Learning Life’s Democracy Dinners

Note: During the Covid-19 pandemic, our Democracy Dinners occur online via Zoom rather than in-person.  

Learning Life is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit lab devoted to innovating education and citizen engagement.  In accordance with this focus and our mission to spread learning in everyday life beyond school walls, our Democracy Dinners are intended to bring together democracy (broadly defined) professionals, activists and academics in metro DC to nurture conversation about a variety of democracy issues and areas of work.  The Dinners are the first step in a longer-term effort to nurture wider and deeper engagement in American democracy. This page explains our Democracy Dinners in fuller detail.

Democracy DinnersWhat is a Democracy Dinner?  

A meeting over dinner of 4-6 people — activists, professionals and/or academics — who don’t know each other or don’t know each other well, live in metro Washington DC, share a common passion for making the world a better place, but work in different democracy domains: voting rights, voter mobilization, campaign finance reform, economic democracy, empowering the marginalized, government transparency and accountability, democratization, citizen diplomacy, citizen education, civic engagement, criminal justice, human rights, civil liberties, etc.  We meet at a metro DC restaurant in the early evening on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and over dinner introduce ourselves, get to know more about each other’s work, and discuss questions about the complexities, challenges and possibilities of/for democracy.

Why Democracy Dinners?

Broadly speaking, Democracy Dinners are a Learning Life innovation focused on using after-work meals as a vehicle for fostering deeper conversations than normal networking events allow among people who work in similar fields.  More specifically, in metro DC, there are a lot of people who work to advance democracy at local to global levels, but they often labor in occupational/specialty silos (e.g., Learning Life focuses on citizen engagement and education). Democracy Dinners are intended to connect and nurture deeper conversations between individuals who might not otherwise meet because they work in different democracy domains.  In so doing, the aim is to expand our respective networks, enrich our understanding of democracy’s complexities, challenges and possibilities, and if that leads to collaboration between participants here and there, all the better.

How exactly do the Democracy Dinners work?

Learning Life staff organize the dinners. All invited participants have to do is show up, enjoy meeting new people, have interesting field-focused conversation, and pay their own food and drink bill.  Here, more precisely, are the Democracy Dinner steps:

  1. We invite you and others via email, suggesting four possible dinner dates on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, with a 6pm start, and approximate 8:30pm end time.  You promptly identify those dates you can make.
  2. Four to six respondents will be invited per Dinner, and notified via email of the date, time, restaurant location, and participants’ bios (Linkedin profile or website).  If you’re not selected, don’t worry, we aim to hold 1-2 Dinners every 1-2 months and will prioritize new respondents at each Dinner, though returning participants are also welcome.
  3. On the dinner date, the participants meet at the restaurant and order food.  The restaurant will be in DC close to a metro station, moderately priced, with our table in a relatively quiet space.
  4. Participants do (a) a round of personal introductions (where you were born and raised, something unusual or funny about you), then (b) a longer round focused on our volunteer and/or paid work (how you are and/or have been involved in democracy work, and what got you into it), then (c) discuss one or more specific democracy questions.
  5. Participants exchange contact info as they please, and pay their respective food and drink bills.
Will anyone host the Democracy Dinners?

Yes.  Learning Life’s Director, Paul Lachelier, will host and help guide the Democracy Dinners.  Paul has 20+ years of experience as an activist, academic and nonprofit leader writing and working on democracy and citizen participation.

How long is each Democracy Dinner?  

So far, our Dinner participants have met for 2.5-3.0 hours, so please allow for at least 2.5 hours.

If I like my Democracy Dinner, can I get invited back?  

Yes, but please adhere to these guidelines:

  1. Avoid cancelling your participation unless it’s an emergency, and please show up on time (given a 15 minute grace period).  Because our Dinners are small gatherings, your punctual, complete attendance and active participation are vital.
  2. Don’t disrespect your fellow dinner guests. The Democracy Dinners are intended to be civil and stimulating learning experiences, not a platform for pushing a viewpoint or denigrating other views.

To encourage wide participation, we will prioritize people who have not yet participated, or haven’t participated in a while.

Can I have others I know added to the invitation list?

Yes.  Please email us at email@learninglife.info with their name, email address, and either their resume, Linkedin profile page, or personal website. We do not guarantee that everyone will get on the list, but if a person clearly lives in metro DC and appears to work or have experience in the democracy field, they will be added to the invitation list.