When French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville came to America he was struck by something that simply didn’t exist in European society. In “Democracy in America,” he described the uniquely American habit of “forever forming associations.” There’s good reason for that — in a new country without a king, someone was going to have to make a few decisions. Our first and strongest associations in America were with the people who shared a common geography and, amid many threats, likely a common fate: our neighbors. The town hall meeting was born early in our republic, and in one form or the other they’ve been happening ever since. As metaphor, the town hall perfectly captures the very essence of the freedom we won from European monarchs – it’s the triumph of the common man over the sovereign. And, as a practical matter, it’s been how the business of American community has gotten done for hundreds of years now.
So hallelujah to our neighbors and their ideas — from the crazy ones to the imminently sensible, from the flakey ones that have the town hall attendees sniggering to the brilliant ones that get a standing O — because if your democracy doesn’t function and you have to have a king, his ideas are the only ones that ever matter (and it pretty much is always a “he”). If you like the idea of not having a king and want our nearly 250-year track record of democracy to keep limping along, join us.
To celebrate — and welcome you to the Smithsonian exhibit “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” — we’re asking you to come with your ideas. We’ll discuss in the most neighborly of ways and (fully utilizing the power of democracy) we’ll vote on the best ideas for the evening. Come even without an idea, because (like democracy) we’ll need voters. [Maybe the best idea gets a prize of some sort; if you really want to go all-in they could get a mini-grant, but that makes this a little harder.]
Possible leader/panelists: This lends itself pretty well to a process that is led by anyone.