Democracy panel motivates for midterms

Jen Kochaver, Features Editor

Augsburg’s Sabo Center for Democracy hosted a panel titled “Whose Democracy Is It, Anyway?” The event on Thursday Oct. 4 saw Minneapolis community members, politicians and activists discuss the role citizens and elected officials play and how they should interact in a thriving democracy.

Hosted in the Hagfors Center, community members of all ages showed up to engage in dialogue as the midterm elections approach.

   Throughout the two hours, the panel addressed how they believed we will best save our democracy, the importance of individual economic self-sufficiency in Minnesota’s workforce and the most successful strategies they had been able to implement to get people involved in democracy, be that through voting or larger political participation.

   Among the panelists was Harry Boyte, the senior scholar in public work philosophy at the Sabo Center who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King’s organization as a young man during the civil rights movement. He suggested turning away from elections as the primary focus of democracy and instead thinking about “growing democracy.” Boyte’s biggest message was to remember the good that citizenship schools of the Civil Rights era did by engaging communities and bringing them together, teaching them about the Constitution and engaging them in meaningful dialogue with each other as well as with larger national debates and movements.

   Jeremiah Ellison, the city councilmember of Ward 5, the youngest, poorest and “least educated” ward, as well as the ward with the largest black population in Minneapolis shared how he went out of his way to make sure the backbone of his campaign was folks from his own community. This included making sure those who had never campaigned before knew they could bring something to the table. For example, two poets from Ward 5 wrote all of his campaign literature.

   Irene Fernando, a candidate for Hennepin County Commissioner in District 2, who is running for public office for the first time and, if elected, would be first woman and first person of color to be elected to this position, recounted hosting a woman- and POC-focused concert, not as a campaign event, but as something she knew would be of interest to people she wants not only to represent, but also to get together and get talking to each other.

    Catalina Morales Bahena, the lead organizer for ISAIAH, “a multi-racial, state-wide, nonpartisan coalition of faith communities fighting for racial and economic justice in Minnesota” which is based in St. Paul, shared her experiences driving voters to the polls in rural areas in order to keep voting accessible for all citizens, regardless of access to transportation.

     While engaging with the panel and with each other that night, all in attendance felt the answer posed by the event’s title was clear. This panel reminded Augsburg of a crucial truth of democracy: people educate people, and this democracy is ours.

This article first appeared in the Friday, October 12 edition of The Echo.

Participants on the Sabo Center’s panel discuss democracy in the United States today. Photo by Emily Braverman