'Democracy Talks' aims to raise civic engagement ahead of Ontario election

Democracy Talks aims to raise civic engagement ahead of the June provincial election.

It’s called “Democracy Talks” and during the month of May, citizens have been gathering at Emmanuel United Church to discuss politics and the state of democracy.

The workshop is being hosted by Nourish Project, a community food initiative that also focuses on civic engagement and Democracy Talks is a brand new pilot project rolled out ahead of the June provincial election. Each Wednesday for the past month, the group of citizens has gathered to talk about democracy and politics and some of the issues they might have with the system.

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“The aim was to try and bring in people who were really disconnected from the system, disenfranchised and kind of feeling apathetic about democracy,” said Nourish knowledge transfer specialist Elisha Rubacha. “And so we tried to find ways to get the people more motivated and involved and kind of go to where they are at.”

This is week four of the five-week democratic crash course, this time, the conversation revolved around issues like the time and commitment it takes to be civilly engaged in politics while discussing how to open a dialogue with someone who possesses an opposing view.

“As a culture, I think we have forgotten how to disagree properly,” said Rubacha. “And so today is a little bit of an exploration into that and trying to understand the opposition too because I think that’s a big part of being able to make a difference, is trying to understand where other people come.”

The aim is reconnecting these individuals with the democratic process, says Rubacha, and that goes deeper than just voting or deciding to destroy your ballot — it’s about writing letters to the editor, going to council meetings and being able to decipher between a real and fake news source.

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Jason Wallwork has been taking part in the workshop and has since been sitting in at municipal council meetings and says he’s interested in how society can get more people involved in politics and hopes these conversations become more of a regular event.

“The thing is, people don’t realize and they think that politicians are all the same,” said Wallwork. “But politics affects everything and we do have people that have different policies and beliefs and I think the very fact that people say, ‘They are all the same,’ they don’t realize that there are differences that are going to impact their lives like health care and education, those sorts of things.”

Organizers are seeing some positive transformations come from these sessions and with one workshop remaining and the provincial election nearing, the project is being deemed a success.

“We’ve already had one person register to vote,” said Rubacha. “I think that’s a good sign, towards actually voting. But we’ve also seen the move from feeling like the system is broken and there is nothing to be done, to people actually feeling like they can make a difference in small ways and that they want to participate.”

This is a pilot project but the group anticipates it will roll out another democracy-talk series ahead of the municipal election this fall.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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