As I wrote in the first ever post ‘Introducing the Workshop‘. As part of my European Voluntary Service “mini-project” the first Democracy Workshop took place at a grammar school on the 8th of June in the Czech Republic. The aim was to teach Czech students more about a specific form of democracy (participatory democracy) and to demonstrate to them all of the different ways this is manifest and are important in democratic society. I put forward the point in the previous post that the aim of this workshop was:
“To provide a space for inspiration, conversation and debate on the many different forms of organisation and self-empowerment that are fundamental parts of democratic society.”
A beginner’s lesson on participatory democracy happened to be the best method of teaching these ideas. You can view the low-down on the concept of the Democracy Workshop in the section on this website, click here to view.
As well as this first workshop, I eventually hosted democracy workshops for two European Youth Exchanges. One titled “Don’t Wait Participate” in Náchod, for participants from Portugal, Poland and the Czech Republic, and one for a youth exchange titled “Live Healthy and Be Happy” in Krkonoše for participants from the Czech Republic and Austria. The groups were of a similar age range and interest in politics, so I kept relatively the same format for each of these workshops, just tweaking a few things with the presentation. To see each groups’ reaction to the concepts presented and the activities they had to take part in, their comments and contributions was really enlightening.
The conclusive part of the workshop tackles what I describe as the ‘conceptual trio’ in democratic society. The ‘trio’ touches upon the whole general concept of the workshop itself. At the end, this usually ended in a debate on the topic of this concept. I made an effort to develop differing ways to present this debate in all three of the different workshops.
The ‘conceptual trio’ consists of the concepts of: Democratisation, Activism, and Self-Empowerment. All three which are essential elements within democracy, and are part of a process which is vital within democratic society. With this idea of the ‘conceptual trio’, and all of the different examples that I gave during this last section of the workshop – each concept represents a reclamation of power from authority back into the hands of larger public: from intellectual jargon within literature to the internet-led information age, previous stifling methods of mass communication to the power of social media, from classified information to whistle-blowers and investigative journalism, from corporate radio to pirate radio, art in the museum to street art. This is a process that I call “democratisation”. I call it this as it enables more frequent and larger acts of participatory democracy to occur and self-empowerment, whether that’s through organisation to influence people’s political surroundings, through governance or even to make do without structures of governance, authority and hierarchical power structures. All of this is enabled by activism – otherwise described as heightened participation.
As I asked each of the groups I taught whether this bottom-up process is always positive, the group were inclined to disagree. The class replied that there are movements of intolerance using these very same methods. They also replied that a top-down process can also be positive – that there are situations where the government has to take authoritarian action on behalf of the people for the people’s own benefit. I was inclined to agree.
The answer to how important this concept of the conceptual trio is to democratic societies however was unanimous. It is extremely important. The next question usually to some degree caused a mixed reaction of agreement and disagreement; on whether the long-term results of this process is in the majority of cases positive.
Of course, in a democratic society there can be a distinct trend of social and political regression. This was the concern of most of those who disagreed with the proposition: it is possible for the general consensus to be wrong and harmful to the majority as well as in many cases to the minority. To argue otherwise however often required the debate to go into a much deeper philosophical discussion.
My line of argument in reply to this usually proposed that the long-term result of democratisation, self empowerment and activism is in the majority of cases positive. This is because when democratic societies enable these processes to occur alongside upholding and strengthening the fourth estate itself; effectively informing the populace – the truth outs and social justice is served.
This was something which I was determined to put forward in all of the workshops in the Czech Republic. It is ultimately a progressive message, that aligns with the outlook of this blog, and is something that can motivate others to make a difference within their political surroundings and lives.