The DMV Democracy Festival

This page was last updated on May 15, 2024.  

Summary & Purpose 

Widen and deepen civic engagement, foster collaboration, and make democracy more fun in the DC metro region with a financially sustainable, family-friendly democracy festival in Washington DC.


Dance, flowers, marijuana, beer and wine all get festivals.  If we want to make democracy more engaging for more people, rather than boring or divisive, why aren’t we investing in democracy festivals?  If democracy is so important to Americans, why don’t we have democracy festivals every year in towns and cities across the country?  If Washington DC is the capital of our country, and democracy is central to American freedom, why does DC have folk life, kite flying, and cherry blossom festivals, but no democracy festival?

In the mid to late 1800s, American democracy was often highly participatory and fun, involving parades, rallies, music, public speeches and debates, culminating in elections with some of the highest voter turnout in U.S. history.  Democracy then was also conflictual, corrupt and exclusionary (e.g., women and people of color were often or always barred from participating), so progressive reformers gradually remade American politics into what it is now: relatively orderly, peaceful, inclusive, yet also less fun.  Can we make democracy fun again, without spurring conflict, corruption and exclusion?  Learning Life, a DC-based educational nonprofit, believes we can, in part with democracy festivals, as part of a wider Democracy Learning Community (DLC).  And we’re not alone: democracy festivals are spreading in Europe.  And, here are five reasons to support democracy festivals. 


Shorter-term, the goals are to produce a youth and family-friendly DMV Democracy Festival (DemFest) that:

  1. Makes democracy fun for all ages
  2. Widens participation in democracy
  3. Deepens civic learning
  4. Is financially self-sustaining, and helps grow the wider DLC 
  5. Fosters creative collaboration, particularly between folks in the DMV arts, education, business, philanthropic, and democracy sectors

Longer-term, the goals are to:

  1. Expand the DMV DemFest into an annual National Democracy Festival, supported by myriad local, state and national private-public partnerships, with fun, profitable, civically-engaging festivals in towns and cities across the USA, including on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
  2. Spread a democracy festival model abroad that can at once generate revenue for local businesses, fuel the growth of local democracy learning communities, and increase civic learning and engagement.
Date & Location

DemFest is tentatively scheduled for 9am to 6:30pm on Saturday October 19, 2024.  We are aiming to hold the first DemFest indoors at a public, charter or private high school or university in Washington DC, but we are open to other locations in or near DC, ideally within a 10-minute walking distance from a metro train station. 

DemFest 2024 will require (a) a variety of AV-equipped rooms with enough space and seats for 25-100 people, (b) a theater space for arts performances, (c) a stadium or other large room that can accommodate up to 200 people seated for the planned youth assembly on safety (see below), and (d) at least one kitchen with at least a large fridge and ample counter-space to preserve and prepare food.  Further, given our small Festival budget, Learning Life is looking for a school or organization willing to donate their space for DemFest.  Site suggestions and offers can be sent to   


Festival activities may include the following:

  1. Games, digital or analog, stationary or active, for kids of different ages and adults to learn and practice democracy through play.
  2. Roaming artists on the festival grounds, in historical costumes, enacting famous speeches or historical moments, and/or engaging attendees in learning about American democracy leaders, more to less known.
  3. Musical, dance, and other arts performances focused on democracy-related issues, with opportunities for meaningful audience participation.  Note: A playwright and an organization seek DMV teachers and students to perform either of two plays at DemFest: How to Overthrow Your Student Government, or Next Step for Democracy.  
  4. A democracy market where businesses (including DMV cooperatively-run businesses), nonprofits, and government agencies can table to provide democracy products for sale (maps, posters, cards, books, games, art, etc.), information, and/or opportunities to engage as citizens at local to global levels.
  5. Participatory discussions about local to global democracy topics, from local initiatives, to the 2024 elections, to civic education, to polarization, disinformation, authoritarianism and other challenges, and more.  
  6. One or more poster exhibits featuring democracy research and projects by DMV youth and/or professionals.
  7. Speed networking and informal gatherings to foster meeting, learning and collaboration on democracy issues.
  8. Moderated small group and/or one-on-one conversations across political divides.
  9. A youth citizen assembly on security allowing diverse DMV high school youth to come together to learn, deliberate and propose city, county and/or state policies to address homicide and/or suicide rates.
  10. An international family diplomacy dialogue on democracy live via Zoom to discuss how youth and families in different countries experience democracy, or the lack thereof.  
  11. A pop-up, interactive democracy museum, or visual art exhibit.
  12. film and documentary series focused on democracy issues.
  13. A trained democracy troupe composed of eligible, motivated DC youth, who engage schools, classrooms, nonprofits, businesses, museum audiences, private parties, etc. in democracy games and/or performances for a fee, giving their audiences a taste of the DemFest, and extending its reach throughout the year.
Issues & Stakeholders

