WELCOME to The Relational Democracy Project!

The Relational Democracy Project begins with the understanding that relations are the basis of change in the universe, and our relations with one another — whether masked and in-person or virtual — are where power moves between us in practices.

Cultural change happens when the relations between us change, and we change those by changing our practices. We can orient our culture back toward democracy by embodying relationally democratic practices that balance the power between us.

This project provides research, creative projects, cultural work, and data-based practical recommendations and advice about everyday relationally democratic and non-democratic practices. The Relational Democracy Project organically grew from research sponsored by The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies.

Find the work on Medium

Authoritarianism Functions in Everyday Practices That We Can Change

Announcements about the arrival of authoritarianism now abound in mainstream media. I’m sure you’ve read your share. This article offers something a little different: a focus on how authoritarianism functions in our relations with one another and how each one of us can embody relationally democratic practices. Now, more than ever, we need to drag our attention away from the spectacle of authoritarianism-as-regime and its drumbeat of inevitability by understanding how authoritarianism functions in practices between us that we can change. …

Authoritarianism in the U.S. is not new, however. State-level authoritarian practices have existed here since the beginning. Severe power imbalances founded the American legal story. Our white forefathers committed genocide, murdering and enslaving native inhabitants of the land, stealing as much power as they could from those brown bodies. Our economy was born on the backs of slaves: the state stole as much power as possible from Black and brown bodies, further empowering itself and those who claimed authority and control of the state’s resources.

The power relations that founded our institutions, our laws, our systems and processes, and “the people” could not have been more severely imbalanced.

American racism is a form of authoritarianism. So is classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and speciesism. Each has as its core feature an imbalanced power relation. Each imbalanced relation functions in (racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and speciesist) practicesthat are entrenched in systems and processes and also present relationally between individual human beings. …

Read the full article on Medium

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a “perspective” on power

[In the spirit of KQED’s Perspectives]

Everything I learned about power-sharing, I learned in San Francisco Bay Area college classrooms.

Growing up, I’d never seen or experienced power done in any other way than how I lived it in my family’s culture: with a father who was the sole authority, and who held and wielded all the power. Who chained the agency of his young children. My father, alone, decided that no one had the power to speak in our family but him. I tried challenging him, twice, and both left a mark. …

Read and hear the rest on Medium

Relationally Democratic and Authoritarian Practices

Democracy is a big human experiment in organized power-sharing. Democracies are representative forms of government in which electoral processes and systems share power with all the people.

Authoritarianism is a big human experiment in organized power-stealing and hoarding. Authoritarian regimes steal power from all the people in the form of violations of human rights: stealing the right to liberty, to autonomy, to free expression, and to life. Authoritarian regimes hoard the stolen power of the people in its government and in private bodies.

Relational democracy and authoritarianism, however, are different: they are embodied cultural practices that create conditions within with democratic governments and authoritarian regimes either succeed or fail.

When humans are relationally democratic — they share their power to generate and maintain forward momentum — they also tend to support democratic governments. When humans are relationally authoritarian — they steal the power from others to generate and maintain their forward momentum — they also tend to support authoritarian regimes.

We can see relational democracy and authoritarianism in human interactions, in everyday, mundane tasks. Relational democracy is relational authoritarianism’s polar opposite.

For instance …

  • When your professional processes are not transparent, you steal power I use to understand fully.
  • When you give me inaccurate information, intentionally, you steal power I use to make sound decisions.
  • When you take my time or expect me to use it for your purposes, you steal my power to spend it on what my family needs.
  • When you purposely exclude, you steal power I use to participate.
  • When you refuse acknowledgement, you steal power I use to connect.
  • When your cynicism leads, you steal my power to be openly optimistic.
  • When your doubt blindly stands in front of my credibility, you steal my power to access those earned benefits
  • When you withhold emotion, you steal power I use to engage.
  • When your fear is weaponized in my direction, you steal power I use to confidently move through the world.
  • When you pretend to know what you don’t, you steal power I use to assess effectively.
  • When you willfully ignore new information and rely on your own outdated assumptions, you steal my power to protect myself from old, poisonous ideas.
  • When you block access to resources, you steal my power to feed my life.
  • When you refuse to say my name, you steal my power to exist.

When you steal my power, you steal my forward momentum, and my power to progress. When you steal my power and hoard it, you systematically lock down my agency. When enough power is stolen and enough humans’ agency is locked down, everyday authoritarianism supports an authoritarian state, a political culture. Gramsci had it right: we do it to ourselves.

Living democratically every day means sharing power. Being relationally democratic means moving through the world, authentically engaged, without knowing the outcome. To live democratically is to help create the conditions for the possibility of trust, of vulnerability, of creativity in everyone you meet. To share power on a relational level is to create the conditions for the possibility of unlocking everyone’s agency.

Living democratically means that all of us can make sound decisions. We can understand fully. We are able to spend our time on our purposes. We can participate, connect, live optimistically, move through the world with purpose. We are able to engage full, effectively assess situations, and live without fear of poisonous ideas.

Living democratically means being able to confidently generate and maintain our forward momentum. It means being able to feed our lives. It means a just human existence. It means we all share “the right to pursue happiness.”

Democracy cannot be imposed. It cannot be elected. It cannot be bought. It cannot be attained through prayer. It must be lived in bodies, in relations, in all of us. Every single day.