Last month, I spent a weekend as a facilitator for the Chautauqua Forum on Democracy. Chautauqua has a reputation for quality speakers, and they did not disappoint! David Blight recounted a history of democracy from Athens to today, connecting Frederick Douglass’ writings to current challenges. Perspectives on free speech, political engagement, and dissent were offered by experts, Suzanne Nossel, Pamela Paresky, and Sayu Bhojwani. Trevor Potter summarized the history of voting in the U.S. from the founding of our country to today, and Michael Waldman offered an analysis of the Supreme Court, based on recent decisions.

Never having been to the Chautauqua Institution, I got a glimpse into a remarkable community. Established 150 years ago and based in upstate New York, Chautauqua sparked a national movement centered on public education, the arts, and religion. These same ideals are evident in the people who came together for a weekend of learning and engaging in conversation about democracy. It was lovely to hear thoughtful and earnest reflections about the content of the lectures. By the final day, attendees were eager to generate solutions to strengthen our democracy, which were impressive in their insight and scope.

The Democracy Forum was a collaboration between Chautauqua and the Ideos Institute. Under the direction of Christy Vines, Ideos “advances empathy in leadership, culture, and spiritual life.” It was a treat to connect with the other Ideos facilitators who are also engaged in bridging political divides: Lisa Swallow, Jenny Garmon, and Erin Barry. You can learn about the work Ideos is doing on this topic by watching Dialogue Lab: America, a fantastic film that chronicles a social experiment bringing together strangers across many types of diversity.

The Democracy Forum was just one example of venerable organizations directing their attention to mitigating political polarization and strengthening democracy. I’m so glad I was able to be a part of this inaugural endeavor, which left me feeling informed, energized, and optimistic!

The emblematic clock tower
Autumn at Chautauqua
The facilitators