On December 12, 2019 the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) hosted a “Democracy Fair and Comedy Night” at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The event began with a fair that featured a variety of community organizations including the ACLU, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the San Francisco Department of Elections, the Sierra Club, and the Practicing Democracy Project (represented by me!).
During the fair, held in the atrium of the Community Center, dozens of people came by to learn more about the Practicing Democracy Project. People were really interested in the idea that spiritual practices could strengthen democracy, and many gave me specific concepts from Judaism that they associate with this work, such as Tikkum Olam (repair of the world) and Chesed (mercy, kindness). People were also interested to learn how I as a Christian understand this work — as some associated Christianity more with contributing to the challenges presently facing democracy in the United States. I responded that I understood why they might think that, but that for me, my faith is very much about democratic values like the dignity of each person, the centrality of the common good, and the preferential option for the poor.
People were also particularly interested in our practicing democracy guides. Many were involved in faith communities so were excited to take a copy of “Practicing Democracy with your Faith Community.” Several are active in book study groups so were excited to learn more about the “We the People” book studies. I had the Practicing Democracy Project website open on my laptop and people were generally amazed at the breadth and depth of the many resources that Spirituality & Practice offers.
Amidst delicious appetizers and dessert, participants visited different booths to learn more about various organizations’ work. People also had the opportunity to fill in a blank page that had “To me, democracy means...” at the top. It was interesting to see the varied responses — and the thoughtful engagement people had with the question! Some responses that I saw included “each voice matters” and “equality.”
After the fair, people moved into an auditorium for introductory remarks that announced the year-long focus on democracy being organized by the JCRC and the performances by "You're Funny But You Don't Look Jewish” comedians Joe Nguyen and Samson Koletkar. For a serious topic like democracy, it was a very fun and upbeat evening! It would be great to see other organizations host similar events in their own contexts. I am excited to see what the rest of the programming this year on democracy through JCRC will be!