Follow the (student) Leaders For Serious (but Fun!) Participatory DemocracyPosted: December 27, 2011
By Andrea Morisette Grazzini
While debate echoes in Congress and conference rooms about democracy, kids are achieving it via basketball in cul-de-sacs and YMCAs.
Lest I’m thumped from this scholarly forum for over-simplifying, I’ll add: Coordinating a multi-faceted movement to transform the United States is not child’s play. We can’t succeed without the wisdom of age and experience. In fact, I’d say our civic situation requires all people get off the sidelines and get moving.
Still, consider the lessons of a recent student-led democracy-in-action narrative:
Three adolescents joined three elementary school kids, animatedly debating how to divvy up teams for pick-up basketball on a local court. In seconds a flash mob swarmed—all colors and ages of both-gendered students, from preschool to post-secondary. Simple rules and rights were negotiated: let all play and none get hurt.
Alternately arguing and laughing while stampeding from net to net, the players navigated diverse abilities in the shared space. Unknowingly creating an example of collective choice in collaborative action. By satisfying self-interests and common good, complete with “adaptive governance.”
A Dad and I played, too, orienting and adjudicating their “model” as hybrid referee/coaches.
Others gathered, stunned—among them sweaty jocks. A Muslim mom noted the pro-social skills children were teaching adults. Another, a Hispanic whose daughter organized younger players recruited a nearby parent to help encourage the high-schooler’s leadership in after-school work.
What do this fledgling leader and her co-players offer movements like DemocracyU?
The lived-experience lessons their contagious play provides are catalyzing their emergent civic agency —and alert adults impressed by their expedient, effective methods are learning, too. Their “practical imperatives first” way inspires my deliberative discourse work, including DynamicShift a trans-partisan, cross-sector effort.
And Paha Sapa: Play it Forward, facilitated by researchers from University of Minnesota’s Citizen Professional Center. It engages government and business to follow citizen’s lead for grassroots reform. To achieve health and connection through physical play activities in local parks and other public places, which echo the students’ practice of inclusive spontaneity.
A recent event drew hundreds of people, all types, dodge-balling, ducking tackles and dancing—among them Elizabeth Kautz.
Which reminded me of conversations she and I shared when Kautz, our Mayor, was president of the US Council of Mayors.
Civic engagement is serious work, advised Kautz. It requires initiative, cooperation and sustained cross-sector efforts from all: students to senior leaders.
Still, participatory democracy parallels aspects of pick-up games. Including, says Kautz, because it’s “fun!”
Andrea Morisette Grazzini is a leadership innovations consultant and participatory researcher. She founded the trans-partisan initiative DynamicShift (www.dynamicshift.org) in 2009. Her work has influenced numerous regional, national and global conversations on co-productive change. Including We the People, the national movement by Center for Democracy and Citizenship, American Democracy Project, American Association of State Colleges and Universities and The White House Office for Public Engagement.Essays and dialogues by Andrea can be found at the DynamicShift Blog and via numerous forums, including online TEDTalks.