When most people think of democracy, they are apt to think of Congress or their state legislature. They are apt to think about primaries, elections and party conventions. What most people will tend to overlook is what happened tonight, Feb. 1, 2018 in Del Rio Texas, Val Verde County.
At 6:15 PM, people began to file into the parish hall at Principe de Paz Methodist Church in the San Felipe neighborhood. By 6:30, thirty people had gathered, almost entirely Hispanic, some speaking only Spanish, some speaking mostly English. Most of them the type of people reviled and demonized by the president of the United States.
Once gathered, leaders divided them in groups of ten and they initiated a public discussion among themselves about their families, their neighborhoods, the issues that they face in their daily lives. But these conversations were much more than that. These people were in fact practicing civil liberties that very few Americans understand; they were practicing the right of assembly and freedom of speech, understood as engaging in conversation around issues that affect the public welfare.
They discussed a park that needs new playground equipment; a street that needs a speed bump or stop sign to prevent speeding; improving the 911 emergency service; loose or dead animals on their streets; and many other issues.
But this was not merely an inventory of complaints. As issues were discussed, participants took assignments to pull together residents in more meetings around parks snd streets; to develop a plan to improve 911 emergency service; to meet with the state representative about protecting the ground water supply from water marketers.
People ended the meeting by agreeing to invite more of their neighbors to these gatherings, another ten gatherings as they not only build an action agenda of issues, but the constituency to move it forward.
Now, that’s democracy.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org