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Democracy Café
A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Politics
Category: Society & Culture
Location: SocratesCafe.com
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I'm the founder of Socrates Cafe -- see SocratesCafe.com -- and a noted author (Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, The...

by Christopher...
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July 18, 2018 02:04 PM PDT

Nearly every day of the week features an observance day of some sort. So I picked several out of the hat, threw down the gauntlet, and asked the peerless donor engagement expert Christopher McGown to work his magic in coming up with ways to connect our nonprofit Democracy Cafe (DemocracyCafe.org) with these observances.

Voila and hey presto, as we riffed together, Chris came up, on the spot, with an array ingenious pitches that deftly and convincingly link our nonprofit Democracy Cafe with such observances as Celebration of Senses Day, Color TV Day, Sunglasses Day, World Music Day -- this one he hit not just out of the park, but out of the planet -- among others.

I must have done something good in my life for the forces of the universe to connect me with Christopher McGown. He has made such a difference in helping us chart a more vibrant course for Democracy Cafe, as we seek to bring it to the next level. In this and many other ways, he has been more of a godsend than he can know -- so much so that if my wife and I ever have a boy, I may just well name him after Christopher (oh, I know, the cynics will say that happens to be my name too, but let's leave them to their wild and unsubstantiated speculations...)

And while, as is my wont, I debatably have taken too much to heart Chris's insightful blog post on mission-aligned observances -- the link to that fabulous post is on his website is at:
http://clmcgown.com/2018/01/15/befriend-the-calendar/ -- the fact is that there likely are far more observances that an astute nonprofit staff can deftly exploit, for sublime ends that help it further its mission, than might initially meet the eye.

Listen in as Christopher McGown demonstrates this so masterfully on our latest Democracy Cafe podcast.

June 30, 2018 02:19 PM PDT

Stewart Harris, law professor extraordinaire and host of the wildly popular syndicated public radio program and podcast, Your Weekly Constitutional, believes we all need to be steeped in our supreme law of the land.


Here's how Stewart eloquently puts it: "The Constitution doesn’t belong to lawyers or judges or politicians. It belongs to every American. And to the extent that it captures universal human values, it belongs to all of humanity. And so I think we all need to know about it."

"We can’t protect our rights if we don’t know what they are," Stewart asserts during our wide-ranging give and take. "So that’s the first stage in making sure that our constitution does endure -- simply reading it and understanding it."

Listen in. And then listen in to Stewart's own podcast, which you can easily access just by Googling 'Your Weekly Constitutional.'

June 18, 2018 12:22 PM PDT

What compellingly comes through in a give-and-take with Reverend Rob Schenck, author of the recently published 'Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister's Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love,' is his singular thoughtfulness and exceptional introspective capacity. Rob's is a quest for honesty, and of a sort that can be transformative both for self and society. Rob, president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C., is committed to rigorous, thoughtful and unflinching self examination and inquiry of a kind sorely needed the world over, but American society in particular. I hope you are as moved to engage in some serious soul-searching after your encounter with Rob here in this podcast as I was. Listen in. And be sure to visit Rob's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pg/RevRobSchenck/photos/?ref=page_internal

May 29, 2018 11:08 AM PDT

Imagine you are a woman and live in a country in which you have no rights. None. Not the right to vote, nor even the right to drive a car (while that will change next month at long last, the government -- an absolute monarchy -- has arrested many who led the movement for this right). Imagine you love philosophy, but that you have to read philosophical works, including 'Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy,' secretively online, because it's forbidden.

Imagine you love exploring philosophical and political questions, and that you are so courageous enough to arrange a gathering with like-minded women, in a public place, to do just that, come what may.

That is what Jenan Abdullah has accomplished. Jenan, 21, is a dentistry student at a university in the city of Qatif. When she learned about Socrates Cafe and read our facilitators guide, she felt this was just the thing for her, and other women in Saudi Arabia, and she was inspired and determined to start one, even though it could put her at risk if the powers that be in the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia discover what she is up to.

Jenan is the organizer of the first-ever Socrates Cafe for women in Saudi Arabia. All those who gathered with Jenan were strangers at the outset, but after they explored the questions 'What is freedom?' and 'Should abortion be allowed?' these diverse and thoughtful souls became fast friends -- and even though Jenan planned only to have a Socrates Cafe once a month, they now have pledged to convene it at least every other week.

