Listen to this song. Kelmti Horra, ‘my word is free’, sung by Emel Mathlouthi at a mass sit-in.
What you hear is the sound of hope.
“I am those who are free and never fear,”1 she sang, as the Tunisian people rose up to topple the dictator. Yes, that revolution may have been followed by an electoral victory for Islamists, but few revolutions ever attain total liberation. No, make that none.
That is the way of the world. Some regime grows abusive; eventually the people rise up and topple it; a new regime comes instead, and before long it abuses the very people who put it in power. Perhaps it is not as cruel as that which it replaced; all the better for the new rulers, as they know the people will consider them better than their predecessors, and be hesitant to rise up again.
But the way of human freedom – of free thought – is the way of the constant revolution. The old king is dead, long live the new king – for a while, until he grows cruel and we again grow weary and it is, again, time to replace him.
No regime that is abusive towards its people can last forever. Eventually, someone will stand up and say, “I am the free people of the world. I am like a bullet.”
What are the main ingredients of a democratic culture?
On August 25th, I’ll be giving a workshop and lecture in Greifswald. At the EUDEC conference in Freiburg, my host and I grabbed two plastic chairs and sat down in a sunny spot for a short interview, some of which is now on the fine poster ad you see here; at one point he asked me a question I haven’t heard too often: what are the main characteristics of individuals who are part of a “democratic culture”?
A democratic culture, as I understand it, is a kind of culture that develops within a group that makes decisions democratically; democratic culture makes democracy more than just a decision-making process – instead it becomes a way of life, something you notice in all kinds of interactions between people.
I came up with four main points:
Communication at eye level (as opposed to talking up or down to someone) – regardless of age
Respect for all other individuals
Willingness to listen, even when confronted with a view you disagree with
Willingness to reflect on one’s actions, recognize mistakes, and learn from them
To me, these are the things that people have to have in order to keep a truly democratic culture alive.
Without equal communication, respect, and willingness to listen, the discussions that are the bread and butter of democracy are impossible. Without a willingness to reflect, they’re pointless.
What do you think are the most important ingredients of democratic culture? Leave a short comment below!
The role of staff at Sudbury schools can be difficult to understand, and easy to misunderstand. I’ve heard that staff “aren’t allowed to offer classes” or even “aren’t allowed to express their own opinion.” But it’s not about being forbidden from doing this or doing that – what it comes down to is being authentic and respectful.
I was recently reminded of a discussion we had, more than a decade ago, when starting Sudbury Jerusalem.
The topic of the discussion was whether Sudbury staff are allowed to offer classes, and it’s one of the few discussions from the founding process which I still remember vividly today.
We were sitting in a co-founder’s airy living-room, spread out on several couches and stools, and we talked well into the night. It’s no wonder – the role of staff comes up again and again anywhere where people who went to more traditional schools are trying to wrap their heads around the Sudbury approach. Continue reading Thoughts about: the role of staff in Sudbury schools→
Democracy is about allowing people to participate – even if only a minority takes an active role most of the time.
I’m often asked how many people really participated in School Meetings at Sudbury Jerusalem – as if it’s less democratic when fewer people choose to participate. But actually, low participation at meetings can be a sign that democracy is working well.
When we started Sudbury Jerusalem, for a few weeks we had a School Meeting every day.
Most of the proposals, at first, came from those who had been in and around the founding process – mainly staff and children of staff. I was a student and a co-founder, and one of the most active participants.
Gideon Levy suggests Zionism should be retired. (Ha’aretz)
After 115 years, it’s time for Zionism to retire
The national liberation movement’s time came and went. Now we have a state. Neither good citizenship nor misdeeds have anything to do with Zionism anymore.
Zionism’s way has been lost to us. That was inevitable, because it has completed its task. Once the State of Israel arose and became a national home nearly at the retirement age of the movement that engendered it, once it became established, strong and powerful, and brutal and impervious, its flag should have been folded, stored in the repositories of history as a souvenir, and Zionism should no longer have its name taken in vain. The old order of Zionism is over and the campaign over the character and appearance of the state should begin, as happens in every healthy state.
Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere. So let’s just not.
In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion. In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.
I just got back from Leipzig’s #globalchange festival/demonstration. At one point, I noticed two guys holding up an Israeli flag, and went over to ask what that’s about. It was the only national flag present and I wasn’t sure what it was doing there. “We’re here to provoke,” said one of the guys. “This demonstration is structurally anti-Semitic.” The idea, of course, is that a demonstration with anti-elite, anti-banker sentiment is anti-Semitic, whether the demonstrators know it or not. I tried to argue against this odd rhetoric, but he quickly said he doesn’t want to discuss it.
These counter-demonstrators are, I gather, anti-Germans. This is a movement considered to be left-wing and anti-fascistic, with a commitment to unconditional solidarity with Israel. The paradox of the “provocation” I witnessed is that this was the only mention of the “banking=Jews” stereotype I could detect in today’s demonstration, or indeed in all of the Real Democracy Now activities that led up to it in the past half year. It seems to me like the anti-Germans were the only ones bringing anti-Semitism into the demonstration. It annoys me to no end that they weren’t open to discussion, and this post is my attempt to say what I would have told them if they were willing to listen.
I recently read a pamphlet titled “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere”, a fascinating guide to understanding and combatting anti-Semitism targeted at social change activists. It can be found online [PDF] and I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are involved in any kind of movement for social change. It makes the crucial point that anti-Semitism is:
“a divide-and-rule strategy that has served to maintain ruling classes, conceal who actually has power, and confuse us about the real systems of oppression that pit us against one another.”
(Chris Crass, Quoted on a now-defunct website hosting the pamphlet.)
Historically, rulers and ruling elites have used anti-Jewish sentiments to deflect the anger of the oppressed masses towards a relatively powerless group (Jews). In a way, it comes down to rulers explicitly or implicitly fostering the belief that the Jews, not the rulers themselves, are the problem.
What those anti-Germans were trying to do today was the same in reverse – delegitimizing an expression of legitimate grievance against the ruling class by claiming it’s an illegitimate expression of intolerance against Jews. This makes me pretty angry, I have to say. If I had detected any anti-Semitic sentiment or rhetoric from the demonstrators, I would go berserk. But I felt very comfortable at the demonstration, felt it was a matter of global solidarity, explicitly inclusive to me (with my irrelevant Jewish background) and to anyone else. The first thing that made me uncomfortable there was the anti-Germans with that big Israeli flag. How dare they insinuate that the German banking system is controlled by Jews? Where the heck did they get that idea?
You know what, I don’t actually know the names and backgrounds of any major German bankers. And I don’t need to. We were demonstrating against the absurd situation in which Europe and the world are in crisis yet the number of millionaires in Germany has only increased. We were demonstrating because we’re told things are going to get hard and we have to live in fear of economic collapse while those who were involved in creating this mess have nothing to fear and they continue to control much more wealth than the rest of us. Even if it so happened that 99% of German bank owners are Jewish, this wouldn’t have been an anti-Semitic demonstration.
Speaking out against someone who happens to be a Jew is not anti-Semitism. Speaking out against “the Jews” or attacking someone because they’re a Jew is anti-Semitism. Is those anti-Germans’ approach supposed to somehow protect Germany from a resurgence of anti-Semitism? Seems to me like at the very least, it muddies the waters and creates confusion about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, making it easier for real intolerance to fly in under the radar. Even worse, it can actually re-enforce anti-Semitism by suggesting that speaking out against the powers that be is speaking out against Jews – supporting the false equation that “(the) Jews” are responsible for the power structures we live within.
There. I think I got it out of my system now. Has anyone else encountered similar situations, where people meaning to fight intolerance end up implicitly encouraging it?
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