limited view. And, it is not a form of democracy that has much more to offer us as community members than it already has.

By seeing democracy predominantly as participation in government-led activity, we can be blinded to a much richer and effective form of democracy. French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a richer source for a deeper democracy. He referred to it as the mother of all science. He called it "the art of association."

This form of democracy is far more potent and powerful. It is led by citizens and community members. It is centred in the freedom of agency and association with one another. What de Tocqueville noticed was people working with one another, in place, with persistence, to address what was important to them, with the materials already at hand locally.

This form of democracy is enabling and ennobling of community members in their agency and in their giftedness.

Let us consider, for a moment, what happens when we vote. What our political elites would like us to believe is that we have exercised our power. What we have done is given away some of our power. With the ballot box, we have pinned our power to the purveyor of promises yet to be unfulfilled.

That being said, I believe it is critically important to vote. The people who represent us will have influence in a system that has power disproportionate to its abilities. Better people are better by far.

But, with this small act of participation in government-led functions, let us not leave the rest of our power on the table to waste.

Consider that there are powerful people. This is an acceptance of a power differential. We have become quite comfortable with power differential. We defer to it all the time.

  Every community teems with an abundance of talent, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, care, and inspiration.

Unlocking this abundance is what a reimagined democracy is and is for.
   

But here is the thing: concentrated power is not a lot of power when compared to diffused power. Power in a hierarchy is Power Over (in most cases). Power in the art of association is Power With.

Having hosted hundreds of gatherings and led a six-years-awarded democratic workplace, I have seen how much more power there is in a group, room, organization, or community when it is diffused. When everyone in a group is exercising their agency, there is exponentially more power in the room than when only one or a few are doing so from the top.

That such power is not explicit leaves it underutilized. When we leave the voting booth, let us not forget the other 98% of our power and to take it with us and into community.

Our communities are filled with more potential and wonder than we can imagine. Every community teems with an abundance of talent, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, care, and inspiration.

Unlocking this abundance is what a reimagined democracy is and is for.

Imagine what community life would be like if each of us was seen and heard, if our gifts were recognized and enlivened, if we as community members came together to create the things we wanted to see. What if, in our uniqueness and diversity, we were supported in our goals by those near to us, and they were supported in their goals by us?

In diversity and interdependence, we have the ingredients for whole and healthy community life.

This blog is Part 1 of a 4-part series on the topic of reimagining democracy. Upcoming segments explore the elements of a reimagined democracy. To ensure you don't miss any of this content, sign up for the free Axiom News e-news by clicking here.

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 2: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Citizen-Led Community Building & Democratic Workplaces."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 3: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Unleashing Local Capital & Pent-Up Capital."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 4: "Inclusive and Generative Journalism for a New Narrative."

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Peter Pula's picture
Peter
Pula

Peter is the Founder of Axiom News. He has also founded and led a community newspaper and a corporate communications agency. He has served as a member and chairperson on the boards and committees of children's services, schools, municipal grants, arts, and local exchange organizations.

Peter led the discovery, founding, and practice of Generative Journalism as a healing and community art.

He has been invited to host workshops in Canada, Europe, and the United States on the practice of Generative Journalism, an open communications approach for emergent and constructive change in organizations, networks, and communities.

To bring dialogic and narrative arts together Peter and Axiom News initiated the Peterborough Dialogues in 2015. Over 150 deep dialogues, circles of trust, working circles, and summits have been held in Peterborough, Ontario to cultivate citizen-led community co-creation with beautiful results. The Peterborough Dialogues continues to be a rich practice field delivering up daily insights into the power of community convening.

Peter continues to integrate convening, journalism, and narrative arts practices to hold space for community to heal and for citizens to take the lead in creating the community of their dreams.

Latest Blog

There are two recurring complaints addressed in this letter:

  • Generative journalism just publishes “nice” and “positive” stories and doesn’t face reality
  • The phrase, “emerging narrative of gifts” is a string of buzzwords that are ultimately meaningless.

The stories we tell shape our culture. Journalism as a civic art, to be of real assistance to democracy, has a few things to overcome.

I have come to see capitalism as the ideology or worship of capital, of money. Absentee investment is the root of so much in the way of dissociation. Money for money’s sake, and not for what it can do. Instead, we should look at intimate and engaged investment, that puts the power of money to good use.

One of the challenges we face in realizing a reimagined democracy is the force of narrative. The dominant narrative, the one purveyed by mainstream media, corporate communications, and political campaigns, is for the most part an institutional narrative. It isn’t really for or by the grassroots at all.

“The future of journalism is to play a fundamental and important role in an ecology of community development works and capacities and professions,” says Peter Pula, founder of Axiom News and pioneer of Generative Journalism.

Peter is now co-leading a local initiative to bring citizen-led dialogue and community development in direct partnership with the media.

Awakening to healing and becoming whole In community

In 2015, the year Axiom News gave birth to the Peterborough Dialogues, over 100 gatherings were hosted. I was asked by an astounded colleague in Europe, why would anyone do that? Well, to know and to serve. That’s why.

We have become so remarkably accustomed to a form of leadership that comes from the top. Why? Well, because it is easier for everybody. It is easier for the leader because they can indulge in their narcissism. And, well, we want them to. You see, if they are shaping things according to their filters and persona then we can move in a direction that is embodied by the leader.