It is thrilling and humbling that I have played some modest part in this, and that our Socrates Cafe endeavor over time might be a great force for positive social change (indeed upheaval). I talked with Jenan about her experiences and hopes and dreams, not just with Socrates Cafe, but for herself and for Saudi Arabia itself -- and how Socrates Cafe might prove to be part of an unstoppable force in making her country more open. Listen in.

(Apologies for the poor quality of the recording, but Jenan had to do this at an internet cafe with a weak signal. Also, I misunderstood one word she said -- I heard 'coverment,' thinking she was referring to the head scarves women there have to wear, when she was in fact referring to 'government'). I look forward to doing another podcast with Jenan, who has my boundless admiration, as well as with other participants in her ground-breaking gathering in the near future.

[Thanks as always to our volunteer engineer Odin Halvorson for working his magic splicing this together.]

May 03, 2018 08:17 AM PDT

At age 5, Yuleymi Mariano, originally from Acapulco, Mexico, was separated from her mom as she travelled north to cross the border into Mexico. Yuleymi's indelible memory, when at last reunited with her mom days later, is of seeing her mom, who crossed the Sonora Desert, with her feet bleeding badly from the harrowing journey. For an extended period, Yuleymi had to live in hiding at an abandoned home in Texas, until she and her family then made there way to Philadelphia, where she lives to this day.

Yuleymi graduates next month from Constitution High School, a public magnet school in Center City Philadelphia. She's already enrolled at Philadelphia Community College, and is excited about her future. At the same time, she -- as with so many other children of parents who are undocumented immigrants -- lives in limbo, not knowing if or when her status as part of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program will be revoked, and whether she, as one of the hundreds of thousands of DACA 'Dreamers', might be returned to Mexico after all these years in the U.S.

I've had the privilege of taking part in both Democracy Cafe (DemocracyCafe.org) and Declaration Project (DeclarationProject.org) initiatives with Yuleymi and her fellow classmates since she matriculated at the magnet school, which has an unequalled program on civics education, several years back.

I apologize about the poor quality of this recording; the signal at her high school was lousy. But if you will listen through the sporadic static and some small gaps, you may well be as moved and inspired as I am by her compelling story.

April 25, 2018 10:14 AM PDT

When my dad's birthday (he would have been 85 on March 20) rolled around this year, I decided to do something special.

I decided upon an award competition in my dad's honor -- and launched the inaugural Alexander Phillips Arete Award. Even though there was the smallest of windows to submit entries, the International Baccalaureate class of 2018 at Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida, created something very special, insightful and meaningful. Here's my announcement about their winning entry:


I was originally scheduled to record a podcast with some of the winners of the competition on Friday April 20th -- on the afternoon of the National Student Walkout, also the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.... only to receive a text message from their teacher, the extraordinary Todd Carstenn:

"Chris, Don’t know if you got my text but we are still on code red lockdown. The lights are out and the kids are on the floor. There was a shooting in the school across town. I am not sure if we’ll even be able to get out of school at all today. Please confirm that you got this – I’m just not sure if we’ll be able to do that podcast today. Scary stuff."

This is the world these young people live in - and hence the video they produced is all the more richness and eloquence and wisdom for it. Here is the link to it:


I got to speak with some of the iB students last week, and I am most grateful to
Saleem Abu-Tayeh, Chudi Oraedu, David Kays Olivia Hensel, Zachary Thompson, as well as their teacher Todd Carstenn, for finding the time, with all they've been experiencing of late, and in this incredibly hectic part of their semester.

Though the theme that the students so exceptionally address is 'Deliver Us From Evil,' I love that the opening of their video starts with: 'Goodness is love in action.'

As their teacher Mr. Carstenn (be sure to read 'The Bandit Monologues' that he co-authored) and I believe with all our hearts, young people will show us adults the way to be delivered from evil.

Listen in.

April 24, 2018 10:31 AM PDT

What accounts for Silicon Valley's virtually unrivaled history of innovation on the technology front?

Well, it's storied history for one big thing.

