An Ideal Civic Community

A few weeks ago – during this year’s Summer Institute of Civic Studies, in fact – I was able to join an afternoon session where we were asked to draw an ideal civic community.

We weren’t supposed to use text – which I totally cheated and did any way. It was an interesting exercise for a group of non-artists to express themselves through art.

Some people found drawing easier than talking or writing. Some people found it harder. Everyone was bashful about their artistic skills.

Words are my medium, so I found it a struggle. But it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Here is quick sketch of my ideal civic community:

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I found myself overwhelmed at all the things I wanted to include. People debating. Open space. People building. People using different modes of transportation. There are a number of things I left out.

But as we went around the room and shared our creations, there’s one thing I included which I didn’t see elsewhere:

People protesting.

We didn’t have a lot of time for our drawings, so that’s not to say no one else thought protesters were ideal, but presumably they weren’t top-of-mind.

I drew people debating first, but somehow, that didn’t seem sufficient. It was too…easy.

As I’ve said, I struggle with Utopia. The image of everyone happy and agreeing seems somehow horrific. Nightmarish, perhaps. On the surface it seems good, but underneath it is all wrong.

I’d take dissent and conflict over easy consensus any day. The latter may be easier – I may even yearn for it some days. But I like to imagine I’d always opt for the former. Disagreement and challenge make us each better. Make our work better.

We can still be civil, of course. But somehow, healthy debate didn’t seem like enough.

So, the protesters stay. At least in my ideal society.

That’s right, I say. Give ’em hell.

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