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 possibilities for democracy at local to global levels in light of mounting threats, and (b) help build a vibrant Democracy Learning Community in “The DMV” or the DC-MD-VA capital metro region (DMV DLC, or DLC).  This page explains our Democracy Dinners in fuller detail.

Democracy DinnersWhat is a Democracy Dinner?  

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 the quieter, more intimate settings of our supporters’ homes.  Our Dinners vary between two formats: (1) usually, smaller group discussions of 8-16 participants who introduce themselves, get to know more about each other’s work, then discuss the challenges and possibilities for democracy at local to global levels, with an eye in 2023 onward to building a vibrant DMV DLC, (2) occasionally, panel discussions engaging 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 articles or books.  To be considered as a panelist or to propose a panel, please join our Democracy & Diplomacy Community, then email us at email@learninglife.info with your resume, article or 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.

Why Democracy Dinners?

There are a lot of people who work on various democracy issues at local to global levels, but they often labor in occupational/specialty silos. Democracy Dinners are intentionally smaller gatherings, part of our growing DMV DLC, to nurture sustained, deeper, more participatory conversations than conventional, fleeting, networking and speaking events 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 possibilities, and facilitate the development of a DLC that provides fun, social activities to widen and deepen civic and political participation.

How exactly do the Democracy Dinners work?

Here, more precisely, are the Democracy Dinner steps in 2023:

  1. Learning Life emails its Democracy Dinners invitation list (more below on how people get on the list) with proposed Dinner dates.  List members who would like to participate indicate those dates they can make via this Doodle poll for 2023 Democracy Dinners.
  2. Learning Life staff select the Dinner participants, and notify the 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.
  3. On the Democracy Dinner date, on a weekday or weekend depending on the Dinner host, participants meet at the appointed time, often around 6 to 9pm Washington DC time.  The first hour is for mingling over appetizers and drinks, then the rest of the time is for dinner and group discussion.  This Dinner process describes the first and usual format for the Dinners.  See above under “What is a Democracy Dinner?” for the two types of Dinners we hold.  The second, larger, panel format may follow a different process and be held at an office or other location rather than a home to accommodate more participants.  Note: We take photos of  the Dinners and participants to promote the Dinners and the wider DLC via social media.
  4. 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.

How do I sign up for an upcoming Dinner? 

Register and contribute here or email us at email@learninglife.info.  In either case, make sure to indicate your interest in participating in an upcoming Democracy Dinner, indicate all those Dinner dates you can make, and provide a link to your Linkedin profile, website, or work bio (and that of any person you plan to bring, if applicable) to share with fellow Dinner participants prior to the Dinner (on the contribution page, write this information in the “Note” box).  Participants are asked, but not required, to 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).  Contributing participants are prioritized.

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 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 learning experiences, not a platform for pushing a viewpoint, or for denigrating other views.

How do people get on the Democracy Dinners invitation list?

Learning Life occasionally emails invitations to our Democracy Dinners and other relevant events.  Learning Life staff search the internet for 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.

Anyone who wishes to be added to the invitation list should contact us at email@learninglife.info 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.

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 DMV DLC is a part, to get invitations to other Learning Life events, online and in-person, local and international.