"What other places don’t have is Silicon Valley’s history," according to Michael Schwarz, the Peabody- and Emmy-Award winning producer, director, investigative journalist and founder of Kikim Media (Kikim.com) -- of which his wife and our dear friend Kiki Kapany is the CEO.

The recently released three-part series 'Silicon Valley: The Untold Story,' was produced by Kikim Media, and surely is and will be for many moons to come the definitive documentary on this region that has had an outsize impact on the world.

The series premiered in March on Discovery's Science Channel, and now is available on the SciGo app, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon, and it also will be rebroadcast on the Science Channel.

"This place has evolved over a 150-year period," Michael relates. "Like any ecosystem in nature, the different elements of it have grown and matured and interacted. It's become more resilient and eventually achieved a kind of critical mass that is hard to replicate instantly."

And so it is, Michael asserts, that time itself "is a critical element that differentiates Silicon Valley from so many other places" that seek to replicate its success.

Listen in as Michael shares the story behind the making of the untold story of Silicon Valley, and the wealth of insights that he has gleaned in the more than five year journey it took to complete this extraordinary project.

April 19, 2018 11:47 AM PDT

There is simply no one whom I've had the privilege to know who is doing more to bring about democratic revival and renewal than Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University -- www.CitizenUniversity.us

Citizen University itself is peerless in its modeling and inculcating of the art of powerful citizenship, and continues to expand and evolve its efforts to create replicable civic and citizen engagement initiatives that resonate across the fruited plain at this critical crossroads.

From CitizenFEST, to Civic Saturday, to Citizen University, and more, Eric and his dedicated staff, along with committed people of many ages and walks of life, are rolling up their sleeves day in and day out to make our democracy all it can be.

Eric's newest book, You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to making Change Happen, is now available in paperback, and is a must-read.

Listen in as Eric, who also directs the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program, shares with unmatched eloquence how power reveals character, and how, when we make a concerted and dedicated effort to convert reflection into action, together we can genuinely make America great.

"If we can get to a point in our lifetimes," Eric asserts, "in a generation or two, where people who are growing up in hard economic circumstances or are part of disfavored minority groups today, whether ethnic or religious or racial, that are on the short end of so many of our rigged games... if they start believing actually that America is America again, that’s when we’ll have made progress, and will be a sign that we’re actually becoming great."

April 16, 2018 11:12 AM PDT

Kat Imhoff hit the ground running when she became President and CEO of The Montpelier Foundation in 2013. Among the first generation of women to oversee all aspects of a national historic site. Kat has spearheaded the extraordinary efforts that have made James Madison's Montpelier (Montpelier.org) a leader in the of slavery in the Early Republic, but also a gathering place to hold vital and timely exchanges on the legacy of slavery today.

Listen in as Kat shares the unique role that James Madison's Montpelier continues to play, more so than ever, in American life and indeed in the worldwide discourse on slavery.

I also urge you to check out Kat's moving and insightful TedTalk in Charlottesville, VA, after the tragic events of August 2017; here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x8gMU2vvg4&feature=youtu.be

And be sure to visit Montpelier, and their groundbreaking slavery exhibition, The Mere Distinction of Colour. As Kat notes in our podcast, "We have a very accurate and emotional and human story about the struggle for freedom -- one that every one of us can have that echo of sentiment and feeling about."

April 13, 2018 11:21 AM PDT

If you look at the Meetup page for this thriving ongoing Socrates Cafe in London, you'll see the "Imagine," photo we've uploaded here for this podcast. Their dedicated organizer, Austin Caffrey, tells me in this thoughtful exchange that Socrates Cafe is one good place to engage in broad and deep and methodical imagining blended with reasoning with one's fellow philosophical inquisitors.

Listen in as Austin thoughtfully relates why he thinks Socrates Cafe, along with some iterations of other kinds of philosophy cafes and political philosophy cafes, are good for society and democracy.

"We have over 30 people [who regularly participate] who can freely discuss their viewpoints and criticize the ideas," Austin tells me. "That to me is an example of the kind of freedom that comes with the kind of democracy that i think is beneficial."

And when I mention to him that Socrates Cafe has also established footholds in societies that are not so open, his eloquent reply is, "I’m not sure you can quell human curiosity and the desire to explore questions that affect them."

I hope one day I can take part in person in their gathering, which is held in London at the Travelling Through Book Shop & Cafe.

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