Democracy related issues/topics that may be addressed at DemFest include, but are not limited to: the 2024 elections; DC statehood; election reforms and other democracy innovations; economic democracy; global trends and threats to democracy; citizen diplomacy; civic education; youth leadership on democracy; media and democracy; race, gender, class and citizen engagement; government accountability; grassroots advocacy and community organizing; careers in democracy; and more.  

Constituencies Learning Life is interested in engaging in DemFest include, but are not limited to:

  1. Relevant government agencies of DC and surrounding cities and towns, particularly municipal agencies concerned with recreation, arts and culture, education, youth, community affairs, and civic engagement.
  2. Democracy-focused professional organizations, whether these be focused on advocacy, policy, research, or else.   
  3. Performing and visual artists interested and/or actively producing art (theater, dance, music, film, documentary, painting, digital art, etc.) related to democracy. For some issues/topics related to democracy,
  4. Teachers and students in DC area high schools and middle schools and universities who are focused or interested in the arts, history, government, social studies, and community studies.
  5. Community organizations, including student groups and teacher associations interested in the arts, democracy and government, social justice, human and civil rights, etc.
  6. Businesses related to democracy, like consumer and worker cooperatives, and businesses that sell democracy-related products or services.
  7. Foundations and other funders interested in community affairs and/or democracy-related issues.
Seven Easy Ways You Can Support DemFest
  1. Fill out the DemFest Partner Survey if you are an individual or organization interested in being involved in the festival as an activity host, artist, speaker, vendor/tabler, exhibitor, sponsor, impact evaluator, volunteer, or else.
  2. Fill out our DemFest Attendance Survey if you would simply like to attend the Festival, and get periodic updates, including when tickets will be available for sale (note: ticket prices will be cheap enough for everyone in the DMV to take part).
  3. Donate or sponsor DemFest.  Donate $100, $250, $500, $1,000, or whatever you can as Learning Life works to raise $40,000 to help pay DemFest costs.  Individuals who give $250-$1,000 and organizations that give $1,000-$5,000 become DLC sponsors, and get recognized at Learning Life’s website, social media and at DemFest, unless they wish to remain anonymous.  Sustainable DemFest funding will come less from grants, and far more from individuals and organizations that want to help widen and deepen citizen participation by making democracy more fun.
  4. Contact us at with your recommendations of individuals or organizations we should reach out to about DemFest, and/or if you would like to receive email invitations to DemFest online planning meetings and in-person dinners.
  5. Join our “Democracy Learning Community” Linkedin Group to keep updated on DemFest progress, to connect with others interested in protecting and advancing democracy, and to share your democracy calls-to-action, publications, events, news, programs, or projects.
  6. Fill out our DMV DLC survey to share your opinions and ideas for building a wider Democracy Learning Community in metro DC.
  7. Share this page or copy this list of way to help and share it with five family members, friends, neighbors or colleagues you think would be interested in supporting DemFest.  
Measuring Impact

For those interested in helping to evaluate DemFest’s outputs and outcomes, here is what we are considering measuring:

  1. Attendance: Track the total number of DemFest attendees.
  2. Collaboration: Track the number of festival contributors (e.g., sponsors, vendors, performers, etc.), their industries and/or demographics (age, gender, race, religion, religiosity, political affiliation, partisanship, etc.) and any collaborations that emerge from the festival.
  3. Knowledge surveys: Some DemFest activities, like digital games, may be conducive to measuring participants’ knowledge or skill before and after the activity.
  4. Sign-ups: Count the number of festival attendees who sign-up to get more info, or volunteer with the civic and political organizations that table at DemFest.  Resources permitting, there can also be a 3-6 month follow-up with those organizations to assess new collaborations emerging from DemFest, and how many DemFest attendees have gotten involved with each organization (though this latter measure may indicate organizations’ follow-up effectiveness as much if not more than festival effectiveness). 
  5. Exit survey: Festival attendees can be statistically randomly asked upon exiting the festival to answer survey questions that get at what they liked least, most, what they learned, think could be improved, and else.