Democracy in Practice
A diverse people can self-govern

“Pardon our appearance – consensus in the making.” Take one local issue and advance the consensus on it. (Wish us luck.)

“I believe the declaration succeeded and succeeds still because it took on the task of explaining why this quantity of talk, this heap of procedures, these lists of committees and this much hard-won agreement –
such a maddening quantity of group writing – are necessary for justice.”

– Danielle Allen

Harvard constitutional scholar Danielle Allen writes of the original negotiations between America’s Framers to create our Declaration of Independence — “consensus is, in short, a mess.” She thinks the rough draft should be captioned “pardon our appearance — consensus in the making.” Fast forward a couple of hundred years and likely part of our problem in forming consensus on issues that bedevil us is that we’re rarely able (or maybe willing) to go to all the trouble of engaging with people we disagree with to get on the other side of the disagreement. In keeping with the theme of the Smithsonian “Votes + Votes” exhibit, we’ll pick a local disagreement, bring two people with different views to discuss — only this time we’ll do it with an utter devotion to advancing toward a compromise of some sort. Bring your thinking cap and your best democratic manners, and maybe a friend or two who disagrees with you (since having diverse opinions actually can give us new ideas).

Possible panelists: 2 local politicians or community leaders who come from different sides of the aisle but have a good relationship anyway — and who are capable of being civil and thoughtful. If you want a little publicity before the event, you could ask these two politicians to pick 2 or 3 topics they COULD have this conversation on and let your audience vote on which one they want to talk about. Recommend that you not pick the most deeply divided of topics, although I think that even something like abortion can find some common ground in the idea that everyone wants the abortion rate to fall, right? Do we even ever talk about that?