by Public Relations 23.04.2018

Civic Involvement: Democracy between Inaction and Insurrection?

The opening evening of the Workshop Weeks is dedicated to a topic that not only lies close to the heart of the Futurium’s work, but that is also currently of major relevance to society: civic involvement. During the Workshop Weeks the Futurium will be taking this early chance to try out a variety of formats in which ordinary citizens can themselves become actively involved. So, for instance, they will have the opportunity to participate in shaping the Futurium itself and will be offered many suggestions for how to become personally engaged. Looking outwards, we can see that participation and commitment are also two of the most pressing issues of our time.

In the USA, for instance, the election of Donald Trump has led to the political mobilisation of many sections of the population: examples in this regard range from newcomers running for election, to spontaneous protests against the Muslim travel ban, to large-scale demonstrations such as the Women’s March or the March for Our Lives. At national level, the fact that speeches by members of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, are suddenly going viral can be contributed in part to the fact that a lot is happening right now. People are positioning themselves politically and feeling spurred to get involved.

This could easily create the impression that active democratic participation beyond voting in elections and ballots only takes place in times of great uncertainty. When things run smoothly, political apathy takes hold. But is this really the case? Spontaneous protests, major demonstrations or even active involvement in politics are only some of the forms participation may take. They supplement elections, referendums, and citizens’ campaigns and committees at local level.

The City of Berlin, for instance, is currently engaged in an open process of actively developing guidelines for civic involvement. Many citizens engage themselves on an ongoing basis – and not only when they have the feeling that democracy is in danger. But is that sufficient? Must the government take measures to get more citizens to participate? Or is it up to the citizens themselves to demand this participation? Furthermore, how can it be ensured that the citizens participating in democratic processes are well-informed?

And what does “well-informed” mean in the first place? Some of those who campaigned in favour of Brexit have been accused of intentionally using misinformation; and it has also been widely claimed that the election of Donald Trump may have been influenced by questionable information from abroad. As a result, the most recent past has shown that misinformation may be capable of triggering citizens’ movements. Is the general population therefore qualified to participate more directly in democratic processes or not? Does participation work better at local level and on a small scale, for example, because local residents are especially familiar with the problems in their immediate surroundings? Or should the population as a whole also become more involved in larger issues?

In the debate “Shaping the Future – A Task for Us All” on 30 May 2018, and in cooperation with DER SPIEGEL live, our guests and visitors will be discussing all these questions and the different forms civic involvement can take, as well as the latter’s effectiveness and topicality.

On the day of the evening debate, a Debate Workshop will take place, in which those interested can prepare for the event by engaging themselves with the topic of the evening (click here to register). Participants will then have the opportunity to attend the debate. The results of the workshop will be introduced into the debate.

Our panellists for the evening are: Professor Dr Claus Leggewie (holder of the Ludwig Börne Professorship at the Giessen University), Professor Dr Herfried Münkler (Chair of Political Theory, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Dr Maja Göpel (Secretary-General of the German Advisory Council on Global Change – WBGU), Dr Stefan Brandt (Director of the Futurium); moderator: Tobias Rapp (DER SPIEGEL)

Photo credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https-_creativecommons.org_licenses_by-sa_3.0_de_deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons