TREAT YOURSELF TO DEMOCRACY – field report
Cologne | As part of the European public sphere project TREAT YOURSELF TO DEMOCRACY we visited the Don-Bosco club in the culturally diverse district of Müllheim, Cologne on 10 September. The idea behind the project is to motivate first-time voters to participate in the upcoming local elections and engage in dialogue about democracy. Our intern Reiner Duvenage shares his impressions. Thank you to the Förderfonds Demokratie for supporting this project.
A lot of effort goes into planning and organising a European Public Sphere event. Kübra Güller, Dilara Acikgöz, Anne Hardt, Max Tjong-Ayong and I took up the gauntlet on a sunny Thursday afternoon in the Rhineland.
Meeting place: at the Franz Ferdinand Wallraf school, where two days before our first TREAT YOURSELF TO DEMOCRACY event had taken place.
We started by loading the frame and components of the dome, consisting of many wooden beams and connecters, into the van and setting off for the Don-Bosco youth club. The club offers a safe haven for youths to meet up with their friends, play games and receive guidance from adult role models.
Our participants under the dome
The build-up at Don-Bosco-Club
Upon arrival at the club, we were greeted by curious club visitors, who immediately volunteered to help us with the construction of the dome. Many hands made light work and with their help we managed to build the dome in record time of around and hour and a half. This is no small feat, since it usually can take twice as long.
The first visitors under our dome were a group of students from a local school in Müllheim. Anne started the session by providing a brief and captivating introduction on the topic of democracy. She also outlined the direct democratic tools available to citizens in Germany.
The participants were joined by another group of 15 to 18 year olds. After this introduction, students were divided into groups and asked to write down societal and political issues they wished to solve. Anne, Max, Dana, Dilana, Kübra and I went around the dome and listened in on the conversations providing our input when asked, but mostly leaving the students to think independently.
After we all regrouped, we were truly astounded by the original themes and solutions the students came up with in such a short time. Issues ranged from larger topics such as free public transport, equal and fair education for all, less subjects in the A-levels, and upgrading sports facilities to more individual issues such as cleaning the school bathrooms.
It was clear that the participants were aware of many of the most pressing challenges of our time and were keen to work towards finding solutions for them.
After listening to each others’ ideas and solutions many of the students left chatting about the possibility of making a change in their communities or stayed at the club for a round a ping pong.
Free public transport: just one of young citizens’ topics ahead of the local elections.
Already an issue at school: equal and fair education
Upon conclusion of the main planned session, we opened the dome up for participants to speak about democracy in an informal setting. For these sessions, we were joined by an older audience between the ages of 17 and 25.
This gave us a perspective on some of the issues they are facing in their daily lives and together we discussed possible democratic solutions until late in the evening, after which the helpful participants helped us to disassemble the dome. We were then waved off by the employees of the club, who also kindly offered to host further events in the future.
Since we still had to unload the dome at our storage facility, we only arrived home at around midnight. However, I went to bed with a feeling of accomplishment after a long and stimulating day of democracy discussions in Müllheim.
In summary, our experience at the Don-Bosco-Club showed us that German politicians should listen to the youth and give them a platform to make their voices heard. The best way of doing so by supplementing representative democracy with participatory democracy.
See you at the next meet-up under the Europe-Dome!
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