When Lab Team member Omar Freilla stepped to the podium for the first time Thursday afternoon at the Lab, he posed one simple question to the audience.
“When was the last time you experienced democracy?” he asked. I looked around and saw a roomful of blank faces staring back at him.
Then he went on to ask the crowd to raise their hands if they thought they had experienced democracy in the past week, month, or year. By the final question, just slightly more than half the audience held their hands in the air.
“This is what we’re here to talk about,” he said after the audience lowered their hands. “We have ideals, but we aren’t living up to them. There are dreams that were laid out, but they’re not a part of our lives. They’re not a part of our day-to-day existence. We’re not clear on what democracy is.”
Over the next few weeks at the Lab, Omar hopes to investigate just that. Through a series of tours, talks, workshops, events, and celebrations, he will explore the question of what democracy would look like if it were a part of everyday life in the cities and communities we live in—from the health care we receive to the jobs we do and the streets we walk.
On Thursday, this exploration got off to a poignant start. Toward the end of his presentation, Omar handed the audience permanent markers and asked them to map their ideal democratic world on long sheets of paper that lined the walls of the Lab.
He asked them to imagine what health, food, spirituality, family, education, and other essential parts of their lives would look like if they operated within truly democratic systems.
Once the paper was full of multicolored statements expressing the dreams of those in attendance, of what they believe their world should be, he asked them to sit back down again and debate what they had written.
Then at the end, he posed one final question.
“How many of you felt included in this process today?” he asked.
Nearly every hand stretched high in the air.