Democracy from the Inside Out [Parker Palmer]

Webcast Sponsored by Leadership Wisconsin, the Dane County UW-Extension Office, Kids Voting Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, acclaimed author and education scholar Parker Palmer led a discussion on “doing democracy from the inside out” during a webcast held October 11, 2011 in both Madison and at the Center for Civic Engagement in Wausau.

Local leaders and educators convened at the webcast to watch, share thoughts, and consider a number of ideas introduced in Palmer’s new book “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.” This newly-released work has been in development since 2004-2005 and is comprised of numerous conversations with Palmer’s cohorts, colleagues and supporters, as well as ideas generated at two national conferences on democracy in 2010. “All of this,” says Parker, “helped make the book much better than it would have been had I been working alone.”

The book looks with realism and hope at how to deal with American political tensions for the sake of the common good. Building on his decades of social activism and inner life exploration, Palmer examines ways to restore the invisible infrastructure of American politics by seeking answers to democracy’s dilemmas within and between citizens. He points the way to a politics rooted in the commonwealth of creativity and courage still found among “We the People.”

“Democracy,” writes Palmer, “is a non-stop experiment in the strengths and weaknesses of our political institutions, local communities, and the human heart. The experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into compassion, conflict into community, and tension into energy for creativity amid democracy’s demands.”

Palmer names the “habits of the heart” that responsible and concerned citizens need to revitalize national politics and shows how these habits can be formed in the everyday venues of their lives. He proposes practical, promising ways to restore a government “of the people, by the people, for the people. Palmer writes: “For those of us who want democracy to survive and thrive, the heart is where the work begins—that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten our unity as openings to new life for us and for our nation.”

Parker J. Palmer has authored nine books—including the bestsellers The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness— and his writings speak deeply to many people in many walks of life. Palmer is the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal which, since 1997—working through a network that now numbers one hundred sixty facilitators in thirty states and fifty cities— has offered programs to help teachers, physicians, clergy and others “ rejoin soul and role,” renewing their passion for their work, reclaiming its basic values and deepening their service to others. More than 25,000 people have been directly touched by Courage & Renewal programs and retreats to date, and Palmer’s work has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates and many national awards, including the 2010 William Rainey Harper Award, previously won by Margaret Mead, Paulo Freire, and Elie Wiesel.

Congressman John Lewis, recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom says, “We have been trying to bridge the great divides in this great country for a long time. In this book, Parker J. Palmer urges us to ‘keep on walking, keep on talking’—just as we did in the civil rights movement—until we cross those bridges together.” Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, author, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, calls the book “…the most important manifesto in generations for breaking through the divisiveness that has paralyzed our democracy.”

Peter Block and John McKnight, co-authors of The Abundant Community, posit that this new work “…breaks new ground in marrying the capacity of the human heart with the tensions inherent in politics [and] breathes new life into what it means to be a citizen—accountable, compassionate, fiercely realistic.” And Carrie Newcomer, activist and singer-songwriter, The Geography of Light and Before and After, calls the book “…a courageous work that is honest and true, human and humble, glitteringly intelligent and unabashedly hopeful. Palmer gives us constructive language, historical context and a practical vision for how we as individuals and communities can get to the real heart of the matter.”