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 bring together democracy (broadly defined) professionals, elected officials, activists and academics in metro DC to nurture deeper conversation about the challenges and possibilities for democracy at local to global levels in light of authoritarian resurgence. The Dinners are the first step in a longer-term effort to develop a democracy learning community in the metro Washington DC region. This page explains our Democracy Dinners in fuller detail.
A virtual meeting of 8-12 metro DC activists, academics, professionals, and elected officials who work in varied 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, dialogue and deliberation, criminal justice, human rights, civil liberties, etc. Learning Life typically holds two Democracy Dinners every two months, each two hours long, on separate evenings in the same week. Dinner participants introduce themselves, get to know more about each other’s work, then discuss the challenges and possibilities for democracy at local to global levels.
Why Democracy Dinners?
In metro DC, there are a lot of people who work on democracy issues at local to global levels, but they often labor in occupational/specialty silos. Democracy Dinners are intended to nurture deeper conversations than conventional networking events typically allow between democracy sector folks who might not otherwise meet given these specialty silos. In so doing, the aim is to expand our respective networks, enrich our understanding of democracy’s challenges and possibilities, and encourage collaboration.
How exactly do the Democracy Dinners work?
Here, more precisely, are the Democracy Dinner steps:
- Learning Life emails its Democracy Dinners invitation list (more below on how people get on the list) with proposed Dinner dates usually about two weeks prior. List members who would like to participate indicate those dates they can make via a Doodle poll.
- Learning Life staff select the participants for each Dinner, and notify the invitees via email of the date, time, Zoom link, agenda, and their fellow Dinner participants, including their names and Linkedin profiles or websites. We prioritize new participants, but returning participants are always welcome. As best we can, we also aim for diversity by democracy specialty/experience, gender and race.
- On the dinner date, participants meet via Zoom at the appointed time, usually 6 to 8pm on a Wednesday or Thursday. After a brief introduction to the Dinners and the agenda, participants introduce themselves, including their work, then discuss the challenges and possibilities they see for democracy at local to global levels. Participants are welcome to eat dinner during the conversation if they wish. The Dinners are not audio or video recorded, though we do take screenshots of the participants to share via social media.
- Promptly following the Dinners, Learning Life shares the participants’ emails (those who do not wish to share their emails excepted) to encourage follow-up, any Zoom chat notes from the meeting, and asks all participants to fill out a brief feedback survey.
Who moderates the Dinners?
Learning Life’s Director, Paul Lachelier, moderates the Democracy Dinners. Paul has 20+ years of experience as an activist, academic and nonprofit leader writing and working on democracy and citizen participation. Learn more about Paul here.
Any participation guidelines I should know about?
Avoid cancelling your participation unless it’s an emergency, and please show up on time. Because our Dinners are small gatherings, your punctual, complete attendance and active participation are vital.
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.
How do people get on the Democracy Dinners invitation list?
Learning Life staff search the internet for metro DC organizations that work on democracy issues, broadly defined. We then add typically mid to senior level folks from these organizations to the invitation list. Anyone who gets Dinner invitations is always free and able to get off the list by simply replying and requesting to be removed.
Anyone who wishes to be added to the list should contact us at email@example.com 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.
Is there a way to connect between the Dinners?
Yes, as of September 2020, we are growing a Linkedin group. The group allows anyone committed to protecting and advancing democracy to share their related calls to action or collaboration, publications, events, news, programs, and projects with a democracy sector audience. You can join the group here.