Democracy Can Make You Cry
By Jocelyn Payne, Northeastern State University
The voices of democracy can seem shrill and strident. From pundits to political candidates, experts to officeholders, regardless of our blueness or redness, too often we hear unflattering views of our political worldview. Nonetheless, Northeastern State University offered our students an opportunity to express ideas about democracy during Constitution Week on the Broken Arrow campus.
Democracy Walls were butcher-paper covered tables placed in each building around campus that allowed people to express their ideas about democracy. Multi-colored crayons were scattered on each table, next to signs which included a brief explanation of the project, and the question to be answered: What is Democracy? Our sole restriction also was displayed: Free speech is respectful speech – No profanity please. We also placed voter registration forms on each table, along with flyers about a university-wide creative expression contest also focused on the democracy question Members of our team checked the tables periodically each day, and replaced the butcher-paper if we discovered profanity or if one of the walls was covered with comments.
Late in the evening of the first full day the walls were in place, I was pleased to find intellectual and heartfelt comments sans profanity. My heart was nearly full when I entered the last building and saw the most expressive table of all. Some comments I saw were:
- “I can write anything on this table and it matters what I say.”
- “The freedom to be a Republican social worker.”
- “Democracy is my voice being heard. My thoughts validated. An opportunity to change the status quo.”
As I read the comments – rich and textured, rigid and flexible, earnest and silly, focused and diffuse, defining and questioning, serious and funny – all the blue and red together, the memory of shrill and strident voices faded. There I was, crying at the Democracy Wall with the varied wisdom and diverse thinking of our students echoing softly in my mind. I felt truly privileged to know those are the voices of scholars who surround me every day.
Our Constitution Week included dozens of comments, multiple paper changes, limited violations of the guideline and positive assessment by all involved. Our team is ready to embark on our next adventure: A campus-wide POV documentary screening through which we hope to bring all the voices into dialogue.
To read more about this project, please visit this website.
Have you created a Democracy Plaza or Democracy Wall on your campus? If so, how did the students respond? What was the discussion like?