Still Doing Democracy!

Too many of us are isolated and detached from our neighbors and our local, state, and national institutions. But how do we become re-engaged in the daily work of doing democracy when the social and political landscape is full of conflict instead of conversation. Still Doing Democracy! Finding Common Ground and Acting for the Common Good offers a framework for understanding and a set of crucial skills for participating in a wide range of political, civic, and cultural efforts as an effective agent of social change. JoAnn McAllister and Jim Smith outline a process of analysis, reflection, and action and provide tools to help us find common ground and act for the common good. With knowledge and skill we can work with those who may have different experiences and different priorities while staying true to our own values. These are skills we need to be effective engaged citizens in today’s fragmented and polarized culture.


Table of Contents

Introduction – Effective Engaged Citizens Needed Now More Than Ever

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

Jane Addams, 1892

This cautionary note from Jane Addams alerts us to both the fragility of change and the importance of our consistent and continuing responsibility to be engaged in creating our common life. Engaged Citizens participating in collective movements have been the energy of social change throughout history and, especially in the last several decades in the United States. Too many of us are alienated from local, state, and national institutions and fail to play a substantive role in creating our common life.



Chapter 1. A Framework for Being an Engaged Citizen

 “We the people in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution

We begin with a simple premise: our democratic society was based on the idea of shared values and he engagement of the people. The Preamble of the Constitution starts with this statement of shared purpose and, yet, the definition of those shared values and who is included in the “we the people” remain topics of contention to this day. We ask why so many of us are alienated and disengaged from local, state, and national institutions and describe the social and political dynamics that have isolated so many people into smaller and smaller camps. We point to how we can reclaim a sense of shared values and common purpose.

Chapter 2. Understanding Different Beliefs and Experiences

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”


A humanistic philosophy and social science perspective about human nature, especially about how we develop our beliefs, how these shape our values and behaviors, and why they are so hard to change with insights from evolutionary, ecological, and cognitive science; moral and behavioral psychology, and critical social and cultural studies. These can contribute to our practice of an everyday human science to understand ourselves and others.


Chapter 3. Understanding Stories to See Each Other

‘If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.’

                                                                                                            Virginia Woolf, 1948

Apply some of the most recent neuroscience and moral psychology research to how we seek patterns and tell stories to make sense of our world. While science is always finding out new things, emerging insights add some insights to how and why it takes more reflecting thinking to understand ourselves and others. Often obscured behind the walls of academia, we can use such insights in our everyday lives as long as we do not make them the new “truth.”



Chapter 4. Analyzing Political Paradigms and Social Movements

“Those who profess to love freedom and yet deprecate agitation are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

                                                                                                Frederick Douglass, 1857


Brings the toolkit insights and skills from Chapter 2 and 3 to the analysis of significant political paradigms across the conservative/liberal spectrum for a more nuanced view of how belief systems shape our social belief systems. Also, updates the Doing Democracy MAP model to review current social movement initiatives.

Chapter 5. Being an Engaged Citizen

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.”

                                                                                                            Emily Dickinson, 1924


Brings the toolkit skills from Chapter 3 to the task of examining your personal beliefs and stories to identify your values, where to engage your passions, how to listen to the stories of others, and collaborate on shared purpose.


“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, if you listen carefully, you can hear her breathing.”

                                                                                                            Arundhati Roy, 2008


The concepts of compassion for self and others as we connect can guide the way in which we respond and how we utilize our enhanced skillfulness as Engaged Citizens.


Appendix – Stories of Exemplary Citizen Activists

All it takes is a few good people to keep you sane.  / Chris Rock

Some of your neighbors: Stories of engaged citizens making a difference in our lives.

If you think an Engaged Citizenry is important in meeting today’s challenges, please contribute to this effort, with a tax-deductible donation at