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Peter Pula participates in an Open Space process during a community gathering he recently co-hosted in Peterborough, Ontario. (Photo: Ben Wolfe)

Living Into Deep Democracy

Deep democracy, as we refer to it, comes down to the basic idea that each one of us is inescapably responsible for creating, or trying to create, the workplace, community, society, economy, and political climate in which we live. That responsibility does not lie ‘elsewhere’ or with ‘them’ — it lies with us and how we interact and co-create.

  Acting in deep democracy means we include our participation in structural democracy and transcend it in our day to day affairs and citizenship.

It also differs, in our view, from structural democracy for example. Exercising our right to vote in a structural democracy means that we vote for representatives who are working within legal democratic structures and institutions to deliver peace, order and good government. While these methods are the best we have for managing a democratic political system they are only one facet of democracy — and are necessary. That being said, the act of voting in the western world is often an act of consumerism and even, of giving our power away. We do choose who to give that power to, so it is a democratic peaceful way to transition power.

It is a necessary component of democracy but it is not sufficient for full citizenship to take effect.
Hence deep democracy. Exercising deep democracy confronts each one of us with our power to create the world we live in, our gifts, the gifts of others and the creative and stressful tensions in between. Enacting deep democracy demands that each of us learns how to sense and stand up for what wants to be born through us and our relationships with fellow citizens and figure out the tricky bits of inter-personal tensions. Acting in deep democracy means we include our participation in structural democracy and transcend it in our day to day affairs and citizenship.
As to research and theory. The team at Axiom News was a long time awardee of Worldblu’s Democratic Workplaces for having experimented with workplace democracy. The informing theories of deep democracy as we refer to them include the work of Peter Keostenbaum and Peter Block, Social Capital Theory — Nan Lin in particular and our own experiments in workplace and organizational democracy and deep dialogue. The term deep democracy as we use it does not necessarily subscribe us to a prevailing theory or practice. Our practice has preceded our theory. We also know there are those out there with deeper theory (and practice) than us.

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Peter is the Founder of Axiom News. He has also founded and led a community newspaper and a corporate communications agency. He has served as a member and chairperson on the boards and committees of children's services, schools, municipal grants, arts, and local exchange organizations.

Peter led the discovery, founding, and practice of Generative Journalism as a healing and community art.

He has been invited to host workshops in Canada, Europe, and the United States on the practice of Generative Journalism, an open communications approach for emergent and constructive change in organizations, networks, and communities.

To bring dialogic and narrative arts together Peter and Axiom News initiated the Peterborough Dialogues in 2015. Over 150 deep dialogues, circles of trust, working circles, and summits have been held in Peterborough, Ontario to cultivate citizen-led community co-creation with beautiful results. The Peterborough Dialogues continues to be a rich practice field delivering up daily insights into the power of community convening.

Peter continues to integrate convening, journalism, and narrative arts practices to hold space for community to heal and for citizens to take the lead in creating the community of their dreams.

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After 15 years of producing stories that contributed to change after change for the better, people still come to us with the concern that all we do in Generative Journalism is publish positive stories at the expense of facing reality.

The stories we tell shape our culture. Journalism as a civic art, to be of real assistance to democracy, has a few things to overcome.

I have come to see capitalism as the ideology or worship of capital, of money. Absentee investment is the root of so much in the way of dissociation. Money for money’s sake, and not for what it can do. Instead, we should look at intimate and engaged investment, that puts the power of money to good use.

One of the challenges we face in realizing a reimagined democracy is the force of narrative. The dominant narrative, the one purveyed by mainstream media, corporate communications, and political campaigns, is for the most part an institutional narrative. It isn’t really for or by the grassroots at all.

During election time, we can easily get lost in the notion that voting and politicians are at the centre of democracy. And yet, democracy is so much more.

Today, democracy’s detractors point to the US experiment to denigrate the idea. In Canada, our politics have to a degree followed suit.

“The future of journalism is to play a fundamental and important role in an ecology of community development works and capacities and professions,” says Peter Pula, founder of Axiom News and pioneer of Generative Journalism.

Peter is now co-leading a local initiative to bring citizen-led dialogue and community development in direct partnership with the media.

Awakening to healing and becoming whole In community

In 2015, the year Axiom News gave birth to the Peterborough Dialogues, over 100 gatherings were hosted. I was asked by an astounded colleague in Europe, why would anyone do that? Well, to know and to serve. That’s why.