The workshop “Democracy and me” was held in Turku’s Main Library courtyard last spring during the official Europe Day (9 May). It was one of those first warm days of the season that usually bring a lot of people outside, and a lot of people were actually around, interested in and willing to taking part in the workshop.
The workshop had a capturing and funny task at the same time. The participants were asked to draw on a t-shirt, with already a front stamp of “Democracy and me”, their concept of democracy. While people had to think about what to draw they had to ponder on what democracy represents to them, and which could be each other’s role in one’s own community. In other words: how to make democracy from the bottom. It’s not an easy task for sure, but when the reflection starts from a soft and ingenious way, like drawing, the result is probably more genuine and valuable.
As Western citizens, we are usually proud of our democracy, an old concept exercised by the ancient Greeks, and we associate it with freedom and equality. A huge debate has taken place in the past years about our duty and the need to export our model of democracy to the rest of the world; a huge debate that has actually resulted in bloody and disastrous wars while our politicians and governors fill their mouth with this word until it loses its deepest meaning.
So what is democracy for me? It is for sure more than an electoral system where everybody can cast their vote or be voted in secrecy. It is more than the freedom of writing whatever comment in the social media. It is more than a political apparatus where politicians pretend to represent millions and millions of citizens who don’t have a face, a name, a role, except that one of being docile and compulsive consumers.
In addition to this, everyday we are all witness of the failing of democracy here in Europe, inside our much-beloved borders. If this failure is not directly against us, it is against other human beings, who, for various reasons, are out of the protective umbrella of democracy, facing injustices and exclusion with the lack of money, opportunities, documents, passports. And if democracy fails for a part of society, part of its demos, it fails us all.
So, again, what is democracy for me?
The day of the workshop I was with my family, and my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter wanted me to draw her schoolmates on the t-shirt. The result was a group of smiling kids holding their hands. Her naive request and my humble drawing probably gave a very lucid view of what democracy should and could be in reality: a way and a space where ordinary people, helping and caring for each other, create a community and live in that community actively (and possibly happy).
Yes, democracy means basically this: being active citizens in our small “community of life”. But what does this mean in practice?
This means that each of us should take the responsibility of the eyes and looking around, and according to the possibilities and the skills, looking at the situations and at the people left behind, where the lack of the democratic State is more evident, where the need of mutual help and association is bigger. It can be done at any level: getting the hands dirty doesn’t necessarily mean “only” helping the marginalised and the poor. Being active citizens can be done with sports, with the youth, with the elderly, for the environment, in culture and arts, and at a political level. First of all, it’s important that each of us, responsibly, recognise our own inclinations and skills and focus on them. Then it comes the “plural part”: the congregation of several people with the same values, who create an association, get together with a clear aim, meet for discussion of challenges and possible directions, and create new services and opportunities.
The core of democracy is ultimately this: holding the hands of your fellow citizens, as opposed to being alone and self-centered, as in my daughter’s drawing.