It was almost three years ago that the Peterborough Dialogues was begun by inviting people into the quest: what if we created a local living oasis in a global storm of shifting sands? Our pathway was to ignite our deepest gifts and possibilities as whole people, as enabled and ennobled citizens. Kinda lofty and somewhat ambiguous. And yet, people came. The thirst for change perhaps attracted them to the notion of an oasis.
So much has come of those early conversations. Citizen groups born there continue to thrive. Citizens, in associational life, have created the Peterborough Pollinators, which was awarded funding in every ward during the city’s first Participatory Budgeting process. Reimagine Peterborough continues to thrive under citizen power and engagement. We’ve hosted a summit on Harper Park. A year ago, we hosted a Women in Community Leadership summit and it has continued in monthly meetings since. A core group of 60 to 80 people move in community in new ways. This is to name but a few of the movements sparked by that first year of hard work.
In the meantime, there is movement beyond and entirely independent of the Peterborough Dialogues into new ways of considering how we are together as citizens. The Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough has made it possible for citizens to host each other in hundreds of conversations about what is important to them regarding wellbeing in our fine city. The City of Peterborough is making moves to engage citizens differently. Nourish is hosting Democracy Talks. Leap continues to draw dozens of people to its regular gatherings. Bedford House hosts community members in dialogue too. A marvellous project in listening, Sidewalk Talks, hosted sit-downs with citizens on sidewalks, and there are rumours of its potential return. In April, Cultivating Change, a gathering to encourage and support women in community leadership, far exceeded its attendance expectations.
I remember in one community gathering two rule-breaking dialoguers voiced the idea that Peterborough might become The City That Listens. A ripple of energy fluttered through the room when it was spoken.
Change happens at the speed of relationship, and listening is so very important in forging relationships. It would seem we are making progress.
It’s the kind of progress you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it. It’s the sort of thing that forms under the radar, quietly. It doesn’t make headlines, in large part because it is emergent, nascent, non-institutionalized, and as such has no spokespeople, spin, or resources to draw attention. It doesn’t appear to move fast. And yet, it is building culture. As we listen, others can tell their stories and be heard. As real-life stories are heard and shared between people in close relationship, culture changes. In time, this undercurrent will suddenly appear in strange ways: surprising political results, unexpected community successes.
Associational life in Peterborough seems to be on the rise. That’s how we fare on the way to a local living oasis.
So many of us are cultivating new life. We are learning to host one another in new and powerful ways and to engage one another on our terms rather than on the terms of institutions and for their purposes. This is an important development.
We are very lucky in this society and in this city to have such a strong foundation of civic society in our local non-profits, government, thriving arts community, and energizing entrepreneurial culture.
As we, the citizens, continue to enliven our relationships with one another, to bring our gifts and talents into the light, and to work on what we want to see created in our community, with the foundation of civic society on whose shoulders we stand, we can take a huge step towards a reimagined and deepened democracy.
That reimagined democracy is citizen-led. We are getting there, we really are. And it is important. Civic peace and order depend upon it. It is, right now, especially important.
I would like to make a less-than-modest proposal. It is this: that we, the citizens of Peterborough, lead the way in shaping a reimagined democracy. That we continue to cultivate this place as The City That Listens.
What if we were able to coalesce our collected efforts and movements into a cohesive approach to citizen-led democracy?
It wouldn’t take much really. Peterborough has a collection of excellent dialogue hosts. We have supportive and forward-thinking civic organizations and community advocates.
Our offer, as the Resonance Centre for Social Evolution, is to continue hosting events as we are able and on the request of citizens and organizations. Secondly, our offer is to develop capacity to share the stories of this movement in all of its various and wondrous ways in the online and print pages of Electric City Magazine.
We would like very much to partner with you to lead the way to a Reimagined Democracy.
There are others around the world who are doing the same. Maybe by shining a light of our own we will find each other and spark a community of communities doing the same. Imagine.
A local living oasis may be very much more than a mirage conjured by thirsty souls.
I, for one, want to keep heading in that direction to find out for sure.
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Photo by Yvonne Hollandy.