What is the Diploma in Local Democracy?
Democracy is more than voting. Voting, while important, is not the only means of democratic participation. There are others forms of engagement that are equally and sometimes more important. Furthermore a healthy democracy cannot depend solely on formal mechanisms, of checks and balances, to keep its democracy. A healthy democracy needs a strong democratic culture. It needs a base where everyday relationships are themselves democratic. It needs a local democracy. Without this base, without local democracy, our larger democracy suffers.
Many people have had strong experiences of either the presence or the absence of democracy in their everyday life. These strong experiences, where new insights and practices can be formed, are rarely given their due for what they can teach us. Yet these day to day happenings and relationships, where people can learn how to work together as equals and reach decisions about the common good, are some of our most common experiences. The Diploma in Local Democracy seeks to change this by giving people an opportunity to reflect on their experiences, learn from others, and collectively explore some of the ideas and philosophies of Local Democracy.
The Diploma provides a space both to learn about democracy through reflection on experience and to learn about the connections between community, economics, ecology, and local democracy. How do the ideas of people like Jane Jacobs, Wendell Berry, Jane Addams, Ivan Illich, Christopher Lasch and Dorothy Day contribute to our understanding of Local Democracy? How have people who have explored the meaning of intentional community, economic alternatives, and ecological sustainability thought about democracy? The diverse, wandering, but integrated conversations in the Diploma in Local Democracy seems to always generate new insights, learnings and surprises.
Who Should Apply?
Anyone should apply to the program who has a passion for democratic and community engagement, who enjoys exploring ideas, and appreciates what people bring from their unique experiences. Diploma participants have always come from diverse places in our community. We often have a mixture of long-term community members and newer Canadians, citizen activists, neighbourhood leadership teams, business leaders, people working in non-profits and others. Many speak highly of the kind of learnings and discussion they experienced in the class. People applying to the program should be open to hearing from other people’s experiences, exploring their own through sustained reflection and have a sense of meandrous adventure when it comes to community learning.
The Diploma program is intended for anybody committed to serving democracy, practically, in Kitchener-Waterloo: for office-holders in our municipal governments; for people employed in public service as administrators, police officers, or front-line workers in social work, recreation, or development; for leaders of churches, service clubs, business organizations or unions, the media, the performing arts, elementary and high schools. This program is designed for active citizens in whatever line of paid or voluntary work, people with a keen sense of their community and commitment to improving it, the kind of people who read the opinion pages of local newspapers and are tempted to write letters to the editor.