THE DEMOCRACY DINNERS
Learning Life is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit lab devoted to innovating education, democracy and diplomacy by spreading learning in everyday life beyond school walls. In accordance with this mission, our Democracy Dinners bring together democracy (broadly defined) professionals, elected officials, activists and academics in metro DC to (a) nurture deeper conversation about the challenges and opportunities for democracy at local to global levels in light of mounting threats, and (b) help build a vibrant Democracy Learning Community (DLC) in “The DMV” or the DC-MD-VA capital metro region. This page explains our Democracy Dinners in fuller detail.
A meeting of 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 launched the Dinners in June 2019 in-person in restaurants in Washington DC, then online during the Covid Pandemic, and in 2023 is returning to in-person Dinners in host’s homes, offices or other spaces quieter than restaurants. Our Dinners vary between two formats: (1) usually, smaller group discussions of 10-16 participants who introduce themselves, get to know more about each other’s work, then discuss how to build a vibrant DLC in the DMV in light of the challenges and opportunities for democracy at local to global levels, and, (2) occasionally, panel discussions with up to 50 participants, with 2 or more speakers who present on a democracy topic, followed by questions and discussion.
The latter format welcomes democracy authors to present on their recent books. To be considered as a panelist or to propose a panel, please join our wider Democracy & Diplomacy Community, then email us at email@example.com with your resume, book you’d like to present, and suggestions of 1-3 other authors who might present with you on the same topic/theme. The authors should live in or near metro DC, or be willing to drive, ride or fly in for the Dinner. Learning Life does not pay for panelist transportation, hotel or other accommodations.
“Democracy Dinners are an exciting opportunity to engage with a cross-section of leaders with unique perspectives and experiences working on various aspects of democracy. We often discuss the big D and the little d of democracy, which makes for very interesting conversations that range from what it means to be a participatory community member locally to what it means to impact global policy and actions. I have learned so much and truly enjoy every opportunity I have to participate.” – Emily Samose, Principal, ECS Consulting
Why Democracy Dinners?
There are a lot of people who work on various democracy issues at local to global levels in the DMV, but they often labor in occupational/specialty silos. Democracy Dinners are typically and intentionally smaller gatherings intended to nurture sustained, deeper, more participatory conversations than conventional networking events and panel discussions typically allow between democracy sector folks who might not otherwise meet given their specialty silos. In so doing, the aim is to expand our respective networks, enrich our understanding of democracy’s challenges and opportunities, and facilitate the development of a DLC that provides fun, social activities to widen and deepen civic and political participation in metro DC.
How exactly do the Democracy Dinners work?
Here, more precisely, are the Democracy Dinner steps in 2023:
- Learning Life emails people on our Democracy Dinners invitation list (more below on how to get on that list) with the next Dinner date. Individuals who would like to participate (a) indicate those Dinner dates they can make via this Doodle poll for 2023 Democracy Dinners, and (b) contribute financially to support the Dinners and to help build the wider DLC: $100 for individuals, $150 for couples, $50 for Learning Life Democracy & Diplomacy Community (DDC) members, though you can contribute at whatever level you are comfortable with. If you decide to join the DDC, please type “DDC member” in the Note box on the contribute page, and add “anonymous” if you wish to remain an anonymous DDC member.
- Learning Life staff notify the Dinner invitees via email of the date, time, location, 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 Democracy Dinner date, usually on a Saturday evening, participants meet at the appointed time, commonly from 6 to 10pm Washington DC time (6-7pm reception, 7-9pm Dinner and discussion, 9-10pm mingling and clean-up) at a host’s home, office or other space. Note: We take photos of the food and participants to promote the Dinners and the wider DLC via social media.
- Following the usual smaller Dinner format, Learning Life shares photos, and participants’ emails with each other (those who do not wish to share their emails excepted) to encourage networking. We also ask all participants to fill out a brief feedback survey to help improve the Dinners.
Who moderates the Dinner discussions?
The Democracy Dinner discussions are usually moderated by a Learning Life’s Founder & Director, Paul Lachelier.
Any Dinner participation guidelines?
Avoid cancelling your participation unless it’s an emergency, and please show up on time. Because our Dinners are usually smaller gatherings, your punctual attendance and active participation are important.
Don’t disrespect your fellow Dinner guests. The Democracy Dinners are intended to be civil and stimulating discussions, not a platform for pushing a viewpoint, or for denigrating other views.
How do I get on the Democracy Dinners invitation list?
Every two months, Learning Life invites metro DC democracy professionals and volunteers to our Democracy Dinners. Anyone who wishes to be added to the invitation list should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with their name, email address, and either their resume, Linkedin profile page, work bio, or personal website. We do not guarantee that everyone will get on the list, but if a person lives in metro DC and clearly has done or does work and/or volunteering in the democracy field, they will be added to the invitation list.
Learning Life staff periodically scan the staff pages of 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 able to get off the list by simply replying and requesting to be removed.
Is there a way to connect between the Dinners?
Yes. We have a “Democracy Learning Community” Linkedin group that allows anyone committed to protecting and advancing democracy to share their related calls to action or collaboration, publications, events, news, programs, and projects. You can join the group here.
In addition, we encourage you to join our wider Democracy & Diplomacy Community, of which the DLC is a part, to get invitations to other Learning Life events, online and in-person, local and international.